Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Cuckoos have arrived back for the summer, I just heard the first one of the year calling behind our office. The picture is actually from July last year when I spotted this young one along the track to the lighthouse, but they are about, so keep your eyes peeled. Lizy

Juvenile Cuckoo

Sunday, 22 April 2018

If you've been wondering why there are so many dead rabbits to be seen on the reserve...




Text of picture reads: Please be aware that there is a disease called Myxomatosis effecting the rabbits on the reserve. This is fatal to rabbits but cannot be transferred to humans or to dogs. The disease is endemic in the rabbit population throughout the UK, and has periodic local flare-ups.
When we see carcasses, we hide them out of sight as much as we can, but it is impossible for us to keep the area totally clear. We do not remove the carcasses entirely, as they provide a good food source for scavengers in the area.
Sorry if this detracts from your visit to St Abb’s Head, but the situation is outwith our control.




Sunday, 1 April 2018

Spring has disappeared again! I was up on the cliffs doing some monitoring when I got caught in this surprise hail shower which turned the cliff-tops white for a short while! Interesting weather for the start of April.  Lizy

View of hail covered stacks at St Abb's Head

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Today has turned a bit miserable, but yesterday was a stunning day here at St Abb's Head. Large numbers of seabirds, including guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmar were back on the cliffs, and the sun was shining. We even spotted our first bumblebee queens on the reserve, a tree bumblebee and a buff-tailed bumblebee, busy looking for nests sites. Lizy


Tuesday, 6 March 2018

I came across a sad sight today while I was carrying out a survey on one of our beaches. This is the remains of an auk, tangled up in ribbons which had been tied onto the bottom of a balloon. This is the 4th balloon I have found littering the reserve in the last two days.

It is tragic to think that a balloon, which probably amused a human for only a few minutes or hours before being forgotten, can go on to have such serious consequences for wildlife. It's not only birds like this auk which have been entangled and starved/drowned, turtles, whales and dolphins can eat balloons, mistaking them for jellyfish, blocking their digestive systems and causing them to starve to death.

If you like balloons all is not lost though. Check out the link below to a leaflet from the Marine Conservation Society, it outlines the dangers that balloons pose to marine wildlife and then gives some excellent ideas of how to minimise the damage, such as using latex balloons which will eventually biodegrade, and not filling them with helium, so they won't float away and become litter. They also have some great ideas if you are planning to use balloons as part of an event! Lizy




Auk entangled in balloon ribbon

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The weather has been impressive here today at St Abb's Head. Luckily this morning was bright and I managed to get out and get a few pictures of the reserve covered in snow, a rare sight! Lizy.


Snowy view of the Mire Loch

View from the Lighthouse Road

Tuesday, 13 February 2018


While up doing a badger sett survey on our land at Lumsdaine I was lucky enough to spot a couple of badger footprints at the entrance to a sett. The footprints are just to the left of the patch of sunlight. Like all of the mustelid family, which includes otter, stoat and wolverine amongst others, badgers have five toes. It looks like there are only 4 toes from this picture, but the smallest toe sometimes doesn't leave an indentation in rough ground. Lizy

Badger footprints outside sett

Friday, 2 February 2018

It's been feeling decidedly chilly the last few days, with sharp winds reminding us that winter is not over yet. The gorse bushes that grow around the western end of the Mire Loch, however, are not letting the freezing winds hold them back. Their bright golden flowers definitely add a bit of warmth to a cold walk. On a sunny day like today you can just smell the sweet coconut smell which the flowers produce, bringing back memories of warm, sunny days in May when flowering is at its peak, and the scent infuses the air. Lizy


Gorse Bushes

Monday, 29 January 2018


We got some interesting footage the other night after finding a dead song thrush behind the office.  We put the trail camera out, hoping that perhaps it had been a sparrowhawk kill, and that the sparrowhawk would return to claim its prey, but it never did.  Instead we got video after video of a wood mouse/mice, feeding on the corpse after dark. In the video you can see the mouse feeding from the neck of the song thrush, with the bird's tail sticking out to the left. Over the course of a few nights the entire thrush was consumed. Gruesome but fascinating!  Lizy.





Thursday, 25 January 2018


Despite the recent cold weather there are definite signs of spring in the air. Great tits are starting to sing their characteristic "teacher" call, and snowdrops and winter aconites are starting to flower around the car park and our office, adding a welcome splash of colour to the sometimes cold and damp days here at St Abb's Head. Winter aconites are not native to the UK, and are known as "spring ephemerals", meaning that they only grow for a short period of time, in this case early in January and February, and then die back to just their underground parts during the rest of the year. January might seem like an inhospitable time to flower, but this allows the aconites to flourish in the light on the woodland floor, before the trees get their leaves, blocking out the sunshine. Lizy

Winter aconites near the car park

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

It's been a windy day here at St Abb's Head, but that didn't stop our loyal band of volunteers coming out to get some work done. Today we were repairing some damage done to the track as a result of some recent fencing work. Many thanks to Bill, Jean and Margaret for their time and hard labour!  Lizy


Jean and Margaret repairing the track




Wednesday, 22 November 2017



We have had some seal pups hauling out on the beaches at Wellmouth and Burnmouth Harbour (just after you come down the stone steps about half a mile along the coastal path from the village end). This will no doubt happen more often as the breeding season progresses. Grey seal pups are left to fend for themselves at 15-21 days old, their mothers going off to mate and to feed (they don't feed whilst suckling, and can lose half their body weight). The pups, which have tripled ...their weight from 15kg at birth to 45kg at weaning, have some reserves to keep them going, but they are not taught how to find prey, they have to work out how to do this themselves. After weaning they also moult their fluffy white coats. As you can imagine this is all pretty exhausting for the pups and so they spend a lot of time hauled out on beaches trying to conserve their energy. When you take into account that only 50% of pups will survive their first winter, it is really important that they are not put under any more stress than they already have to deal with.


Last weekend, I received a couple of phone calls from distressed individuals who had witnessed fellow visitors to the reserve going right up to seals hauled out on these beaches and taking selfies with the pups. Just imagine the effect this will have on the pups' stress levels. And/or it could result in the pups leaving those beaches altogether (they certainly have not been there since Monday). Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to man the site all the time to explain to people the effects that their behaviour could be having. We have put up signs, but people often ignore these. So please help us where you can - if you see people disturbing seals in this way, either on the reserve or elsewhere, please explain to the people disturbing them the effects their behaviour might have. Seals are protected under the Marine Scotland Act 2010, an it is against the law to knowingly disturb them. Also, point them in the direction of Petticowick beach, where there is all sorts of seal behaviour to watch - from a safe distance.


Here is our seal Code of Conduct for the reserve - please share far and wide. Let's all enjoy this wonderful wildlife spectacle - but in a responsible way!


Many thanks for your help. Liza.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

I have had word that we have secured funding to enable us to carry out work on the footpath down to Starney Beach in order to get this re-opened. We had to close it a few years ago due to serial landslips above the path. Last autumn we carried out some drainage work in the hopes of preventing further slipping. This seems to have been successful so far, and the areas where the slips occurred have vegetated over pretty well, which helps the stabilise the whole area. However..., we won't be taking any chances, we intend to re-route the path slightly so that it doesn't pass below the area where the most slips have happened. We apologise for the fact that this path has and will be closed for so long, but we take our duty of care for the safety of our visitors very seriously, and we want to make sure that everything has stablilised before we open it to the public again. The plan is to carry out the work in the winter of 2018/19. The work on just this short length of path will cost about £30k which is being paid for by our Footpath Fund. If you enjoy walking at St Abb's Head and other countryside footpaths on NTS land, why not consider supporting this fund. Liza.


http://www.nts.org.uk/Campaign/The-Footpath-Fund

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

A nice wee piece from the Berwickshire News about the Community Action event on the reserve last weekend. Liza

http://www.berwickshirenews.co.uk/news/history-experts-dig-what-s-under-the-ground-in-coastal-town-1-4559247

Monday, 11 September 2017

Despite the spells of rain and high winds there were plenty of butterflies out around the Mire Loch this morning. Peacocks were probably the most common species present, along with Red Admiral, a single Small Copper and Wall Brown also made an appearance, while 3 Speckled Woods were seen near the Mire Loch dam. Many of the Red Admirals were seen feeding on the bramble berries which are out in abundance around the loch. Fruits like this are an important food source at this time of year when many flowers are finished, and no longer providing nectar.  Lizy

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta feeding on bramble berry

Sunday, 10 September 2017

We had another good, if slightly wet and windswept, day up at the old lighthouse signal station today as we continued our archaeological dig with National Trust for Scotland archaeologist Daniel Rhodes. We finished excavating the last bits of the trench from yesterday, and mapped everything we found, before filling in the trench. We also had a good chat with some of the hardy visitors who had braved the weather. Below you can see the trench as it looked at the end of the excavation and after we filled it in and replaced the turfs. You would hardly know we were there! Lizy



Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Assistant Ranger Zander and I had a fabulous day yesterday, checking for bats around the reserve with ecologist Lindsay Mackinlay from Parnassus Ecology. We found several bat boxes containing bats, including pipistrelles and this roost of 11 Daubenton's bats. Lindsay also checked the roofs of our buildings and found bats in both of them, which is great news. It is illegal to disturb bat roosts (Lindsay has a license which permits him to carry out these sort of checks) so if ...you do suspect you have bats in a box or in your roof it best to leave well alone. However if you do have bats in a building and you need to carry out some work, you can contact Scottish Natural Heritage who can give you information on how to do this with minimal disturbance to the bats. For more information see the Bat Conservation Trust: http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/bats_and_the_law.html and http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/building_remedial_work.html
Lizy


Daubenton's bats in bat box

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

An excellent article by our Head of Natural Heritage Policy, Stuart Brooks.  Definitely worth a couple of minutes of your time. Liza.


https://www.nts.org.uk/What-we-do/News/Courting-protection-for-our-seabirds

Monday, 28 August 2017

Nearly all of the seabirds have fledged from the cliffs here, with just one or two late shag nests, and a few fulmar chicks, which are the latest nesting of our seabirds species. In the pictures below you can see a picture of a massive fluffy chick from 4 weeks ago, and a picture of a chick ready to fledge, which I took yesterday. In the second picture you can see all of the baby fluff scattered around the nest with the chick preening it's mostly adult feathers. Once these chicks have fledged that will truly be the end of the seabird season here at St Abb's Head. Lizy

Young Fulmar chick at the beginning of August

Older fulmar chick at the end of August, ready to fledge

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Sunshine and showers on the head today, unpredictable weather for working outside in, but makes for interesting scenery. Lizy Smith


Double rainbow seen from foghorn

Monday, 7 August 2017

Thank you to all of the people who came out on our whale and dolphin watch yesterday. Although the marine mammals were rather scarce, there were excellent views of a beautiful leucistic/ albino kittiwake on the cliffs just below the watch. In the picture you can see the all-white bird with pink feet, next to both adult kittiwakes, and juvenile birds ready to fledge (with the black collar around the back of their necks). Unfortunately just as we were packing up at the end of the watch, a comotion was spotted out to sea, which turned out to be a great skua which had caught the white kittiwake and was drowning it. Sadly although the kittiwake put up a good fight in the end the skua won, and began to eat it. This is sad, but perhaps not unexpected. Even to the human eye the kittiwake was very noticeable, and so probably made an obvious target for the bonxie. Also leucistic birds can have weakened feathers, which could have affected the birds flight, and if it was an albino it may have had poor eyesight. Sadly this was probably a case of natural selection in action. To learn more, check out this website from the British Trust for Ornithology, where you can also report any birds with unusual plumage you see in your garden : https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw/gardens-wildlife/garden-birds/behaviour/plumage/leucism     Lizy

White kittiwake on cliffs with other kittiwakes

Great skua next to the corpse of the white kittiwake it has just drowned

Monday, 31 July 2017


Happy #WorldRangerDay everybody.  Today is the day when we celebrate the vital work that Rangers across the world do to protect the environment, and commemorate Rangers killed or injured in the line of duty.  Here at St Abb’s Head we do a lot of important work protecting valuable habitats, and the wildlife that lives here.  From removing invasive species from our flower-rich grasslands, to counting the various bird and butterflies that make this place their home, to talking to the public to spread knowledge of how they can enjoy and protect the world around them, we are always busy working to preserve the places we love.

Seabird Monitoring


Attending public events

Controlling Gorse

Saturday, 29 July 2017

We had a lovely afternoon at St Abbs Lifeboat Gala today - Zander and I were joined by Jack, Ernie and Jean who helped us man our stall. It was a tad breezy, but the sun shone most of the day, so we were not complaining. If you missed us today, why not come and see us at Coldingham Gala tomorrow! Liza.



Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Last week St Abbs was a venue for the Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail, with a band playing in The Old Smiddy Coffee Shop next door to our Nature Centre. The Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail is a professional development opportunity for outstanding young musicians who are considering a performance career in music. After being selected through an audition process, the young musicians are taken on tour across Scotland for four weeks through the summer. Part of the tour involves visiting National Nature Reserves, so that is why they came to St Abbs.


Here's couple of shots taken by one of our volunteers, Margaret Renstead, who also works in the coffee shop. And here's a link to the Feis Rois website in case you want to catch them elsehwere on their Trail http://feisrois.org.uk/index.php…


Liza.




Monday, 24 July 2017

Last week Rangers from various different locations all over West, Mid and East Lothian and the Scottish Borders came to visit St Abb's Head. About three times a year representatives from the Scottish Countryside Rangers Association (SCRA) organise a site visit somewhere in the region, and this time it was our turn. These meets are a brilliant way to network, share good (and bad) practice and find out what other rangers are up to. I'm pleased to say the weather was stunning, so they could see the reserve at its best. It made sitting on the bantry at Eyemouth eating fish and chips and ice cream a very pleasureable way to end the day!. Liza.




Our team here at St Abb's Head had a nice start to last week when we had a day of vegetation training with ecologist Lindsay Mackinlay. Volunteers Zander, Margaret, Jack and Jean came along for a whole day of learning how to identify some of the flowers and grasses growing on the reserve. It was a very educational day, but also fun for everyone involved, and we all had a great time wandering around in the flower rich grassland in the sunshine. Thanks to everyone who came along and made the day so enjoyable. Lizy


Saturday, 22 July 2017

If you're planning on visiting Eyemouth tomorrow to enjoy the Herring Queen festivities, then you can come and visit us in the Eyemouth Hippodrome, from 10am - 4pm. We'll have some tables with lots of information, activities for children, and lovely, helpful people to answer any questions you might have about the reserve or our wildlife. Hope to see you there! Lizy


Our table at the St Abb's Science Day 2016

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sad news - I went to check on the progress of the gannet chick yesterday, and the nest was deserted - no adult and no chick to be seen. Who knows what caused it to fail - I suspect it was possibly a first time breeder as it started very late in the season. I have no doubt that they will try again next year, and possibly earlier in the season. Only time will tell. Liza.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

It was a good day on the butterfly transect today here at St Abb's Head. Species spotted included Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Copper, Small Skipper, Common Blue, Grayling, Northern Brown Argus, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Dark Green Fritillary (pictured). We carry out our butterfly transect once a week, and it takes over 2 hours to complete on a sunny day when there are lots of butterflies! We have been monitoring the butterflies here for over 30 years and this kind of data is vital for scientists to learn more about the long term trends for butterfly populations. If you'd like to contribute to butterfly conservation then don't worry, you don't need to spend two hours a week for 30 years! The Big Butterfly Count is taking place from the 14th of July to the 6th of August, and they're asking you to spend just 15 minutes sitting somewhere such as a garden or a park and recording any butterflies you spot.  Head over to http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/ to find out more. Lizy


Dark Green Fritillary Argynnis aglaja


Saturday, 15 July 2017

Have you noticed anything different about the lighthouse in the last week or so? I received a call yesterday from a guy from the the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB), who rang to to chat about parking arrnagements for maintenance contractors that will be coming up to work at the lighthouse next week.
 
Just in passing he mentioned that some contractors had be up there recently to shroud the lantern and replace it with small LED unit. The big old lantern, still sitting in a b...ath of mercury, has too many working parts to maintain it seems, and it is cheaper and more reliable to have an LED that flashes on and off. So the constantly turning lantern has been brought to a stop, and curtains have been placed around it so that it does not cause a fire by concentrating the sun's rays in one fixed spot on the headland.


I was amazed that I hadn't noticed any change, and a little bit saddened to think that we wouldn't be able to see those beautiful lenses constantly turning any more. I was also surprised that the shrouding hadn't been done with a little more ceremony. In my mind its a pretty notable event in the lighthouse's history, but I guess its more of a day to day operational change for the NLB. But there we are - its done.


Here are a couple of pictures I took today of the shrouded lantern with the new LED unit in front of it. Also picture I took of the lantern in the gloaming a couple of weeks back, and some pics I took a few years ago, when I was lucky enough to get inside the lantern room and see those magnificent lenses close up. Liza.











Friday, 14 July 2017

When I shared the news of our first ever gannet chick folk at seabird colonies from Blackeney Point to Troup Head via the East Coast Seabird Network, I got the following interesting information from the folk at Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire.


The gannet colony there continues to expand. Where gannets and guillemots intereact, the gannets win battles for space for nest sites causing the loss of guillemot eggs and chicks. There have been one or two occasions where gannets have b...een seen to stand over or apparently brood guillemot chicks (as in the picture) but these chicks do not survive. However, news hot off the press, this year's counts show that the numbers of guillemots are also increasing. So it seems, if there are enough alternative nesting areas for the guillemots in the area, they move into them.


As you may know, numbers of kittiwakes at St Abb's Head have decreased by 85% over the last 25 years or so. Whilst this is a tragedy in itself, and although kittiwakes and guillemots do utilise different areas of cliff, it does mean that there may be some areas where kittiwakes used to nest that can be colonised by guillemots ousted by gannets. Only time will tell, however. We most certainly live in interesting times! Liza.



Wednesday, 12 July 2017

We have some amazing news  - the first ever gannet chick to hatch out at St Abb's Head was spotted by Zander, our Assitant Ranger, the other day.

Up until last spring there had only been three occasions in the last 30 years or so when gannets had been seen settling down on the cliffs at St Abb’s Head.  In late May 2016, a number of birds started prospecting one of the large seabird stacks (Foul Carr) with a few settling onto the stack and pairing up, looking like they were getting ready to breed.  One pair even brought in nesting material which, but nothing came of it.


This year, the prospecting birds came earlier and in larger numbers, with around 70 gannets scouting out the same stack, and with many pairs settling on the stack and performing courtship displays.  However, as with last year, after a short flurry of activity most of the birds left, leaving just three pairs of birds which have been sitting tight since then.


The sighting of an egg, at the beginning of June, was a first in itself, and we have been watching and waiting with baited breath to see if anything would come of it.


It was such a momentous record that when Zander spotted it he called me and I went up to verify the sighting.  Gannet chicks are naked when they hatch, so the adults sit pretty tight on them to keep them warm until they develop insulating down.  So it was a nail biting hour and half, a during which we were only getting the briefest of glimpses of something in the nest, before I was able to get a good enough view to confirm that it was definitely a chick and Zander wasn’t just seeing things!  Its also been tricky getting a photo of the small chick - but Zander did manage to snatch this shot when the adult stood up to stretch.  No doubt we will get more once the chick gets a bit bigger and grows down.


With Bass Rock, the world’s largest breeding colony of gannets just a few miles up the coast, full to capacity, it was only a matter of time before gannets started checking out the cliffs at St Abb’s Head for suitable nest sites.  Gannets are stunning birds to behold and there has been a palpable air of excitement surrounding their presence here at St Abb’s Head over the last couple of years.  However, we do have slightly mixed feelings about them taking up residence at St Abb's Head.  Over the last 20 years seabird numbers at St Abb’s Head have declined from 80,000 to just under 45,000 birds, reflecting UK wide declines.  The only species that have maintained their numbers have been guillemots and razorbills.  The stack on which the gannets have chosen to breed is a favoured breeding area for guillemots, so I fear that as gannet numbers increase, as they are bound to, the guillemots will be pushed out.  This feels very much like a pivotal moment for the seabird colony at St Abb’s Head, and only time will tell what will happen in the years to come.


Liza.





Monday, 10 July 2017

Thanks very much to the National Trust for Scotland's Lothian conservation volunteer group who came out on Saturday to help us control creeping thistle on the reserve. In the morning we went up onto Kirk Hill to cut down some of the thistles growing around one of our most important archaeological sites; St Aebba's Kirk, and in the afternoon we cleared the headland above the lighthouse road. It was very heartening to see the difference between the two sites. The thistles on top of Kirk Hill were large and very numerous, as they have not been controlled for many years, whereas the thistles on the headland were much smaller and less dense, having been controlled every year for several years. This is much better for the valuable plant species which would otherwise be crowded out by the thistles. Thanks again to everyone who came along and helped out, your enthusiasm and hard work is much appreciated!  Lizy

Thistle whacking on top of Kirk Hill

Wednesday, 5 July 2017



I came across a linnet having a bath in a wee burn today. It was there for quite some time splashing about, long enough for me to enable me to take this shot, I'm pleased to say. They are very smart wee birds that you might see, but more likely hear, twittering around the grasslands of the reserve, especially in amongst the gorse around the Mire Loch. They have a lovely song, which is what made them popular cage birds in the past. Liza. https://soundcloud.com/wildlife-sound-recording/linnet

Thursday, 29 June 2017

We had a great day yesterday on our annual ragwort pulling session on Kirk Hill. Volunteers Jean and Ernie helped us pull 18 sacks of ragwort from the exclosure. This might sound like a lot, but it used to take several mornings of work, and several enormous helicopter bags to get the whole area cleared, so it looks like our persistence over many years is paying off! Lizy


Jean and Ernie pulling ragwort

Thursday, 15 June 2017

I was out early this morning doing a bird survey around the Mire Loch, and was very lucky to spot this rather bedraggled looking Badger by the boardwalk! There are always plenty of Badger signs, like snuffle holes and latrines, around the Mire Loch, and if you take a walk at dusk you can often see them emerging from the thick banks of gorse where they conceal their setts. But it's very unusual to get a good look at one in full daylight, never mind a picture, so the early start was definitely worth it! Lizy

Badger Meles meles

Wednesday, 14 June 2017


Here's a wee video I took of shags croaking in Piper's Cave - not the best footage you've ever seen (videoing blackish birds in the dark is tricky!) but its not often you get to hear them!



Lizy and I took our wee inflatable boat out yesterday afternoon in order to complete the whole colony count for shags and herring gulls; counting those birds that cannot be seen from land. It was perfect conditions for counting - flat calm and overcast, and we were just 5 minutes from finishing round at Petticowick when it started to absolutely bucket it down with rain. Hoping that such a downpour wouldn't last for long, we decided to hang around for a while, but we were wrong! After about half an hour, we were getting really quite cold and there was still no sign of it stopping so we had to admit defeat and head back for the harbour. I've never been out on the sea in those conditions before - every little ripple in the already flat calm sea was ironed out by the shear weight of the rain, and a mist formed over the surface where the rain drops were bouncing back up into the air. Stunning - but far to wet to chance getting a camera out. Here are a few other shots I took though. Liza.
The entrance to Piper's Cave - just to the west of Kirk Hill - a favourite nesting place for shags. Very undisturbed as you can't get into it unless you have a tiny wee boat like ours!

Inside Piper's Cave - its cold, and dark, and there are strange noises echoing around. But once your eyes get adjusted to the dark - its only the shags croaking away. There were 10 pairs in there this year.

Looking back out from the cave.

We hoped a view from the sea would give us a better idea of what was going on with the gannets on Foul Carr. Only one nest can be seen from land (the end of Nunnery Point), but we have regularly seen two other gannet's heads in amongst the sea of guillemots, and they are always in the same place. So we suspected that there were at least three nests - and I reckon we were right, although you can't actually see the nests under the higher two birds from sea level. I wonder if we will see the first ever gannet chicks at St Abb's Head this year?