Wildlife sightings 19 Mar 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Alex

Puffins!!! Our first puffins of the season were spotted by members Joe and Susan Douglas at the weekend. They are being seen in small groups on the water on our Craigleith cameras and, as of yet, none have been spotted on land. We also spotted our first cormorant egg on Craigleith, with the potential of several others in the same nest. The guillemots and razorbills continue to shelter amongst the cormorant nests as well as on the cliff ledges. An individual peregrine has also been spotted more frequently just below the south camera. It is yet to be seen whether this individual is from our pair on Fidra or is entirely unrelated.

The gannets continue to return to the Bass Rock and the island will soon will be completely white with their presence. The Bass Rock was host to a special event as spotted by Alex and a number of visitors with the peregrines performing a food ceremony. The female peregrine was spotted perching on the lighthouse railings, and after several moments was joined by the male. The male however was not empty handed, and had what looked like a pigeon in its talons. The male dropped the carcass on the platform and retreated, slightly bobbing its head in front of its prey. This food ceremony often occurs when a pair reunites following winter months and re-establishes their bond before breeding. A rare sight on the cameras that got quite a lot of the visitors excited, as well as intrigued, with our two resident peregrine pairs.

Dunbar harbour is seeing more and more kittiwakes on the two stacks with several nests beginning to appear. Sammy the Seal is also making more appearances on the surface of the water.

The peregrine pair is being seen less on Fidra but the island is still host to many other seabirds at the moment. Lower cliffs are being populated by guillemots and razorbills, as well as shags on the lower rocks. Fulmars are also still present on the grassy cliff ledges as are curlews.

Both Isle of May cameras are now up and running thanks to Andy, and are fully operational. So now we can get full views of the shags on their nests as well as the guillemots on the stacks and ‘Chatterstone’. With both cameras now online, we will get great views of the puffins once they return to the island!

Sightings – Maggie Sheddan

Heading out to Craigleith at the weekend several dozen puffins were spotted on the sea. They dispersed very quickly but the occasional lone bird was seen later in the day. Rafts of 20+ razorbill were also offshore along with a few kittiwakes and guillemots, fulmars swooping around the island and of course the gulls with their beautiful white heads with summer plumage now so obvious. Shags in abundance, a couple looking quite settled and one egg was seen, but the bird was flighty. From a distance I watched and didn’t see it return. Another close to that nest looked very settled. The first cormorant egg was also spotted, on camera, which is excellent. We kept well away from that end of the island but the ringers have been told of the egg. As more are laid the information we pass on really helps them gauge when to plan the ringing of the chicks. Too small and you can’t ring, so please note dates of eggs seen and then you have an idea of the hatching dates. It’s such excellent coverage from that camera.

I scanned across to the Glen where in 2000 when the Centre opened I spent many weekend hours desperately trying to 1) spot a puffin. It was easy to see something, but what? 2) Trying to learn their flight and the differences between razorbills and guillemots and just how difficult it was. I was a complete novice. It was a short season as the Centre opened late May and the auks had virtually gone by mid-July.

By 2002 season I had improved and my Saturday ritual on the Scope Deck winter and summer was bringing benefits, and by 2003 I could easily spot a puffin, they just kept disappearing into the ‘weeds/the undergrowth.’ In 2004, landing with the Forth Seabird Group the magnitude of ‘the undergrowth’ hit home. This was a tree mallow jungle! The fight began. Why did it happen and how could the island be returned to its former glory? The puffin count proved that year that thousands had deserted.

So, last Sunday morning from the scope deck as I scanned across the empty rocks, and panned around the glen with the viewing deck camera, not a mallow stem to be seen. What a joy! An island awaiting the return of its star summer residents. Without the dedication and drive of John Hunt and the enormous effort from all the volunteers (and of course a little help from these winter munching rabbits) it could have all been so different.

Solar Eclipse what effect does this have on wildlife/birds. In previous total eclipse, birds did start to roost. Robins, blackbirds may well start singing with a dawn/dusk chorus. Seabirds, generally settle and a noisy colony becomes near silent, as it does at night. If at home why not watch on the webcams. Unfortunately too early for the Bass and Craigleith cameras but if out and about, watch the gulls. Do they head back to their roost sites, many of which are on the islands? Or just go outside into your garden and watch and listen for changes. It would be good to hear your observations.

I’m on the May! The CEH team hopes to be ringing at first light if auks are in so it will be interesting to watch any changes that happen at these colonies. The thinking is that it may not be completely dark, but we’ll certainly be watching the stacks if the kittiwakes, guillemots etc. are in.

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