Wildlife sightings 26 October 2017

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Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Alex

Seal season is well and truly here with 38 pups born since the 2 October. Some of the older pups have now begun moulting and are likely being weaned off their mother’s milk over the next few days before parting ways. A few adult males have made their presence known on the beach but it is too early for mating just yet. The grey seals on Craigleith have also started their pup season and there are now 4 pups on the island.

We had a very busy Pirate Weekend and on both days some visitors were very lucky to witness a live birth on cameras, a first of course for many of them as well as our Discovery Centre team. The live birth on Saturday could prove to be a twin, although we are awaiting information from the Isle of May staff and seal researchers that are out there now.

There are still a few gugas left on the Bass Rock with their white fluff still present but otherwise the Bass is now nearly empty. The peregrines continue to be seen on Fidra along with shags and the odd cormorant too. We have started seeing an influx of waders over the past few days with curlews now appearing on the islands along with redshank and turnstone numbers increasing here along our shores at low tide.

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Updates – Maggie Sheddan

Bass Rock
When the stormy weather kicks in true to form, the gannets leave.  With only a few late breeders it can be interesting to observe the adult attendance and the feeding regime. Do the adults stay with them throughout the day or are they only returning to feed. The famous ‘home alone Maximus’ although the parents were not in attendance they were fairly consistent in their twice daily feeding times. That can engage visitors to alert the Discovery Centre team if they see adults returning to feed. Do they wander far from their site, or have the parents abandoned them as eventually happened with ‘Maximus’. They  were dedicated until the real winter blizzard came and the rest is history. Big news then. I often wonder if he joined a southern colony, given he was flown to the south coast in HMS Gannet.

Recoveries on 2 young, ringed and released on the Bass on the 9 September: one found in the north east of Scotland (2 weeks later) the other, on a beach on Northern France (survived 3-4 weeks.)  All the birds released that day were a good weight but the storms that month may have proved too much. However, to have these recoveries is so interesting and underlines the value of the ringing programme now undertaken on the Bass.

The SOC conference & Bryan Nelson Memorial Lecture ‘Avian migration has been a topic of interest since the days of Aristotle’ (from the SOC conference introduction)

Last weekend brought fascinating insights and with that, thought provoking issues into the world of migration, ringing and tracking.  From the flight of Bewick swans to the Arctic tern. Osprey tracking  with Roy Dennis. Cuckoo, swift, wheatear migration to wintering sanderling. With just a slight bias toward seabirds, the talk on seabird tracking and marine conservation was absorbing, highlighting the differences between colonies. Some breeding birds are having to travel some distance to find food. For others food is readily available close by resulting in higher productivity.

We have tracking happening on our doorstep at the Bass with Leeds and Glasgow Universities.

A first this year with the deployment, (pre-breeding,) of a few loggers on study birds, and deployment again, once the chick is hatched highlighting the differences that breeding imposes  with their foraging patterns. Glasgow deployed loggers on immatures (2/3 year old) and the information is fascinating not only from the foraging aspect but seeing which gannetries they visit.

This demonstrates just how much technology has helped with our knowledge, but importantly when you start to join up all these localised studies you build a picture of the richer foraging areas and as important, if not more so, areas that for whatever reason are becoming barren. From these findings, as those that attended last night’s fascinating talk from Professor John Croxall heard, it is wonderful that we have MPA but, as he suggested, perhaps a wider view is required in finding a way of working and managing the seas together, with industries, fishing, and conservation that will benefit all. The oceans really don’t have boundaries.

Tracking, ringing, technology has opened up the world where once it was filled with mystery and myths surrounding migration “In medieval times swallows spent the winter asleep in the mud at the bottom of ponds. Cuckoos became Sparrow hawks and Storks hibernated” (from the SOC conference introduction).  

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Wildlife Sightings 30 September

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More and more grey seals are arriving back to our respective colonies on Isle of May and Craigleith. Still too early for the first pup to be seen on camera (4th October going off the past two years on the May!) though two pups have already been born on the May with the oldest now approaching two weeks old. One or two bulls have been seen around the May cameras but the majority are returning females, some of which look heavily pregnant which is a good sign. At the moment, you are likely to see the seals in the water ‘bottling’/sleeping or resting on the lower shore line of either the May or Craigleith.

There are still several gugas with dense white down so these will likely be our late leavers on the Bass Rock, though there are signs of the rock thinning out and this can even be seen from the centre. We have been seeing some great fledging behaviour of some of the older chicks jumping from the lighthouse courtyard and roof to the delight of patiently waiting visitors, staff and volunteers.

Shags, cormorants and peregrines can still be seen on the lower areas of the islands with the latter making a few appearances on Craigleith in recent weeks. Waders are now becoming more prominent with redshanks, turnstones and oystercatchers foraging around the rockpools at low tide and the unmistakable call of the oystercatcher can be heard overhead.

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Wildlife Sightings 16 September

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The gannets continue to be the main show!  You really get a sense of their huge wingspan seeing the gugas practising for their first flight.  And the air is full of down as they shed their baby fluff and grow the brown speckly juvenile feathers.  There are several stuck by the lighthouse, one half way up the ramp but it hasn’t worked out what to do next!  We’ve a lovely view of a much smaller chick on camera – here’s hoping he fledges before the weather gets too bad.

The shags are still around in numbers – gathered on the shoreline, preening after a hard day’s fishing. Our fulmar chicks are no longer in view so it would seem they’ve headed off to sea. Today we had a group of young eider ducks in Dunbar harbour.

There are quite a lot of grey seals milling around Dunbar and the Isle of May lately. They are not breeding anywhere that our cameras can see however there has been a pup born on the Isle of May this week! It won’t be long until the island is covered in seals as around 3500 come on land to breed in the next few weeks.

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Wildlife Sightings 31 August

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Still a quiet week for us as we await our seals. The good news is that the dolphins have been out in force and have been seen almost every day this week. There is still a dolphin ID campaign running so we urge anyone with good quality photographs to send them to us so that we can work with marine agencies to create a ID chart. Our boat team were also lucky to see a minke whale this week, a very rare visitor.

Our gannets are still doing well with the first few starting to fledge this week. It is still a difficult period for them as they are unable to fly and forage initially and so are at risk of being washed ashore during bad weather. We’ve already had two juveniles rescued and are likely to find more in the coming weeks.

The peregrine falcons on Fidra have been out this week with both females being seen which is encouraging as we had thought one had left us for good. There are both still young so as they age they may compete for the island and one will likely be forced to leave.

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Wildlife Sightings 24 August 2017

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Well our oldest gannet has almost reached fledging age but is still hanging on. We have yet to see any gannets fledge yet despite seeing a huge amount of fledging behaviour such as chicks stretching their wings and flapping on the nest.

Erin from the DC team was lucky enough to spot a pod of porpoise just off Fidra a few days ago. This marks the only time that porpoise have ever been seen on camera. Fidra has also been providing views of our peregrines this week, with the young female being seen with a kill at the weekend.

Craigleith has a huge number of shags which we are watching intently as part of a new campaign to record find ringed shags and record the code and colour of the ring. This is being done to help scientists track the behaviour of shags around the country. We also had a grey seal in amongst the shag colony, sunbathing on the rocks for most of yesterday morning.

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Wildlife Sightings 17 August 2017

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It is hard to believe but we are already at the end of the season. Only our gannets remain, huddled up on the Bass Rock with their large fluffy chicks. In a couple more weeks we will get to seem them fledge and begin life in the sea but this week we had another sighting that took the focus away from the gannets.

Last weekend, on the far side of the Bass Rock,  our boat team saw a minke whale. This whale has been seen in the forth over the last few weeks but is an excpetionally rare animal to spot. The whale was only a few metres from the boat and seemed perfectly content. The Firth of Forth is very shallow and generally unsuitable for whales. It is possible though that a single whale could live here but it is likely it will eventually make it’s way back out to sea.

Elsewhere we are continuing to see more and more of our peregrine falcons who are returning to Fidra more regulalry now that the seabirds are leaving. We have seen 3 different ones on the island, our original two have been joined by another juvenile female who we do not know much about.

The good news is we don’t have long to go until our grey seals arrive and start to breed!

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Wildlife Sightings 10 August 2017

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There is less action now as the season draws to a close. The last of our kittiwakes are lingering on the Isle of May, Fidra and Dunbar with a few juveniles still being seen.

Our fulmars on Fidra and the Isle of May are still doing well, the chicks are getting quite large but still fairly elusive, tending to hide away out of view from our cameras. We have not seen any puffins on the islands over the last few days but a few have been seen from our boat trips.

Our gannets are still flourishing with a vast number being seen diving all along the coastline this morning. It is very unusual to see them so close to the shore and in such huge numbers, stretching from the East beach all the way to Fidra. We have switched our Bass Rock cameras over in the Discovery Centre again and have managed to find some older chicks higher up the island. It is tricky to accurately age a chick but they appear to be around 8-9 weeks old and are beginning to gain their dark adult feathers. Typically it is around 13 weeks before they fledge.

A few lucky passengers managed to spot dolphins at the weekend. The morning boat trips saw them coming up from Tantallon and the later trips followed them from Lamb to Fidra. They were easily visible from the telescope deck on Saturday and Sunday. There is now an effort being made to identify the dolphins so we encourage anyone with photos to send them in so a ID catalogue can be made and we can work out where they go when they are not here.

Keep up-to-date with the wildlife action with our webcams.