Tuesday, 21 May 2013
Too Much Guano For Just One Rock
Times are tough for some of the UK’s oddest birds which until recently had been quietly stockpiling their guano among the more secluded outcrops of these northern isles. Notoriously fearful of strangers and always happy to mistake your finger for an anchovy or rain all manner of anal hell from upon high, these noisy birds are suddenly snapping at each other with a new anxiety as they struggle to attract mates. Yet, despite their clamorous screeching, there’s still much to love about these strange creatures that otherwise bring some much needed colour to our drab landscape.
But that’s enough talk about UKIP and the SNP. In unrelated news, a puffin laid an egg this week…
If the dwindling numbers of puffins are suddenly a concern, the strange hostilities we witnessed between the Razor-Snouted Farage and the Three-Chinned Salmond are an even more potent reminder of what happens when one breed of bird attempts to colonise the roosts of another.
The territoriality of our seabirds is notorious. On our rocky cliff tops, there’s barely enough room for one alpha male with a big personality to produce his copious guano. This week, the disputed nest was the Canon's Gait Pub on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. It all began with the usual ritual display from the Alpha Farage who had no sooner landed than he began to puff up his chest and knock his characteristically chinless bill against a pint of warm beer. When the locals turned restless, he squawked that there are ‘some parts of Scottish nationalism that are akin to fascism’ but that just put the war pheromones in the air. The Alpha Salmond immediately regurgitated a mackerel and waddled into the debate with a well-timed peck at his opponent’s rear facing quills, suggesting that ‘when the obnoxious views of [Farage’s] party are put to him then his bubble deflates very quickly’. What followed was a spectacle of Mother Nature at her fiercest as things quickly turned feral. Feathers flew, nests were smashed, and the stench of half-digested election promises filled the news agenda.
The truth, however, is that this kind of territorial dispute will be short lived. There’s no room this far north for both breeds of bird and, although their plumage might differ, there’s too much similarity between the two. Both alpha males have struggled to a greater or lesser degree to overcome the perception that their parties exist to address one issue. Both Farage and Salmond are also the charismatic figureheads of their respective broods and both have some pretty stiff things to say about their migratory habits of others species: Europeans in the case of the former, the English in the case of the latter. Yet the biggest problem they both face is that they will only ever attract mates of their own kind. The Salmond is rarely comfortable in the warmer south whilst the Farage is solely native to England and would struggle to breed anywhere where it couldn’t also find pub lunches, the latest Test score, and busty Cockney barmaids who still appreciate the mating rituals of the 1970s.
Meanwhile, back with the puffins, we’ll have to wait to hear news of the latest census before we know how well they survived the winter. Yet I don’t fear for the birds as much as I fear for the health of the volunteers who will soon be sticking their hands into puffin nests. Not because the puffin isn’t a notorious snapper and not because groping thousands of seabirds won’t eventually lose its novelty. Those unlucky wardens will be stuck on a lump of rock hundreds of miles off the coast of Scotland, filled with savage beasts and rich with the smell of mature bird droppings. It will be as bad as if they’d never left the mainland in the first place…