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  • Writer's pictureSarah McCartney

bird skulls from Samson

I was trying to sort out the things I found on Scilly but ended up spending the whole evening measuring skulls and bills and working my way through my Tracks and Signs book. I found this amazing website for identifying bird skulls, also this site about seabird osteology.

Me and my friend paddled to Samson, an uninhabited island off Bryher, early one morning. We had it to ourselves and as we wandered on one of the little beaches we found these three skulls.

The one on the left is an oystercatcher and I was pretty sure about that before we came home. The long straight bill and black and white feathers amongst the rest of it gave it away. It cleaned up beautifully though I lost a couple of bones and can’t quite figure out where they go. But many of the skulls I find are incomplete as they come off the beach and are bleached and worn by the sea.

The middle one is beautifully bleached and turns out to be a herring gull. And the one on the right is a corvid of some kind. A crow probably but I’ll sort that one out when nature has done a bit more work on it – its out in the garden with the others now. The others? A gannet, a razorbill, a jay, a sparrow, a herring gull, an unknown small gull and now a crow – I think.

Then I got to looking at some of my other bird skulls. Some of them I know but this one has confused me for a while. Somehow I overlooked it in the book. Found it in the end. It’s a fulmar. A fabulous fulmar, one of my favourite sea birds. I found out I have a wood pigeon and a blackbird too.

Now I am in chaos. Books and boxes of shells and bones and things everywhere and not very sorted as planned.

But a fascinating evening.

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