BIRDS AND MEN ON ST. KILDA
face of a cliff, the nests sometimes resting on the ground. On an
island in a loch on the east of Harris, some of the birds in a herring-
gull colony had made their nests among the roots of small trees—an
astonishing situation for a gull.
Also on this islet was a reed bunting whose song differed so much
from the normal type of the species that we were at first completely
puzzled as to what the bird might be. But that is another story. The
change of song that you find in many birds in the north is part of the
general field of change in the region. The Shetland wren combines a
distinctive rhythm and stridency of song with its larger size and darker
plumage: the blackbirds of the north-west, though almost undis-
tinguishable in appearance, have a feebler, less mellow song, more
thrush-like in quality than their southern relatives.
Many plants, too, show changed habits in these parts. A cliff
heronry we visited was in the midst of a sheet of bluebells running
up into the heather. Bluebells grow in the open all along our western
coasts, from the Scillies to Gape Wrath. It must be the lesser rainfall
inland and to the east which there restricts them to woodland.
All over the western Highlands the spotted orchis, instead of grow-
ing in the sheltered and rather rich situations where southerners
expect to find it, invades the moor and grows even among the heather.
It was growing all over the bare slopes of St. Kilda.
Finally there were the primroses. Though it was June, they were
in full bloom on St. Kilda wherever there was a moist sheltered place.
They were ail down the gullies of the southern cliff; one of the most
unexpected items of natural history that I ever saw or am likely to
see was a fulmar petrel sitting on its nest at over 1300 feet on the cliffs
of Gonachair, entirely surrounded by large primroses!
The primroses have brought me to the cliffs. These are quite
astonishing. Those of Hirta are the highest in Britain, within a yard
or so of 1400 feet. They are not, however, nearly so precipitous as
those of Foula in the Shetlands or Hoy in Orkney. They break down
to the sea in steep green steps, interrupted by sheerer clifflets of bare
rock. The entire slope is dotted with white specks. The impression
is of strange cliff flowers; but they are in reality fulmar petrels, many
thousands in sight at once.
Across the sea, four miles away, Is Boreray, the home of the gannets.
It lies there, a green uprising wedge, with two fine stacks off its
western face; through the glasses these are seen to be topped with
creamy white—dense crowds of breeding gannets. Seen thus from a
distance it looks romantic enough, but the closer view is staggering. I
have been in a good many parts of the world: but I can only recall