Drawing Blog

Elegug Stack Loomery

Elegug Stack (2/3 of West side)
Elegug, detail 
Elegug, detail
This drawing is of the view of Elegug stack loomery (guillemot colony) from the West, or at least 2/3 of the visible colony. On the East side of the stack the rock face slopes at a gentle angle, accommodating the main mass of breeding birds, so that really this drawing shows about a tenth or less of the full loomery. I started it Saturday mid morning as a study for a painting, but found myself still drawing late Sunday evening; surprisingly I ran out of paper (180cm in length) before the will to live. In fact it was one of the most absorbing experiences I've ever had drawing, the graphite moved speedily across the paper allowing me to cover far more ground than I could ever do with paint. At this level of observational detail I learnt to find my way around the colony by locating individual birds by their territories, which remained constant amidst the chaos, so much so that I found I could pick up the drawing after a night away and find the incubating birds at least, in the same position. Through out the drawing I came across surprises; an electric blue egg flashed for a second, or a bridled guillemot, a white streak highlighting the eye (interesting to see the only bridled birds were all paired together), a battle scared bird, white bib stained crimson. More captivating than anything else was, once I had established a rough plan of the territories, beginning to recognise some of the interactions and behaviours. 

Guillemots are known for their tightly packed colonies, being more tolerant of close nesting neighbours than any other UK species. Elegug is extreme, in putting this tolerance to the test, fights are constantly breaking out with birds jousting with their bills. In more serious bouts birds lock bills and grapple as one tries to sling the other out of its domain, with the defeated often ending up in another battle with the bird whose territory it has ended up being evicted into. Fights are most common when a bird alights on the stack or needs to take off from the edge as their is no choice but to walk over other members of the colony. At the other end of the spectrum pairs groom one another and I suspect their neighbours, offer fish and as I read in Tim Birkhead's 'Bird Sense' it is possible to watch a guillemot calling for its mate coming in from the sea long before it is in view. Some birds seem to be better tolerated, perhaps being more dominant they can walk untroubled through large sections of the loomery and perch boldly in the centre of the chaos. Others are quickly pushed to the peripheries where the cliff drops away, probably non-breeding birds. 

The shadows of gulls and jackdaws constantly slide over the colony like search lights trailing waves of anxious bows and stretches. In the chasm below, young peregrine signal their hunger with piercing loud calls and their parents sail nonchalantly out again over the easy pickings. 

Above all, Elegug evokes a sense of tension where guillemots, clearly disadvantaged on land endure a precarious existence, rife with predation and competition at the pinnacle of their life-cycle.          
Chris Wallbank