Clashnessie, a spring day and a Razorbill

March 24th 2020

Clashnessie, a spring day and a Razorbill

Friday 20 March 2020 felt like the first proper day of spring this year and lifted the spirits amid the global Covid 19 pandemic.

I decided the best way to keep myself to myself was to go wandering with the camera, and binoculars – that’s what necks are for! First stop was Clashnessie where I could see a small flock of gulls and a few black and white birds on the sand near the water’s edge.

The gulls didn’t contain any surprises, the vast majority were Common Gulls, Larus canus. They were looking pristine, having moulted out of their winter plumage and gained the full, brilliant white head, neck and chest of summer.

The black and white birds turned out to be two Oystercatchers, Haematopus ostralegus, and a 1st-winter Razorbill Alca torda. The former can regularly be seen up on the sand in the bay, but a Razorbill was definitely not what I expected to see.

After watching the Razorbill for a few minutes, it became clear that there was something not right with it.  Four Great Black-backed Gulls, Larus marinus, were inching steadily closer but it didn’t move. It did stand up to flap its wings once and I thought it was going to take to the water; it just lay down again!

Not having a box of any sort to put it in, assuming I was able to catch it, meant a phone call to the Summers’ household was required.

Roz was at home thankfully and said she would be up in five minutes. That should give me time to catch the bird!  The tide that day was very low and the Razorbill was at the far end of the beach a few metres from the water.

The rescue!

Luckily, I had an old towel in the car so started a long wander down the beach to the water and then turned left along the tide line. Wildlife can be (is!) a frustrating thing to watch and even worse to photograph.

You can sit and look at birds for minutes on end and they behave as if you’re not there. Lift your camera, or even think about doing so, and they’re off. I held out little hope of catching the Razorbill, but used the little-known trick of not looking at it as I walked along the shore – always works, I wish!

The bird didn’t move until I was less than two metres from it. Again, it stood up and put its wings out but the towel was over it by this time, only I hadn’t quite covered its head. The head of course is where birds keep their weapon, otherwise known as a beak.

Several sharp nips later I managed to fully wrap the bird in the towel and headed back to the large passing place to wait for Roz. A couple of minutes were spent reassuring the Razorbill, now named Roger, before Roz appeared with a large cardboard box and a towel of her own – standard bird rescue piece of kit.

I grabbed a few photos before Roger was packed and taken to Clachtoll to be fed and recover.

The outcome

Within twenty minutes I had a text from Roz. Roger had been offered Whitebait, opened his beak and consumed three without a break. A brilliant start.

A couple of hours later and another text – same story: food offered, food accepted, three more Whitebait, thank you very much.

Next morning, 10.30am another message – “Sorry David, dead this morning. Sob!” Oh no!!

Sadly, this outcome has to be suffered all too often. You can just never tell with birds; are they simply exhausted and in need a bit of RnR, or is there some pathological condition at work?

In the case of our Razorbill it was most likely the latter, but he was at least saved from a less pleasant end.

David Haines

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