Wildlife sightings 26 November 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

This week we continue to see our peregrines on Fidra together with some shags and cormorants. On Wednesday we managed to have another count of our seal pups on the Isle of May. The count on that day stood at 58 seal pups. Many of them are now losing their white fur and are starting to explore the island. But still we have 1-3 day old pups on camera, looking absolutely gorgeous! Some older seal pups get now a bit canny trying to get milk after they have been left by their mums and we could observe one which successfully managed to steal some milk from a cow with a white fur pup.

Exciting news in our fish tank. We had some lovely members, the Lawson family, who brought us about 60 hermit crabs! We’ve put about 20 in the tidal tank and about 40 in the main tank. We will see how they get on, as it is always a bit unsure how many you can put in a tank as they are very territorial and do have a strict pecking order! But so far they are looking great and giving a lot more interest, to the tidal tank especially. On the sad side, our male Blenny is not well. I’ve found him this morning, not moving at all (apart from some breathing), fins all stretched out. I’ve now given him a little tank on his own with oxygen supply and a cosy towel on top (so he has some shade). Hopefully he will recover as he is a favourite with the children and adults alike.

Wildlife sightings 19 November 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

Heart breaking dramas unfolded this week as we had to watch our little seal pups struggling with high tides and massive waves. Storm Abigail and Barney did challenge the survival of several pups. On Friday we counted 18 live pups but also three dead ones. And we had do watch how a small one-week old pup was nearly getting washed off as it couldn’t make it up the rocks on Craigleith in time. Unfortunately we lost the camera signal just when he was trying to make it up another rock with help from his mum and so we do not know if it has survived. On the Isle of May all the pups were huddled on the top edge of Pilgrims Haven but all the beaches further along were completely covered and awash with massive waves. Some of the waves brought gushes over our cliff camera, which is about 10m up!

On the next day on low tide we found a young seal pup (but already without white fur) laying above the ladders of the north landing on the Bass Rock. It must have got up there on high tide.

As expected after this stormy weekend on Sunday, Maggie found a seal pup near the Centre, which was picked up later. On Wednesday we spotted a mum with pup at the wall up on the Isle of May. These two should be safe from being washed away!

We do spot the peregrines now nearly every morning before opening and just before closing. Wonderful sightings of Father and daughter peregrine on Fidra and our second pair was spotted grooming throughout the day on Sunday on Craigleith.

On Monday we had the unusual sight of a cuckoo ray being washed up on Yellocraig rocks on Milsey Bay (East Bay). Staying fishy, our fish tank is doing well. In the tidal tank we find new baby sea anemones and, in our big tank, our little shark grows rapidly.

Wildlife – Maggie Sheddan 

Seal pup  – The first call out of the season came after crashing waves swept along the front of Craigleith washing off at least one, possible more of the pups that play on the low rocks.

We had been out a few days earlier to Fidra mallow mashing and passed by the island on the way home. Four were close to the water’s edge, two of them quite young. With big tides due and the remnants of ‘Abigale’ hitting us, it was expected and there would be little hope for any washed off as they would drown or be carried out to sea, a fairly hopeless scenario.
I was down at the Centre early Sunday (it was dark) I could hear the waves crashing on to the east beach. It had changed direction overnight and I think that was the saviour for the feisty fattie pup that was spotted by Nigel early morning on the rocks below the centre. Down I came armed with the basic kit, although we don’t have a seal bag or cage. I’d established it was a white coat (therefore it required care) and I’d called the SSPCA. Most pups I have rescued or checked out have been wee, pathetic, helpless and exhausted, often quite young.

Approaching it from behind (so I would block its path back to the sea) it turned on me growling, snorting, snapping …yes nice sharp teeth and a very grumpy attitude. This was one healthy fat pup that so deserved to live. Nothing wrong with it, other than it was still white therefore, if it went back to sea, it would be certain death or he would appear somewhere else but more weakened. I was not going to let him go back, which resulted in him slithering (with ease), me stumbling and slipping for about half an hour as I tried to block his route. A member of the public did offer help and I managed to grab grump’s hind flippers to pull him onto a tarpaulin.. He was strong! And he started biting and fighting. I deemed it too dangerous and, until a cage or bag arrived, it was better just to contain him. Lewis did give me a black bin which grumps proceeded to attack. Nice sharp teeth!

I managed to stop him in a dip of rocks with the black bin acting now as a shield as he snorted and growled and spat …Establishing it was to be another hour before help arrived, the best I could do was to calm him, so I sang him a seal lullaby, as you do (lots of melodic OOOOOoos ) and he fell asleep until help arrived and we ‘bagged’ him within a couple of minutes. We did get odd looks as this bright yellow seal bag (with pup snorting away) was doing rolly pollies on the pavement as we opened the van to clear space. Now ‘Grumps’ is doing well with Colin Seddon and team up at Fishcross.

Wildlife sightings 12 November 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Lee

Isle of May and Craigleith are teeming with life with plenty of pups still arriving. Most of the grey seal pups are coming along great and they seem very playful with both each other and the cows. We have noticed that quite a few cows are feeding several pups at once on the Isle of May with a handful of bulls near the shallows.

Fidra has also become quite popular recently due to the more common sightings of peregrine falcons and shags, with eider ducks not far behind them around the island.

A grey heron has recently been spotted on a number of occasions both resting and flying close to the water’s surface.

Wildlife sightings 6 November 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Claudia

In the last week we’ve seen the seal pups grow in numbers. Some are newly born and small whilst other ones start to lose their white fur already. This morning we’ve seen a lot of cows in the water and one was even feeding her pup whilst being in the water at the beach. Unfortunately we have also spotted a dead pup further down Pilgrims’ Haven. We could also see a pair of seals mating on Friday. As usual we do have some rubbish being washed up too but so far it is only some buckets and crates which should not be too much of a problem for the pups. It is astonishing how fast the beach fills up with litter even though the staff on the Isle of May usually give the beach a clean before the season.
On the Bass Rock we can still see three gugas. One has still white down and another one seems to be injured. Unfortunately they are difficult to spot as they are now most of the time behind rocks.

On Fidra we are still spotting the peregrines and some waders are seen too. Curlews, oystercatcher, meadow pipit and pigeon are present.

The Magic of the May   24-31 October –  Maggie

Cows wallowed in shallow pools, many draped over rocks watching, but unconcerned. The haunting OOOOooo filled the air interspersed with snorts and bubble blowing. In the background, the wailing cry of the pups like abandoned babies in need of attention. Arriving in Kirkhaven you were left in no doubt that the seal-breeding season is well and truly underway. The departure time had been delayed to allow arrival at the pier as Logan’s Road was already out of bounds. With 10 hearties from SMRU and enough supplies and equipment for two months, our small group and supplies paled into insignificance. All hands on deck as a chain formed to unload from the May Princess onto the trailer that Dave had kindly brought down. Pups and cows replaced where terns greet the summer visitor. I just absorbed the view noting pups already in the tennis court, the thistle field, paths we take for granted in the summer, now out of bounds.

Joining the rather formidable team of ringers who were housemates for the week, we made our way to the Low Light (the bird observatory) en route noting the lack of migrants. It was a westerly wind. An easterly wind is the prayer for the ringers. With clocks changing that weekend all thoughts of that extra hour in bed thwarted. I had agreed to check the guillemot colonies at first light and this was my mission for the week. The upside, that first morning, the full moon lighting my way, shimmering over the loch as I walked down Palpitation Brae, the first glimmer of dawn breaking into the most stunning  of skies by which time I was sitting at the cliffs ‘observing’. It was a varied week but, at the height, good numbers of guillemots in winter plumage were returning to their summer ledges for a short time, and then they were gone. I spotted a couple of study birds with combination colour rings, and one guillemot in full summer plumage. It looked so out of place.

The ringers’ prayers were answered as the stormy westerly wind turned to the east bringing mist and rain and most importantly thousands of migrants passing over, many stopping to refuel. At one point, 11 short-eared owls were on the island with six staying around for several days. Woodcock, with over 80 wherever you walked, a woodcock was flushed. I even heard myself say as you recount sightings “oh and ‘woodcock and SE owls”! Redwing, fieldfare, brambling, song thrush, jack snipe, snipe, chiffchaff, blackcap, black redstart, goldcrest, wren, robin, meadow, rock, and tree pipit, ringed ouzel, sparrow hawk, peregrine, buzzard,  merlin, and more, and as last year, a huge fall of blackbirds, including a couple of re-traps from the birds we ringed last year.

Early week it was nerve-wracking times as the crashing waves and high tides swamped Pilgrims Haven. The area of the boulder beach we see on camera that at times is not only cut off from the main colony but disappears in these conditions made devastating viewing. I saw one very young pup scramble further in to one of the inlets, the cow doing her best to block the ferocious waves to no avail. An almighty wave crashed in, hand over my eyes, peeking, I expected to see the white bundle pulled out to sea, nothing. As the wave abated there it was, absolutely drookit, but clinging on to a rock for dear life with these long sharp claws they have. The next cave was flooded the cow holding her own outside the entrance but with several hours before the tide would drop, it appeared hopeless. The next day there in the cave the wee fattie pup with the cow. How it survived I do not know but for some they have a very tough start. Thankfully, the swell dropped but with high tides, a line of cows flanked the shoreline as the tide rose, nudging their pups to safety. Just wonderful to watch the care they give their pups.

As in summer, hides are in place for researchers observing. All manner of studies are underway. I saw one cow happily sleeping with a heart monitor strapped around her body the researchers hiding behind a wall with laptops monitoring the information being transmitted. Their season is just beginning. We hope to be updated on some of their studies later in the season and it will be interesting to see if ‘Hannibal the cannibal’ returns this year?

Craigleith – The first pup count was undertaken yesterday with a count of 15. We are not sure if any or how many were washed off in last week’s swells. First we undertake a count from the boat which allows us to spot any hiding among the sloping rocks and crevices that would be missed once on the island and it is these ones that are vulnerable to sea conditions. Thanks to Stan de Prato for his superb bird spotting with a pale phase artic skua seen just as we arrived at the island, followed quickly by a sparrow hawk quite far out over the sea, 100+ linnet, blackbird, dunnock, goldfinch, skylark, fieldfare, pied wagtail, rock pipit, starling, robin, peregrine, and carrion crow along with the regular gulls and feral pigeons.

No rabbits were seen and in places the mallow is quite dense and relentless. We will have our work cut out when we resume in 2016.