Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Storm Petrels // Mousa

Alternative title: The Best Wildlife Experience I Have Ever Had.

And the memory of it still makes my heart go a bit giddy: it just captured everything that I love. Drama, ancient history, a boat ride, and secret animal happenings.

We visited the Shetland Isles a few months ago. And it was an incredible trip where we crammed as much into the days as possible. It was exhilarating, tiring, overwhelming, exciting and thoroughly fascinating.

Shetland was a wonderful place to visit. However, there was one absolute stand out night that I will remember forever:

The night we went to Mousa.

Mousa is a small, uninhabited island with a very special bird breeding on it. The storm petrel. They spend their daylight hours feeding out at sea, only returning to their nests in the dry stane dykes which criss cross the island in the twilight hours. For after living a completely pelagic life for up to five years pre-breeding stage, the storm petrel returns to Mousa to breed, finding sanctuary after their night-time migration within the cavities of the dry stane structures in which it nests.

Most spectacularly of all, the storm petrels on Mousa also nest within the age old broch which is a feature of the island.

In the daylight this broch must be stunning. It's the most intact broch still in existance, as most have tumbled, or been dismantled in the many years since they were built. And the Mousa broch now provides the perfect nesting cavities for the storm petrel. Trips to see the storm petrel are at night, and if the broch is stunning during the day it is something else completely at night.

There is something to see in this photograph! Just make sure to tilt the screen enough to pick out what's hidden in the darkness...

For the broch is immense, not just in its sheer size but in its sheer age. It feels like it's been there forever and will be there forever more. You climb up inside, feeling the way with your feet, up and up and up until you're outside the broch and standing on its top walls. It's then that the stormies appear, flying all around you, swooping and diving so that they feel like swallows, but it's night, so you can see nothing until they're right there in front of you, and can only make out the outline and shadow of your companions features.

It's the noise the stormies create that's astounding. They produce a weird purring, repetitive croaking (listen to the audio clip) from within the walls and the sound seems to reverberate around and through the body. It's wholly addictive: I could have stayed crooked, back bent and listened to the stormies within the walls for as long as they called. The magic of the broch and the birds created a unique and memorable night of bird watching that I would love to experience again. I could have stayed and watched and listened all night, my tiredness was forgotten.

I suppose the stormies flew most like bats, but they were far more magnificent, however that feeling might have been enhanced because we were standing on the walls of an ancient broch. The whole night was wholly surreal, including the stroll back to the boat and the crossing of the sea back to Mainland in the black of night. Afterwards sleep, dreams, awakeness and to bring us back down to earth we travelled back to the Scottish mainland the next day.

The whole night was rates amongst the best experiences of my life and I would return to Shetland again just for that experience: it was truly wonderful.

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