Nation diary: A marooned fulmar chick that’s not as helpless because it appears to be like

It’s an hour’s stroll round Aughris Head, however we took longer, the distractions being nice. Throughout Sligo Bay was the steepening rise and summit plateau of stately Benbulbin, to the east the remoted bulk of Copes Mountain, its inexperienced skirts richly washed in daylight that broke by darkish clouds pushed on by a powerful westerly. To the north was Donegal, the cliffs of Malin Beg and the sharp profile of Slieve League etched in opposition to a light-weight mist.

I lay in deep grass on the sting of banded limestone cliffs which plunged vertically 100 toes to the ocean under, scanning tiers of guano-splattered ledges for any indicators of life. Aughris is well-known for its breeding colonies of razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes, however they had been finished and already gone. I felt I’d arrived the morning after a wild social gathering. The venue was empty however nonetheless exhaled a type of weary, fishy sigh. I watched a rock pipit flitting close to the highest of the crag, and that gave the impression to be it till I noticed a forlorn fulmar chick perched alone amongst a number of just lately vacated niches midway up the cliff.

The Aughris Head shoreline. {Photograph}: Paul Mayall Eire/Alamy

Fulmars are from the identical household as petrels and, being pelagic, should put together properly for an extended life at sea. They stay for many years and don’t breed till they’re about eight years previous. Their single chick appears to be like like a fluffy beanbag, particularly when their mother and father sit on it. And whereas the invoice of an grownup has a teasing curve to it, the chicks simply look grumpy, particularly this one, marooned alone in a vertical ocean of rock. Maybe the chick was lacking its mother and father, since fulmars spend extra time at sea as their offspring matures.

It was much less helpless than it seemed. Fulmar chicks have the neat trick of greeting the inquisitive by gobbing vile-smelling oil, which is close to unimaginable to preen from feather or shirt. At this stage, flopped on its ledge, the chick weighed round two kilos. That might now fall as pectorals and first feathers strengthened in anticipation of its first perilous journey into the void.

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