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!

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