Wildlife sightings 22 March 2013

Sightings by Maggie

Bass Rock: The wintery squalls have been relentless this week, the seas storming, but the gannets sit tight, although numbers appear slightly less than last week. Have a look at Gavin’s update ‘time line’ this Sunday on twitter. Will it show a change in numbers? A few years ago on 27 March with the birds looking very settled an unexpected ‘dread’ happened. This is when the birds in almost a structured sequence, depart from the Rock. They return usually within 24 hours. I’ve witnessed such an event and we know it was nothing to do with us landing. It’s like a signal is given that then ripples through the colony and your left alone wondering what you’ve done, or at least I was on that occasion. Perhaps a final party out there in the North Sea before the serious breeding and guarding of territory for the long months ahead begin? Seriously, gannets that are here now may still be at their site in October. From incubation to fledging it’s almost 5 months if everything is to plan. There may be reasons for delayed laying, perhaps condition of the bird, food supplies, some birds loose eggs and relay. Post fledging is more to do with site attachment and certainly we witness constant nest building throughout the season.

Craigleith/Isle of May: Puffins!! Where are they? Last year to the delight of visitors, they were seen for most of the day on the 20 March. They had returned cleaning out burrows, sitting on the wall above Pilgrims Haven. With the school holidays beginning this week, recruit our beady eyed spotters to pan and scan!! Just to tease, they will come and go, but check the areas and the sea as soon as the cameras are on. It’s close to puffin time!

Fidra: The strong easterlies make difficult conditions for the birds, with the sea crashing over low rocks where we see the eiders and shags, also this week no sighting of the Peregrine on the exposed ledges. Tom, however, witnessed a spectacular swoop with 3 peregrines displaying further inland this week. Peregrine numbers have steadily increased in recent years, in part due to the protection they are given and the well documented reduction in chemicals that caused such devastation in past times. Perhaps something we could have information session on later in the season to enhance our knowledge of the peregrines?

Webcams: Around the world people log on for all different reasons. Perhaps they have visited the Centre, been on a boat trip, landed on the Bass or the May or just curious to see what wildlife we are looking at. Panning around looking for puffins on the May yesterday, a sleeping seal was spotted. For the visiting students, unlikely to return during the winter months, I suggested they watch the seal breeding on the webcams. Many people don’t realise they can watch the seasons unfold.  Let them know! Filming on the Bass a couple of years ago, one of the American crew had a call from his daughter. She was so excited she could see her dad and then there are the night time harbour viewers (mainly the boat team..sad!), keeping an eye on conditions and the boats. But the webcams also aid researchers. The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (http://www.ceh.ac.uk/sci_programmes/IsleofMayLong-TermStudy.html) regularly check the stacks on the May particularly at the moment, as sea conditions are preventing them landing. For the ringers we are able to report the first cormorant and shag eggs and subsequent hatching dates. The Bass had its dedicated webcam for Leeds University during its 3 year study, and over the winter a student at Glasgow University was using the May web cam to check seal pup mortality on a daily basis.  Her project was ‘The role of the marine mammal carrion in the ecology of the coastal marine system’; her story is on the Isle of May blog. Importantly as we pan around remember someone on the other side of the world may be watching!

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