Day 9 |
May 27, 2012

Rathlin Island/Portrush, Northern Ireland 

By Chris Harbard, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: N 55º 12' 16”, W 06º 40' 05”
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 24ºC 75ºF

I awoke as the early morning sun was beating down. A quick breakfast and then ready for the 7.30 am disembarkation to Rathlin Island. The seabird colony on the island is the largest in Northern Ireland and is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and although I had worked with them for 25 years, I had never visited the island. We landed in our Zodiacs at Church Bay, and in the harbour was a small group of Common Eiders. Bert's Puffin Bus was there to meet us and we slowly made our way along the narrow lane towards the headland with its seabirds. The West Lighthouse now houses the Rathlin Island Seabird Centre. Unusual for a lighthouse, the light is actually at the base of the tower, instead of the top, which is the best position on the cliff to provide a warning light.

The steps down to the lighthouse eventually reached a building with a broad-railed platform at the side, and here we gathered to witness a most wonderful wildlife spectacle. Thousands of seabirds were spread below us, some on the cliffs, others on the grassy slopes and the distinct aroma of guano wafted up to greet us. There was continual motion, with birds flying in and out from the colony. Way below us on the sea were rafts of seabirds, some feeding others just resting. Guillemots and Razorbills were the commonest of the auks, but we all wanted to see the rarest of them, the comical yet delightful Puffin with its orange feet and delightful beak. As they nest in burrows, half of the breeding Puffin pairs are hidden from sight, while most of the others are at sea, feeding. But there were a few standing guard at the burrow entrance and with the aid of spotting scopes we all got views of them. Close to the viewing platform were some pairs of Fulmars, looking like gulls, but actually petrels, related to the albatross. Swirling below us were the daintiest of gulls, the Kittiwakes, who incessantly call out their names from the cliff ledges. All too soon it was time to head back to Church Bay to rejoin the ship.

By the time we had finished lunch, the ship was anchored just off Portrush and at 1.30pm we embarked on our afternoon adventure. First stop was the ruins of Dunluce Castle, a mediaeval building of which a mere shell remains. An optional guided tour informed us about the fascinating history of the whole place, including nearby smaller building, recently excavated which formed part of a small village next to the castle. Sitting High on a cliff just east of Portrush, the castle commanded a fabulous view across to the distant Scottish mainland and islands.

Then for a grand finale we drove on through the historic town of Bushmills (of whiskey fame) to the Giant's Causeway, a majestic formation of more than 40,000 hexagonal basalt blocks that seem to step down into the sea and vanish, like a huge staircase. Guides walked us down in the baking sun and explained about the legends of the place, which included battling giants of old! Being a hot Bank Holiday weekend it was crowded with visitors who filled the shuttle buses down to the Causeway. Like many of the guests, I walked down and enjoyed the fabulous views across the bays, as well as the towering cliffs nearby. A few Eiders bobbed on the water, and Meadow Pipits were parachuting down giving their melodious song flight. Back on the ship we soon were setting off for our next destination and there was just time to get changed for the Venetian Cocktail Party and dinner, followed by a welcome sleep.