Wildlife sightings 18 June 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Fran

This has been a steady week on the cameras, with no new ‘firsts’ but increasing numbers of chicks – particularly gannets and guillemots. Lots of fresh seaweed is being brought in to the Bass Rock for nesting material.

We still haven’t actually recorded a razorbill chick yet, but suspect there are some. The same goes for fulmar eggs, although the birds can be seen sitting tight. The Dunbar Harbour camera is still out of action so we’re not able to follow the kittiwakes at the moment. More puffins have been seen with sandeels.

Wildlife sightings 11 June 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Fran

The first guillemot chicks were recorded on Fidra North camera last Friday (5 June) and there are at least three now. These downy miniature versions of the adults only stay on land for about three weeks, before the father takes them off to continue feeding them at sea.
Also on Fidra, we had gory close-up scenes of a peregrine eating an adult puffin last Friday morning!

Puffin chicks have hatched! Today (11 June) an adult was seen on the Fidra camera with a really big beak full of sand eels, but seemed to be having trouble taking them to the burrow as there were two gulls standing menacingly in the way. Yesterday, one or two were seen parading around the Craigleith clubbing area with a fish, but appeared to be just showing it off rather than taking it anywhere. We have seen adult puffins on the live burrow-cam again, and although it would seem late to start nesting, this burrow started late last year and successfully reared a puffling. It may well be the same pair but we don’t know that for certain.

There are lots of gannet chicks now. Our oldest chick doesn’t even need brooding today as the weather is so warm: the adult has been standing aside as the chick lies sprawled out in the sun, and we have had to reassure some visitors that it isn’t dead!

Great Black-backed gull chicks have been spotted on Craigleith – beautifully spotty and camouflaged, and on the move very quickly, though still tended by their parents.

Not on camera, but right here at the Centre, we have a swallow’s nest near the back door to the staffroom, on a pipe under the decking bridge. I can’t see what is in it but the adults are quite often sitting on the railings nearby.

Wildlife sightings 4 June 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Alex

It is well and truly the breeding season now in the Discovery Centre, with every camera being able to exhibit a variety of eggs, chicks and juveniles of numerous seabirds. The first gannet chick on the Bass Rock was spotted on Friday by our volunteers Alan and Carol, with a second chick being spotted on a nest adjacent to the first. At present we have more than four nests with chicks. Several of them are still quite scaly, but one or two are now developing their fluffy white down. They are still quite small and so their appearances are limited but there have been many sightings of chicks trying to emerge from underneath their parents. The peregrine male has been making a few more appearances in the past week, again on the lighthouse railings and there has been several sightings of him with fresh kills.

Puffins are now a lot more settled on the islands and we are now seeing large numbers on our cameras, especially an increase on Fidra. No sightings of any returning puffins with sand eels in their bills so an indication that it is not yet time to feed their chicks. We now have a restored burrow camera today and it will be watched attentively to see if it is being used by adult puffins. Fingers crossed!

Fidra island is still very busy with guillemots and razorbills and a few eggs of the former are also being spotted. The peregrine male and female juvenile are very frequent on the Fidra camera and I have observed them coming to blows over the past two weeks. An indication that the juvenile is becoming competitive over food. Her father therefore is beginning to force her out of the territory, which is a difficult task considering that she is a third larger! At times they appear to be civil with each other, even sharing a kill, as I observed on Tuesday afternoon, but this truce may not last much longer if she continues to be more successful in catching prey.

The cormorant chicks are now quite large and a few are showing signs of moulting their dark fluffy down. The majority of the juveniles are now the same size if not larger than their parents, and so are now out of their nests and standing alongside them. Several of the nests on Craigleith however have smaller chicks which were born later and still have a few weeks to emerge from underneath their parents. The shag chicks on Craigleith are also quite a size and, as with their cousins, are now the same size as their parents. A lot of burrow activity lately on the island with many puffins coming and going from their burrows, hopefully a sign that eggs are on their way! Herring gull chicks have also been spotted this week on the island, showing their mottled down.

The shag chicks on the Isle of May are still very young and continue to be sheltered by their parents from the harsh winds. Guillemots and razorbills continue to use the stacks but no sign of eggs yet. Puffins are also seen much more frequently on the May cameras but often flee when visitors to the island get too close.

Wildlife sightings 28 May 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

We are looking out for the first gannet chick on camera. Maggie has spotted one whilst being on the Bass next to the path at St Baldred’s chapel. So not long now and we should see the little ones on camera too!

Our lovely eider ducks on Fidra have chicks too. Let’s hope we don’t have to witness too many losses. The kittiwakes on the left hand side of the ruin in Dunbar have eggs and we are eagerly waiting to see more.

The puffins are out and about. We spotted a puffin going in and out the burrowcam burrow. Will we have another fluffy puffling this year?

In the tank a lot of our hermit crabs have changed into a new shell. Children and adults alike are fascinated by our spider crab. They are so well camouflaged that it is really difficult to spot them on the lobster creel.

The cormorant chicks are now massive. The shags are lagging behind but growing fast. We are still waiting for the first egg on Charlie and Juliette’s nest.

Wildlife sightings 21 May 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Fran

We have had a busy time in the Discovery Centre with Puffin Fest and the Birthday celebrations, and luckily the puffins have started to appear reliably in large numbers on camera.

There have been a few ‘firsts’ this week: the first kittiwake eggs at Dunbar have been recorded on camera today (21 May). Kittiwakes have been seen in large groups frantically pulling at vegetation on the slopes of the Isle of May, in order to add to their nests.

The first guillemot egg (on camera) was recorded from Fidra on the 17 May, but we know from researchers on the May that there have been eggs for some time. There have been great views of guillemots with quite large single fish in the beak, which they hold head-first and sometimes seem unable to swallow!

The right-hand shag nest on the Isle of May finally has chicks. The first two hatched overnight on the 18 May with the third one appearing the day after. The white tips of their beaks can be seen bobbing about when there is a changeover in brooding parent.

Four eggs have been clearly seen under our sitting eider on Fidra, and she has been observed covering them with soft clumps of down which have been pulled from her own breas (Stop Press: eider chicks can now be seen on camera). Adult and juvenile peregrines have also been regularly seen on Fidra, and the Bass is full of gannets sitting on eggs.

Wildlife sightings 14 May 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Liz

More chicks in the Discovery Centre this week! We have now spotted shag chicks on Fidra and Craigleith. Our eyes are peeled for any action on the Isle of May. The cormorant chicks on Craigleith are visibly bigger every day and others are still hatching bringing great delight to visitors. We are beginning to see more eggs on the Bass Rock, and the windy weather has provided great spectacles of the gannets in flight. The clubbing area below the lighthouse is also filling up.

The puffins are still somewhat aloof being numerous some days and scarce the next. Hopefully they’ll become a little more dependable in the coming weeks when they should be laying eggs. Meanwhile a female eider is incubating devotedly on Fidra. However two lesser black back gulls have moved in next to her and this may be a problem when the eggs hatch. The juvenile peregrine, now believed to be a female, is sighted on the Fidra cliff face daily at the moment and we continue to see adults regularly on Fidra, Craigleith and the Bass lighthouse.

Sightings – Maggie Sheddan

A surprising weather window, and a dawn decision afforded me an unexpected visit to the Bass.Rafting puffins, guillemots and razorbills were a delight to see. Eiders, some still pairing up, their ‘OOoO-oohing’ echoing in the still of the morning, Sandwich terns so distinctive in flight and call, fulmars skimming the waves. Strings of gannets on direct flight paths for the Bass, seaweed hanging from their bills. It was lovely to finally be on a boat heading across the sea.

Things change so quickly as the breeding season advances that is good to have these observed. At times, changes can be site specific perhaps from disturbance or loss of habitat? Or, is it commonplace across all the breeding islands perhaps indicating a weather factor or that something catastrophic has occurred during winter, all recorded over recent years. Landing was text book and there was warmth in the morning sun. With a minimum of 5 hrs on the Rock ‘I was going to have a little time to really observe and put into place safeguards for specific breeders where required.

But first, had ‘orange bill’ (guillemot) returned? I had the time to log observations. Grabbing camera and binoculars, the rucksack discarded along with thoughts of heading straight to the gannetry, I scanned, and there facing inward on a slightly sloping small ledge, ‘Orange Bill!’ A slight difference in the plumage on the head, but still with its distinctive orange bill and orangey/yellow webs. We know the oval shape of the egg helps prevent it from rolling off tightly packed cliffs, but this ledge slopes. Was there an egg? I watched, waiting for that fleeting moment, my eyes flicking around the surrounding area. A shag’s nest missing, fewer kittiwake sat that area (perhaps away feeding – but only a couple with obvious nests.) Each time orange-bill moved I focused in. Patience rewarded a fleeting glimpse of the turquoise speckled egg. This bird has bred before so we wait and watch. Half an hour had passed, it felt like a minute. Heading upward only a couple of herring gull nests with eggs, numerous birds but many still to settle. I noted the more ‘aggressive ones.’ Memories of precision poo paintball came flooding back. Killer gull was the worst! The seasonal joys ahead. A quick check on previous eider and fulmar sites proved unproductive. Continuing up the path trying to count the few shags that nest among the disappearing but dense mallow, a sudden panic croak and a shag flew close over my head. There on a high protruding rock hidden by a mallow stem a new nest, quite unexpected. It was flighty although it did return. Close by 3 eiders sitting tight to their nest and another new shag nest. This area is next to the prison gate. As eiders are so well camouflaged they required some safeguard. A chain, a couple of old broom handles, a scrabble around the battery room for a couple of nails and a rock(hammer) and the eiders now have a little more visible protection in place.

As you emerge into the daylight from the somewhat ominous prison entrance, your senses are bombarded, you have been transported to another world. The noise, the activity, the distinctive gannet odour. A gannet crash lands in front of me, picks itself up and immediately squawks and jabs in my direction. I just laughed! I look upward at the overwhelming sea of active white that blankets the Rock, was our area going to be accessible? Thankfully yes, but regular visits are required to keep this. Weegie is firmly encamped on the path along with a couple of new birds that we will be able to manoeuvre around, but horror, my seat (rock) had a nest on it, not just one but surrounded. All new sites with fresh seaweed. There were no eggs, so it is a wait and see game. I did spot many recently laid eggs on fringe sites. Fresh seaweed everywhere. I was crowned by some dropped from a passing bird, mistook some that tumbled over a path for a scuttling tarantula (only for a second!! It was dark, huge, moving, and appeared to have lots of legs.) I had a little time to look for Darvicks but they are very difficult to spot during incubation.I did spot a few) 2 hrs had flown past and unfortunately work beckoned. It was just lovely to have some time to watch as when groups are visiting their welfare and the gannets take priority.

Wildlife sightings 7 May 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Alex

This first week of May has seen the cormorant chicks on Craigleith grow even more significantly, so much that they are now pushing their mothers off them to get more space in the nest. Several of the nests still contain young chicks, with their heads popping out from underneath their mothers, as well as eggs that have not yet hatched. Puffins are also appearing more and more on the island and are becoming more settled. We have also seen adult puffins entering our burrow camera with grass to prepare the nest. We hope we have a repeat of last year and the adults have a successful egg and chick.

Gannet egg numbers are continuing to increase, with many nests now having eggs visible on camera. A delight and surprise to visitors during our gannet talks when an adult readjusts on the nest to reveal an egg underneath. Many gannets are still returning with seaweed from the sea, even travelling to areas just outside the Centre to collect it. The peregrine male is making more appearances on the lighthouse, occasionally being spotted with a fresh kill on the railings.

Fidra cameras are showing more and more puffins alongside fulmars in their protected burrows and sheltered cliffs. Guillemots and razorbills are also still resident on the island and are very settled on the cliff ledges. The peregrine male and juvenile continue to appear on these same cliffs, and even today the juvenile (with a fresh kill!) had two guillemots for company and were completely oblivious to the presence of the juvenile. This same peregrine male has also appeared on Craigleith and the theories regarding the Fidra pair travelling to and from Craigleith has now been positively confirmed, through visual identification and comparisons via a growing ‘Forth Peregrine’ portfolio.

Shag eggs continue to be spotted on the nests at the Isle of May and chicks should soon be sighted. Still no eggs for Charlie and Juliet, so fingers crossed that everything is ok with the pair and that eggs come shortly. Seals continue to be spotted resting on the beach as well as large numbers of eiders amongst the rocky shore at ‘Pilgrim’s Haven’. Puffins continue to rest on the wall along the path and we have spotted many visitors on the island sitting down to rest, allowing puffins to slowly and curiously investigate their presence.

Sightings – Maggie Sheddan

With dramatic temperature changes and some storming days recently this can cause problems for young that require careful brooding. Not only is the temperature an issue but if the seas are so stormy, it makes fishing very difficult. Adults are using energy just trying to find food for the young chicks so prolonged stormy spells can affect some species breeding colonies. Thankfully, it didn’t last too long but it’s a fine balance at this time of year. It was interesting to observe the kittiwake colony at Dunbar on Sunday – only one bird remained on the nest, the rest vanished.

Bass – Having started this season with intentions of trying to record the gannetry and specific areas, with swell preventing landings and boat trips thwarted yet again, sadly information that had hoped to be recorded and passed on is, regrettably, now wanting. Although it’s wonderful watching on camera, the areas we hoped to record are not visible on camera. It is however lovely to see the fresh golden hue of the gannets head at this time of year, vibrant in the sun. Watch how the colour slowly fades as the season progresses.

May – The first kittiwake eggs have been spotted, and Arctic terns are displaying. The terns had such a successful season last year, let’s hope it is repeated this year.

The winds have brought an impressive fall of migrants with “2 Common Sandpiper, the first Swift, 3 Cuckoo, Ring Ouzel, Fieldfare, 10 Redstart , 5 Whinchat, 25 Wheatear , Yellow Wagtail, ‘White’ Wagtail, 50 Tree Pipit, 20 Chiffchaff, 5 Willow Warbler, 12 Blackcap , 4 Garden Warbler, 10 Whitethroat, 4 Lesser Whitethroat , Sedge Warbler, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, 5 Pied flycatcher 5 Brambling and Reed Bunting” (thanks David) and of course with shags hatching, and most species incubating eggs, in particular one of the most beautiful and serene, the female eider, sits tight to her nest, at time so close to the path, yet she does not move.

A Black-browed Albatross was seen in Finland last year. It appeared again in July at Skagen, Denmark. In April this year it (presumed to be the same bird) has been spotted near Heligoland at times resting on the cliffs close to nesting gannets, kittiwakes and herring gulls. They appear unruffled by this very unusual visitor. The question, could this be ‘Albert’ still on his futile quest to find a mate? This giant black-browed albatross first appeared on the Bass Rock in 1967 after being blown off course in the South Atlantic. For the past four decades he has been engaged in a fruitless attempt to woo gannets on several remote islands. If this is Albert, (they have a very long life span) it does appear he is destined for a lonely life, however for those that are lucky enough to see this magnificent seabird gliding over the seas it brings a joy to all. Oh to see him on the Bass again!

Finally with several Cuckoos being seen on the May, the Common Cuckoo has been undergoing a catastrophic decline. ‘Chris‘ (named after Packham) was radio tagged. Since leaving our shores in 2011, Chris has flown over, or visited 28 different countries, crossed the Sahara Desert eight times and reached speeds of up to 60 mph Now five years old now (quite an age for a Cuckoo) he has helped identify many of the pressures that they face once they leave the UK and, more importantly, the routes that they take to get to their winter quarters in the Congo rainforest — a mystery until the first tagged cuckoos went there in 2011. “He deserves a medal for his massive contribution to science”.