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Fulmars are more thick-set than the kittiwakes and have a tubed nostril believed to be a defensive mechanism. Come too close and you could be sprayed with a smelly, oily liquid. Originally an Icelandic bird, they have suc- cessfully migrated south and breed around the coasts of the United Kingdom and Ireland but more especially in Scotland. Up until 1874 they bred only on St. Kilda, just

west of the Outer Hebrides. Tey are rather clumsy on land but in the air they are grand masters as they soar on the up-draughts along the cliff faces. Fulmars are only absent from the nest site late autumn and early winter. As you wonder at the majesty of Rathlin’s stacks and cliffs, it’s hard to believe that people once made a part- time living collecting eggs from such dangerous places. Known as ‘climmers’, these dare-devil characters would be lowered by rope carrying a basket. Tey would then edge their way across the cliff face to pick up guillemot, razorbill and gull eggs; even puffin burrows were raided. No special clothing was worn by the egg gatherers though some did wear a primitive type of helmet made from sally rods. Tis protected them from being hit by lumps of basalt, limestone and flint disturbed by startled birds flying off their nesting site. One island woman, Rosie McFaul, often scaled the cliffs at the West Lighthouse. On reaching the platform she then had tea with the lighthouse keepers and gave some of her eggs before heading home with her booty. Rosie was the aunt of the RSPB warden Liam McFaul. Other collectors such as Patrick James Morrison, known as ‘Paddy the Climber’, also specialised in taking eggs to order for clients with the likes of peregrine and buzzard nests being robbed. Tis of course was years ago when eggs were more plentiful and before they were protected. During food shortages in the Second World War sea bird eggs were mixed with hen eggs to make powder and eaten in the cities.

Wild Thyme 48

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