Wildlife sightings 16 November 2012

Sightings from Maggie

Bass Rock: The neck stretches upward, head swiveling  eyes scanning. This is the daily scenario of the two remaining young gannets (Brutus and Spartacus) as they scan the skies for their returning parents. During the rest of the short November days and long dark nights, they are alone. The third chick, Luscious, was near to fledging. It was spotted over a week ago wandering toward the cliff edge and although it wasn’t quite ready to fledge, it may now have gone. Keep panning around and please do note when the adults return.

Isle of May: Reaching the peak of the breeding season, Pilgrims’ Haven is extremely crowded. Little fat barrels, many now molting and littering the beach, interspersed with the skinny shaggy coated newborns are easily spotted. On calm days many are swimming in the shallows of the bay, their mothers keeping a close eye so they don’t venture too far. For the younger pups most of the time they are content, feeding, sleeping, but occasionally you can spot a very young one at the water’s edge enjoying the gentle splashing of the incoming tide.

Craigleith:  Although not as crowded as the May, numbers are looking good with over 30 pups visible. The elder bush pup appears to enjoy its ‘den’ under the spreading branches of the bush where again it was spotted lurking. Although there are microphones attached to the cameras, perhaps we’re not always aware of the constant noise you hear from a colony. We are familiar with the haunting wail we hear around the May camera or from the depths of the cave as we sail past, but pups can sound like children wailing or crying. It can be quite disconcerting.

At our members’ evening I was asked about this. The couple were out walking early morning on the beach. It was very calm and still, although the fog was thick. They heard some very strange noises echoing they thought, across the sea. I’m fairly confident it was the pups from Craigleith.

I mentioned I was off to count seals last weekend. With more than enough in the group, I took an hour out, just to sit and observe the colony from the cliff top. It was fascinating and extremely noisy with childlike wailing and crying filling the air, the occasional snorts and growls as cows infringed another’s area coming too close to a pup, or an amorous bull being firmly rejected offshore. A cow came too close to another’s pup. She started to growl trying to protect it. A full scale battle ensued between the two cows with the pup caught in the middle of the fighting cows. Although the cows lose an enormous amount of weight at breeding time they are still heavy enough to squash or injure a pup. In between the growls and snapping, the mother was desperately flippering her pup trying to move it to safety. The fight died back for a short while only to erupt again with vengeance. The end result, the pup was ‘claimed’ by the attacking cow, with the original mother backing off in defeat. This fight was ongoing for about half an hour.

As the colony settled back down with the pup now in the care of the ‘new’ mother, the normal behaviour resumed. Cows swimming close to the beach, pups draped over rocks, others exploring the shoreline, when suddenly there was a mass stampede for the shore! Normally it is the other way around. If a colony is disturbed you see everything rush into the water. What caused this? Seals are very susceptible to sound and vibration. A tanker a good half mile away was steaming out the Forth. I can only think this was the cause of the disturbance. Certainly from the boat we know how they do react to noise.

Vibration and noise under water can cause problems for cetaceans. There has been an interesting development relating to the recent mass whale stranding in Fife which resulted in the death of 22 whales including 4 calves. Spanish acoustic experts are looking at the possibility that deafness may have contributed to the stranding. The whales may have been affected by an earthquake off the Norwegian coast and seismic tests being carried out off the coast of Aberdeen. If this was the case, they would not be able to communicate with each other or forage for food. They would panic. The study is being undertaken by Barcelona University at the Laboratory of Applied Bioacoustics. They are world-leaders in assessing sound damage to cetaceans. The oceans are becoming noisier and this is affecting marine life.

Local sightings: A pair of peregrines were seen off Craigleith with the male going into a stoop, with aerial display showing the female what a good provider he is. Spend a little time on the viewing deck as we have seen this before.

Keep your eyes peeled on the berry trees for waxwings!

Local sightings: Waxwings! These beautiful birds are being spotted from Dunbar, Gullane, Aberlady and Gosford to Edinburgh, so keep a close eye on berry trees and listen for their call. At Aberlady fieldfares, redwings and snow bunting were seen yesterday on the west end of the beach. For anyone that travels on the train as you head out of North Berwick on many days you may spot the whooper swans in the fields and on the water on the right hand side. Very often they are also seen feeding in fields near Tyninghame. An unusual one with bright yellow webs has been seen. Look out for it if you are out on a bird walk.

With thanks to all at Lothian Bird News

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