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.

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