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Fulmars Fly In Winter Winds

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

My Wild Life: January '22

In January, the year is reborn and a new cycle begins.

The bitter winter winds blow my favourite bird into view and I begin the new cycle on the headland close to home. My oasis, my haven, my sanctuary.

Around the headland stand lonely, wind-sculpted trees and the coastal paths are a corridor of gorse. Raven’s grace the skies above and can often be seen tumbling through the air in a quarrel with neighbouring Peregrine Falcons, and Gannets can be seen offshore diving above hunting cetaceans. But the bird that steals the show on this turbulent headland is the mighty Northern Fulmar.

The Northern Fulmar is a seabird of colder northern seas and closely related to the Albatross. It is a bird very close to my heart and the bird that inspired my journey into wildlife photography. They have exceptionally long life-spans of up to 50 years and live in monogamous colonies. The name ‘Fulmar’ comes from two Old Norse words - fúll meaning “foul” and márwhich means “gull.” This refers to the awful-smelling, lethal stomach oil used as a defence mechanism whilst under threat or attack from predators. In Inuit mythology, the Fulmar wooed Sedna, a goddess said to hold sea animals entangled in her hair. They wooed Sedna with an enticing song and promises to fulfil all that her heart desired, but as Sedna travelled across the vast sea, she was deceived by the cunning birds.

These birds are the reason I visit the headland, and I frequent the colony several times per week. The winter months are my favourite time to observe and photograph the Northern Fulmar as they use the upwellings of winter air to perform aerial manoeuvres around the cliff colony, and their dusky grey plumage on top of the bleak mid-winter conditions create a welcome sense of neutrality, calm and balance in my images. My favourite behaviour to capture in these conditions is known as ledge visiting. With fast, stiff wing beats the birds will soar past their neighbours, every now and then alighting on a ledge where one or more Fulmar is present. The hosting Fulmar often cackles vigorously, sweeping its head whilst the visitor passively bows and cackles in response. This behaviour can produce exquisite imagery as the Fulmars hang mid-air with their wings in perfect symmetry and tails splayed.

When the winds blow over, the Fulmars soar past stiff-winged and silent, and as I stand in the presence of these birds, whirling in circles around me with the soporific sound of the waves beating the cliffs beneath my feet, my soul feels free.

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