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?

Monday, 12 June 2017

I spotted this Brown Hare as I was walking along the track to our office yesterday. Although it is the UK's fastest land mammal, capable of reaching sppeds of up to 45 miles an hour, instead of running away it decided to lie low and hide in the long grass until I had passed by. Lizy

Brown Hare Lepus europaeus

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Today I spotted the first Northern Brown Argus of the year that I've seen here at St Abb's Head. This sighting is two weeks later than the first individual was recorded last year, maybe unsurprising given the terrible weather we've had lately! The best place to look for this tiny butterfly is around the dam at the south end of the Mire Loch. Other butterflies spotted today were Red Admiral and Wall Brown, along with day flying moth species Silver-ground Carpet and Chimney Sweeper. Lizy

Northern Brown Argus Aricia artaxerxes

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Although the seabird season spans from late March until August, June is the month where everything really kicks off. One of the main reasons why seabirds breed in colonies is safety in numbers - lots of eyes looking out for predators, voices to shout an alarm and beaks to fight them off. So the birds synchronise their timings with June being the main chick season. This means that it is also th...e busiest month for us Rangers monitoring the seabirds.

In june we count how many seabirds have settled down to breed in that year. This involves us painstakingly scouring the whole 5.5km of cliffs and recording all the breeding birds we see. We do this from vantage points on the clifftops and from a boat, and we do two rounds - one in early June for herring gulls and shags, and one in mid June for kittiwakes and fulmars. We don't do a full count of our auks (guillemots and razorbills) each year - with 35,000 of them, we just don't have the resources, so we only do this every 5 years. Instead we have a series of smaller plots which we count 10 times in the month, and take the average of the counts to give us an indication of the number of auks that are settling down to breed. On top of this we also monitor the breeding success of shags, guillemots and kittiwakes, which involves following the progress of a number of birds on a series of plots from setting up territory to the young fledging from the nest.

So, why do we do this? Becuase it gives us an indication of whether the seabirds are doing well or not so well, and if the latter, we know that we need to try and find out why. The data that we gather at St Abb's Head feeds into National Seabird Monitoring Programme (we're one of about 20 sites in Scotland) and so helps to inform National and International seabird conservation. So seabird monitoring is, arguably, THE most important work that we do.

In order to make sure that counts are comparable between years and between sites, we have to stick to a strict protocol which states that the counts can only be carried out between 8am and 4pm, when its not raining hard and when the wind is below 15 knots. And then, on ocassion, we have the haar to contend with too! So, with the weather that we have been experiencing so far in June, you can imagine, its been a tricky task! We will bring you the results of this year's monitoring once we have drawn together the data later in the season. Liza.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

A local resident reported seeing someone flying a drone along beside the cliffs at Petticowick on Thursday night. It was causing great disturbance to the nesting seabirds on the cliffs in the area. I hope that the pilot was not aware that he was breaking the law on two counts - firstly by flying the drone over NTS land without our permission, and secondly by causing disturbance to nesting birds.

With drones now being readily available at a resonable price on the High Street..., their use over St Abb's Head and other NTS land by uninformed individuals is becoming more common. This is why the NTS has produced a policy concerned the flying of drones on or over our land. 
St Abb's Head is a place where people come to get away from it all and enjoy nature in the raw, so we are very reluctant to bring too many man-made items, like signs, onto the reserve. We have tried hard to spread the NTS policy on drones via Social Media, but it is apparent that the message just isn't getting out to all the right people, so we are, reluctantly, having to put up signs in order to make sure that drone owners are informed about our policy and the law.

We have not gone down the line of a blanket ban, as others have, because there is no doubt that drone images are spectacular, giving a totally different perspective. Also, there are ways that drones might be useful in our conservation management of the property. However, the reserve is a no drone zone during the bird nesting season, and outwith this we require poeple to get permission from the Property Manager (ie me) first. In this way we can ensure that we keep both our wildlife and our visitors safe and free from disturbance.

Here's a copy of the signs that will be going up this weekend. Please help us protect our nesting birds from disturbance by sharing this. Thank you. Liza.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Up on the cliffs this morning checking out the seabirds. I haven't spotted our first kittiwake egg yet, but there's certainly lots going on up there. As it wasn't too windy, I took a few short videos with my camera just to give you the gist. Please excuse the camera shake! Liza.


The kittiwakes are busy nest building.  They collect mud and grass from wet flush areas on the sea braes, and take this back to the nest site (being guarded by their partner) a beak full at a time.  We have had hardly any rain since the start of April (just 16.5mm to be precise) so there is a bit of a shortage of wet flushes.  Let's hope this doesn't effect their breeding success.


Some kittiwakes are lucky enough to secure nest sites where there is the remains of a nest from previous years that just needs adding to.  But some have to start virtually from scratch.  One bird brings back the nesting material, and then the other stamps it into place and then shapes it into a cup shape by pressing its chest against the edges.  Its mucky work as you can see!


There are not so many gannets on and around Foul Carr now - but a few remain sitting on the stack and there are still a number prospecting, as you can see.  We are waiting with baited breath to see if any of them start bringing in nesting material (one pair did last year, but nothing came of it).

Thursday, 11 May 2017

A group of students from Eyemouth High School came and had a session with our Archaeologist, Daniel Rhodes, at the Ebba Centre yesterday as part of the the School Enrichment Programme that we here at St Abb's Head are taking part in. They were dicsovering what archaeology is all about, and why its important, and got to try out some hands on activities themselves. Next week, Daniel will take them out and about on the reserve to discover more on the ground. Liza.

Bob, the skeleton, helped the kids discover more about the detective work required when discovering archaeological finds.
The amazing uses that a deer carcass can be put to - nothing wasted!
Pottery analysis - the kids had a go at taking all the measurements that are needed to try and work out the age and uses of shards of pottery found in digs.
Learning about how looking at maps going back through the ages can tell you a lots about the history of an area.

Monday, 8 May 2017

The Gannets have arrived back at St Abb's Head this year, and they look like they might be settling down to stay. As far as we know there are no breeding records for Gannets here, so there was great excitement last year when about 8 birds began to sit around on Foul Carr, near to the lighthouse, with one pair even starting to build a nest. Nothing came of this nesting attempt, but after visiting Foul Carr yesterday, following a tip-off from a volunteer, I was surprised to find at least 52 birds sat on top of the stack with more circling around the air above. Many of the pairs were performing courtship behaviours, like the pair you can see in the first picture with their bills raised to the sky. Some of the other residents of the stack were not entirely happy with their new neighbours, the Herring Gull in the second picture repeatedly dive-bombed the offending Gannet until it was finally driven off.  Only time will tell if they will be here to stay, we will keep you posted on further developments.  Lizy

Gannets, Morus bassanus, displaying on top of Foul Carr, surrounded by Guillemots, Uria aalge

Gannet, Morus bassanus, being attacked by a Herring Gull, Larus argentatus

Sunday, 7 May 2017

The stacks and cliffs are full of seabirds and looking great in the sunshine! Lizy

View north from Nunnery Point

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Whilst doing a bird survey around the Mire Loch early yesterday morning I was delighted to spot that one of our Coot nests has hatched, producing at least 10 tiny chicks. At this young age they are relatively easy to spot with binoculars in amongst the reeds, due to their naked red heads, and the fuzzy mane of golden feathers around their neck. They have mainly been staying close to the boat house, near their nest, so keep a look out of you are on the opposite bank.  Lizy

Adult Coot with 8 small chicks

Monday, 1 May 2017

The National Trust for Scotland'd spring fundraising campaign has just been launched, and this year it is focusing on the Natural Heritage side of the Trust’s work. Please check out this link to learn more about some of the work we do to manage Scotland's amazing natural heritage, and think about supporting us by donating or becoming a member. Please Help Us Work With Nature. Thank you. Liza.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

I spotted my first Small Copper butterfly this afternoon down by the Mire Loch. This tiny and colourful butterfly is one of the most numerous species here in the summer. You can see it pretty much anywhere, but its favourite habitat is the long grass around the Mire Loch. Lizy

Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas

Friday, 28 April 2017

We had many a discussion about a wide range of topics during our start of season training day on Wednesday. At one stage the conversation turned to hedgehog poo, and I remarked that I had never knowingly seen any. Lo and behold, yesterday I recieved a plastic tub with a wee gift in it from one of the volunteers! I was surpried how big it was - about 5cm long and at least 1cm in diameter, and also how smelly! Every day's a school day as they say! Liza.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Today we had our start of season meeting/staff training day. Each year we pick a different site to visit, and to learn from. This year we decided to visit our neighbouring NTS property, Preston Mill, near East Linton. The weather was gorgeous and Andrew Mackay, the Senior Assistant there, very kindly took time out of his preparations for opening to the public on May 1st, to give us a guided tour. What a really fascinating wee building. We also took a stroll along to see Phantassie Doocot just along the way. Then a bite to eat at Tyningham Smiddy, and a walk to Tyningham Beach - all in all a great day out. Liza.
Andrew telling us all about the wonky drying room behind him. I don't actually remember it being as wonky as this, and so I was wondering at first if I had just taken the picture at an angle. But the team all seem to be standing upright - so it must be right!

Learning more about the ins and outs of regulating water flow to regulate the speed that the wheel turns at.

Set in splendid countryside too.
Phantassie doocot, another of our historic buildings, just a short walk along from the mill.
Margaret has a bad knee, so Bill, Zander and Lizy give her a bit of a hand to get up this sand dune from Tyningham Beach! Well, it was a team building day!

Monday, 24 April 2017

It seems like the swans on the Mire Loch might have settled down to breed at last. They have built two nests, but, sadly, have decided to use the one that is more difficult to see into, so that will make it a bit more tricky for us to keep a track of eggs etc. They're a little late in settling, presumably lots of time spent fighting with the second pair that was around. We'll keep you posted. Liza.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

I was checking sheep on our land at Lumsdaine this morning, and spotted a few mounds of thrift just starting to come into bloom, alongside some sea campion. It was a beautiful morning and you can see St Abb's Head in the background, jutting out into the sea. Lizy

Thrift and Sea Campion with a view towards St Abb's Head

Friday, 21 April 2017

First sighting of minke whales, at least four of them, including a youngster, of Coldingham Bay earlier today. Not by me, worst luck! That's early in the season, its usually more like July or August when we start to see them. I wonder if its going to be a good year for whales - lets hope so! Picture borrowed from the net to give you an idea of what to look out for. Liza.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The cliffs and stacks are starting to fill up with guillemots, and it's just a couple of weeks until we expect the first eggs to appear. Lizy

Sunday, 16 April 2017

A beautiful Easter Saturday yesterday. Wall to wall sun, a bit of a chilly breeze, but always good to blow away the cobwebs. Loads of people were out and about on the reserve enjoying themselves, and the forecast is good for today too. Not so sunny, but the wind has dropped right out. Here's a wee set of photos to give you a flavour. Liza.

Blue sky, yellow gorse, the small of coconut, the buzzing of bumble bees and the twittering of linnets...

There is much argie bargie going on with the mute swans on the Mire Loch. Two pairs are vying for the territory, lots of chasing, both in the air and on the water, and some fighting too. The body language in this shot speaks for itself - the pursuer is not amused, and the pursued is paddling as fast as it can!

Someone has been having fun stone stacking at Burnmouth Harbour - getting ready for the World Stonestacking Championships in Dunbar next weekend perhaps?

The reserve car park was full to capacity - there is more parking down in the village, so don't let it put you off!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Another sign of spring at St Abb's Head - our Assistant Ranger has started. Zander started with us in the middle of last week, and will be with us until the end of September. Here's a picture of him starting to get to grips with some seabird monitoring at Nunnery Point. For the first half of the summer he will be concentrating on monitoring the breeding success of guillemots and acting as a Pop-up Ranger around the Reserve - so keep on the look out for him! Liza.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Out on the clifftops today, taking a look at how the seabird breeding season is getting on. The shags look totally spendiferous, one might even say shagtastic, at this time of year. Their plumage is fresh, so the irridescent green shows beautifully, and the shag of feathers on their heads (from which they get their name) are very prominent (its all to do with attracting a mate). My camera was on full zoom, so not the best picture ever, but it gives you the gist. Liza.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Lizy and I were out at Abbey St Bathams doing an offroad driving refresher course today. We were so busy concentrating that we forgot to take any pictures so I have had to borrow one off the net. We may not have done anything quite as extreme as this, but it certainly felt like it sometimes! Liza.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

This year's events programme...

We have expanded our events programme this year - why not check it our on our website at

If you fancy coming on a seabird cruise, don't delay in booking, they sell out fast!  Liza.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Here's an image of Tom Nash, from Raptor Aerial Imaging, filming with a drone at Foul Bay today. The National Trust for Scotland have a policy about flying drones from or over our land - we haven't gone down the line of a total ban as other organisation have, but we do insist that folk seek permission from the relevant Property Manager before doing so. In this way we can balance to duty of care we have for our properties and the wildife and visitors in them with the fact that these machines really do help you see things literally from a different angle. Liza.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

A beautiful day here at St Abb's Head, the perfect spring morning to discover the first Shag egg of the season. Every year at St Abb's Head we monitor the productivity of the Shags, meaning how many chicks are produced per nest on average. We mark each nest on a photograph of the study area, and then follow them throughout the season, recording what happens. This is nest number 2 on our White Heugh study plot, and was the only egg spotted out of the 38 nests I recorded today. These birds are definitely front-runners for the first chick of the season, expected sometime in mid-May. Lizy

First Shag egg spotted this year, two Razorbills look on

Monday, 27 March 2017

I was in Newcastle yesterday, down by the quayside. It was great to hear some familiar voices whilst I was there - the kittwakes, on the Baltic art gallery, the Tyne Bridge and even the Guildhall. It was like a home from home! They were in on the cliffs this morning too, along with some guillemots, razorbills and fulmars. At this time of year they are not a guaranteeable spectacle, as they come and go (we don't know why) but when they're not on the cliffs you can still hear their calls from the seas surrounding the cliffs where they hang out instead. Things will start to settle down towards the end of April when the guillemots will start to lay their eggs. Liza.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Another sign of spring - the primroses are starting to come out!  Liza.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

More signs of spring - I spotted these alder catkins in the woodland near the office this morning. Not a brilliant picture (I was having troubles with wind) but you can see the shorter, oval, woody female catkins from last year. These will have released their seed over the winter to get dipersed by wind and water. You can also see the longer male catkins - the darker ones are yet to open, and some are half open, and some fully open, releasing their pollen into the wind. Liza.

Monday, 13 March 2017

A project that I have been working away on over the last couple of months is to produce some pull-up banners for the reserve. The idea is to have something eye-catching that we can use at venues and events, both local and further afield, to promote what is special about St Abb's Head. Last week we took delivery of them - and I am very pleased with how they turned out! If you run an event or have a venue where you think you'd like to display these, please get in touch. Liza.

Why do jumplings jump?

A fascinating and rather amusingly written article - definitely worth a read! Liza.

Friday, 10 March 2017

We had a beautiful day here yesterday at St Abb's Head. Down by the Mire Loch it was warm and sunny and I spotted my first queen bumblebee of the year (a Buff-tailed Bumblebee, I think). Queen bumblebees have been hibernating over the winter and will now be emerging and, after stocking up on some nectar, looking for a suitable site to build their nest, usually under the ground, in tussocks of grass or even in bird boxes. This is why you sometimes see bumblebees in spring flying very close to the ground, as if looking for something, but ignoring any flowers they come across. Lizy

Bumblebee queen soaking up the sun

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

After all the rain we've been having recently the paths around the Mire Loch have been getting a bit muddy, so one of the main tasks on the reserve has been putting down stone to improve the footpaths. Here's a before and after picture of a particularly bad stretch we did this afternoon. Lizy

Mire Loch footpath before and after repair work

Monday, 6 March 2017

You remember a few weeks back I posted about being out on Nunnery Point carrying out a topographical survey of the archaeological features with our Regional Archaeologist, Daniel Rhodes. Here's a link to a 3D image that he has produced of the main feature, Ramparts Hall, from the measurements we took. We didn't quite get to finish the survey, but hope to soon, and will post a link to a more complete picture when we have it. No one is quite sure what Ramparts Hall is - its medieval, and quite big - but still a bit of a mystery. Who knows, maybe in the future further investigations will give us more clues! Liza.

Last week I chaired a meeting of the East Coast Seabird Network (ECSN) in Berwick upon Tweed. The group was set up last year as a way of sharing good (and bad) practice, ideas and population trends between various seabird colonies along the East Coast. It was a great meeting, covering topics as diverse as using lasers to discourage predatory gull species from nesting in tern colonies, to the use of drones in seabird monitoring. It was a great turn out too, with folk from as far afield as Yorkshire and the Firth of Forth, and a whole host of different organisations. Pictured is Keith Clarkson, Site Manager at the RSPB's Bempton Cliffs giving us the low down on kittiwake population trends on his reserve (which are holding steady compared with the major declines we have been seeing up further north). Really interesting and inspiring stuff! Liza.
Last week Lizy, Ed and I were working down at the Mire Dam. Whilst Ed and I carried out repairs to the fence, Lizy offloaded a trailer full of surfacing material for footpath repairs and tidied up the pipe and sandbags that we had used to siphon the water level down with. As you will see, I donned my dry suit yet again and Ed was sporting chest waders to get the fence repaired. It was a tad chilly in the water - 5 degrees according to the thermometer, and so its taking me a while to get my core body temperature back up to normal. In fact, I'm sat at my desk wrapped in a blanket! It was worth is though, the fence is now stock proof and looks much neater than it did this time last year when it was very much a ramshackle affair after a number of years of temporary repairs. Liza.

Last year's Assistant Ranger, Jill, showing off the temporary repairs carried out by her and Lizy after the fence had been taken down to let machinery through to carry out repairs on the dam.
Its a glamorous job, being a ranger - me and Ed showing off the latest in underwater ranger garb!
Out of the water now - whilst I sought warmth in the truck, Ed and Lizy put the finishing touches to the fence. Its now a much neater affair and should see me till my retirement, I hope!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

We've had some lovely sunny days here recently at St Abb's Head, and I was lucky the other day to spot a group of guillemots (and a few fulmars) apparently enjoying the sun on White Heugh. Although most of our 30,000+ guillemots won't return to breed until mid April, they will be visiting the cliffs more and more over the next month, which is a real treat if you, like us, can't wait for the seabird season to begin! Lizy

White Heugh in the sun

Guillemots on White Heugh