Sighting Blog – week ended 30 August 2013

From the Discovery Centre Cameras – Andy Dickson

Another week where the Bass Rock continues to be the main focus of activity. There are many gannet with plumage at various stages from white and fluffy chicks to the dark adolescents. Club birds are still around in the lower areas of the Bass and displaying a range of behaviours.

Some adult and juvenile shags are still in the vicinity of the original nest on all the islands but many have fledged and are now independent.

Cormorants are still visible on Craigleth with the lighter chicks identifiable.

Kittiwakes appear to have all fledged from Dunbar although the chicks have now been spotted on the islands.

There are a few fulmar chicks still on Fidra and Craigleith, which are now losing their fluffy down.

Peregrines are now spotted regularly in the afternoon on Fidra and Bass Rock lighthouses.

Seals are still randomly spotted on all islands but nothing regular yet.


From the boat – Maggie Sheddan

Bass We think a couple of gugas were spotted in the distance, at the mercy of the tides and sea conditions. Only when completely free of down do they fledge. A sequence of behaviour is observed. They spend more time wing flapping, turning gazing to the sea, neck extended in a forward leaning posture (anxiety posture) then relaxing, turning to the colony as normal behaviour resumes. This behaviour may be observed several days prior to them actually taking that ‘leap’ from the rock. They have never flown. It is wonderful to watch that first ‘flight’ as it launches itself off the cliff or by the lighthouse (on camera). If the wind is favourable you see a shaky start, but if it gets the lift from the wind you see it soar and slowly the faltering flight becomes stronger. It lands on the sea at times with a mighty splash. This is the world of the guga. It swims away from the colony too fat to take flight. (The parents have fed it well, that extra layer of fat vital for survival as it learns how to fish for itself). Soon from the boat, it will be like a slalom as we negotiate many flightless fledglings on the seas.

Elsewhere, seals have been quite visible hauled out on the low rocks and at the Bass caves. Fulmars are gliding along cliff tops, cormorants and shags are still being seen and, during the misty days, kittiwakes were numerous at their sites.

A wheatear was spotted on the rocks just below decking.


Sightings from the boat – week ended 23 August 2013 – Maggie Sheddan


Sometimes we should sit back and look through the eye of a visitor. 

Several times in a week I am asked,  “What are the  birds covering the Bass rock, what species?” Before the Centre opened I didn’t know they were gannets, why should a first time visitor know what this amazing bird is?

From the boat, although the gannet chicks are obvious (to us) not everyone sees them at first. That said, now they are hard to miss! With an unexpected day off, I jumped on the RiB and thoroughly enjoyed having time to really look. I spotted fulmar chicks tucked in some of the niches on high cliffs on both the Bass and Craigleith mallow patches, of which there are few on Craigleith. I sea-watched on the way to the Bass, no cetaceans but a fleeting glimpse of porpoise on Wednesday from the RiB.

On reaching the Bass, I was able to enjoy it as a visitor. Scanning cliffs, I spotted several young in ‘parliament goose‘ phase. Although later than normal, I think we may see the first gugas on the water in the next couple of weeks. I also spotted some quite young chicks 3-4 weeks old. Two  peregrines have been spotted on camera and from the boat the seals, as ever, delight as their heads pop up as they hear the boat approach.

The puffin hunt this week is for a dark bird, 400 wing beats a minute, orange webs flaying behind, small, always in flight, generally in the distance, flying away from the boat! With so many eyes, we are spotting an occasional adult carrying in fish! Not many, but still sheer excitement from passengers because they have spotted a puffin. Just today (Thursday) two healthy pufflings were spotted on the sea close to Craigleith.

On the May 

Fulmars have had an excellent season – recording 148 successful breeding attempts. Some 120 pulli were caught and ringed. Unfortunately, we missed the Art day due to sea conditions. By all accounts, it was an excellent day with artist Derek Robertson giving hints and tips to budding artists at Lady’s Bed, Song and harp music in the foghorn, Photography of the island life and wonderful knitting from Fife knitters. Always a beautiful island to visit even without these special event days. It is thought there could be a couple of hundred puffins still feeding and all that is required is a seat and a little patience to see one.

However, the really exciting news!! A manx shearwater chick has been ringed on the May. I love Dave’s description on the May blog, ‘Manx shearwater looking like a fluffy haggis with a beak’.


Sightings – week ended 16 August 2013

Sightings from the Discovery Centre Cameras – Andy Dickson

Puffins have now said their farewells for the season with the sightings dropping off to such an extent that we have stopped our puffin talks in the DC.

Shag and cormorant chicks are about the size of the adults and are now much more mobile, venturing away from the nests.  Some have been seen in the water so their waterproof feathers are coming through well.

The kittiwakes in Dunbar still have their chicks, which are being regularly fed, and they are also now about the size of the adults.

Herring and black backed gull chicks are now basically independent and wandering around by themselves on all cameras.

We have a clear view of one fulmar chick on Fidra which is growing, but still appears to be later than the gulls.

The gannets are still in full swing, with the chicks continuing to grow and are clearly visible.  The club birds are also still present with some appearing to be much younger as they have not yet got their white feathers.


Sightings from the Boat – Maggie Sheddan       

Dolphins, minke, porpoise, a basking shark, leaping fish, spectacular displays of plunge diving gannets, harbour and grey seals being serenaded at the Bass Rock – this has indeed been a very spectacular week on the sea. Many of these sightings were also seen from the shore!!

Add to this several pufflings rescued/released, along with a few down-covered gannet chicks, a young, but fledged kittiwake (a tarrock) and the star: a tiny down-covered puffling, no more than 3 weeks old, found on Fidra by the mashers. There is no way this little puffling would survive so the SSPCA at Fishcross are certainly being kept busy and enjoying the unusual ‘patients’ we are sending them.

At the end of last week, whether from the viewing deck, the Bass Rock, or sailing to the May, it was evident that shoals of fish were running. Gannets were being spotted plunge diving all over the place and, on route to the May, dozens of shearwaters were being seen. Often that can mean cetaceans may appear. Porpoise have been spotted on a couple of occasions, but there was an unconfirmed report of two minke whale spotted near Fidra last Saturday. Someone said they had seen them spouting. Sailing back from the May on Sunday, within 20 metres of the boat, a minke breached giving passengers a fleeting but spectacular experience. A second one was spotted slightly further away, this must have been one of the two spotted near Fidra. It shows how important it is to always pass on sightings – it keeps us alert out there!

However, the most exciting and unusual sighting this week was out at the May. Just off Kirkhaven, a basking shark was not only spotted but also observed for several hours affording spectacular views for the residents of the island…. Check out the May blog

Gannet chicks, a few with the speckled plumage beginning to show, puffins still to-ing and froing, the odd one with fish in its bill, down-covered fulmar chicks a joy to see, many sit alone very capable of defending themselves with that foul smelling oil they spit, should  anyone  come too close! Shag and gull young are still hounding parents for food.