Albatross is a mighty fine tune by one of my all time favourite bands ‘Fleetwood Mac’. In fact, how about setting the scene by opening up a new a tab and playing it as you read?! Just click here.
The reason I have chosen to call this post ‘Albatross’ has nothing to do with the instrumental though. Yesterday, Wednesday 19th September I received a call from Dave Bateson, the reserve warden up at RSPB South Stack. Having already spoken to Ken, he knew that I was (unfortunately) working down the other end of the island and would not be able to dash for a chance to see a passing Black-Browed Albatross. I don’t think you need to be in ‘birding’ circles to appreciate quite what a bird an albatross is, famed throughout the world because of their enormous wingspan, longevity, loyalty and a symbol of hope lost to sailors in the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’.
It is becoming a trend that phenomenal things are sighted from South Stack when I am down in Menai Bridge. Almost this time last year Ken watched as a pod of Orca made their way northwards past the stack. I had been living on the reserve at the time and disappointingly found myself receiving Ken’s excited call as I walked along the High Street of Menai Bridge, past the Indian take-aways, bakery and coffee shops, miles from the spectacle outside my own bedroom window. In an annoying repetition of history, I was walking in exactly the same place yesterday when I received Dave’s call about the probable Albatross.
Unfortunately, neither I nor Ken (conveniently sea-watching from exactly the right place) managed to see an Albatross, Black-Browed or otherwise. However the texts and twitter speculation soon spread (like wildfire, or perhaps the common cold).
The birding world is well-connected these days; the bird lines and alerts have evolved, are well used and form the ornithological backbone of Britain. With the advent of social media (particularly twitter) and smart phones sightings can be seen by followers all of the world in a matter of seconds. It is fascinating (and also scary) to think that an hour after this “possible Black-Browed Albatross” sighting, it had been coupled with an unconfirmed sighted of the same species from the Isle of Man the previous day and that it was stated that it was now likely that this was an individual that used to visit the Scottish Island of Sula Sgeir. Perhaps is it. Perhaps one or both of these possibles was a definite? And perhaps this Albatross is visiting the North Atlantic rock of Sula Sgeir. And perhaps this is the same individual that has been sighted there before.
Black-Browed Albatross, should after all be breeding on the other side of the world. The likelihood of multiple birds travelling up the Irish Sea is small, but there has often been speculation about the number that may be taking refuge on our remote islands. Who knows?! I certainly don’t and without politely asking Mister Albatross to explain himself I think I’m unlikely to find out.
It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that this Albatross has in fact being visiting Scotland since 1967 when an Albatross was recorded on Bass Rock amongst the Gannets. After this date there were various sightings at various Scottish locations (Gannets close at hand). Indeed, our very own Ken Croft saw his one and only Black-Browed Albatross from South Stack Reserve back in 2005. It is thought that this is the individual that was then known to reside on Sula Sgeir, but perhaps not. Perhaps we have multiple long-distance visitors that despite their grand proportions slip unnoticed to the remote islands of Scotland.
Fascinating as their story may be, I think there is an allure in the unknown. Part of me hopes that they go on avoiding our gaze, seeking solace in our still wild places.