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.

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