13th June. I am now inclined to join any group trip only if the venue offers something special and I have to say St Abbs, or more precisely the sea bird colonies and cliffs of St Abbs Head are one of my favoured visits. Thankfully the heavy rains of other areas did not touch us throughout the day and temperatures varied from cool on the open cliff tops to warm in more sheltered areas. Although overcast it was a perfect day for walking, watching and listening. I soon made a determined effort to disengage form the main group and headed towards the cliffs with a small group of keen participants. St Abbs Head is a National Nature Reserve and was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions.
The overcast conditions suggested that butterfly viewing would be limited and so it proved, although I did get my eye on a Common Blue Butterfly at an early point of the walk and I only managed to add Green-veined White Butterfly to a rather sparse list today, although I understand another participant had what from the description appeared to be a Small Copper Butterfly and a Red Admiral Butterfly. Brown Hare was seen before we began to a climb towards the cliffs, along with the like of Goldfinch and a Coal Tit. I had seen amongst other species, four Kestrels, Common Buzzard, Shelduck and Lapwing on the journey north.
I was soon high enough to look southwards and admire the picturesque village of St Abbs, formerly known as Coldringham Shore. The present name is derived from St Abbs Head, the rocky promontory north of the village that we were heading towards. The name St Abbs is itself derived from St Aebbe. The area off shore of the village is a very popular diving spot as it provides clear water and spectacular underwater scenery. There is a double archway just 50 metres from shore known as Cathedral Rock. The area became the first Voluntary Marine Reserve in Britain in 1984 with input from David Bellamy…now that’s a name from the past. David Bellamy was once a TV regular, but I understand some of his views concerning climate change do not go down well. I’m never the less grateful that he led me into exploring some natural history issues many years ago and I have his book Botanic Man from 1978. Perhaps his views are contrary to those general held, but I have no problem with a person who sticks to views that are earnestly held and who doesn’t court popularity by altering them so as to follow the majority view, as there is far too much of the latter in life.
My interest today was really as much pointed towards taking in the rock formations as it was the sea birds, although we were soon watching groups of Gannets, generally flying south, from Bass Rock, and the colonies of Fulmar, Shag, Cormorant, Kittiwake, Fulmar Guillemot and Razorbill. The colonies did not look to be as busy as on past visits and others agreed, although I accept the memory plays strange tricks. I certainly believe that there were far fewer Kittiwakes. The occasional Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Yellowhammer and Linnet were seen on our walk towards the lighthouse. No Peregrine Falcons were seen, but a pair of Kestrels entertained as we had lunch. No Puffins either. The forms and hues of the rock formations took my attention as I ate my sandwiches and also watched the nearby Fulmars and Kittiwakes continually taking to the air. As we moved off after lunch a Stoat was seen running along the cliff top.
The Rabbit on steroids took up as much attention as the Stoat and Brown Hare had done. It seemed to be a massive beast and we decided that it may have been a cross between a domestic and wild rabbit such was its strange look.
Texture and colour
We walked back via Mire Loch which is a man made freshwater Loch in an area that had once been marsh lying along the fault between the volcanic rock of St Abbs Head and the sedimentary rock of the inner mainland. To be honest I could have spent a whole day in this interesting little area. I did have time to search for Northern Brown Argus, but without success. I do think we were in an early period for this butterfly to be on the wing so perhaps this and the fact it was so over cast didn’t help. I am surprised that we saw none at all. We did have song from Sedge Warbler (a snatch only), Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, numerous Song Thrushes, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Goldfinch and Linnet. Birds on the loch included little Grebe, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coot. Botanical interest included Rock Rose, Wild Thyme and Northern Marsh Orchid. There was plenty of Thrift along the walk. The sun almost broke through the clouds as we relaxed in this area and there was enough brightness to show off a stunning Yellowhammer at its best.
At the loch
The return walk was done at pace, I think because by now some were smelling the aroma of tea and coffee! The pace was slowed somewhat by the climb we faced. I’m sure this climb is getting steeper on each visit. We had seen no Puffins but there was certainly plenty of ‘puffing’. A Common Seal was spotted close to the foot of the cliffs whilst Swallows and House Martins flew overhead. Only two Large Black-backed Gulls were seen all day and I wondered if they were controlled in this area.
Cliffs north of St Abbs Head
We were back in plenty of time and I admit I headed to the village for a reviving drink. The café was doing a roaring trade and no sooner had we placed our order and found a seat outside when the place was closed owing to a shortage of crockery.
It began to turn very cold now and I wasn’t the only one feeling the drop in temperature. As I awaited my tea and crispy mars cake we watched a Herring Gull come to the next table and swallow at least two plastic sachets before getting stuck into what appeared to be remains of jam or perhaps tomato sauce. This particular bird seemed to be thriving and perhaps challenging the giant Rabbit for sheer muscle, but I can’t imagine that its liking for the plastic sachets were going to do it anything but harm in the long run. On a serious note, the plastic waste on this planet is doing great harm to our wildlife.