Wildlife sightings 24 April 2014

Sightings by Maggie

Easter weekend, as we sailed around the Bass we knew there must be a gannet egg somewhere, but the only way to spot them at this time is firstly to have time and patience, pull up a chair in the Discovery Centre and zoom into the bellies of the settled birds. Unfortunately, although I had the patience and did watch a couple of birds for some time I didn’t have the time to sit. There is something exciting about spotting that first egg wrapped in the webs of the adult. Within 24 hours the first egg had been seen!

Guillemots come and go, some days in the hundreds in the cave, other days just a handful. The peregrine was spotted on the lighthouse viewpoint by passengers. Seals, as ever, pop up at the cave entrance, always to a delighted audience. We spotted a little harbour seal hauling itself out just below the helipad. It’s now been there for three days!! It must have had some feast and in a very sheltered niche, it’s just slept and chilled, raising its head in interest every time we sail by, the life of a seal!

Craigleith always brings shrieks of excitement even when one puffin is spotted. On every sailing passengers have not been disappointed and on most days we do spot them whether on land or sea. News from the May of the probability of the first puffin egg out there …will keep you updated on that.

Wildlife sightings 17 April 2014

Sightings from Maggie

Sailing around the SW corner of Craigleith, puffins parading outside burrows, whirring overhead, socializing, large gatherings on the rocks, just hanging out, a sight that still brings excitement and joy as we think back to 2006, when not a rock was visible and barely a puffin to be seen. We’ve seen them mating on the water, and rafting in large numbers. We’ve had inquisitive seals watching us, some in the seas others hauled out. Eiders are gathering and there is that real feel of the season beginning to settle down.

The fun of the boats, no two days are ever the same, even an hour can make all the difference. In a week where we had ‘sporty’ weather (translated = wet, soaked, and windy!) to beautiful calm days, there is always something exciting happening.

Highlights this week, when approaching the east side of the Bass cave, we heard the guillemots. The stacks, the ledges were crammed! I haven’t seen this for a very long time. The next day, they had vanished. Let’s hope this is an indication of the possible breeders this year. Wednesday a similar occurrence. Guillemots are also taking their spaces in between the gannets. The gannets tolerate them but I did spot one that was completely surrounded. It didn’t look too happy and I suspect when the partner returned the guillemots will be pushed out.

In 24 hours we saw the gannetry had grown, more had appeared and the area below the battlement was slowly extending. As many of these birds are potentially first time breeders and not settled, they are flighty and we had that first lift off from that zone. The breeders sit tight. By the next trip the first bird had appeared on the low promontory, quickly taking to the air as the boat appeared. For those that are settled… Now is the time to really scan the bellies as they sit.. It’s Easter! It’s egg time! Who’s going to find that first gannet egg? It’s out there I’m sure!

On several trips we have had fleeting glimpse of two porpoises as we headed toward the Bass. What differences will we see next week?

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

Puffins could be seen all over Fidra, Isle of May and Craigleith inspecting burrows and billing with their partners. However, the windy conditions today made them disappear again…

Yesterday we had a very good afternoon. Our peregrine falcon has been spotted by visitors on the Bass Rock lighthouse munching away happily for hours on a pigeon. He stayed on the lighthouse the whole afternoon! The gannet colony is getting bigger each day and the youngsters have been spotted on the helipad. We’ve seen a second ringed bird but no eggs yet – we keep looking for them.

The shag nests are increasing too. A new nest has been built by Green AXA right next to the nest of Blue ZCA. After a few issues at the start, they are doing fine, coping with the very close neighbours. Still we could not see a new egg on Blue ZCA’s nest.

The cormorants on Craigleith have started to lay their eggs so the big wait for hatchlings has started.

The castle wall on Dunbar Harbour has many kittiwakes but we can’t see any eggs yet.

On Fidra we’ve seen herring gulls trying to rip open a puffin burrow. Luckily they were unsuccessful. We can see the graylag geese quite often and we suspect they have a nest on Fidra.

Our pregnant prawn has now given up her eggs and we could release her back into the big tank. The eggs are now in the net at the back of the tank. We are very interested how many baby prawns we will get in the end.

Wildlife sightings 10 April 2014

Sightings from Maggie

From the boats: A fleeting sighting of a porpoise last week, thousands of gannets but few auks and ‘the guide‘ on day 1 of the season (apologies to all the knowledgeable volunteers and staff on board the first trip, I improved by the second trip) It was just wonderful to be out there.

The excitement ripples around the boat as I call ‘puffin’, and point to the lone puffin on the sea. Seals bring the same excitement, with a few being spotted on Craigleith and several heads popping up at the Bass cave alerted to our presence by the hum and vibration of the engine. Gannets carrying …. ‘a fish!!’. No, seaweed for nesting, and you let passengers know of the weird and wonderful objects found in gannets nests and explain the importance of the territory and the constant nest building right up to even the last day of the gannet season. There is always an air of excitement and enthusiasm on the boat generated in part by all the wonderful and very varied questions and interaction we have with our passengers. The boat season has begun!

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

We had a mixed week. Shag Blue ZCA laid an egg on Saturday and we got all excited about it but unfortunately we found the egg has been broken on Wednesday… The shag colony on the Isle of May starts now to be busy as the three nests on the cliff near the camera are all occupied. As we have now several ringed shags on camera and ‘Blue ZCA’ does not sound very nice, we are now looking to give the birds names.

On Fidra the fulmars are still looking good and we spotted some greylag geese too. Craigleith has a lot of gulls hanging around but we are spotting the puffins now more often. Still, they are not settled yet and are off at tea time. But on the happy side we were able to spot some shelducks and eiderducks on the island.

Bass Rock is looking very good and there are more birds every day. The nests start to look substantial. And, as we can see the gannets carefully choosing where to lay their next bit of stone or seaweed, we can say that the nests are a labour of love. John Hunt spotted a ringed gannet on Wednesday and we are eager to get more information on it. We will keep you posted!

Wildlife sightings 4 April 2014

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

The last week has seen the puffins disappearing again for a few days and all of the visitors and staff alike are very keen to find puffins on camera. They have not settled yet and, if they are around, they leave again in the afternoon at around 15:00 to 16:00.

The cormorants on Craigleith have started laying eggs and so have the shags, although the shag eggs have only been spotted so far by the SOS Puffin volunteers but not on camera.

We got some news from the CEH about our shag Blue ZCA. He is a male and was ringed in 2009 on the Isle of May on the east coast. He’s been a successful breeder the last two years so hopefully we will get some chicks on camera this year, too.
Bass Rock gets fuller every day. The gannets carefully pick stones, mud and sticks to start the nest and are bringing in big amounts of seaweed, too.

On the castle ruins of Dunbar it looks as though every nook and cranny now has a kittiwake nest contained within it.

In our Rockpool tank we introduced some whelk egg balls (they are these strange white bubble balls which can be found on the beach). There are now again pregnant prawns. A little sea anemone has attached to an empty whelk shell and might be picked up by a hermit crab one day. The blennies have been hiding for a day and did not even come out for the fish feed. The next day they were both very hungry. We wonder if they have laid eggs too.

Wildlife sightings 28 March 2014

Sightings from Maggie

Isle of May: On Monday 24 March puffins returned in their thousands and what a spectacle it was, and, the first Shag egg has been seen.

I’d arrived a couple of days earlier. On the Saturday the cliffs were packed with guillemots, razorbill, and although plenty kittiwakes not so many on site. The Sunday was the reverse with the distinctive cry of the kittiwake filling the air and hundreds of puffins on the sea but not so many guillemots. Dawn on Monday, I pulled back the curtains and saw the familiar whirring shadows passing over Fluke St, enough to take me open the kitchen door to see if any were ‘reclaiming burrows’ on the slope outside. Only one, a while later three, then more arrived and the air became busier. Within an hour the slope was alive with activity. Abandoning work I went for a wander. Blue skies, sunshine and calm, THE, most perfect day. Many have watched in amazement at a ‘murmeration’ of starlings. What unfolded in front of me was as spectacular, if not more so. Thousands wheeled and twisted over the sea with vast bands peeling off and heading on to the island. Numbers just increased with the white bellies shimmering in the sunlight, twisting, turning silver to black, fluttering like confetti over the sea. Stunning!! Even the contractors stopped and watched in awe. I witnessed this several years ago but they all vanished by mid-morning. This time numbers just increased as the day went on with puffins on rocks, cliff edges, popping out of burrows, and of course by nightfall, they had gone.

Tuesday saw Dave arrive with Mike Harris and Mark Newell along with a couple of other researchers Carrie and Clara. Carrie helping with the auks and shags and Clara on a hunt for ticks! So pre-supper we were all examining tubes of ticks that were sitting on the kitchen table ..hmmm? The next morning nets had been set just before dawn and at 05:30 we all headed to the cliffs. Three of them roped up and clambered down the cliff to the ledge where the guillemots had been caught. Carefully freeing the birds they were put into the bags and hauled upward to where the ringing and recording was to take place. Finally with 40 birds transferred to the holding boxes the well-oiled team set about this mammoth task. The birds are study birds each with unique combinations of coloured rings allowing for easy identification during the season. Carrie handed the combination rings to Mike and scribed, I had the lovely job of taking the birds out of the box, handing them to Mike. Coloured rings on he would pass them to Mark to have feather samples taken and to have the metal BTO ring, then to Clara for release. It was quite a production line with an occasional ‘retrap’ called (one of last year’s study birds). By the time we had finished the 40 birds, they had indeed pecked me and drawn blood, but what a privilege to be with the team, and to handle the birds. Often we see them flying ahead of the bow of the RIB. You see the power in their flight, but holding them you feel this remarkable strength and fight that they have. Today the cliffs are quieter and although reasonable numbers of puffins, by mid-morning they had gone.

Exciting news yesterday (26) the first shag egg has was spotted. Unfortunately not in view of the camera but start keeping an eye on any settled birds on the islands.

Gannets, well I’ve seen many off-shore and when possible had a look on the webcam, just to keep up to date with the Bass.

Wildlife sightings 21 March 2014

Sightings from Maggie

Isle of May : With stormier weather at the end of last week, the puffins vanished. Heading out to the May I spotted only one on the sea. As we sailed past, the familiar pattering of the webs on the sea as it gained momentum. Finally, with whirring wings, it headed off into the distance. Every year, we still become excited seeing the first puffin of the season! With my kit dropped off, I had a quick run, wander around the island. Before reaching the cliffs the distinctive ‘ahhrrr’ of the guillemots could be heard. There were hundreds on the cliffs and good numbers of razorbills. I sat watching the displays, the squabbles, I spotted razorbills mating. In the distance I could hear seals wailing and of course the constant chuckle of fulmars. The following day only a few guillemots were on the stacks and by Saturday, they had gone. A few kittiwakes were observed in flight but none on the cliffs.

Just too late for last week’s report, the first kittiwakes had been seen at Dunbar on the 12 March and the other day on camera there were several sitting at their nest sites.

Bass: Seeing particular birds on site is wonderful – tree hugger popped out, the gable pair (who bred successfully for the first time last year), the chapel pair…I just hope ‘weegie of the path’ isn’t there!! (James’ favourite!). The sea of white is spreading. Keep a watch for any Darvick-ringed birds and, where possible, note the numbers, please. Several of these study birds were alone last year, their mate had not returned. Many of these birds are near the rail, and around the gable end of the chapel. The Discovery Centre team will update on all the camera action of this week.

Wildlife sightings 14 March 2014

Sightings from Maggie

Isle of May: I sat for a while at Lady’s Bed, only the sound of chuckling fulmars and the cry of the gulls filling the air. Strings of gannets flew purposefully toward the Bass. A few guillemots and razorbills were spotted on the journey out but the cliffs and ledges were desolate. Kittiwake nests in need of repair after winter storms. Lost in my thoughts of the season ahead, the call of a lone lapwing caught my attention as it flew across the island.

I enjoyed a quick run around the island, stopping to chat with the ‘low lighters’ who resembled more of a chain gang as they pounded away at the solid rocks creating a new pathway and landscaping around the observatory. Down by Kirkhaven the new visitor centre is taking shape. Hopefully completed for early season and certainly looks interesting, Dave and Caroline checking the progress of the new centre, Andy and Pete checking cameras for the season ahead and I was just enjoying not being a part of this pre-season hub. I was watching the shags and eiders displaying, a couple of teal in the harbour, I did spot a rabbit which is good news, but no puffins, despite this beautiful day.

As we sailed past Rona on our journey back, despite the rising tide, several hundred seals were still hauled out.

Just a few days later a txt from Mark: the first puffins had been spotted! The following day a call from Gordon – they had been seen off Craigleith, and later that day I heard there had been several hundred sitting below the cliffs of the May. They will still come and go so watch out for that first one on land! Unfortunately this beautiful spring like weather is due to turn and strong winds are forecast for next week, but the season is knocking at the door.