Wildlife sightings 19 June 2014

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

This week we were getting all exited as we’ve seen a pair of puffins in the burrow. Two puffins means a nest and so we hope to see a puffling soon on camera. The rest of the pufffins are doing well and obviously enjoy the sunshine sitting on the ledge just underneath the Craigleith south camera.

The gannets are now having chicks! We could find a lot on the cameras. Our first chick (from 30 May) is already fluffy and so big it does not fit under the parents properly. The chicks on the lower camera near the path are now growing as well but they are still quite vunerable. One gannet parent brought in some red fine netting. We just hope that the chick does not get entangled in it. Another gannet nest has been seen with two eggs in it. It will be interesting to see if the parents will be able to raise both chicks once they’re hatched.

Sightings – Maggie Sheddan

Bass: drama, trauma and grumpy seal. With such a low tide my attention was on the steps checking for any algae that we could slip on. As I spread the sand to make it safe I became aware everyone’s eyes were looking upward, not unusual as gannets can cover the landing site. Then I spotted him, grumpy seal! The head just peering over the top step watching! This is the one that appears to have an eye infection that I think gives it this grumpy look, but it didn’t want to budge! With the passengers safely on the boat, I took the scramble route to come in behind it. Now any normal seal will react and start to move – not grumps, he lifted his head and growled. This is a wild mammal! With the boat close to the step it probably felt trapped so I asked them to stand off and give it a clear escape route. It took a good few attempts, snarls and hissing, before very reluctantly, he slithered down the steps giving the photographers a wonderful photo opportunity.

Herring gulls are the next encounter with many chicks now hatched and, true to form, the occasional over-protective adult dive bombs or poos with precision. Reaching the gannetry, more and more recently hatched gannet chicks are spotted. Within a few weeks it will be a sea of white fluffy covered young. I headed down to check the landing site and spotted 9 female eiders swimming quite tight together as if protecting young but sadly I couldn’t spot any. Suddenly from the Bass a lone female with 2 ducklings! The 9 were some distance away. My heart was in my mouth as I watched her determined paddling, the 2 young keeping pace until somehow they were in the safety of the aunties. The 10 females and well-guarded ducklings headed off toward Tantallon. Horror!! A lone duckling appeared below the Bass. If I could catch it, I could take it to the crèche we are seeing by the Centre. For about 20 minutes I did my best impression of ‘happy, contented eider’ trying to attract it. I’m sure my sanity could be questioned at times for anyone watching…? If only I had a bucket or a net. It responded and at one point was so close but just outwith my reach. Sadly it was swept around the edge of the cliff and out of sight.

On a happier note, orange billed guillemot is back and breeding! We didn’t’ see it last year and it was feared it may have perished in the early wreck of 2013 so that was wonderful to see it with a chick.

Craigleith: landing with the shag researchers I came across a nest with 2 newly hatched shags. I suspect a first time breeder as the adult was very flighty. I had a little wander but with gull chicks, hidden nests and delicate puffin burrows I found a perch and sat enjoying watching puffins whirring overhead with various fish hanging from their bills and just absorbing the ongoing activity of all the birds. No sign of mallow which is wonderful, but long trousers for nettle patches are something to consider for the next visit!

Isle of May: Seabird Open Day was wonderful. With researchers on hand to chat, ringers from the Observatory, storytelling and song in the South Horn all in the blaze of sunshine, it was just a perfect day. I still find excitement in hearing the high pitch call of the guillemot chick and spotting them among the tightly packed ledges. As I write the first razorbill chicks will have taken that leap off the cliffs. Puffins with sandeels, sprats, small cod fry, tern chicks just hatching and over 25 ducklings on the loch. I could listen and watch them for hours.

The peregrine falcon has been spotted again and was seen on the lighthouse railing last Tuesday.

The shag chicks are still growing and now some of them are starting to explore the area just outside the nest. Some late breeders are still sitting on eggs.

Wildlife sightings 12 June 2014

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

The week started with an interesting sighting from our visitors. Dozens of moon jellyfish have been washed up upon the shores. How unlucky that we are no longer able to show them our baby ones especially as there was also a sighting of some white cross jellyfish later in the week. 

The kittiwakes on Dunbar Castle are patiently sitting on the eggs whilst some others on the Isle of May were manically pulling up nesting material like grass and sea campion.

On the Bass Rock we have finally a gannet chick to show visitors. The chick is about four days old and still very vunerable. Hopefully we will see some more soon!

Unfortunately where there is life there is death. We also spotted a dead gannet on camera and on the Isle of May a greater black back gull was seen feeding on a dead puffin.

But back to nicer things: the guillemots on Fidra now have quite a few chicks and the shag chicks on the Isle of May are growing so fast you could think they were given fertilizer. The cormorant chicks on Craigleith do not fit into their nest anymore and the parents have to sit on the rim to feed them.

On Craigleith some of the puffins have been seen coming in with sandeels. The size of the fish vary so let’s hope that they find enough decent size ones. One of the wooden puffins we put up for Puffin Fest has been used by one of the shags as nesting material. It raised some eyebrows as some visitors thought that there was a dead puffin.

Wildlife sightings 6 June 2014

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

We have big (or small) news this week. We have our first gannet chick spotted on camera! It was spotted last Friday and is doing very well. We are now eagerly waiting more hatchlings. Whilst looking out for little chicks, we’ve seen a gannet chewing on our camera cables. The cable is very well insulated and he should not be able to bite through (at least we hope not).

In Dunbar Harbour, the kittiwakes have laid their eggs and we are waiting for the chicks. Our tanks still have a lot going on but unfortunately, the little jellyfish did die.

On Fidra the razorbills and guillemots have chicks as do the herring gulls. It’s hard to believe that such a nice little fluffy leopard chick will be growing into a litter bin scavenging bird.

A lot is happening on Craigleith. The puffins have been spotted coming back with sandeels! It is a very good sign that the pufflings have hatched. We also have a puffin now coming regularly into the burrow with the cam. However, we haven’t seen him with sandeels yet.

The shags on the Isle of May now have more and more chicks. The first new chick was spotted yesterday and we are confident that more will follow soon.

Wildlife sightings 29 May 2014

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia & Mal

 Another very busy week on our cameras, as we have spotted a lot more eggs and chicks.

On the Isle of May we watched our first shag chick hatch as we opened the Discovery Centre. On Fidra we have eider ducks protecting and looking after their eggs and we have had a few sightings of a bridled guillemot.

Puffins have been all over the islands and, at one point, we had them on six of our cameras! They were obviously enjoying our work during Puffin Fest, in between billing and burrow maintenance!

Gannet eggs are becoming much easier to spot, so not long now until we start to see some chicks. Gannets have been plunge diving very close to Craigleith over the last few days.

Our cormorant chicks are getting bigger ever day but seem to be annoying mum and dad as they are constantly asking to be fed.

Still no kittiwake eggs, even though we have been searching nest by nest.

Lastly we have some small jellyfish in our small tank. Only about an inch long but lovely. We will be adding to this tank in the next week or so. Watch this space!

Wildlife sightings 23 May 2014

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

We’re still waiting for the first gannet chick. On Sunday we were really excited as we spotted a broken eggshell but unfortunately, it turned out that the nest was empty so we assume that the gannet lost the egg to a gull.

The puffins are still sitting around in big numbers but they are not coming back with sandeels in their beaks. But we keep looking for it. On the positive side we did see our first ever puffin in the burrow with the burrow cam.

The shags on the Isle of May are sitting on their eggs and we are waiting for the chicks to be born. A new pair has got together and is improving the top nest.

The cormorants on Craigleith now have their chicks and the little heads can be seen bobbing around and constantly asking the parents for more food.

In the tank things have settled. But we are still finding new things every day. Yesterday we found a shrimp burying itself in the sand. A look in the seashore book told us that it is a brown shrimp. We found a second whelk. Despite being quite big we didn’t find it until yesterday! We also had to find out that our scorpion fish is not what it seemed to be and it is in fact a hooknose.

Wildlife sightings 15 May 2014

Sightings by Maggie

The Bass Rock: As Fisher Lassie sailed toward the Bass, eyes were on the rolling swell. Were we going to be able to land? Suddenly the steps were alive with eiders alert to the approaching boat. They dispersed up toward the helipad. It was good to see them as we do see a few nesting out there. It was a lazy swell and, choosing our moment, we landed safely. Concentrating on spreading sand on the algae covered steps, I was suddenly aware I was being watched. A rather grumpy faced harbour seal peered down at me from the top step. It didn’t move! It didn’t even raise its head, just peered! So, as you do, I chatted to it letting it know we will divert and take the scramble route, but he would have to move eventually! As it was just two of us we made it to the top only for the seal to look at us with disdain, and slither off down the steps! One of its eyes looked very milky in colour, the other perhaps not that healthy, and I think this created the grumpy look. Recently I had seen what I thought was a ‘sick’ seal hauled out at the Bass. I suspect this is the same one. Certainly seals are open to all manner of bacterial and viral conditions, which is why one should never approach them unless equipped and trained.

This was my first visit since the gannets really settled. I have been watching the developments on camera and from the boat, but now had time to absorb. Interestingly, the ‘club birds’ on the low east promontory did not fly off. Looking at their plumage, many have full adult plumage or certainly very close to that. I don’t think any will attempt to breed this year, but keep alert to this area as it is visible on camera. The next impact was the nesting gulls, many on eggs, their raucous calls filling the air as we passed them by. Approaching the prison gate, flourishing mallow was a joy to see! Yes, a joy! Below the battlements, where once covered in dense mallow growth, now the fast extending sea of gannets are overtaking, pushing out the all but five nesting shags tucked under the remaining mallow stems. It is important to retain some of the Bass mallow so it was reassuring to see that a little pruning work is required to keep the pathways clear. With trepidation, I headed up toward the gannetry. My fear, that we may have breeders on the path. The rule, if they have an egg, they own that space! With relief there were no settled birds, however the colony is looking good. Such a difference to last year where there were gaps in breeding sites and single birds that had been paired, stood alone. Although many of the fringe birds are without eggs, I spotted several fresh eggs, so it will be interesting to see the difference next week. What was wonderful, and this is visible on camera, I had seen several birds on the nearest chapel wall. There has been only one breeder there this last couple of years. Just wonderful, three completely new breeders have eggs. For the photographer, a loss of bag laying space, but eyelevel with hopefully several chicks when they hatch. As I headed back down, I fear killer gull has returned to a new nesting area. It reacted as if the chicks had hatched. Ducking as it swooped and dive-bombed with the precision and ferociousness of ‘killer gull’ I saw the nest had eggs not chicks! Hard hats I fear will be required this year.

Great Auk: The discovery of the bone close to the Centre is one of several found in the Forth area during excavations. On the May, bones from four different birds were discovered from possibly early Middle Ages to perhaps the sixteenth centenary. Remains have also been found in Iron Age middens near Dunbar. It is thought maybe these were wintering or moulting birds as opposed to breeders.

Wildlife sightings 8 May 2014

Sightings by Maggie

Isle of May: The whirring of the puffins overhead or the chuckling of the fulmars fill the air early morning, but as I popped my head out of the building at 06:00: AAA—-oooO could be heard all over. My eye caught the beautiful plumage of a male eider waddling up the slope. There had to be a female nearby, and then I saw the well-camouflaged head extend, turn toward the male and off they pair toddled, obviously looking for a suitable nesting site. Then another pair and another and another. Everywhere eiders were wandering, the subdued contact call, or the AAaoooO echoing around. I realise now how the SNH team always know where the females are nesting. The drake stays with the female for a while and if you spot the male you know where the nest site is! Once the eggs have been laid, the drake hangs around for a while, then leaves to join other males for the moult leaving the females to tend and care for the ducklings. That is when they become so difficult to spot but when you do, stop and take a little time to look at her beautiful plumage, she is stunning. I saw 4 males in hot pursuit of 1 female, pushing and jabbing at each hoping to be the one! Suddenly a nesting female, obviously hunkered down on her eggs jabbed and snapped at one of the males pushing past, but she did not rise up from her nest, and the males quickly scurried up the hill, all still in pursuit of the lone female. Such is the life of the female eider.
The first shags chicks hatched last Friday, none yet on camera. Kittiwakes – there is usually frantic nest building prior to egg laying often after rainy days when fresh water and mud is easily gathered. So keep a watch for the first egg!