Thursday, 11 July 2013

Shagging on The Maidens

Yes, it is exactly as it sounds...we were ringing Shag chicks on The Maidens!

On Monday evening a small group of ringers (and helpers) headed out from Ballylumford Harbour in near perfect conditions for an evening spent on the West Maiden, or North Rock, ringing pulli Shag and Great Black-backed Gulls.

The view from a mill pond
On our way out -
you can see the East Maiden in the distance

The Maidens, or Hulin Rocks, are a small group of skerries with two lighthouses on the two largest islets. Between 1829 and 1903 both lighthouses were operational, however, in 1903 the West Maiden was abandoned and the current lighthouse on the East Maiden has been the sole light ever since.

The West Maiden, or North Rock

The East Maiden, or South Rock

Since being abandoned, the West Maiden has become home to a small seabird colony consisting of Shag, Great Black-backed Gull and Black Guillemots (Tysties).

Although the seas appeared calm, there was a bit of a swell and a tide of 5 knots which made landing a bit of a challenge, but our boatman did an excellent job and got us all safely onto the rocks, which were surprisingly warm having been baked in warm summer sunshine all day.

We systematically worked our way around the island counting the number of Shag nests and ringing any chicks we found. 

Shags (along with Gannets, Herons and Cormorants) have a habit of lashing out and attacking your eyes with their sharp bills, so extra care must be taken while handling them, and a firm grip is necessary when working with them.

While working outside was fine, working inside the buildings was something else! A hundred years worth of rotten fish and Shag guano creates quite a unique, pungent fragrance.


Overall, we caught and ringed 81 Shag (80 pulli and 1 adult), as well as 6 Great Black-backed Gull pulli. Incidentally, you can stop a GBBG chick from running away by placing it on its back!

The journey back was as calm as our journey out and the sunset was fantastic.

Looking up the North Channel -
Fair Head on the left and Mull of Kintyre on the right

Having grown up and lived near the coast in County Antrim for most of my life, The Maidens is somewhere I've always wanted to visit and I was delighted to get the opportunity to do so this week. 

The evening was topped off with a sighting of a Storm Petrel as we made our way back to Ballylumford. Magic!

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