Natural recycling, but whodunnit?

April 5th 2019

On 8th February 2019 I was taking a short walk along Clashnessie beach (NC0531), idly checking the tide-line debris.  In the cast-up wrack I came across the body of a large seabird (photo 1).  Its heavy build, grey wings and distinctive bill, with a sharply-hooked tip and tubular nostrils on the top (photo 2), identified it as that of a fulmar Fulmarus glacialis.  The nostrils place fulmars in the same order Procellariiformes, tube-noses, as their larger cousins, the albatrosses, and also shearwaters and petrels.  I took a couple of photographs and went on my way.

Nearly two weeks later, on 23rd, brother Manfred and I re-visited the beach as a part of the Field Club’s contribution to the nationwide Beached Bird Survey. The only dead bird found was (almost certainly) the self-same fulmar, now reduced to a pair of wings held together by arm and breast bones (photo 3), with no sign of the rest of the body, including the head.

What, I wondered, had made such a neat job of removing every scrap of flesh from the body, without separating the parts left?  The breastbone did have a few small holes which could have been made by the eye-teeth of a fox.  Foxes do scavenge tide-lines, but are perhaps more likely to haul a body away for leisurely consumption.  Gulls are not fussy feeders, and invertebrates might tidy up such organic debris in time, but would not be responsible for stripping the body.  Who knows?

Ian Evans

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