Terns’ Eggs

Do you remember
the whiteout swirl, the wingbeats –
the shrieking tirricks –
and round us, on the ground
two freckled eggs
in every nest?
We left them
in peace
after the photo.

Do you remember
six hundred foot cliffs –
rocking swell –
white wings –
spin-drift –
tystie chicks
launching from ledges –
their parents calling them down –
stramash of spray –
swimming chicks –
feasting blackbacks?

Do you remember
the dunters who nested
In the hollow at the cliff’s edge
by the burn?

Do you remember
the clamour –
the echo in the geo –
the sea-deep stink –
tenements of birds –
fulmars above,
sky-surfing kittiwakes,
rockdoves in clefts,
auks on the middle storey,
gannets on the ground floor,
shags sentinel
on skerries fringed with white,
rafts of guillemots,
seals bottling,
staring at our boat
with unfathomable eyes?

Do you remember
honeycombed clifftops,
tammy nories with
auk-black eyes, striped beaks, heads gravely turning,
gossiping underground – aa-argh, aa-argh –
about our tent among the mayweed,
night-time pufflings
waddling their perilous way
to the sea?
How do they know?

Do you remember
staying up late
to see the night broch
come alive,
wired with birds
in the thickness of the walls,
storm petrels in
a whirling kirn
caught in torchlight?

Do you remember the scootie allans
dive-bombing daily
your path between the jetty and the school?
Or the day the bonxie knocked your hat off
I thought you’d scream
but you laughed
and finding their big speckled eggs
on Verdi Field?

If ever you see the birds come back
will you remember
how happy I would have been?


July 2021: Numbers of breeding seabirds in Scotland have declined by almost 50% since the 1980s, a new report shows. Simon Foster of NatureScot said: We know that these declines are driven by factors including climate change, fisheries and invasive non-native species.


Tirrick – arctic tern
Tystie – black guillemot
Dunter – eider duck
Tammy Norie – puffin
Puffling – young puffin
Scootie Allan – arctic skua
Bonxie – great skua

Comments (2)

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  1. David Mackenzie says:

    magnificent, thank you

  2. Robin Barclay says:

    Very evocative o Shetland, but it’s no da tysties (black guillimot) dat tise dir chicks doon fae da banks ledges – dat’s just da pleyn “guillimots” (an meybe razorbills). Someen haes caa’ed da guillimot chicks “jumplings” (just as someen haes caa’ed puffin chicks “pufflings”) – I dunna ken why dey hae ta reduce da names ta somethin dat a bairn wid use, reluctant ta grow up. Tysties nest in atween boulders an in cracks in da banks face, no on open ledges, an dey dunna tise dir checks ta jump aff afore dey kin flee. Da tysties ir da peerie auks, aa black wi a white wing patch – wi bright red feet an red mouth gape.
    An anidder thing – bonxies predate idder birds’ chicks (an da antrin newborn lamb) – so dir increase in number ower da last decades haes seen dem reduce idder birds success in raisin young, especially da grund nesters (laek dunters) – so its no aa doon ta food supply an climate.

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