Posted by: Ross Gardner | June 5, 2017

Across the border

St Abb's Head

St Abbs Head, Scottish Borders. Copyright 2017 Ross Gardner.

The first port of call having crossed into Scotland was the craggy coastline of St Abbs Head, not much more than a dozen miles out of England.  The village of St Abbs is named after St Aebbe, the daughter of Aethelfrith, a 6th/7th century king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bernica.  After he was defeated and killed in battle the family fled in exile to Western Scotland, where Aebbe and her brothers were later converted to the Christian faith.  She went on the found two monasteries near the Scottish town of Coldingham, one of which became St Abbs

After probably the briefest of whistle-stop histories, it was to the towering cliffs of the National Nature Reserve that drew us to the historic little village.  We had already seen some fine cliff-top scenery on our journey up.  St Abbs though, has a particularly rugged quality to it, with its robust-looking, weather hardened rock faces, that almost seem clenched into the face of the weather and waves

It is well known for it’s seabirds colonies.  At the beginning of May it was still a little early for breeding to be full swing.  A few Herring Gull looked to be sitting on nests while others we saw were collecting nesting material from nearby fields.  A Shag had taken up residence in a small, almost made-to-measure alcove in a sheltered face of the cliffs.  All the while Kittiwake and Fulmar wheeled over the waves, no doubt in the process of initiating their own preparations.

For others it was a time of reconvening social habits in readiness for season ahead.  Guillemot were the most numerous bird here.  Many hundreds were already gathering on the cliffs and on the swell below them.  There were a few Razorbill too, but it was their close cousins that dominated the scene.

Uria aalge

Guillemot (Uria aalge) – a bird with a head for heights. Copyright 2017 Ross Gardner.

Unlike the Razorbill, Guillemot are true cliff-edge nesters, favouring some of the most precipitous ledges on which to lay eggs and brood young.  Their eggs are famously and distinctively adapted for such heady situations.  The bottom-heavy, pointed shape means that if the egg is disturbed, rather than drop off onto the rocks below, it instead rolls safely in a tight circle.

Uria aalge en masse

Guillemot crowding onto the guano covered cliffs. Copyright 2017 Ross Gardner

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