Sightings – week ended 9 August 2013

From the Discovery Centre Cameras – Linda Forrest

Bird is the Word!

FIDRA:  We have one, half-visible fulmar chick, partly hidden at different times, by a rock, a parent or fronds of long grass. But it’s very cute, seems to be in good health and is well–tended. We can also see a couple of puffins, and shag chicks, who look much older now, hanging about, especially at waters’ edge. Herring gulls abound.

BASS ROCK: Lots of gannets! The chicks are getting much bigger now, mostly still fat, white and fluffy, though some of them have brown plumage coming through.

CRAIGLEITH: A few puffins are still visible, along with herring gulls, and cormorants. Several large chicks flex their wings at cliff and water’s edge. A couple of black back gulls are also on view.

On the MAY, from the cameras, bird sightings seem to be limited mostly to shags and cormorants, as elsewhere, and there are perhaps a few puffins, here and there.

DUNBAR:  We’re seeing kittiwakes with their maturing chicks. We’re also seeing lots of empty nests and, unfortunately, a couple of dead chicks.


From the boat – Maggie Sheddan

 Bass gleaming! White down-covered chicks, heads swaying from side to side, bill pointing upward begging for food, immature birds, covering every available space, still flighty at times giving passengers a wonderful overhead display, adults preening, nest building, displaying,  threats and disputes, and then a little head of a 12 day old chick pops up, still wobbly, bringing  great excitement whether seen on camera or from the boat. This really is the height of season for the colony.

 Yet another chick rescued. This one had obviously fallen out of a nest. Unable to climb back there is only one way it can go, downward. The attacks are relentless. The chick tucks its bill underneath the breast, often lying prone between nests but still the jabbing can continue. The one I found had obviously been attacked but now at the bottom of a drop, it was quite safe and still packed a good jab at me when I lifted it.

Another rescue was from the boat; watching two adults swimming abnormally close together, we saw the fishing line that entangled them. One adult gannet is bad enough but two tied together is a challenge. Young Colin is now sporting the bite he took as we tried to cut them free. What was so sad to see, and we were unable to do anything about, was the fishing hook trapped in the wing. This is the second report of entanglement of fishing line in as many days.

Craigleith and the May. Puffins, yes there are still some being seen although no question, the season is drawing to a close now.

Seals are popping up around both islands. Keep a watch at low tide.

Spend some time on the viewing deck now; you never know what you may spot!

(pic by Steve McDonald



This week’s Sightings – Maggie Sheddan – w/e 1 August 2013

Bass Rock  

The muddied waters at the Bass reflected the nitrate rich mud cascading off the Rock.   The pristine white down of the chicks with mud caked bellies looked bedraggled.   The torrential rain can so easily wash a chick off the precarious cliff nesting sites.  The following day with the sun shining nest building was rife.  Certainly the well designed nest is a saviour for many a young chick as it became an island during these cloud bursts.  I spotted a down covered chick at the back of the lighthouse, I feared the worst.  As I was trying to alert trapped birds to the escape route by clapping my hands and making lots of noise, the motionless chick lifted its head and I realised this one was saveable.   Behind the lighthouse is not the most pleasant of places.  It looked quite solid ground but knowledge is useful.  With the heavy rain this week I suspected the hard surface was deceiving.  Prodding the surface with a pole it sank in almost half a meter.   Waders, not wellies, were required.   Clambering on the wall, scrabbling along the inner rocks, perching on a tiny rock the chick was still out of reach.  I was in danger of not only filling the wellies but a complete dunk in this putrid mass.   A eureka moment, the researchers pole for gannet catching has been left.  Finally, safely rescued, the SSPCA met us on our return and the young chick is doing well.  Several newly hatched young have been spotted this week therefore, all being well, we can expect to see perhaps more gugas than normal in October. 

The May   

How quickly things change!  Last week passengers were still being met by the occasional protective tern parent, tending its almost fledged chick.  The chicks on the paths not yet strong in flight by mid week as we sailed into Kirkhaven the rasping call of dozens of terns met us on the outer rocks, and by Wednesday, not a sound, the majority gone.   Tern shelters are being collected and stored for another year, the canes used to deter gull predation now lying by the pathside and the island is taking on the more relaxed feel of August.   Of course highlight of the week for many a twitcher (easily spotted carrying large scope and lenses) was the bridled tern thought to be the same bird seen at the Farnes.  It was only seen for one day so keep an eye out from the scope deck.  You never know.  Whether in a swirling mist or stair-rod rain the puffins have been out in numbers this past week.  Pufflings are being found all over the island but it is expected we may still see puffins around for at least another week before only the late breeders are left.  Although a few guillemot chicks have still to fledge along with kittiwakes, fulmars and the occasional shag still tending young, there is a very definite feel of the changing season.  Turnstone, green, purple and common sandpiper, dunlin redshank to name but a few of the waders recently seen.   Moths and butterflies are now appearing, but it was the appearance of the odd bull seal just hanging out off shore an indication that before we know it seal season is not that far off.  On our return trip a few days ago we saw 8/9 porpoise not to mention plunge diving gannets!

Pufflings have been very much in the news this week.  Pinky and Pablo have been successfully released having been found in the usual strange and dark locations around North Berwick.   The most important thing to see is that they dive immediately when released on the sea (escape from predatory gulls).  For Seafari passengers it is a real joy for them to witness that.

Recently black headed gulls and little gulls are being spotted.  Waders are returning and shearwaters spotted by those undertaking seawatches.  We hope we may be able to organise a “Seawatch” trip with Seafari Explorer perhaps late August early September.  I will keep you updated on that.



This week’s Sightings – Maggie Sheddan – w/e 26 July 2013

Bass Rock

The piercing black eye bright, alert. The black bill, the peering posturing as the down covered chicks, now very visible, watch as we sail past. Only now are we really spotting them from the boat. We are only midway in the season for the gannets.

From the boat, we heard the piercing call. A lone guillemot with chick on a tiny ledge brings excitement. The east cave has several still to fledge but, as with many of the cliffs on all the islands, their season is virtually over.

May Isle

Picnic with the puffins!! This last two weeks the May has been incredible. On one of our walks along Holymans road or “the puffin road” every few metres, the soft growling of puffins could be heard bringing smiles to our group. We reach the main area where it’s 360 degrees puffin watching. Pufflings are now making their way to the sea but some are found in the undergrowth and held until dusk before release. We have been seeing a few on the sea… So now we have not only ‘Puffin!’ but also ‘Puffling!’ being shouted from the boat.

The shags feeding are a joy to watch as its three hungry young overwhelm the parent. I watched one feeding the pushiest chick only to see the adult hop out of reach of the other two…

The tern chicks are fledging. The recent dry spell really aided the colony this year. I’ve spotted a couple of razorbill chicks, there is always something to enjoy and watch!

Sightings from Maggie Sheddan – week ended 12 July 2013

May Isle

It’s puffin paradise! Whirring overhead bills filled with sand eels. Large groups socializing on the rocks and cliff edges, heads popping out of burrows. This truly is the time to see puffins. They are settled, they are feeding, they are everywhere! Before we know it, that little puffling will begin the burrow walk and the season will be over. On the cliffs, whether wandering the paths or watching on camera, there is still plenty to enjoy. Kittiwake chicks are growing and easily spotted, shag chicks in their brown woolly phase, and there are still guillemot and razorbill chicks around, although in the last couple of days the ledges are a little quieter. The tern chicks are now scuttling over the paths, so the new instruction is to walk steadily holding your map above your head while you watch your feet! Even the Crown Prince of Dubai obliged. The terns are doing well. The weather has helped but inevitably, there is predation. It will be interesting to see the results.


The area is awash with down-covered young, a couple easily five weeks old. How were they missed? Whether it is a landing trip, on camera, or from the boat, that down covered chick with the dark bill and dark eye is now unmistakable. In the warm weather they flop over the nest, often mistaken for dead. No, just sleeping (they are young) and keeping cool.

However it’s only been this last week that the real influx of immature birds has arrived. Gaps are filling, new areas being covered and, for the first time, several sitting on the battlement walls. They will not breed this year, some club birds, others looking for a territory to occupy. We saw that with the chapel gannets, it’s taken a few years but finally I think we may see a chick on the gable end!

What is interesting, although not confirmed, I observed birds missing and odd gaps in the colony this year, (not all study birds) some of the darvick ringed birds were alone, a couple not at all settled. These birds had bred in previous years. I passed this info on to Keith Hammer and returning researchers. Nothing is official yet as studies are ongoing. It appears from the study that birds returns are down by 10%… Time will tell how the season pans out but for the moment enjoy, observe and record


An eventful time on the boats as the piercing call of the guillemot chicks fills the air. One spotted on a cliff edge just building courage to jump, the male close by as if willing it to do so. The one eyed grey seal (Cyclops) is easy to spot. One eye is milky white I believe caused by a parasite infection causing blindness. With their sensitive whiskers it will still be able to feed. The predatory great black back gull that has an appetite for puffin, a lone female eider with two very young ducklings and, as below, dolphin and porpoise all seen this week.  


An exciting week for cetaceans! A call of ‘dolphins’ brought passengers to their feet. The boat slowed, cameras and binoculars at the ready, all eyes scanning. Then a shout ‘over there!’ A small pod tightly packed, no bow riding or playfulness. This group were on a mission. Tightly packed and moving fast. It was but a fleeting sighting but long enough to excite. As luck would have it, one of our passengers had managed to take some superb shots. Knowing that dolphins can be identified these were passed to Erich Hoyt. These are Moray Firth dolphins! Runny Paint, (mature female, very distinctive with white lesions on her dorsal fin) was first seen in Milsey bay in 2008. This time her 9-year-old calf ‘Paint Splotch ‘ was spotted close to her. Another mother ‘Chips’ was among them possibly with her calf born in 2010. Also in the pod, ‘Pilot’ an older female first identified in 1990. She also had a calf in 2010 but there was no sign of it in this group. There was a report last week of possible lone calf? Pizza, also a mother, was first seen in the Moray Forth in 1991 but more recently is being spotted off the east coast.

 A couple of porpoise sightings and a report of two pilot whales (not much info on that yet but will update soon). Whether heading to the largest single rock gannetry in the world, or the largest east coast puffin colony and grey seal colony, when dolphin, porpoise and whales breach the surface it just affirms what a special area we live in. And, if you can’t make it out on a boat trip, spend some time on the viewing deck, as that pod could easily have been spotted from there!