With the breeding season drawing closer to its final stages, the number of chicks and fledglings around the Mull of Galloway has been increasing.

Guillemot and razorbill chicks have recently been swapping the steep cliffs for the open water, where under the careful eye of the male parent bird, they will learn to fend for themselves and develop their flight before dispersing throughout the Atlantic.

The majority of the kittiwake chicks are now around 3 weeks old and growing well. Kittiwake chicks spend between five and seven weeks on the nest before they fledge but will still be dependent on their parents for food for several weeks more. The chicks can easily be viewed from the comfort of the RSPB Visitor Centre through our live cameras.

A few shag are now second brooding and many juveniles can be seen amongst adult birds on the lower rocks around the headland. Shag mainly feed on crustaceans that they find on the seabed as well as small fish. To help reduce their buoyancy whilst diving, their feathers are not fully waterproof hence their characteristic pose with their wings outstretched to dry as they sit on top of rocks. 

Shag - Photo credit: Ed Marshall (rspb-images.com)

Black guillemot can generally be seen on the water between Lagvag and the foghorn, which is also the best place to look out for puffin. A recently fledged puffin was seen last week just of Lagvag Point, a strong indication that they have breed once again on the Mull of Galloway making this the first record for a number of years!

Juvenile gannet have occasionally been seen accompanying adults heading out on fishing trips. Gannet can take up to five years to reach full maturity. Recently fledged birds are largely grey, their wings and body turning white and black with the white becoming more dominant as they grow older until they develop into their distinctive plumage of gleaming white with creamy heads and bold black wing tips.

Recently fledged gannet - Artwork by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)

Juvenile gannet - Artwork by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)

Adult gannet - Artwork by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)

A number of fulmar nests can be viewed on the East facing cliffs above the Gallie Craig, best seen by walking along the cliff tops from either the coffee house or East Tarbet. Fulmar are monogamous, forming long term bonds. They are long lived birds, often reaching between 30 and 40 years but do not begin to breed until between five and ten years old. They do not make a nest as such but will use a narrow ledge where they will lay a single egg which they incubate for 52 days. Once the chick reaches two weeks old the parents are able to leave it unattended as they search for food. The chick at this stage is able to defend itself as adults do, by spraying a fishy oily substance from their nostrils if threatened.

Manx shearwater continue to be seen rafting out to see in the evening as they await darkness to arrive. Manx shearwater only leave or return to their burrows under the cover of darkness to avoid predators such as skuas and gulls. They abandon their chicks after 60 days which then leave the burrows around nine days later before heading out to sea and migrating to the coast of Argentina!

On and around the heathland juvenile linnet and goldfinch can be seen feeding on the seeds of dock and sorrel. Juvenile wheatear and meadow pipit are frequently spotted searching for insects amongst the long grass or along paths whilst adult house martin and swallow pluck them from the air to feed their hungry young, occasionally seen on the RSPB Visitor Centre roof begging for food.

Juvenile wheater - Photo credit: Rob Conn

A few recently fledged pied wagtail are commonly seen on the lawn of the lighthouse or the gravelly areas around the RSPB Visitor Centre.

Kestrel have been a frequent visitor to the reserve recently with 2 adults accompanied by 2 juveniles learning to hunt, frequently seen hovering over the cliff edges. Kestrel are the only bird of prey able to hover under their own power as they seek out small mammals such as voles but will also feed on small birds, beetles and worms.

Other birds seen recently include peregrine, stonechat, whitethroat, raven, herring gull and great black-backed gull.

In the last two weeks there have been sightings of both minke whale and basking shark near to the Mull of Galloway along with multiple sightings of porpoise and grey seal. On the 5th August the RSPB will be taking part in the national whale and dolphin watch by setting up a viewing station near to Foxes Rattle on the reserve with telescopes, binoculars and identification charts available for the public to use between 10am and 1pm. Everyone is welcome to join us for a few hours or just a few minutes.

The RSPB Visitor Centre is free to enter and open daily between 10am and 5pm offering live images of cliff nesting birds, free activities for children and information on the local wildlife. The lighthouse tower and exhibition are also open daily between 10am and 4pm (last entry 3:30pm). For more info click on the links below.

RSPB Mull of Galloway

Lighthouse Tower and Exhibition

National Whale and Dolphin Watch