Wildlife sightings 21 September 2012

Sightings from Maggie

Bass Rock: Overcast and obvious overnight rain did not dampen the enthusiasm of what may be the final photographic trip of the season. Swell earlier in the week had prevented landing but most of the group had been able to rearrange and the smiles at the end of the day said it all.

There is something special about that last day. For many of the gannets, breeding is over but site attendance is still paramount as disputes and squabbles are commonplace. Nest building, displaying, it was all happening and what was wonderful was that many of the young chicks I saw a month ago, are doing well. The three most obvious on camera are near the chapel. Scanning around, a couple of six to seven week-old ones were spotted.

I freed many gugas from the lighthouse area. One that was spotted, its leg entangled in netting, was caught. The wound was rather nasty – the netting almost severed the leg by the web. With Dawn’s help, I cut away the final strands. As I went to take its neck I carelessly got my hand in the wrong place and, yes, I now sport a rather nasty cut and a very swollen finger. The bird headed straight for the open gate and, with no chance to give additional care, it was gone.

When will the immature club birds leave? They have been very twitchy as we have sailed past recently, so please do note the date they leave.

Dolphins were spotted as we were sailing towards the Bass, a huge treat for all!

Isle of May: Seal breeding has begun! The first pup has been born on the May on the 18 September, three days earlier than last year! Keep an eye on Pilgrims Haven and surrounding seas. It’s usually slightly later here. For photos of the pup and some of the entertainment seen around the May from seals, check out the Isle of May blog, it’s worth reading.

Seal Day on the May this weekend is full, but the final sailings for the season are next weekend. If you want to see pregnant seals hauled out, in the water, the odd bull in attendance of his harem, next week is the last chance to sail to the May. Sailings have been timed for lower tides to give maximum opportunity to enjoy this wonderful time.

Craigleith: Only an occasional cormorant being seen now but a peregrine has been spotted by the mashers. They have done a wonderful job of clearing the glen for the seal season. Again, keep noting numbers of hauled out seals and note the date.

Thanks to all at Lothian Bird News for the following: Over 9,000 pinkfoot roosting at Aberlady. Buff breasted sandpiper at Tynninghame, also a juvenile gannet was seen flying near Bathgate. I had a call reporting (unconfirmed) over 30 in a field close to the mudflats near Grangemouth. Certainly many are seen from the Maid of the Forth as they sail under the bridges to Inchcolme. We saw many flying around as we brought the RiB back from South Queensferry earlier in the week.


Wildlife sightings 14 September 2012

Sightings from Maggie

Isle of May: The distant sound of seals wailing could be heard as we approached the May. Dozens were hauled out on Rhona. For the remainder of Seafari May trips, weather permitting, we will cruise very slowly past Rhona perhaps sitting quietly at times, to view the seals. Although ‘Seal Day’ on the May is full we now expect to see seals in the water, heads popping up watching us, watching them, or pregnant cows hauled out perhaps waiting birth of the pup imminent. The sailings of 29/30 September will be our last sailings of 2012. The seal breeding season will have begun and we know we will not be stepping on to this beautiful haven until April 2013.

Just before our arrival last week an osprey had flown the length of the island, heading south, a kestrel was hovering overhead, snipe have been seen redpoll, siskin and pipits passing through, but what was spectacular last week, was the amount of red admiral butterflies we saw fluttering around interspersed with peacock and tortoishell. At last, conditions were good for them. Another layer of the nature of this island. A call from Dave (reserve manager) alerted us about a newborn pup, sadly dead, that had been washed up on Pilgrims Haven. This is very early for a pup and we’re not quite sure where it was born, but sea conditions had been quite wild prior to that day, however, it does show how close we are to seal time.

Craigleith: With stormy weather this past week, fewer cormorants have been seen and the island appears quiet but pan around, migrants are on the move. As with the May, pregnant seals are around. On lower tides we are seeing them hauling out. Hoping that the mashers will make it out before the breeding season as the mallow is sprouting, particularly on the slopes by the elder tree. We know the cows can haul some distance and it’s lovely to be able to see them and follow their progress. The lower area and by the rocks will quickly flatten down. Once the season starts the mashers draw back until the colony settles as early disturbance could cause them to abandon sites. Start to note seals sightings and any that haul out.

Bass Rock: On camera, a thinning on the Bass has been noticed. This is due to many of the gugas having left the nest. The adults will stay for a while, many until October. Watch for them carrying in nesting material, their territory constantly maintained and guarded until they leave. On the sea, fewer gugas being seen but with strong offshore winds the flightless are at the mercy of the tidal flow and currents. Many are now flying. Returning from the May last weekend we watched a string of gannets heading toward the Bass. Keeping pace, the dark speckled plumage of a young one, its wingbeats strong and flight steady.

Bailee’s final contribution (emailed from Canada!)

The weather could not have been more perfect last Wednesday when Paul and I went to the Bass Rock. The sun was shining and the sea was relatively calm, except for the commotion made by some young gugas trying to take off from the sea surface. We even saw the odd juvenile guillemot as we approached the Bass.

On the Rock, many more gugas were crowding near the lighthouse and the steps below, looking a bit lost and confused. They were none too happy about Paul and me, but our presence at least encouraged some procrastinators to take the leap… We reinstated the ramps up to the wall and gently prodded those stuck behind the lighthouse towards freedom. Up near camera two, many nests still had young chicks. It was great to see them up close in all their fluffy glory; it’s easy to see now why, from the cameras, it sometimes looks like it’s snowing on the Bass Rock. One almost-guga turned towards me at the moment I took a photo and I captured what is probably my favourite gannet candid of the year.

The Bass Rock is, in my opinion, one of the most spectacular things in the natural world and we are so lucky to be able to work beside it every day. How many people get to walk to work along the beach surrounded by some of Scotland’s most beautiful and important natural heritage? And, if the wind is blowing just right, maybe even be suddenly assailed with the smell of 150,000 gannets? Not many, to be sure.

A trip to the Bass really was the perfect way to spend my last day at the Seabird Centre, so thank you Paul and Maggie for making it happen. North Berwick will always hold a special place in my heart, as will the Seabird Centre and those who became my family away from home. I wish you all (and the birds!) a happy and successful year to come and can’t wait to be back again.

Many thanks, Bailee, and all best wishes from everyone in the Centre.

Wildlife sightings 7 September 2012

Sightings by Maggie

Bass Rock: The seasonal, heart-warming ‘YIP.YIP’ fills the air as Seabird Seafari carefully manoeuvres around the dozens of flightless gugas now on the sea. Even when you are some distance from them, they panic a little, first heading straight for the boat, quickly realising this is not the answer, turning quickly, wings flapping at a tilt as they desperately try to take flight.

The moment passes and they swim off, head at times shaking, as if we had invaded their space, which in many ways we have. You then spot the odd one flying, not as proficient as the adults and we watch. Will it keep airborne?

As they head into the distance you know that one will probably survive. The strong wind aided many the other day. We saw several take flight, only to crash land a few meters on. A family who had witnessed much of this on camera really enjoyed the trip as they hadn’t quite understood the behaviour they had seen.

Unfortunately with high tides and strong westerly winds two young chicks have been washed off the lower site near the cave, both under eight wks. One of them on a couple of occasions had been alone. There are another couple of young ones slightly higher up, so here’s hoping they survive.

Bailee and Paul on a quick camera visit managed to free many that were trapped and put a ramp in place. Not the original one, so keep a watch, hopefully they will use it. Bailee, once home (to Canada) is going to send us a piece on her visit as it was her last day and she hadn’t been on the Bass when they were breeding.

Craigleith: Fairly quiet now but look out for fulmars gliding along the cliffs. A peregrine was seen, and the cormorant and shags are still around. Start to watch for seals now only a few weeks from the beginning of the breeding season!

Isle of May: Lighthouse Day was wonderful! All three lighthouses were opened to visitors. Many climbed the impressive circular staircase, through the small doorway in the oak panelled partition and up the ladder to meet Duncan from the NLB, who showed them the workings of the lamp.

Others enjoyed walking around the turret with its magnificent 360 views. For me, as I stood in front of the fireplace the daylight from the opened door revealing the curved ceiling, I thought back to the Anderson family who lived and worked in this the first coal fired Beacon in Scotland (built in 1636) and the tragedy that beset them. However, it was the engine room that was fascinating.

Although I have been in there many times, generally in torchlight as we tried to sort out the generator (it’s more reliable now!). You enter a world from the past. From gauges to giant spanners (and I mean giant!) to old signs and photos of those that lived a kept that magnificent lighthouse that we see from North Berwick working. It really was a venture into the past of ‘the Engine Room‘.

Local sightings: The first pinkfoot geese have arrived at Aberlady (32 on Wednesday 5 September) and approx 40 were heard passing over North Berwick yesterday, and on the May a flock of 25 tree sparrows, a juv greater spotted woodpecker (the first in 11 years) 2000+ meadow pipits passing over along with buzzard, peregrine and sparrow hawk.

Thanks to all at Lothian Bird News and Isle of May blog.

Wildlife sightings 30 August 2012

Sightings from Maggie

Isle of May: There is a feeling of solitude and calm as the boat sails slowly into Kirkhaven, an occasional seal lifts its head, eyes following us without concern. Shags no longer in dense nurseries, but still an everyday sight. An occasional flock of waders mainly turnstone still in summer plumage catch the eye. The vegetation now dense and tall blankets many areas of the island, the well-walked paths easily defined. No longer the sound of whirring wings overhead, the rasping call of the terns, nor the distant sound of the kittiwake echoing around the cliffs.

Ma-er Island, from the Norse word for gull, the last few visits have brought the reality of why it is perhaps so named. The constant gentle mewing of the gull, or an occasional raucous moment reminds you this was always an island of gulls, long before it was the ‘puffin island’ we now know.

You start to feel the history as you walk Holyman’s Road or Pilgrims’ Haven. This was an island of retreat and pilgrimage, ship wrecks and smugglers, lighthouses and village life ….and now the important migration season and the excitement that brings

Petty officer ‘Chalky Whyte’ greeted us in a sombre manner as we landed on HMS May Island, reminding us that the ‘we are at war with Hitler’, he recounted stories of the battle of the May and more of the life experienced as a Naval signal station on the edge of the Forth.

The formidable figure of Brother Baldwin clad in his rough robes, welcomed us. Are we pilgrims seeking spiritual guidance? Had we come for health reasons, or perhaps for the women, a cure for the infertile could be found? From bird ringers, the foghorn storyteller to a lighthouse family, the Day of History was as ever informative and enjoyable for all who visited.

This coming weekend all three lighthouses along with the engine room will be open to the public peeling back yet more history of this fascinating island

Bass Rock: The thunderous shower eased as we approached the Rock, sea conditions prevented us sitting close in at our normal site so a wider route off the back of the island was taken.

An incredible sight, on the summit, a mass of dark flapping wings as far as the eye could see. Stimulated by the rain it appeared as if every nest had a chick. I’m sure on camera this would also have been apparent. White down covered young are easily spotted now, so pan around. Gugas are beginning their journey. We hope to try to replace the ramp that is such a lifeline to those trapped in front of the lighthouse. On the sea many are now being seen and we spotted one flying the other day. That one will survive!

On the sea: Eiders are being spotted, guillemots with young, a few still being fed as we hear that plaintiff contact call. A lone puffin in full breeding plumage was spotted. The ‘possible’ sighting of a sea eagle may be one of the six recently released in Fife. Over a six year period of reintroduction, 85 have been released (not 75 over 5 years that was first projected). Although they are magnificent birds our immense seabird colonies of the May and the Bass bring in thousands of visitors just to spot a puffin and gasp in awe as they sail or enjoy the spectacle of the largest single rock colony for gannets in the world.

Wildlife sightings 24 August 2012

Wildlife Sightings from the Discovery Centre

Fidra: Fulmar chicks getting slightly bigger.

Bass Rock: Gannets and gugas. Gugas are mostly all brown coloured now and are getting bigger by the day.

Dunbar: Kittiwakes have all gone now, they have migrated to the US and North Atlantic seas. Sammy the seal is still showing his face regularly.

Craigleith: Limited number of puffins seen on the water surrounding Craigleith from boat tours. Also watch out for the herring gulls and their chicks!

Isle of May: Seals regularly seen around and on the beach.

Wildlife sightings 17 August 2012

Sightings – Maggie
Bass The ‘guga ‘season is upon us… Several are down-free, just building up the courage to make the arduous walk to the cliff edge. From there many factors determine their survival. The walk to the cliff edge can be fraught, attack after attack as they negotiate territories. On reaching a cliff edge, they may have no time for the pre-curser neck stretching, wing flapping, nor time to draw back, to try again later. For some the ‘jump’ or first faltering flight may be instant if pushed. That leap into the unknown, will the wind aid their faltering flight, or will they plummet onto a promontory perhaps sustaining injury? Will the seas be calm? For several days they are at the mercy of the seas, a good layer of fat to sustain them, as they master the art of fishing. Their journey has begun.

The young chick on the corner of chapel wall is now visible as are the young below that corner. This should give good viewing over the next couple of months.

On Tuesday our VisitScotland passengers were delighted when we spotted not just one puffling in the water but five and one adult not far from Craigleith. A similar update from the May this week where puffins have still been seen carrying in fish and pufflings found around the island, one in the moth trap box having been attracted to the light.

Rafts of guillemots with young are quite evident and should be easily spotted from the viewing deck.
Eiders that have been missing for several weeks now should soon be reappearing after their moult.

Fulmars – the news from the ringers was not good with only four fulmar chicks being ringed on the island, a dramatic drop from previous years. Having seen over twenty pairs on the Bass early season I think only two have fledged chicks. The story is very similar on the May. Keep you updated on this.

Fulmars have been part of the ‘Save the North Sea’ study for many years. Autopsies undertaken have been showing problems with plastic they ingest but, worryingly, more and more were showing that starvation contributed to their demise.

Wildlife sightings 10 August 2012

Wildlife on the cameras – Bailee

Bass Rock: The gannet chicks are about 10-12 weeks old now and some are looking quite brown and speckly. Our first born, Baldred (near the chapel), has almost all of his flight feathers! It seems like only yesterday we were competing for the first gannet sighting and already the season is coming to an end. The peregrine falcons have been spotted occasionally sitting on the Bass lighthouse.

Fidra and Craigleith: The puffins have finally disappeared from the islands, though a few visitors have reported sightings on boat trips. Big grey herring gull chicks are everywhere and there are many juvenile cormorants and shags still hanging about in small groups. If you haven’t seen the late shag nest on Craigleith cliff, see if you can find it behind the returning tree mallow. The chicks are getting big but still in the nest. Fulmar chicks are also about and big enough to start poking their heads out of their nest hollows. Fidra is a good place to see them and there is a nice view of a fulmar nest within the cormorant colony on Craigleith cliff.

Telescope Deck: Oystercatchers and eider ducks can still be seen around the harbour, especially at low tide. If you stand outside for a few minutes you are also likely to hear some terns fishing in the shallows around the harbour and the beach. They fly quickly but you might even be able to catch a glimpse of them in the scopes.

Seafari, a quick update – Maggie

Although no longer being seen on land, we have been having daily sightings of puffins on the sea and passengers were delighted to see one flying overhead, fish hanging from the bill, evidence the odd puffling is still down a burrow. On the May it has been a similar story where patience pays, if one just sits and watches.

Yesterday a raft of about a dozen or so guillemots with young, were spotted and a lone guillemot, with chick is still on the Bass, only visible from the boat. The first gugas should be spotted over the next few days as several are now down-free. Another sighting of porpoise from the boat the other day.