Rathlin Island supports Northern Ireland’s largest seabird colony and I’ve been lucky enough to do a placement at the RSPB’s Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre this summer. It has been a welcome break from my PhD and, as someone who spends most of their time thinking about butterflies, it has been a fantastic opportunity to improve my bird knowledge!
Image 1: Rathlin West Seabird Centre
Rathlin Island is six miles off the northern coast of Ireland. It is Northern Ireland’s only inhabited island, supporting around 150 residents. The RSPB seabird centre is at the West Lighthouse. The West Lighthouse is an unusual upside-down lighthouse which has a red light to distinguish it from the island’s East Lighthouse. From viewing platforms there is a fantastic view of the sea stacks where, between May and July, puffins, guillemots and razorbills breed.
Image 2: Rathlin West Lighthouse and view of the sea stacks
By August when I volunteered, the auks had left heading out to sea where they spend the winter. But there was still plenty to see. When I arrived, the cliffs were alive with kittiwakes and fulmars. Predatory birds including skua, black-backed gulls and ravens harassed the kittiwakes. In my first week, we saw an albino kittiwake, attacked and eaten by a hooded crow.
Image 3: Fulmar on the cliffs
Squadrons of gannets passing by and diving for fish were a regular sight. We also saw shag, eider ducks and a pair of peregrine falcons, although the highlight had to be a white-tailed eagle flying over. Seals were frequent visitors and we also caught sight of porpoise, bottlenose dolphins and jelly fish.
The volunteer cottage was about a mile from the seabird centre so we saw plenty of wildlife on our way to and from the centre including Irish hares.
Image 4: Not a bad commute to work! Image 5: Irish hare
At the seabird centre, my main role was talking to visitors about the wildlife and history of the lighthouse. On quieter days, we did maintenance tasks such as weeding and painting. Away from the centre we did moth trapping, and helping out with tasks like moving donkeys between fields.
Image 6: Volunteers walking the donkeys
On my days off I had time to return to the mainland to visit the Giant’s Causeway, as well as to explore the island. The three mile walk down to the harbour was worth it for the weekly folk session in the pub!
Image 7: Rathlin Island from Mill Bay Image 8: Seals at Rue Point
My time on Rathlin flew by, I’ve had a fantastic time – thank you!
Image 9: Sunset over the Seabird Centre