Wildlife sightings 5 April 2013

Sightings by Maggie

Puffins: Spirits lifted as finally on a beautiful sunny morning residents of the May woke to that familiar whirring overhead as thousands of puffins arrived early morning. Soft growling was heard from burrows as some excavated, repairing them for the season ahead. Others perched outside burrows, on rocks, socializing, perhaps watching to see if a neighbour may return. By mid-morning they had gone!

With headlines still flagging up the wreck and daily reports of corpses being found along shores up and down the coast this was heart-warming to see so many return. It is possible now that many of the reports we are receiving are recounts, as corpses may be washing in and out along the straddle line. That said for weakened birds perhaps the calm has come too late.

Gannets: Bass gannets have arrived this week at sites. Landing for maintenance twice in one week even in that few days the difference was evident. Although none are on eggs we are always aware of our actions as we move close to sitting birds. On our first visit they moved and the ripple effect happened, although they returned very quickly. The second visit they sat tight. Breeding season has begun. Now is the time to really study behaviour, follow the weekly changes in the colony, look for the settled birds, they may be the first to lay. We had a welcoming committee when we landed: on the first visit 5 young seals hauled out sleeping, visible from the camera, but on our second visit a young one draped over the low steps completely ignoring us. It was not moving, it just looked at us, were we a threat, no, back to sleep! With a rising tide it had gone by the time we finished.

Isle of May: Daily early morning checks on the stacks for guillemots from the webcams show they are still coming and going, but more activity from the kittiwakes. Puffins were spotted so keep panning around and please start logging the dates for returning shags. Walking around the island on our first Seafari landing the shags that had been settled had gone. They too have suffered in this wreck. The first shag egg last year was on 12 March. Now on 5 April they are not even on site but they will return very soon. Keep watching the nests!

Dunbar: Kittiwakes busy pairing up, mutual preening, neighbourly squabbling, the images from here are superb, so close and clear. Fascinating viewing.

Craigleith: The mashers enjoyed the warmth of the sun as they hunted for an odd stem of mallow. Craigleith has been transformed. The greylag was seen on eggs so with no mallow hopefully we may spot the goslings when they hatch.

Seafari: That familiar aroma, gannets circling overhead, kittiwakes screeching, puffin watching, inquisitive seals breaking the surface, the occasional sea spray, the boat season has begun!

Sailing around the islands although the cliffs are not yet busy the distinctive call of the kittiwake fills the air. Cormorants, the white patch easily spotted, shags with their crests, seals lazing on Craigleith. We know they respond to the RiB but how would they react with Seafari Explorer. At the Bass I spotted a large bull circling at a distance, he raised his head watching us, then relaxed when he saw it was a boat and not a threat to his territory.

Out at the May it was a bitter cold Easter Monday with few birds to be seen but the May is filled with history and always enjoyable. To the delight of our visitors who had never seen a puffin, we spotted several rafts on the sea along with a couple of hundred grey seals hauled out on Rona as we headed toward the Bass and home.

World reports the puffins are not the only ones to succumb to starvation. An “unusual mortality event” has occurred off the shores of California with starving sea lion pups being washed ashore. Scientists are unclear whether this is caused by a food shortage or perhaps some other reason. What it does show are the changes happening world wide across the oceans.

Wildlife sightings 29 March 2013

Sightings by Maggie

Puffin wreck: “Wrecks of seabirds, when birds die apparently of starvation after periods of very rough weather, are not that uncommon. However, in the North Sea the species involved are often species such as guillemots and razorbills that winter fairly close to land. Wrecks of puffins are extremely rare, probably because they winter well away from land so that when they die their bodies rarely get washed ashore. There is currently a major wreck underway which is the largest in the North Sea for at least 60 years”. Quote from Professor Mike Harris, a research fellow at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Alerted last Sunday morning to this situation, reports from members of the public trickled in. From Aberdeen to Northumberland the emaciated corpses of puffins were being washed ashore. By Monday it was realised that this was perhaps the largest puffin wreck in over 60 years. Just last week, I had flagged up we should be seeing them ashore. Puffins raft in their thousands off the May and the FarneIslands and sadly it looks as if they may have been caught up in the relentless easterly winds we have experienced.

In a week with unprecedented snowfalls for this time of year, severe winds dropping temperatures when we should be seeing daffodils and lambs. It does appear changes in the weather are bringing these extreme conditions.

For the puffins and other species affected by this the next few weeks will allow researchers to monitor the impact it may have on the forthcoming breeding season.

A brief but very serious update: At the Centre we have been inundated with members of the public reporting corpses along the beach. Their help/ your help is invaluable as all this information is being collated. Just this morning, I received a report from Bobby Anderson. On a small stretch of coast he counted 66 dead puffins, 42 guillemots, 8 razorbills and 1 kittiwake in one day!

Important things to note Is there a ring or logger on the bird? Note the specific number or hand it in. If it has a logger, this is really important, if possible, please retrieve it. This contains information as to wintering locations. If it is a kittiwake or fulmar in or around North Berwick and the body is complete, please do let me know.

Very briefly, on a lighter note: Although gannet numbers on the Bass have been thinner this week, a pair were spotted mating on camera the other day…we’ll be egg spotting before long! With calmer weather, pan around for puffins and guillemots. I think we could see some this weekend and certainly from our new boat Seafari Explorer, who knows what we may spot this weekend. From the RiB on launch day we spotted a lone puffin and just the day before a report of 3 dolphins in close to Gullane.

Puffin wreck: quote from Tom Brock, CEO of the Scottish Seabird Centre 26 March 2013

In response to the puffin wreck, Tom Brock OBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said:

“The discovery of hundreds of seabird corpses including puffins, guillemots and razorbills along the length of the east coast, reportedly from Aberdeen down to Eyemouth and Northumberland is extremely distressing and is a major concern.

“While the reasons behind this are not entirely clear, the extreme weather conditions that we have witnessed over the past few weeks are undoubtedly a contributing factor. Many seabirds including puffins have been suffering significant population falls in many parts of Scotland in recent years and it is thought that this may be related to food shortages which could be a result of climate change and changing sea temperatures. Weak and hungry birds are particularly at risk in extreme weather as experienced recently.

“At the Scottish Seabird Centre we have been working to reverse the huge drop in the puffin population on the nearby islands of Craigleith and Fidra resulting from invasive and alien tree mallow. Our successful SOS Puffin project has involved hundreds of volunteers through a programme of mallow clearing.

“Puffins enjoy enormous popular appeal among our visitors and on our live interactive cameras we are currently looking out for the return of the first puffins to their breeding burrows on the nearby islands. We will continue to monitor the current situation closely as it develops, but clearly the significant loss of seabirds just ahead of the crucial breeding season is a major cause for concern – not least given that Scotland is of international importance for its seabirds and is home to over 45% of Europe’s seabirds.”