It’s amazing what you can learn from looking at old maps about the area’s wildlife of yesteryear.
On an old Ordnance Survey map of the Selkirk area, I noticed a pond near the town called Pickmaw Moss.
The name derived from the old name for the black-headed gull, which must have nested there in good numbers for the pond to be called after the birds.
As far back as I can remember, these gulls never nested there, until recently, when it looks as though history is about to repeat itself. This year, around 25 pairs have decided to nest there once again.
Black-headed gulls seem to be fickle in their nesting habits, choosing to nest in large colonies at the same site for years, then without warning, move off to pastures new.
Bemersyde Moss near St Boswells is a prime example. Once, it was the largest nesting colony in Scotland with an incredible 15,000 pairs of breeding birds turning up every year, then suddenly for no apparent reason, they departed and so far have not returned in any great numbers.
The bird itself is a bit of an enigma. For a start it doesn’t have a black head – it is in fact chocolate brown and for most of the year it is white and only turns brown during the breeding season. It is also not a “seagull” as it is most commonly found inland.
One of the most graceful and agile of the gull clan, it is seen at its best when hawking for newly-hatched flying insects above our rivers in early summer. It is equally at home following the plough to pounce on disturbed worms or scavenging on rubbish tips and at the very bottom of the food chain it can be seen in sewage farms eating what can only be imagined!
Despite some disgusting feeding habits, the pickmaw always seems to be in pristine condition. Here’s a tip for all you Bear Grylls enthusiasts who like to use nature to tell them about their environment. If you want to know which way the wind is blowing, black-headed gulls usually stand or swim with their heads into the wind.
With the Borders once holding around 13.5 per cent of the British population, it will be interesting to see in the next published atlas of Borders breeding birds, how this amazingly adaptable bird is now faring after all its recent comings and goings.