It’s the Busy Period here on Rum. Tourists aplenty, lots of visiting friends, stacks to be doing on the croft (not all of it getting done!) but also in true tail chasing manner it is the very time of year when you most want to be taking time out to enjoy the many things which make Rum so very special.
The wildlife, the weather, the landscapes, the interesting people, the produce, the foraging…
Rum is famous for so many of the creatures we share our island and surrounding waters with; the red deer, the sea eagles and golden eagles, the midges (!), the dolphins and whales, the dragonflies, the winkles (!). We are also the summer host to a quarter of the worlds population of Manx Shearwaters, fantastic little birds who return here every year to meet up with their breeding partner (they stay with the same partner throughout their breeding life), use the same burrow as in previous years, mate, lay and incubate their egg and rear their chick until it fledges and they migrate to their winter habitat. During the day time the birds are out feeding at sea where they are graceful, elegant creatures, swooping low over the ocean with alternate flashes of black and white (their wings are black on top, white on the underside), sometimes gathering in large rafts, bobbing on the seas surface. As it gets dark at night they return once more in to land (their burrows are holes dug high into the mountainside using their beaks and wings) to feed their chicks, calling to each other with eerie high pitched squeals believed to have been incorrectly identified as trolls and goblins by the vikings who landed on Rum and named the cuillin range Hallivall, Barkeval, Askival and probably the reason behind the name Trollaval. On land they are clumsy, struggling to walk along on legs set far back on their bodies, vulnerable to predation.
On Monday we were fortunate to assist as volunteers in some of the shearwater burrow monitoring, where selected specific burrows are checked for productivity each year. Rum is the location of countless scientific research projects on many species, habitat, weather, flora and fauna.
Our part involved a walk ‘up the hill’ (about 3/4 of the way up a very high peak) on a very hot day but the views each time we stopped to catch our breath were more than worth the effort required.
and the shearwater chicks themselves once we got there were definitely worth it! We had a lovely few hours up there checking burrows, finding chicks of varying sizes, a couple of adults birds and a couple of pipping eggs. We also found a dead bird which was sad but still interesting as we could learn more about the shearwaters from looking at it’s remains and speculating on how it may have died.
Then then long walk back down the hill…
On Thursday we had our usual weekly summer treat of the Sheerwater boat trip. The conditions were perfect – a roasting hot, midge infested day back on dry land made for a welcome sea breeze, millpond flat shimmering blue ocean, cloudless blue skies and a gorgeous trip out from Rum to Soay, around the isle of Soay and back to Rum again. We saw loads of porpoises, plenty of seals, tons of jellyfish and plenty of gannets.
These close encounters with nature are a big part of what makes our life here so amazing.
Last night we ventured up the hill again, to the same part as we had been on Monday but this time in the evening. We walked up just as it was getting dark, installed ourselves on comfortable rocks and sat to wait for the adult shearwaters to come in for the night. It was an amazing experience. Sitting amid the screeching calls, the flapping wings, the shearwaters landing all around us, appearing in the drifting clouds and fog and then disappearing again while we sat, a group of 14 of us close together, speaking in hushed whispers and exclaiming on how amazing it was.
Photos are poor, mostly because the light was not good for photography but also because such an experience can never be captured on film. It is the stuff of wildlife documentaries which makes you desperate not to view it through a tv screen but to be there, experiencing it, feeling it, seeing it, hearing it and living it for real.
That’s us. Living it. To the full. And a lot of this week up in rather high places too.