Sightings from Maggie Sheddan – week ended 12 July 2013
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!