Earliest guillemot eggs on record at St Abbs

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THE prolonged spell of spring sunshine has seen one particular breed of bird at St Abbs marine reserve spring into action earlier than ever before, with the site already recording its first batch of guillemot eggs.

The National Trust for Scotland has been keeping detailed notes of breeding activity at St Abb’s Head since 1981 and they were stunned when guillemots were spotted sitting on eggs on April 21, four days sooner than the previous earlier date.

The reserve’s property manager Liza Cole, was also a little shocked at the discovery and said she thought the harsh winter at the end of last year coupled with the early onset of summer over the past few weeks, might have played a part.

“We were a little stunned that the eggs appeared so early,” she told ‘The Berwickshire News’.

“It was only after we got a call from some guys from the Isle of May saying that they’d had their first egg on April 15 that we decided to investigate.

“Sure enough we went out on Thursday, April 21 and there were quite a few birds sitting on eggs.

“Our records show that guillemots tend to nest anytime from the end of April to early May but it could be that the weather had an effect on their breeding.

“We had a particularly hard winter which took us all by surprise as did this spell of warm weather. It may be that the conditions forced the guillemots to reset their biological clocks a bit or it could be that they are actually responding to climate change.

“Unfortunately we won’t be able to see if this is the case for a few years yet, as we’d need to look at the next couple of springs to see if there’s a trend.”

The warm weather has brought plenty of visitors to St Abbs and the surrounding area over the last couple of weeks and Liza said it’s just as well that people had started to flock to the reserve already as she predicted the guillemots may take flight before too long.

“If people had come a few days before the eggs had hatched there’s a chance that they might not have seen any guillemots on the cliffs at all,” she explained.

“But at the moment there’s plenty about and people are always excited to hear and see the birds; they’re a great spectacle. I imagine a lot of people haven’t necessarily realised that the guillemots are nesting earlier than usual but they’ve done well to come to the area when they have as guillemots tend to spend the least amount of time nesting.

“The birds typically incubate their chicks for four weeks following their birth and then within three weeks the chicks will follow their parents and take a leap of faith into the sea, even though they’re not fully grown. Usually we say to visitors that the guillemots will be about until the end of June but I think there’s a very good chance the majority will be gone by then this summer.”

And it’s not just the guillemots who have been quick of the mark this year, Liza said St Abbs Reserve was thriving with activity at the moment.

She added: “The reserve is looking lovely at the moment- the cliffs are carpeted in sea pink and we’ve got mute swans resting on the loch.

“It seems that other species are following the guillemots’ lead too, with the kittiwakes, for which St Abbs is so well known, already nest-building.

“We are hopeful that this early start is the sign of an excellent breeding season, which will help halt the decline in the populations of these seabirds.”