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Fulmar riding the updraught at Marwick Head
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Fulmar riding the updraught at Marwick Head

Fulmar riding the updraught at Marwick Head. June 1966

picture #28139 (Elizabeth Buchan's mystery pic) stimulated me to look out some slides from a round-Scotland cruise on British India (BI) ship Devonia. All passengers (nearly 1000) were birdwatchers from far and wide, and many of us were fascinated by the fulmars riding the updraughts at Marwick head. A stiff onshore breeze had nowhere to go but up when it met the vertical cliffs, and in fissures and 'chimneys' it formed columns of rapidly rising air, on which the Fulmars rode like the balls on water-jets one used to see at shooting-galleries. I can think of no reason for their doing this other than the sort of enjoyment glider pilots get from riding thermals. I've always suspected Fulmars of having a sense of fun. What could be more amusing than letting a would-be predator approach to within a couple of feet and then drenching him or her with a cropful of stinking fish-oil? Fulmars' dark, knowing eyes always suggest something's going on inside. They don't sing - which is what poets and others usually regard as the expression of joie de vivre in birds - but one can frolic gently in silence.

Students of aerodynamics may be interested to note all the means by which the bird dumps lift and stays more or less stationary relative to the fast-rising air current.
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Picture added on 01 March 2016 at 22:12
A small correction. In the last sentence of my caption above, the phrase 'relative to' is wrong. Something like 'despite' would be better.
Added by Ian Hourston on 14 November 2016
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