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.