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Sula Sgeir. They form part of a chain of small islands whose very
existence is unknown to most people, strung out some twenty-five to
forty miles off the northern Scottish coast—Sule Skerry, with its light-
house, Sule Stack with 3500 pairs of gannets, North Rona, the greatest
breeding-ground of Atlantic seals in Britain, of which Dr. Fraser
Darling has written, and Sula Sgcir, with another 4000 pairs of
gannets. Sule or Sula is, of course, from the same root as Solan in
Solan Goose, the gannet's alternative name, and is the Gaelic for
Sule Stack is wonderfully impressive considering its small size—a
bare 125 feet in height—or perhaps because of it. It is an outpost of
the land, upthrust out of the hostile sca? teeming with life, yet a life
alien (though not hostile) to ours, northern, remote, with its own
quality and its own values. It reminded me of Tom's visit to Mother
Carey in Kingsley's Water Babies—Mother Carey who made things
make themselves—a workshop of animate nature.
The highest point rises up curved to hook over in an overhang, sheer
above a sloping slab, like a wave immortalized in rock. The rock is
black, with the white of breaking waves round its base, and its higher
parts frosted over with the white of gannets.
It was too rough to land here, but on Sula Sgeir we managed to
put one man ashore, though the swell was enough to warrant lifebelts
for the dinghy party. Sula Sgcir seems to be the only gannctry in
Britain whose numbers have gone down in the last seven years. This
is without doubt due to the fact that it is also the only gannctry which
is still raided for young birds: almost every year an expedition sets
out from Ness, in the north of Lewis, and kills between one and two
thousand gougs for food. It is to be hoped that pxiblic opinion and
the County Council will put a stop to this practice.
Another objective of our trip was to fill in some blanks in the census
of bridled guillemots. "Bridled" or "spectacled" guillemots differ
from the normal in having a white rim with a hinclward prolongation
round each eye. They are not a distinct species or subspecies, as was
at one time supposed, but a mendelian variety which interbreeds
freely with the normal. In the books they are usually described as
rare aberrations. So they are in the south of Britain: but about half-
way along our coast their numbers begin to increase. On the Fames
they make up 5 per cent, of the total; on the Orkneys to to 13; in the
Shetlands 23 to 26; while in Iceland and Bear Island they are well
over 50 per cent., and thus constitute the normal type, while our
normal is there the aberration.
What the precise meaning of the phenomenon may be is as yet