Last night we watch some drama, not the world cup or something on the TV but on the cliffs. It was an evening where lots of guillemot chicks left the island and this event is one of the most exciting wildlife events you can watch so a few of us gathered to watch.
For guillemots feeding a chick takes a huge amount of time and energy. They are a relatively large bird so it requires a lot of effort to bring enough fish back to a chick on a ledge for it to grow to full size. So the guillemot has evolved the strategy of taking the chick to the fish rather than the fish to the chick. For the first 20-25 days of a guillemot chicks life it spending on a ledge sometimes just a few inches across, often wedged under one of its parents or between it parent and neighbour. But in it is an instinct to get out on the sea. We often know if many chicks are going to jump because at dusk the guillemot cliffs are in a state of high excitement, with a cacophony of braying and roars of the adults and the 3 peeps of the chicks. In the noisy chaos, fights break out amongst adults while chicks start pacing around their ledges, bobbing their heads and flapping their stubby little wings. And eventually the chick will make its way to the water with its father, the mother taking no more responsibility in the raising of the chicks. But how the chick makes it to the water varies tremendously. Some are on lower ledges of sloping cliffs and with a series of small scrambles it makes it was down relatively painlessly to the sea. Others however live on ledges far up a vertical cliff. For these chicks it is the jump for them. They are nowhere near being able to fly but luckily are light enough that when they do make the jump the smack on the water, or the rocks if they miss, is not usually enough to do more than stun them briefly. Some chicks seem keen to get to the sea and they almost lead their fathers down but others pace up and down for hours trying to pluck up enough courage to go while their Dads are down below on the sea calling furiously. Even once the make it to the sea there is always the frantic few minutes where the chick and Dads desperately try to find each other in the chaos all the while greater black-backed gulls hang around looking out for a convenient unattended chick snack.
But the very best bit after all that fuss is when the Dad and chick find each other and the the Dad heads out to sea with his youngster attached to his side, paddling furiously, head bobbing and starting on the next chapter of its life. If it all goes well then in a couple of years time the same chick might be back to the same cliff where it was hatched ready to start the 3-4 year build up to breeding on the island.