Wildlife sightings 19 October 2012

Sightings from Maggie

Isle of May: Trauma, tenderness and the sheer ‘awe’ factor, all unfolding on Pilgrims’ Haven. The trauma! A rather urgent call came through from the Discovery Centre. Could I come and check an unfolding drama off shore from Pilgrims’ Haven. The concerned crowd gathered around the May camera.

‘A seal is entangled in ropes.’

Close to shore a buoy marking the spot, thrashing, splashing and surrounding it. A quick sighting as the cow’s head emerged. That was good, at least she could breathe. Although seals can dive comfortably for 10-15 minutes (they can dive for much longer) this was a traumatic situation. It appeared her rear flippers were entangled at the float, but with her head emerging again, a good view of the rope around her neck. Seals gathered around her. They are large mammals with very sharp teeth and claws, but could she free herself? Would they help? Could I do anything?

Not really, but I would make a call in hope a boatman may be close by and perhaps able to cut her free. I returned to check as the hope was she could free herself. The float bobbed on the sea, a long trail of rope floating on the surface. No sign of the seal. It appeared she had managed to free herself. Jeremy, still on the May, checked for a while after that. All appeared fine.

With over 60 pups on the beach now, and high tides, it is at times rather crowded. The odd hiss as a cow ventures too close to another’s pup. Skirmishes off shore as bulls vie for the domain, or cows see off the male not yet ready to mate, pups snoozing, exploring or feeding with the odd mother allowing two pups to feed from her.

Look out for the rock pipits feeding on flies. We had a lovely image of a sleeping pup with the pipits perched on the boulders just inches from them.

Bass Rock: From the Seafari boat approaching the Rock it is virtually empty, but there are small pockets of gannets to be seen. We scan around the cliff tops as the profile of the guga stands out against the skyline. It’s surprising how many we have been seeing. The young chick on the stack by the cave is doing well but the gugas that flanked it have gone and only four adults perched there now. On camera, wonderful shots of the chicks still being attended to by the adults. How long before they fledge? Will the parents stay for the duration?

Craigleith: Cows are now being seen daily. When will that first pup be born? As we approach the island the bull appears in an instant, watching us, making sure we are no threat to his domain. We see the same at the Bass.

Dolphins: No more sightings this week, but always worth spending a little time on the viewing deck.


Wildlife sightings 12 October 2012

From the archives:
Sightings – week up to 16 October 2008

What an exciting week: the first seal pups have been seen; gannets are leaving; dolphins were filmed from the Fidra camera and a rabbit was found on Craigleith!

Today we could have repeated the above article from the Bulletin in 2008.Yes an exciting week!

Dolphins: Whether from the Seafari Boat, on camera in the Discovery Centre, the viewing deck or café you could not avoid being caught up in the excitement as a pod of 20/25 of bottlenose dolphins were spotted feeding close to Craigleith on Wednesday.

Last Sunday, a beautiful calm day, we commented on the feeding frenzy by many of the gulls was an indication that there were large shoals of something. Quite often it’s worth scanning around as cetaceans may also be following the shoal. Later that day there was a brief sighting of a cow and calf from the Seafari Island Cruise. On Monday a report came in of a pod seen on Sunday, east of St Baldred’s Boat.

Passengers on the Seafari boat had enjoyed seal spotting and looking for the down-covered gannet flanked by two gugas on the pinnacle close to the cave on the Bass. I had mentioned about the earlier dolphin sightings. Conditions were perfect for a sea-watching day, I always say ‘keep scanning you never know!!’ I ignored my phone ringing but answered the 3rd call in close succession, I felt it may be urgent….David one of our guides and a masher excitedly blurted: “20+ dolphins east of the Craig‘’.

We were some distance away but headed in the direction, 14 pairs of eyes scanning. Way ahead I spotted the splashing. Speed now reduced we drifted slowly. Before we knew it the boat was surrounded. They weren’t paying attention to us. They were feeding and we witnessed the most amazing spectacle as they came within a metre of the boat. I alerted the Centre – to the delight of not just visitors but staff too.
Unfortunately tide and the fact the volunteers were waiting to be collected brought this amazing trip to a close.

I called Eric Hoyt (WDCS) and it’s hoped with photographs taken by our passengers and recording from Stuart Pearson this pod may be identified. I will keep you updated on that.

Bass: I didn’t need binoculars to see that the Rock is almost empty, but panning around with the cameras you spot the odd down-covered chick, gugas wing flapping and still the occasional adult with nesting material. Keep a watch on the ‘home alone’ chicks. The parents will return to feed. How often and what time of day? All interesting to watch for, and monitor.

Isle of May: At least ten seal pups have now been born. We watched one that must have been born early morning. It still had that scrawny straggly appearance of a newborn. The tide had turned and the odd wave splashed over it. It appeared unperturbed, perhaps enjoying it. A firm nudge from the cow close by was enough to make the pup turn. The cow sat broadside for a few minutes. We were unsure if she was the mother, but she moved in front and again a little nudge, moved higher up the boulder beach stopping to check the pup was following. It’s these moments that are such fun to watch. What was a little boulder for the mother to slither over was a mountain for the tiny pup. Like a caterpillar it slithered and wriggled its way over the boulders until safety was reached. The season has just begun.

Craigleith: Back to the 2008 sightings when ‘a rabbit!’ was spotted on Craigleith. These little bunnies are still there, with passengers always amazed when they spot them scuttling around. It is still unknown quite how they were re-introduced but they are doing a great job nibbling, particularly in the winter when other vegetation dies back and those mallow seeds just keep sprouting!

We are in the week now where the first pup may be born on the Craig so keep a close watch and note the activity on and off the island.

Fidra: The peregrine has been seen recently at its view points and on the lighthouse. Craigleith also has regular sightings.

Guillemots: No new reports this week, but we’re still seeing many rafts offshore and at Aberlady on Tuesday pinkfoot count over 9,000.




Wildlife sightings 5 October 2012

Sightings from Maggie

Isle of May: Asleep, obviously fed, the first very contented looking seal pup was seen on Pilgrims’ Haven on the morning of the 1 October. The cow (mother) was nearby. No sign of squabbling gulls vying for the afterbirth.

This pup we think had perhaps been born early evening on 30 September. Immediately after birth the cow sniffs her pup and vice versa. The scent – all very important to be able to identify your pup/mother in a busy colony. That first feed is very important and I’m sure, over the coming weeks, many amusing moments will be witnessed as some pups don’t always get this right and suckle anything from a flipper to a nose! This little pup had obviously had no problem, that newborn wrinkled face already filled out a little. Watch the transformation over the next 3 weeks!

Keep count and notes. Over the next week or so it should be quite easy to count newborns. Note dates and numbers when possible, even stillbirths. Another pup, born this week we think, was too close to the tidal line and perhaps drowned. From a live birth recorded, to last year’s pup trapped in the lobster pot, we know there are many weeks of amusing and nail biting moments ahead!

And the east wind blew! Report too late for last week, but the winds made for a busy week out there. Check out the May blog for 27 September. About 750 song thrushes were spotted, mixed in with a sprinkling of blackbirds, redwings, brambling, willow warblers, yellow-browed warbler, chiffchaffs, redstarts, pied flycatcher whinchat, snow bunting, reed bunting and a tree pipit.

Craigleith: Seal breeding season on the May has begun slightly earlier this year. Will this happen on Craigleith? We’ve certainly seen several heavily pregnant cows from the boat. They can haul out quite some distance so pan around!

A peregrine was spotted flying around the cliffs and later seen at a viewpoint not far from the cliff cam. Curlews, oystercatchers and eiders all being seen on the island.

The Bass: Several young gannets from eight weeks to gugas are still being seen on the Rock. Sadly, another of the very young down covered ones has been washed away with the high tides, but we spotted three chicks, the youngest about seven weeks, on a high pinnacle close to the west cave. Again lines of gannets, seaweed hanging from their bills as nest building is still ongoing.

Guillemot – wreck or not? A wreck is when unusual numbers of seabirds are found dying or dead along the shoreline. Early September a call came to the Centre reporting an unusually high number dead guillemots near Cruden Bay. It’s not unusual at this time of year to find pockets of young guillemots dead, but some of these bird are adults. I reported this to Dan Turner, coordinator for NE beach bird survey.

There has not been a week gone by when I’ve not received a call reporting guillemots weakened or dying along the coast, the most recent from a vet in St Andrews reporting over 200 dead along the shore. This report was after the storm!

The SSPCA received over 90 birds after last week’s storm. One handed into the Centre was exhausted but feisty and, after a rest and a very hearty meal of whitebait (supplied by the café), swam happily away as we released it in the shelter of the Bass.

Another worrying alert as three oil-covered cormorants were reported near the dunes of the West beach. Thankfully, there have been no further reports and the cause is unknown.

Wildlife sightings 28 September 2012

Sightings from Maggie

Bass Rock: It was expected! The boats were tucked up safely in the harbour on Sunday evening. On Monday morning due to the strengthening easterly winds, the boom went down. The harbour now closed. I knew it wouldn’t be long before calls came in about exhausted gugas along the shores and indeed the first call came in before 09:00 the morning of the storm.

With the likelihood that many more would be reported, the SSPCA would be overwhelmed. We have been very much aware of the void in short-term care for these young birds and that is being debated. With predominate westerlys since fledging began, the normal influx has not been seen although a few birds have gone into the care of the SSPCA.

A call mid morning from Pat Macaulay/Marr was very much welcomed. She has access to the pen for a few days and a beach patrol was undertaken. So that familiar, and very welcomed aroma, and sound now resonates from the beach road pen. If you have any mackerel lurking in your freezer, all donations gratefully received.

The club birds sitting by the landing site had been twitchy last week and, sure enough, by the weekend they had gone. A few returned, but the lower rock is now silent and empty, a sure sign the season is slowly coming to a close.

Keep an eye on the young birds close to the chapel and pan around, you may just spot an odd down-covered one. Note where it is so we can observe its progress. Numbers may be thinning but the season is far from over. There is plenty of activity and behaviour to enjoy.

Bass seals: So much depends on the tides and the weather. A mix of harbour and pregnant greys are being seen. So far no sign of ‘the bull’. Sadly the beautiful enormous bull that dominated the colony, we think died from an injury last year. The scientific name derived from the Greek, Halichoerus gyrpus, meaning ‘sea-pig with a hooked nose’ portrays the bull exactly. His enormous head, long Roman nose, thick battled scarred neck – a daunting specimen not to be messed with!

We wait and watch, as perhaps more than one male will appear? On certain tidal days we take the short hop down to St Baldred’s where, from a distance, we often spot many seals hauled out.

The May and Seal Day: A wonderful day as ever. Inquisitive pregnant cow’s heads extending and twisting as they watched with curiosity as we drifted slowly by. The haunting wailing filling the air from the dozens hauled out lazing in the warmth of the late September sun. A sudden splash from a bull letting his presence known. We were no threat to him.

On landing, Dave and Jeremy made the day very special. Scopes were set up allowing our small group the joy of watching the second pup that had been born the previous day. Tea was served at Fluke Street (in the posh cups!) with many displays and information. There was no mistaking the bull skull!

From butterflies, moths, invertebrates, plants and a black bunny all were seen and discussed. The visit passed as ever too quickly. Unfortunately the weather is turning this weekend and we are unable to make our last visit of the season. We watch Pilgrim’s Haven on camera now, waiting for that first pup; the joys, the traumas and the amusing moments that will enthral us for the next few months.

Craigleith: Many cows have been spotted hauled out (prior to this week’s storm). Only two weeks until the first pup may be born.

Local sightings: That wonderful autumnal ‘wink wink’ as skeins of pinkfoot fly overhead. John Harrison from Aberlady Bay reports just shy of 23,000 roosting. Sea-watching up and down the coast reports skuas, shearwaters, sabine gull and a leaches petrel to mention just a few!

Thanks to all at Lothian Bird News.