BIRDING THE LUNE ESTUARY, THE FOREST OF BOWLAND AND BEYOND.
Saturday, 12 February 2011
The Great Auk.
The Great Auk is shown in the brilliant artwork of Thorburn, centre bottom in the plate below.
Auks. Archibald Thorburn.
The Great Auk was a flightless North Atlantic sea bird, ancient remains of which have been found to prove it occurred in the North Atlantic and Northern Britain for a considerable period of time. The bones of three adult birds were found below Viking level at the Jarlshof settlement, Mainland Shetland. In 1549 it was mentioned as being found on the Western Isles, and 240 years later in 1789 a Great Auk was said to have visited St Kilda. Bones found in old sea caves at Whitburn proved that it frequented the British coast, but by the mid 19th century it was on the verge of extinction which eventually came about through the activities of human hunting and persecution....The story of its last sighting gave me a distinct feeling of nausea.
Five men - which I can only describe as idiots - came across a sleeping Great Auk on Stack-an-Armin, St Kilda in July c.1840. One of these men - who were completely immersed in the beliefs and superstitions of the time - grabbed the bird by the neck and proceeded to confine the creature in a *bothy for three days. The bird was suspected of being a master of wind and weather and was blamed for causing a violent storm, it was cruelly clubbed to death with a large stone in a prolonged attack....executed as a witch! It was the last Great Auk to be seen alive in Britain.
*A small hut or cottage for use as a mountain refuge.