Seton Paul Gordon.

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In even earlier times records prove that as far back as 1249
the island was in the possession of the Norwegians. Under
the Macleans, Cam a' Burg successfully repulsed an attack
by an English fleet, but the fortress was finally taken and
burnt.

Many of the books and records from lona were at the
time deposited on this island as a place of safety, and although
the majority of them were probably destroyed, there is a
local tradition that certain of these historical documents still
lie buried somewhere on the island.

Near Kilchoan the mail-boat passes close to the cliffs of
Ardnamurchan, where herons nest, and even at this late
date some of the birds can be seen sitting on their nests.
Clouds are now obscuring the sun ; on the Mull hills the mists
are gathering, and when, late in the afternoon, Oban is
reached the distant hills show that dark blue appearance
foretelling the approach of rain.

For the night the steamer lies at -her moorings, but at
daybreak she again sets her course for distant Barra, and
foul weather as in fair, winter as in summer, she is abroad
upon the wide ocean, and unusually heavy must be the
storm that prevents her from making the passage between
civilization and its remote and misty outposts, the Outer
Hebridean Islands.



CHAPTER XX

EASAVAL OF SOUTH UIST

STANDING at the extreme southern point of South
Uist, and overlooking the Sound of Barra, is the hill
of Easaval. No imposing mountain is this, but a small,
rounded hill with summit no more than 800 feet above the
Atlantic; yet from its top in fine, clear weather is a view
both wide and varied.

The month of July, 1920, was one of the very worst for
many years in the Outer Hebrides, and fine days were few
and far between, but my base at Polachar was not more than
a couple of miles from the hill, and when at last a day of
calm, clear weather came to the islands, I was able to take
advantage of it and to visit the hill-top. At first the way
led beside the Sound of Barra, where on the shingle ringed
plover shepherded their young broods with anxiety, and
gannets passed north or south with steady flight, making for
their nesting site on distant St. Kilda, or on passage to
their far-off fishing grounds in Mull and beyond. Immedi-
ately below Easaval is a loch Loch a' Choire by name
holding many fine trout, unsurpassed in the excellence of
their flavour and their fighting qualities, and skirting the
loch I made my way to the hill-top along the northerly ridge.

Though the season was late the date was July 26 a
twite or mountain linnet was brooding her four pale-blue
eggs, with their dark-brown markings, in the shelter of a
heather bank, and not -three feet distant a wren left her
domed nest containing half-grown young. Once the hen
twite was called off her nest by her mate, who fed her she
meanwhile standing with quivering wings on some choice

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Easaval of South Uist

morsel he had found. The eggs were near hatching, and
both birds flew round anxiously when their nest was ap-
proached. Much bog myrtle grew on the hill-side, and in the
strong sunshine its fine scent was everywhere on the still air.

The bell heather Erica cinerea was already in bloom,
but the ling Calluna vulgaris would not be at its best for
three weeks from this date. Near the hill-top I passed a fine
patch of white heather with buds already well formed. Ahead
of me a pair of ravens soared tirelessly over the hill. Sud-
denly the two birds approached each other closely, and I saw
sailing in spirals above them a peregrine falcon, who passed
on his way over the hill-top, the ravens croaking the while,

But little wind stirred on the hill this summer's day, and
the air was exceptionally clear. On the north-western horizon
lay St. Kilda, close on sixty miles distant. The island group
was quite distinct : Borreray and Hirta lying close together,
and a few miles north-east the great cliffs Stac Lii where
solans in their thousands nest. North of Easaval, some twelve
miles, Ben Mor (2,034 feet), the highest hill in South Uist,
was intercepting dark clouds drifting down from the north-
west, and the hills of Harris and North Uist were hidden in
a rainstorm. Across the Minch lay Skye, with its many
hills. MacLeod's Maidens, those flat-topped hills about
Dunvegan, were clear and sharp. On the Cuchulain range
clouds rested, though the lower slopes of the hills were clear.
Rhum was extraordinarily distinct, and on the low-lying
island of Canna, a little to the west of it, the long Atlantic
swell could, through the glass, be seen breaking. South-
'ard of Rhum was Eigg, with serrated outline, and bearing
more southerly the small island of Muck. Set in the midst
of the Minch the tall lighthouse of Heiskeir gleamed in the
bright sunlight, a large steamer on a southerly course passing
close by on her passage. About here a small rain-squall
caught the sun's rays near to the surface of the Minch, throw-
ing back all the colours of the rainbow. It was, perhaps, to
the southward that the view was most distinct. All the great



Wanderings of a Naturalist

hills of the mainland between Glenelg and Ardnamurchan
were clear. Even the lighthouse on Ardnamurchan, some
forty miles south-east, could plainly be seen through the
glass. The whole Island of Mull, a good fifty miles distant,
lay spread out in clear sunshine, with dark thunder-clouds
gathering behind it. Ben Mor, Mull, was mist-capped, as it
so often is. Near it I could identify Beinn Fada "the long
hill " and the heights that stand about Gruline.

Then, at the head of Glen Forsa, rose the conical and
easily-identified hill, Beinn Talaidh, and a little to the north
Beinn Bhearnach, or the "Limpet-shaped hill," standing
above Loch Spelve and not a dozen miles from Oban.
Dun da Ghaoith, which rises steeply from the deep waters
of the Sound of Mull, was distinct, even the cairn on the
summit being visible.

The hills of the Ross of Mull stretched away in an un-
even outline, and I thought that, near the entrance to Loch
Scridain, I could make out Dun I, the one hill of lona. Be-
tween me and Mull lay the long and rugged island of Coll,
and beyond the Sound of Gunna the fertile and low-lying
island of Tiree, the sun shining on its white sands, and
even some of the houses themselves, standing up against the
horizon, being visible.

Nearer at hand lay Barra, with its attendant islands, and
a few miles out, and making her way to Castlebay, was the
Oban mail-boat, with black smoke trailing from her funnel.
Out to sea the breeze seemed to die away, and the surface
of the Atlantic was unruffled, so that a whale, rising far
out to sea in the field of my glass, was easily seen.

Flying south, strings of guillemots and razorbills were
making their way to their breeding grounds about Mingulay
and Barra Head. Almost at my feet lay the Island of Eris-
kay, set in the Sound of Barra, its small houses and green
and fertile crofts clear in the sunshine. But now to the south
mutterings of thunder were heard, and torrential rainstorms
formed in various directions, so that the view was obscured.

92





A Hebridean Dwelling House.




Hebridean Islanders gathering Sand to Sprinkle on the Earthen Floors
of their Houses.




GREATER BLACK-BACKED GULL ON HER NEST.
The Dutchman's Cap in the Distance.



Easaval of South Uist

From the north a strong breeze came away, so that in the
Sound of Barra white-capped wavelets were hurried before
the wind, and the small fishing-boats made heavy weather
of it as they set their course for home.

At the foot of the hill a hen harrier passed me, beating
the fields methodically and causing great commotion amongst
the fussy and self-satisfied corn buntings, though he paid no
attention to the birds he put up from the growing crops as he
passed.

Grey crows haunted the shore, and a little way out to sea
gannets were diving at their fishing. The breeze quietened,
and late at night the sun shone on the north-western horizon
before dipping beneath the Atlantic near to the lonely island
of St. Kilda, where, summer and winter, the long swell breaks
on the rocks, and the inhabitants live out their lonely lives,
remote from the busy world, and knowing but little of it or
its ways.



93



CHAPTER XXI

A FEATHERED CRIMINALS THE GREATER BLACK-BACKED GULL

ON a small Inner Hebridean island a colony of about
thirty pairs of greater black-backed gulls nest. Unlike
most of the bird population of the island, which travels
south at the coming of autumn, these large gulls remain
throughout the year on, or near to, the island of their nesting
for I think that of all the tribe of the gulls, they are the
most sedentary in their habits.

During the first fortnight of July, 1919, a companion and
I made our camp on this uninhabited island, and had good
opportunities of studying the life of the gulls.

On the island two colonies of greater black backs nested.
One was at the extreme westerly point where, on some level,
grassy ground, perhaps ten pairs had their home. The larger
colony, however, was on the terraces of a grassy hill near
the centre of the island, where about twenty pairs were
nesting.

Although the island is uninhabited, frequent visits are
paid to it during fine weather by the fishermen of the neigh-
bourhood; indeed, most of the eggs of the first layings are
probably taken for food. This would seem to be the only
explanation of the fact that as late as the first week of July
very few young gulls were to be seen, and a number of the
nests still contained eggs. But quite a large proportion of the
greater black backs seemed to have had their second layings
robbed as well as the first, as, at the time of our visit, these
gulls were not nesting, nor had they any full-grown young
to tend.

About the open spaces of the Atlantic a breeze from some

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A Feathered Criminal

quarter almost always prevails, and the great gulls loved to
soar in the teeth of the breeze far above the topmost point
of the island, which is, at its central part, just under 400 feet
above sea level. Soaring thus the gulls would periodically
rap out their hoarse and far-carrying call, a cry unlike that
of any other of the gull tribe.

Having located a nest in a suitable position for photo-
graphing from amongst the colony at the western end of the
islandthere were here three nests with eggs we carried
our hiding-tent thither late in the evening of July 3, a
beautiful calm summer night. On our way back to our camp
in the gathering dusk we disturbed several larks roosting in
the tussocky grass for curiously enough there were a few of
these songsters even on this Atlantic outpost while from
the heaps of stones that strewed the shore storm petrels were
uttering their purring cries. The next morning we revisited
the gulls, but as the first-chosen nest gave no results we
moved our hide near to another nest. Next day, finding that
this bird had become more or less indifferent to the hide, we
moved it closer, setting it up at a distance of about six feet
from the eggs. The hide was then carefully camouflaged with
pieces of grass and my companion entered it, while I, having
walked ostentatiously away, sat down on a knoll two or three
hundred yards distant, satisfying myself before my departure
that the gull had returned to the nest. Several photographs
were taken on this morning, but it was thought inadvisable
to disturb the bird unduly on the first day, so, shortly after
noon we left her in peace, the hide remaining in position.

On the island a number of bullocks or stirks, as they
are called in Scotland grazed. These animals usually fed
round the hill near the centre of the island, for by judiciously
changing their ground they could graze in shelter and com-
fort whatever the strength and direction of the wind. Very
late in the evening Of the day on which we had been photo*
graphing the black back the wind fell away, and the stirks,
tempted by the fine, calm weather, left the shelter of the hill

95



Wanderings of a Naturalist

and fed right out on to the grassy plateau where the colony
of gulls were nesting. Through the night, or very early in
the morning, the cattle must have discovered the hiding-tent,
and with that love of destruction so characteristic of them,
proceeded to raze the curious object to the ground. In the
morning, on coming in sight of the nesting ground, we were
surprised to see nothing of our hide-tent, and on reaching
the spot found it flat on the ground and badly knocked about.
But a more distressing event one of the bullocks had been
lying actually on the nest, and the two eggs, very near hatch-
ing, were hopelessly crushed.

This unfortunate occurrence was a sad blow to us, and
we decided that it would be inadvisable to attempt to erect
the hiding-tent anywhere on the plateau so long as the cattle
were in the vicinity.

Through the glass I could make out a greater black back
brooding on her nest half-way up the hill near the middle
of the island, and nearly a mile distant. Marking the spot,
we repaired and carried off the hide, and on reaching the hill
had little difficulty in finding the nest, which contained two
eggs, one of them just chipping. From this nest, about
300 feet above sea level, a grand view met the eye this clear
and sunny July day. A fresh north-easter ruffled the waters
of the Atlantic, and from the sea, sparkling in the sunlight,
many islands rose. One saw, away eastwards, the great
Island of Mull with its hills, chief among them Ben Mor,
over 3,000 feet high. South, lona lay, with white sands glis-
tening in the sunlight. Westward one saw Tiree, and near
it the lighthouse on Skerry vore. North-west and north
Barra, Uist, and Skye stood out, all with many hills rising
sharply into the sky of deep blue.

The site of this nest seemed such that no cattle would be
likely to feed near, so again and with considerable difficulty,
for the ground was rocky the hiding-tent was placed in
position some yards distant from the nest, and this having
been done we left the spot in order that the gull might become

96



A Feathered Criminal

familiar with this addition to the normal features of her hill-
side. The following morning my companion entered the
hiding-tent and, the gull returning with little hesitation,
several pictures were secured of her. Next day the nest was
again visited, and I entered the hide about ten o'clock.

By now July 8 one of the chicks had hatched out and
was cheeping vigorously, while its companion, as yet im-
prisoned in the egg, was tapping at the latter energetically
with its bill and cheeping feebly. The difference in the age
of the two chicks seemed to show that the gull had commenced
to brood immediately after laying the first egg.

The hiding-tent, placed as it was on a sloping hillside,
was extremely uncomfortable to sit in. In the front of the
tent a small hole was cut in the canvas for the lens of the
camera, and two others, one above and one below, to
serve as peep-holes. These peep-holes were large enough
to peer through with one eye only, and as there was usually
a strong draught of air blowing through them into the sun-
heated interior of the tent, prolonged watching was by no
means pleasant. For about five minutes after my companion
had left the hide I could hear the gulls calling as they circled
overhead. Gradually they quieted down, and the owner of the
nest beside the tent flew low, backwards and forwards, over
the hide for perhaps five minutes, spying out the land. Then,
through one of the peep-holes, I could see her walking
leisurely down the grassy ledge towards her nest, and after
several pauses she came forward, settling down sedately on
to her first-born and the chipping egg. The chick seemed
to be a source of interest to her, for she periodically stood up
to gaze upon it, subsequently brooding it once more after
a careful scrutiny. But when a false alarm excited the colony
periodically, the mother bird, on flying off her nest, treated
her chick with scant consideration, and as she "kicked off"
from her nest in order to launch herself into the air, usually
sent her young one flying with a blow from her powerful
foot. A Spartan upbringing for one so young I

H 97



Wanderings of a Naturalist

On one occasion she picked up a small stone a few yards
from the nest, carrying it to beside the latter, when she
dropped it. During the time she was brooding the cock stood
on guard on a rock near, and whenever a gull flew past
croaked a challenge with neck fully outstretched and head
depressed. The bird on the nest on one occasion called also
possibly it was the cock that was brooding at this moment,
for it was impossible to distinguish them.

A few weeks previously I had been photographing a par-
ticularly nervous golden plover on her nest, and I could not
help being impressed by the contrast in the behaviour of the
two birds.* The golden plover, during the week I was daily
in the hiding-tent, never became used to the slight noise of
the shutter, and invariably flew into the air as if shot when
this was released. The greater black back, however, even the
first time the shutter was fired, betrayed no alarm, merely
gazing at the hide in an inquiring manner. The hot sun
shining full on the nest troubled her a good deal, and she
gasped and panted so that drops of saliva formed at the end
of her bill and dripped in a steady stream to the ground.
The red blotch on the lower mandible was extremely con-
spicuous on these occasions. This bright red mark is found
on the bills of, I believe, all the family of gulls with the
exception of the common gull, and it would be interesting
to know what, if any, function it performs.

A close view of a greater black back is something of
a shock. On the wing she is, by her wonderful powers
of flight, one of the grandest of birds, but watch her from
a distance of six feet or so, and then her, or his, criminal look
becomes only too evident. The low forehead, with little in-
telligence or expression, the evil callous countenance, the
cold, murderous eye, the singular lack of affection toward the
newly-hatched young there is nothing to admire here. One
can easily credit these bird-Bolsheviks with swallowing unsus-
pecting puffins and shearwaters, as they have been seen to do.
*See Chapter VI, p. 25.
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A Feathered Criminal

At one nest we found the head and neck of a domestic
fowl, which was probably brought from the mainland at
least six miles away. A friend informed me that he had
known of a greater black back, kept in captivity, swallowing
no fewer than sixteen sparrows at a single meal !

At intervals when I was in the hiding-tent the gull slept
peacefully, with head tucked away beneath her feathers. The
second chick was slow in hatching, and apparently she lost
patience with it, for the egg was found crushed and cold one
morning, with the unfortunate chick half-hatched, but dead
and stiff. There were no marks of cattle round the nest, so it
is difficult to see how they could have been responsible in this
instance.

About a hundred yards farther up the hillside was another
greater black-backed gull's nest containing three eggs. One
morning, from the hiding-tent, my companion watched a
fierce battle between two gulls beside this nest, the whole
colony being affected by the fight and croaking incessantly
as they stood about. No one, however, seemed to think it
was their business to interfere. In the afternoon, on visiting
this particular nest, I found that the marauding gull had
evidently overcome the rightful owner of the eggs, for these
were scattered about sucked and broken, while the feathers
with which the ground was strewn showed signs of the fray.

Truly a bird that does not hesitate to steal the eggs be-
longing to its own kind cannot inspire even the most ardent
bird lover with feelings of admiration or respect !



99



CHAPTER XXII

MINGULAY OF THE CLIFFS

A BOUT ten miles to the south-westward of Barra Island,

/\ and set far into the Atlantic, is the lonely and rock-

"^" girt island of Mingulay. It is not so many years

since a population of some forty persons inhabited the island;

now they have emigrated, chiefly to the neighbouring island

of Vatersay, which is more accessible, and Mingulay is given

over to the countless thousands of sea fowl that make their

home there during the time of their nesting.

One August 4 a companion and I sailed out to the island.
For a week we had waited for the opportunity of making the
passage, but constant storms swept the Atlantic, bringing
with them a swell exceptional for the time of year, and it
was not until late the preceding night that the wind had
moderated. Now with the morning only a light air from
the south-east ruffled the waters, but the sky was heavy with
watery clouds, and away towards Ardnamurchan and where
Mull stood out dimly with mist-capped hills, great banks of
ominous grey nimbus clouds lay piled up on the horizon.
Our course lay past the island of Muldoanich, where, not so
many years ago, the sea eagle still nested, and along the
eastern shore of Vatersay, Sandray and Pabbay. Making
their flight in single file as is their custom, solans winged
their way northward through the sounds between the islands
on passage to their nesting cliffs on St. Kilda. Crossing
their path, and heading almost all of them for Mingulay,
hurried many razorbills and guillemots, flying usually
in little companies, now just above the water's surface,
now moving rapidly and at a considerable height above

100




Forty Winks.




Feeling the Heat.
GREATER BLACK-BACKED GULL.




GUILLEMOTS NESTING IN THOUSANDS ON ONE OF
THE STACKS OF MINGULAY.



Mingulay of the Cliffs

the sea. Many of the birds were carrying fish to their
young.

Rain had commenced to fall before Mingulay was reached,
and the outlook for our stay on the island was a none too
pleasant one, nor did a playful so we were assured on our
return to civilization bull, which knocked down one of the
party while he was wrestling with a heavy camping outfit,
pinning him down and incidentally breaking our carefully
packed supply of eggs, tend to make matters assume a more
rosy prospect.

After a night of mist and rain the next morning was wild
and stormy, with half a gale blowing from the north-east,
and the great cliffs on the western side of the island were
filled with the spirit of the storm. A heavy sea was running,
and the long Atlantic rollers dashed themselves against the
precipitous rocks, hurling the spray far up their black
weather-beaten sides.

So great was the force of the wind, and so insecure and
water-logged the top of the cliff, it was impossible to
venture near the thousands upon thousands of nesting
guillemots and razorbills, but it was interesting to see a
peregrine emerge from a high rock and circle overhead, by
her hoarse and repeated shrieking showing that even at this
late date she was still tending her young. Throughout the
day the gale continued, but by next morning August 6
the wind had moderated, and the sun shone brightly.

Although Mingulay is the nesting-ground of such enor-
mous numbers of sea fowl, the rocks are almost everywhere
precipitous, and it is in only one or two places that it is
possible to climb down to where the birds are nesting. At
one point immediately below Biulacraig the rock drops
sheer 700 feet, and almost the whole way up the cliff were
guillemots and razorbills nesting, the latter birds more
numerous at the highest elevations. How do such birds
succeed in shepherding their solitary chicks to the surface
of the sea, so many feet below them, without accident ? The

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Wanderings of a Naturalist

young of both razorbill and guillemot leave their nesting-
ledges for the water at the age of about ten days that is,
many weeks before they are able to fly. They must, there-
fore, fall from the ledges to the sea, or be carried by their
parents, and stand a very good chance of being killed on
some projecting point of the rock, or, even if they reach the
water alive, of being crushed against the cliff-foot by the
rush of the waves. One could see, floating at the base of
the cliffs, the small bodies of several unfortunate chicks which
had come to an untimely end, and there seemed to be a great
number of the birds still clustering on the ledges which had
neither eggs nor young, and which had probably lost the
latter. Undoubtedly wild weather must very largely in-
crease the mortality of the chicks, but it would seem as
though, even under the most favourable circumstances, this
must be considerable. That the season was a late one was


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