Ever wanted to enjoy the amazing spectacle of our native cliff-nesting seabirds in the breeding season up close from a kayak? From my own personal experience, it can be an assault on your senses. Adult birds fly vigorously back and forth, wings whirring overhead, to collect food or look after the eggs or chicks perched precariously on a lofty ledge. The noise can be mesmerising, kittiwakes help identify themselves by saying their own name while the deep, guttural grunts of cormorants sound like something from the age of the dinosaurs. Up close and personal, the smell of these large mixed colonies can be pretty unpleasant!
The days are now getting longer, but a few hardy bird species will have started displaying breeding behaviour very early. Fulmars and guillemots return to nest sites as early as January if the weather is good enough, and shag and peregrine will start displaying in February in similarly good conditions. Starting early is a risky strategy though; a late winter storm can mean a failed nesting attempt and having to go back to square one. Cormorant and peregrine will often lay eggs in March, but the majority of species such as gulls, razorbills, puffins, and gannets will not start until April. Kittiwakes and terns tend not to start nesting until May, and June is often the best month to view seabirds overall as all species will then be feeding chicks. Fulmar and gannet are usually the last chicks to fledge, sometimes well into August.
Places like Cemlyn Bay, Puffin Island and the cliffs north of Penmon Point are all accessible by sea kayak, in the right conditions and with appropriate skilled leadership of course! Other sites and islands need more paddling experience to access safely, places such as the Skerries (which hosts an Arctic tern colony, amongst others) and Bardsey Island (famous for Manx shearwater).
For details about our 'Life on a Ledge' nesting seabird tours click the photo:
At Sea Môr Kayaking we practice and encourage responsible wildlife watching. If birds start showing behaviour such as alarm calling, visible agitation, circling, or in extremes mock or actual dive-bombing then you should retreat to an appropriate distance immediately. Fulmars have even been known to spit a beakful of fish guts at bird ringers or climbers who get really close, so you have been warned! The worrying downward pressure on our native seabird populations was starkly felt on Shetland last year, read the following article if you want to learn more…