Wildlife sightings 29 October 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Liz

Seal season is well and truly underway here in the Discovery Centre! We now have over 60 seal pups on the Isle of May beach! The beach is crowded with pups exploring their new world. There are still many more expectant females coming out onto the rocks at low tide and we are constantly on the lookout for any births. Meanwhile things are just getting started on the island of Craigleith with two young pups now rolling around on the grass, a comfy-looking birth place. Sadly a few pups have been lost to rough high tides on the May but for most part this year’s pups are doing very well. Don’t forget that if you spot a pup being born you win one of our adoption packs and can name the pup on our nursery board. Our oldest seal pups, Maya and Mara are now 3 and half weeks old. They are moulting their white pup fur and even taking practice swims in the shallows. In a couple more weeks they will be ready to join the adults at sea. It’s a very busy and exciting time!

In other Discovery Centre news, while large areas of the Bass Rock are now empty of gannets as they leave for the winter, there are still two late gugas visible on the cameras and many adults flying above the island.

Our fish tanks have had an autumn clean and are sparkling. The crabs and squat lobsters in the tidal tank are becoming bolder every day and now spend great lengths of time foraging around the tank. Finally our peregrines of course continue to visit the ledges on the cliffs of Fidra regularly, and alongside the shags, cormorants, eiders and gulls will stay with us as we head towards winter.

Wildlife sightings 22 October 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Alex

Our focus in the Discovery Centre over the past few weeks remains on the Isle of May and Craigleith with more and more seal pups being spotted on camera. One of our members spotted our first pup on Craigleith on Tuesday. It was sitting in a pool of muddy water alongside two females, one being the mother, and a bull. Staff were worried for a time given that it was a new pup and being in a pool of water overnight with the winter weather coming soon may not be the best spot for it. Thankfully, it survived overnight and was seen yesterday happily moving in the water and following its mum for a feed. The number of pups on the Isle of May continues to increase and we currently have 21 pups. With the strong winds over the past few days and especially today it will be nail-biting watching the pups cope with the waves and high tides.

The Bass Rock is very bare now as we approach the end of October, the usual time that the gannets head off on their winter migration to the North Atlantic, and West Africa for the gugas. There are a few individuals around but many nests are now empty and pairs have split up for their own respective journeys. To add to this mass exodus of sorts, the peregrine falcon has not been spotted in several weeks, something that was expected and is a repeat of last year. The peregrine has still been seen on the Fidra cliffs including the juvenile female. She has been spotted more than the male and female (her parents) so for the time being, it looks like she will be resident over the winter.

Cormorants and shags are still being spotted on the lower cliffs and rocky shores of Fidra alongside eider ducks in the water. Our focus in regards to birds will be shifting now to winter waders though we have been seeing redshanks, turnstones, curlews and lapwings for a number of months now already. The greylag geese will follow soon and a few have already been spotted elsewhere along the coast. They will often return to the Forth to breed, with Fidra and Craigleith the most popular spots.

Our tidal tank continues to thrive with both visitors and members interested and fascinated with all the marine life and creatures. It has caught the attention of many with the moving tide as well as the different behaviours that they have been able to see and watch themselves, such as the crabs burying themselves under the sand and the different forms of the anemone. It has been such a success that many of the anemones are producing offspring and are practically cultivating the rocks.

Update from Maggie Sheddan

Bass Rock – landing last week the Rock was taking on its winter feel. In just 3 weeks the growth of algae on the landing site was considerable making it a little tricky underfoot. No wave of immatures on the low promontory, very few gulls, but the air space and Rock was still filled with thousands of adults. Opening the prison gate the inevitable squawk of a trapped guga, which always panics and heads up the litter strewn steps into the mallow undergrowth. (I freed it later along with a few more that were sitting in the low paths and lighthouse area). I spotted a child’s bright yellow rake lying on top of a decomposing adult gannet. It is amazing what appears! The pathway up to the colony gone, now deep in mud and carcasses as the never-ending landslides wash down the rock, changing the landscape forever. As you head upward it is still exciting. The noise still overwhelming and for the film crew they were in awe as they turned that corner faced with the sea of white, bill fencing, sky-pointing, gaping threats, and fights, birds flying in with nesting material, stealing from unattended nest. It was alive! Scanning around I spotted over a dozen younger chicks, the youngest looked about eight weeks. Still quite a few dark speckled gugas at nest sites. A nest on the chapel contained an abandoned egg. It was rather sad to see as we were fairly sure it wasn’t going to hatch. I think the bird had lost the first egg but re-laid. It sat for weeks incubating. Chicks hatched around and fledged but she remained, tireless, safeguarding her egg. All life and death of the colony. The crew were lucky enough to see a change over as an adult returned with all the behaviour expected along with the inevitable harrying of that adult from the 10wk old chick knowing lunch had arrived. We even saw a pair mating. It was one of the study bird 063! But when will they leave? I suspect whenever harsh northerlies kick in, the cameras will be switched on one morning and they will have gone leaving only late breeders for the last few weeks.

Isle of May – with the temperature dropping and strong easterly winds, it felt as if autumn had arrived with vengeance, but for those on the May it brought in some really exciting birds. A Pallid Harrier (a first for the May and Fife), a Red-throated Pipit (third record for island), Richards Pipit (first since 2002), Hoopoe (first since 2008), Olive-backed Pipit, Firecrest, Red-breasted Flycatcher and daily sightings of Yellow-browed Warbler. Certainly a week wonderful week for the low lighters at the observatory. Thanks to Alex for sorting out the pre-sets on the May and the other cameras for dawn viewing so guillemots returns can be logged. They return at night leaving at dawn. Over recent years it does appear they have been returning later in the year. These records are valuable to the researchers.

Craigleith – mallow all chopped in the Glen, so there will be no hiding for those seal pups in the undergrowth! A little harbour seal was spotted watching us with interest as we disembarked the other day. And very unusual report from Dougie/Braveheart of the peregrine sitting on top of the south camera surveying the area. We are used to seeing gulls perched there but not the peregrine!

Wildlife sightings 8 October 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Alex

Our first seal pup is here! ‘Maya’ was first spotted on Sunday 4 October at Pilgrim’s Haven on the Isle of May while camera maintenance work was being carried out. It was not alone for long though, with our second pup appearing on 7 October. There are several females hauled out on the beach so I am sure they will be joined by many more pups. Cows and the occasional bull are often spotted in the water ‘bottling’ and with the rough weather lately a few even got swept onto the beach with the waves. Our ‘One Born in a Minute’ competition is now live so visitors have the chance to witness a live birth or to spot a new seal and win an adoption pack as well as to name the seal pup. It will still be a few weeks before females return to Craigleith and the first few pups appear there.

Gannets still remain on the Bass Rock, however, many nests are now emptying and many of the gugas have fledged and are now on the water. The peregrine falcon still makes the occasional appearance on the lighthouse as well as on Fidra cliffs though they, too, are becoming quite scarce. Cormorants and shags can still be seen on the lower cliffs on Fidra and Craigleith with a few ringed shags also being spotted and recorded to help with the CEH long term study of shag distribution. Winter is fast approaching but many of our returning winter waders have been on our shores for quite some time already. The familiar call of oystercatchers and redshanks can be heard from the scope deck and café deck as well as the speckled sight of turnstones and curlews.

Our tidal tank is slowly starting to fill with anemones and crabs, and many of the former are producing new anemones right in our tank. The concept all along was to have an anemone forest in the tidal tank. I think it is safe to say that it won’t take long before this becomes a reality. The edible crabs, shore crabs and squat lobster are also doing very well.

Wildlife sightings 1 October 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Lee

We are getting very excited in the Discovery Centre in anticipation of our first seal pups which are almost upon us. A couple of pregnant seals have been sighted over the past few days with one being seen just yesterday on Isle of May beach with larger groups of seals appearing daily. Most have been bottling just off shore with small groups resting along the beach.

Most of the gugas have now left the Bass Rock with only a handful of sightings each day. The gugas themselves are extremely keen on using the ramps which were set up just beside the lighthouse in order to assist with their departure, although small groups of gugas are deciding to rest on the ramps and they can be seen constantly repositioning themselves as they slide down the ramps. The adults are also beginning to leave the Bass Rock which is encouraging the juveniles to explore around the empty nests and even communicate with the remaining adults.

Something fishy is going on in the Discovery Centre’s rock pool tank as a new arrival is now visible inside of the mermaid’s purse, which now contains a young lesser-spotted dogfish. The remaining sandeels in the tank are becoming a common sight as they come out to feed more often. They would stay out longer if it wasn’t for our scorpion fish, so, if you do manage to spot them at any point, then you are incredibly lucky.

Observations – Maggie Sheddan
Isle of May – The silence was deafening. The raucous call of the gulls that alert one to intruders… silent. There were few gulls. Never have I heard the May so still, such tranquillity, such calm. Even the sea, no crashing of waves, no howling gale, just silence. At times rock pipits and pied wagtails were heard. Gone the whirring wings of puffins only the whirring of the resident flocks of feral pigeons flying around. Even the seals were silent. An intermittent haunting wail resonating across the island along with the occasional melancholic call of the curlew that gather on ‘whaups rock‘ Everyone commented on the serenity.

With idyllic weather for seal weekend, visitors filled the boats. SMRU were there to update on research, the South horn a magical place for song and folklore of the selkies. Unfortunately, this year the only visible pup was from the boat, but on an early morning walk to Rona we saw the wee fattie born in such a safe inland site. It’s hard to imagine that, in just 3 weeks, both landing sites and pathways to the visitor centre, along to the tennis court will be covered with pregnant cows, new-born pups crying, snorting bulls off shore waiting for their moment, and the first pup will have already left the island.

A basking shark was spotted by some of the low-lighters sea watching and on the last trip of the season, heading back to Anster, a pod of dolphins teased passengers as first they came in very close to the boat and then, as if saying goodbye, with a couple of leaps and flips they headed out to deeper water.

The Lamb – A short visit with the mallow team to try to knock back the extending growth, we were all somewhat taken aback and amused at a cormorant nest that stood just under 2ft in height, its diameter not far off that, but it was the construction!! It was solid. This would not blow away easily! Inspiration on design and structure could be taken from this.

Craigleith – Another perfect day as presently I’m sitting in the sun, surrounded by mallow writing this…… knowing how lucky I am.
Over 1500 pinkfoot have passed overhead so far this morning. There is a sizable (120+) flock of finches flitting around, a pair of blackbirds and a robin perched on a high rock signing away. I have been scrubbing the landing site of the algae which makes leaping off boats a little treacherous. The rocks can be like black ice. Thankfully, as the tide dropped, I was able to safely fill my bucket to rinse off the weed. Becoming quite adept with my technique, in a moment of exuberance I let go of the string, my little blue bucket filled and floated off out to sea.

The scrubbing attracted a young seal which, of course, I wailed to. Every time I looked toward it, it dived… and reappeared silently… watching. Unfortunately, it didn’t rescue the bucket which I suspect may be near the Bass by now.

Bass Rock – The news this week highlighted the importance of the ongoing research. It has been well reported. Landing with the BBC the mortality of many gugas is now evident but, on another stunning day, the Rock was still a hub of activity and hopefully will be for another few weeks. It is wonderful to see so many gugas in flight now. A call from the Midlands about one found wandering in a field does highlight how easy it is for them to set the wrong course! A good feed and hopefully it will be transported to the coast to continue its journey.