Wildlife sightings 30 November 2012

Sightings from Maggie

Isle of May: The cow lay contented presenting herself to her recently born pup. The uncertainty was obvious. The skinny-faced straggly bundle had not yet mastered the art of feeding. A gasp of horror from our visitors as we watched the mother roll over slightly. The frail white bundle in danger of being squashed. These huge mirror eyes, the fragility at this age. Thankfully it moved and finally, with a little flippering from the mother, locked itself on and had a good feed.

If everything goes well this little fellow may still be on Pilgrims Haven over Christmas. Although the season has peaked, it still good to note the date of newborns. It is also much easier now to keep an ongoing count.

In previous years, at this time, we have seen numbers drop from 80+ to approx 35, a challenge for the visitors perhaps. Without these records, we have nothing to compare in future years. Records are vital. Will we have a Christmas pup? We have had on occasion. Rock pipits are regularly flitting around the boulder beach feeding on insects.

Craigleith: The second round of seal counts on the upper Forth islands are due to take place this coming weekend. Unfortunately, we haven’t managed to land on Craigleith this season so I attempted the second count again using the cameras. White fluffy pups are easily spotted, although they do hide behind rocks or in dips, or under trees! With many now moulted, it is a challenge!

On counts we break it down to moults, part moulted, pups etc. In the brilliant sun it is sometimes difficult to have that clarity, especially if the face is not visible. I counted moults, but there were a couple of uncertainties. Without the cameras we would not have any of this information to pass on to the Fife Seal Group. In turn, excluding the May, these figures are passed on to the Sea Mammal Research team in St Andrews. Please do keep a note of any newborns. A flock of ‘finches were spotted. Pan around, zoom in on the bushes.

Reports: At this time of year reports filter through from the breeding season. There have been a few rather disquieting ones recently. I was going to touch on some of these this week but with the arrival of the Seabird journal and Isle of May update, I will defer the other updates until next week.

Isle of May – The Seabird Journal
The 2012 breeding season proved to be very mixed. Adverse weather played its part.
‘The season started well with return rates for colour marked adults of all species being consistently above the long term average: shag (93%), guillemot (92%), razorbill (93%), puffin (90%) and kittiwake (80%).

As with 2011, breeding was again earlier than in recent years particularly for guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes. However, the 2012 season was dominated by unusually high rainfall which affected the breeding success of some species particularly puffins. Flooding of burrows appeared to affect puffins severely as their breeding success was one of the worst on record at 0.57 chicks fledging per pair.

Razorbills also had a poor season at 0.56 fledged chicks per pair, which was an improvement on 2011 but still one of the worst on record. Guillemots had an above average season with 0.79 chicks fledging per pair.

Kittiwakes were the biggest success story of 2012 recording their highest breeding success since 1989 with 0.98 chicks per completed nest and several pairs raising three chicks. Shag productivity, although slightly above average, was down following four highly successful years at 1.18 chicks per pair, with many broods succumbing to the heavy rainfall.

Fulmars recorded their worst season on record of 0.13 chicks per apparently occupied site with most losses appearing to occur at the chick rearing stage, which may have been a result of the high rainfall chilling downy chicks.

In terms of diet, prey composition varied considerably among the species. Guillemot chicks were predominantly fed clupeids (85%) while razorbills brought in sandeels in 92% of loads with small clupeids making up the rest of the chick diet. Sandeels made up 90% of fish brought in by puffins, the remainder being small rockling and clupeids. Kittiwakes fed their chicks largely on sandeels (99% of samples) but clupeids were recorded more often than usual. Samples collected from shags indicated that sandeels dominated the diet (77% of samples).

For more information on the Isle of May study look up the website:

Thanks to Mark Newell, Mike Harris, Sarah Burthe and Carrie Gunn.

The East Coast Seabird Wreck – Maggie
Early in September a call was passed on to me from a lady reporting an unusual amount of dead auks at Cruden Bay. Shortly after, another call came into the Centre with a similar report at a different location. I contacted Dan Turner from Save the North Sea group. This had the feeling of a wreck with such numbers being reported. It is not unusual to find young birds perish at this time but this appeared to be more serious. The public were alerted to this through an article in the Press and Journal and I received many more calls which I forwarded onto Dan. There had been heavy storms during that period. With only one showing signs of pollution it pointed to birds having expired due to lack of food.

What it did show is the care and concerns the public have. And for us we can then forward information onto the relevant authorities.

One last piece of good news (although not in our area):
Leach’s storm petrels successfully nested in artificial burrows on St Kilda for the first time this year. This year the National Trust for Scotland, which owns and manages the St Kilda World Heritage Site, joined forces with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Inverness College to find out what is happening to the petrel population by constructing wooden nest boxes.

Carpentry and joinery students at Inverness College took up the challenge and crafted a set of flat-packed nesting boxes in kit form that, when assembled, provided a much better facsimile of a cosy petrel burrow. The kits were sent out to St Kilda for immediate field-testing.

The petrels have taken to the new-style nesting boxes with a vengeance, and the result is the first successful hatching of a very fluffy chick. This is thought to be the very first record of a Leach’s Storm-petrel breeding in an artificial burrow.

How wonderful is that!


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