Wildlife sightings 8 Jan 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

Over the festive days, our wildlife has changed again and we had to wave goodbye to our seals. They have all gone now and, hopefully, will do fine in their first year.

On the Isle of May we are now spotting shags returning to their nesting sites and one of them is our old friend Charlie, also known as Blue ZCA. He seems to have started another nesting season by bringing in sticks with another shag to the middle nest.

In the mornings, we spot guillemots on the stacks and on Fidra under the railings. They usually disappear mid morning. But what a lovely start to the day! The fulmars are back, too, and are occupying the cliff under the lighthouse. Most of the sightings are now on Fidra with the peregrine turning up most days and shags coming in the afternoon for roosting overnight.

In Dunbar we still have our reliable eider ducks and, of course, we still keep an eye out for Sammy.

The Bass Rock still lies still and empty and we are eagerly awaiting the first gannet.

Just before Hogmanay we had a bit of excitement in the Discovery Centre as an injured bird was brought in by the public. They phoned in to report an injured guillemot and we were wondering if it would fit into our little cat carrier. But, when it was brought in, we were amazed to see, not a guillemot but, a little small puffin (maybe one of this year’s fledglings?) in full winter regalia, which means of course in shades of grey with a lovely small beak. It was quite exhausted but fine otherwise and the SSPCA was taking care of it. Fingers crossed it will make it and is now back on the seas!

Sightings from Maggie Sheddan

Isle of May – The beach is now desolate, only gulls scavenging on the shriveled carcasses, strewn among the debris of the winter storms, a fading reminder of the joy, the trauma, and the captivating antics we’ve witnessed since September when the first pup was born. The last weaner left before 2014 drew to a close. Many times during this pupping season, high tides and strong winds have taken their toll on the rookery. We’re not sure if the last white coat seen on Christmas Eve survived the raging tides but the seal-breeding season is over for another year. Cows will be off feeding, replenishing their depleted blubber, bulls content, colonies deserted. The occasional weaner may haul out over the next few weeks on local beaches. Are they injured? Are they thin and wrinkly around the neck area? For these young they may be in need of help, but some, may just be having a long lazy nap, particularly if the seas are storming. They are young and not aware they are on a ’tourist beach.’ As with pups, to respond to any report, the location, and the condition of the seal is paramount in assessing whether rescue is required.

As the seal season was winding down, the stacks and cliffs brought glimpses of the season ahead with guillemots at times crammed tightly on ledges, not just on the May but on all the islands and east coast breeding locations. Post-Christmas, cameras were set to pre-sets allowing CEH researchers to observe at first light. 2015 dawned and, as we would expect, fulmars had returned to breeding sites. The occasional shag sporting a crest, regular sighting of the peregrine on Fidra, eiders rafting in the east bay, turnstone and redshank scuttling along the strandlines. The highlight though, and a wonderful start to 2015, was the Lesser Yellowlegs spotted foraging on the shoreline close to the Marine, probably more easily spotted by the band of twitchers sporting scopes and bins as they scanned for this slender, long-legged shorebird that readily shows off the brightly coloured legs that give it its name. It is an active feeder, often running through the shallow water to chase its prey (with thanks to Mark Holling and Lothian Bird News).

History – Plastic, netting, fishing line, nurdles: the list is endless. Warning bells were flashing over 40 years ago about the increasing ‘plastics’ floating in our oceans.
Dr Jan van Franeker, a marine biologist, working for IMARES (Institute for Marine Resources & Ecosystem Studies), is the organiser of the international ‘Save the North Sea’ (SNS). This project was aimed at reducing marine litter by increasing awareness. Since 1982, most fulmars’ corpses found in the Netherlands had plastics in their stomach. The specific aim of the Fulmar project is to use this species as an ecological monitoring instrument for assessing levels and trends in marine litter in the North Sea. January 2009, the Seabird Centre was involved in groundbreaking work that provided an ideal opportunity for teachers to discuss science, biology and environmental issues. Hundreds of pupils across Scotland watched leading scientist Dr Jan van Franeker perform a post mortem, beamed live into their classrooms, from the Centre. He took pupils through the dissection and findings before hosting a question and answer session afterwards. The procedure was shown on GLOW, Scotland’s national education intranet, digitally linking schools in Scotland. This was the second autopsy event held at the Centre, the first performed by Dan Turner. I helped Dan, again at the Dove Marine Labs, perform seven autopsies in one day. In every bird, plastic was found. Many die from suffocation or become weak and unable to feed because of it. As the years pass, research is showing micro plastics are being ingested by the tiniest of organisms to the largest of sea mammals and consequently plastic is in the food chain.

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