Skip to main content

Full text of "Man In The Modern World"

obscure. Either the bridled variety is a new and advantageous muta-
tion which is extending its numbers and range at the expense of the
normal (as has happened with the black variety of the brush-tailed
opossum in Tasmania), or there is a balance of advantage between
the two types, the bridled being favoured in cooler and more humid
regions, the normal in warm and dry conditions (as occurs with the
black and grey varieties of the hamster in Russia). The diminution
in the percentage of bridled birds on the less humid north coast of
Iceland seems to speak in favour of this latter explanation.
In any case, the first step is clearly to map the distribution of brid-
ling accurately, and to see whether it changes with the passage of time.
St. Kilda was one of the places for which very few data were
available. The guillemot ledges here are not easily accessible, but
we managed to count nearly a thousand birds and to find that the
percentage was about 16, much higher than anticipated. An inten-
sive afternoon on Handa, just south of Gape Wrath, yielded a count
of over 3000, and confirmed the previous estimate within 0*5 per
The end of our trip deserves record as illustrating the difficulties of
communication that still keep the western isles so remote. One of our
party wanted to be back in London for a Monday evening meeting.
We pushed across through the night from St. Kilda to reach the west
of Lewis early on Saturday, caught a bus in to Stornoway—to find that
there was no possil >ility whatever of arriving in time. No boat sails
on Saturday night, as this would desecrate the Sabbath: and the
Sunday night boat was too late.
' We explored Stornoway and its wooded park, one of the only two
woods in the Hebrides; slept aboard the boat, set off soon after dawn
on Sunday, visited Sula Sgeir and North Rona, and sailed through
the night to Loch Erriboll. There we found that a bus recorded on
the time-table was in reality non-existent; cadged a lift on a road
foreman's car to Durness; found a car at the local hotel" (which had
on its notepaper uRailway Station: Lairg, 58 miles"); caught the
train at Lairg; explored Inverness between trains; and reached
London before the letters we had posted in Stornoway.
Communications may be difficult: but it is very well worth while
overcoming the difficulties. The north of Scotland and its western
and northern fringe of islands constitute a region where the arctic
fauna overlaps the temperate, Whooper swans and great northern
divers and Sclavonian grebes have invaded it from the north, and the
mainland forms have thrown out outposts to the islands and beyond
them to the Faeroes and Iceland. It teems with life: the birds out-