The Story behind the Photo 3

Leach’s Storm Petrel, and the Girvan Police

The 18th of November 1982 turned out to be an interesting evening, and not, I might add, because of the parent-teacher meeting I’d just been to.  The weather on my way home from Ayr was wet and windy, with strong, blustery rain showers battering the car from time to time.  On my arrival, I was greeted by my wife who told me that the police had dropped by earlier – a Sergeant McClung from the Girvan station.  He’d enquired if “I might be able to do anything for the wee bird which he’d had handed in to the station by a member of the public who’d found it sheltering in a garden in Girvan.” 

“I think you’ll be surprised when you open the box it came in,” said my wife.  There, on the kitchen table, was a cardboard box, with just the occasional purring note emanating from within.  Gingerly, I  parted the top two parts of the box, and had a look inside.  Sitting quite calmly in the darkness of the box’s interior, was a delicate little Leach’s Storm Petrel.  It appeared to be in reasonable health, and a brief examination showed nothing in the way of physical damage.  It had simply been blown into Girvan by the strong winds.

OK, so what do you do to look after a Leach’s Storm Petrel?  A tin of sardines was liberated from a kitchen cupboard, and we also had some Cod liver oil tablets in the house.  That was a start. The next question was “Would the bird take any of this hastily rustled-up seafood?”  I needn’t have worried, since the bird readily took to the mix of very thinly sliced sardine coated in Cod liver oil.  Once it was fed, I put the bird back into the box, and it soon settled down for the night.

The following morning was still a bit blustery, but I went to Ayr via Greenan foreshore to see if it would be tempted to head back out to sea.  It got as far as the box lids and promptly turned about.  Right!  An entertaining day at school followed, with classes wondering what the weird noises were coming from the mystery box in my room.  Most of the pupils were, nevertheless, genuinely keen to find out a bit more about this strange wee seabird, so I arranged for a “viewing” at the lunch interval, and the Ayrshire Post even sent a photographer round to record the event.  Questions ranged from “Is it a Parrot?” to “Will it be OK when you let it go?”  Genuine concern coupled to outrageously poor identification skills!

A visit to the staffroom after this was met by equally interested teaching staff, wondering if they could see it.  It had shown no great desire to fly up to that point, but something was to happen which I really didn’t expect.  Placing the bird on the long staffroom table, and asking everyone to be really quiet, I produced its irresistible menu of sardines and Cod oil.  The bird started to call and, much to my surprise, waddled straight across the table to where I was seated.  I know I’m reading far too much into this, but it really seemed quite relaxed and not at all nervous.  Once fed, it was back into its box for an afternoon snooze in my classroom.

Saturday 20th November dawned bright and dry, with the wind speed much reduced.  Having fed my amiable guest one more time, I asked both our children if they’d like to see it released at Turnberry Point.  They didn’t need much coaxing since they had also become quite fond of our visitor.  I took the car down the track to the lighthouse and lifted the box out, placing it gently on the grass on the north side of the light.  Both children stood quietly as the lids were opened.  At first, nothing happened.  Then, after about 2 or 3 minutes, the bird shuffled out into the sunlight.  It sat on the grass for some time, giving me cause to wonder if had developed too much of a taste for sardines! Suddenly, after about 5 minutes, it took flight and flew off northwards, climbing to about 15 metres above the sea.  I hadn’t really expected this, since the usual view of this bird is low over the sea, but it looked like it was getting its bearings.  Suddenly, it dropped down to sea level and flew off strongly to the south west, heading in the direction which it had been struggling to maintain two days earlier. 

Some birds display qualities which can surprise you.  This was one which was a total eye-opener inasmuch as it had adapted so very quickly to a situation which was totally alien to it, and had been fast to accept help.  I’m hoping it got to its destination, but it certainly made a lot of friends along the way.

Leach’s Storm Petrel at Turnberry Point,
20 November 1982 (© Angus Hogg)

Angus Hogg
15 October 2022