Wildlife sightings 14 February 2013

Sightings from Maggie

Two very excited young visitors reported a sick seal trying to haul out on the Seafari mooring. Dawn called me. This sounded strange. As we were talking the young team returned even more excited. I heard them say “It’s a family heading to the beach”. Intrigued, I asked if they could keep watching and report back.  Very soon the final call, an otter, not one but 3! A mother with 2 cubs. A ripple of excitement spread through the Centre. Diane caught them on camera playing just over the harbour wall. What was so special is that Nikita and Alex took the time to report this too us and, importantly we listened. They were out the next day watching and came in with another sighting. They are now our official ‘otter-spotters’

What is fabulous we’ve had sketchy reports over recent years but to see them so close to the harbour with young is wonderful not only for North Berwick (perhaps not for the fishermen) but something else for us to look out for, particularity from the boat. A few otter facts at the end.

The Bass: Daily reports of gannets close to the Bass, not hundreds but it won’t be long before there is an influx. Mind you, with all these beady eyes during the school holidays it is not for the want of trying, and the odd white plastic brought a few rousing calls in the Discovery Centre in the faint hope that it may be a gannet. The peregrine is around and I spotted a blackbird which was rather nice as I haven’t seen them for a while.

Isle of May: Guillemots have been seen early morning on the stacks. They disappear before opening, but worth checking the web cams as one will be locked on the stacks for early morning viewing. Many are being spotted on the sea. Young seals have been hauling out. The straddle line is strewn with all manners of garbage washed up in the winter storms. The seals are oblivious to it with the odd piece of flotsam catching their interest. This week saw another young seal with obvious netting around its neck. Unfortunately, weather conditions prevented us from landing, however it was monitored closely. It wasn’t in great distress and lounged around for almost 48hrs doing what seals do best: scratching and sleeping. Checking the web cam at first light it was there, but I had a feeling it may head off and indeed by the time the Centre opened it had vanished. It may well return as the fine netting will be causing discomfort. Please do keep a close watch. If it returns we’ll head out to free it from the netting. It could be we will bring it into the care of the SSPCA (we have our seal kennel and seal bag for such events).

Fidra: The peregrines are still being seen. We have an excellent recording in the Discovery Centre showing the pair feeding. This was recorded some time back but is superb footage and for many visitors this is the first time they may have seen how these birds feed. Remember, if you are in the Discovery Centre and spot something unusual, shout! Get someone to hit the record button! Several of the Centre’s recordings have been used in wildlife documentaries. It’s important to keep building the library of recordings.

Otter facts (Lutra lutra) Known as the common otter, Eurasian river otter or European otter. Inhabits UK and Europe.

Otters have long, slim bodies and relatively short limbs, with webbed paws. Most have sharp claws on their feet, and have long, muscular tails. They are small animals that average about four feet in length and up to 30 pounds. There are 12 other species of otter. An otter’s den is called a holt or couch.

Otters are inquisitive, playful and intelligent. They are semi-aquatic mammals and fast, agile swimmers. Bubbles of air trapped in their fur give them a silvery appearance underwater. They are the only known marine animals that don’t have blubber and have the thickest fur of all animals with at least 250,000 hairs per square inch. Some species have up to 1 million hairs per square inch.

They can stay underwater for up to four minutes, after which they must surface to breathe. As they dive, they close their ears and nostrils to keep water out.  Otters grab their prey in their mouths. They eat small fish that they catch in the water, holding the food with their forepaws while floating on their backs. When the otters catch large fish, they haul them onto shore to dine.

Otters communicate with a variety of squeals, chirps, chatters, chuckles, screams and warning growls. They have been around for at least 30 million years based on early fossil remains.

They have the ability to create and use tools just like beavers, monkeys, and apes.

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