Courtship Dance

Shag seabirds courting on nest
Shag seabirds courting on nest
Shag seabirds courting on nest

I’m not really a birder, but the hive of activity that is an island seabird colony in peak summer mating season is an impressive sight to behold, and the Farne Isles in Northumbria is one of the best places in Britain to witness the spectacle. No sooner than I scrambled precariously over the bow of the boat onto Staple Island, my senses were bombarded by a cacophony of seabirds, all frenetically busy mating and raising their young, and the pungent smell of guano.

Atlantic puffins are iconic and utterly addictive to watch as they phlegmatically return after each fishing trip, beaks full of sand eels back to their burrows to feed their chicks, running the gauntlet of the herring gulls on the way. But my most memorable experience of the trip was something very different. A few hundred metres further back I found a timber viewing platform and I settled down to watch the nesting guillemots, razorbills and European shags on the cliff edge. I found myself fascinated by the courting and nesting behaviour of the European shags. I watched one proudly bring a large stick to its partners nest and them interact with its female partner in a beautiful and tender courthsip dance which was suprisingly touching to observe. Not a great deal is known about mating behaviour in Europhean shags, but the courting ritual is highly important in partner selection and the pair I oberved seemed, to my eyes at least, to be forming strong emotional bonds of attachment. Watching scenes like those makes me wonder just by how much human beings are underestimating  the sentience of fellow animals on planet earth.

To view all of my seabird images from the Farne Islands select the image gallery menu option The Farne Islands