Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Exotic Visitors

Sticking out as it does into the North Sea, St Abb's Head is a great place for migrant birds to stop of, rest and refuel before continuing on their epic journeys. Spring and autumn are the times that you will find birders stalkng around the Mire Loch and the walled garden behind the lightouse looking for somethng out of the ordinary. Yesterday a yellow-browed warbler and a great grey shrike were spotted.

The yellow-browed warbler (top picture) is a tiny bird, about the same size as a goldcrest, which breeds in Siberia and then migrates south-westwards so they are relatively regular mirgrants, but still fabulous to see. The great grey shrike (bottom picture) is a regular but scarce visitors to the UK in the autumn. They come over from Scandinavia and will often spend the winter in the UK. Shrikes are often referred to as butcher birds as they eat insects and small birds and mammals which they will store in a "larder" inpaled on a thorn in a hawthorn tree.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Work on lighthouse road complete!

Hi, Liza is away today, but I just wanted to let you know that the road up to the lighthouse is now re-opened. Just in time for the weekend too. Enjoy! And don't forget, if you do use the road, don't forget to put your contribution to the property and the road's upkeep in the cairn at the lighthouse car park. Many thanks!


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Slowly but surely

Work continues on the road, they have been working away compacting stone beside the tarmaced surface in order to form a solid embankment to support the road. All being well, tomorrow they will be doing the repairs to the tarmac and the road will be open again - fingers crossed.

I am hoping that the finished product will make people wonder what took so long as so much of the work will be hidden from view like any self respecting iceberg. However, hopefully the pictures I have been posting will show all the work that has gone in. Here's what things looked like at lunchtime today.

Monday, 20 September 2010

A road less travelled?

There have been strange goings on at the Reserve today - traffic congestion! Sometimes we do have problems with cattle or sheep jams, but never before have we had traffic jams! And its all down with the lighthouse road being closed to traffic whilst it undergoes repairs.

Earlier in the year an oil tanker, which was delivering fuel oil to the cottages at the lighthouse, managed to drop its wheels off the edge of the road. Luckily the fence prevented the tanker from ending up in the Mire Loch below (picture top left), and no one was hurt, but unfortunately the edge of the tarmac and the road embankment were damaged (picture bottom left). The road was safe for everyday vehicles to use, but access for wide vehicles (those over 2m axel width) has had to be restricted until the road is repaired. Obviously as long as no-one's safety was in jeopardy it would have been crazy to try and carry out the repairs during the busy summer months, but now visitor numbers have dropped off the time has come.

It is quite a major job to repair the road, a 40 m long section of the embankement has had to be excavated so that it can be shored up with stone and soil, the tarmac will then have to be repaired and the fence put back up again. All this is estimated to take about 3 days, and we are asking visitors and locals alike to please bear with us.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

And then there were two...

It's always a sign that autumn is upon us when the Seasonal Ranger leaves us, and it tends to be a little bit of a sad ocassion. This year was sadder than most as Laura has spent three seasons with us; one as a Voluntary Seasonal Ranger for the Marine Reserve and two as a Seasonal Ranger (and being paid!) for the National Nature Reserve. And with the last two years being a time of great upheaval with staff changes for both reserves, it has been especially lucky that Laura has been there with her sunny personality and enormous capability to help us all ride out the storm.

Laura is heading off to Mexico to work on a project to monitor the coral reefs off the coast there, and whilst she would be welcomed back with open arms for a fourth season , I fear that her wanderlust will prevent her coming back.

We both wish her well in her adventures.

Roofless behaviour

Over the last couple of weeks John, Dave and myself have been beavering away refurbishing the reserve storage shed which has had a leaking roof for some time and was rotting away before our eyes. It had got into such a state that we had to replace nearly half the roof woodwork as well as part of one of the walls and then had to completely re-felt the roof. Many thanks to John and Dave who gave us an enormous amount of their time over the last couple of weeks, to get it water tight before the autumn sets in.

Pictures: left - Dave shedding some light on the problem; middle - John more than measured up for the job; right, bottom - the finished article, beautiful!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Rescue Rangers!

The other day I had a visit from two volunteers from the Berwick Swan and Wildlife Trust. About a month ago they had rescued three gannets from a beach. They were all very young, all in their second year probably, and uninjured but they were exhausted and needed a little TLC. The gannets have been cared for by volunteers since the rescue and on Tuesday John and Dean brought them to St. Abb's Head to release them.

Gannets don't actually breed here but they pass by in great numbers to and fro
m the Bass Rock off the coast of North Berwick. The Head is an ideal place to release them because it is accessible and high, making it easier for them to take off. The two gannets (sadly the third one didn't survive) were released up by the lighthouse. The first one made an immediate dash for freedom and soared off into the air, the second one needed a bit more time but eventually flew off out to sea as well.

If you would like anymore information about the Berwick Swan and Wildlife Trust you can visit their website


Thursday, 16 September 2010

Walking the bounds

If you have ever looked at an ordnance survey map of the Berwickshire coast you might have spotted that the National Trust for Scotland actually owns more than St Abb's Head. We also own a stretch of coastal slope to the south of Fast Castle and an area of farmland adjacent to the Rangers' Office. I will explain about the farmland in a later post, but today we went to check the boundary fence of the Lumsdaine strip, as we call it, the length of coastal grassland which runs from Dowlaw Dean near Fast Casle to Westerside Dean near Coldingham Loch. The steep sloping grassland might not be an attractive proposition for farming, but supports nationally and internationally important maritime flora and breeding seabirds not to mention being a spectacular landscape (picture left, Lumsdaine Shore).

It is a fanatsic length of coastline, liberally scattered with hillforts and other archaeological remains, and somewhere where you can really get the feeling of being a million miles from anywhere even though you're not. The Berwickshire Coast Path runs the whole length between St Abb's Head and Fast Castle so it is well signed, why not check it out sometime? Here's a picture (right) of Georgia, Laura and Ernie, a long term volunteer of ours, having elevensies at the hill fort at Tun Law.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Rain Stops Play

John, Dave and myself were intending to re-felt the roof of the reserve shed today but sadly rain has made to roof too slippery to work on safely. So I thought I would post a picture of John in action on a previous occasion, as he is beginning to get paranoid that a photo of him has not appeared on the blog yet. Here's a shot of him clearing ivy off the roof of an outbuilding at the Ranger's Cottage. He may look scary...but he's a pussy cat really!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

A Berry Nice Time of Year

It is beautiful out on the Reserve at this time of year with berries everywhere you look around the Mire Loch. Today the sun is shining, the sky is blue and dotted with puffy white clouds - perfect conditions for bringing out the colours.

On the west side of the loch there are rowans with their clusters of red berries (picture left), brambles laden with blackberries and a small number of blackthorn bushes with a few sloes. The east side of the loch is the best place to see the hawthorn trees, sculpted into fabulous shapes by the salt-laden winds, and weighed down with ruby red haws (picture right).

If you are a forager then all of these berries are edible and there are a host of recipes on the internet. With this selection you have the makings of a fantasic meal: roast venison with rowan berry jelly, followed by blackberry and apple crumble, and rounded off with some cheese and biscuits with a little hawthorn jelly on the side and a little sloe gin for liqueur. If you wait a few weeks then the elder berries will be out and you could make some elderberry wine to accompany the meal!

Please do feel free to forage for berries and mushrooms (also good at this time of year) on the reserve, but don't get too carried away and do leave some for the wildlife. We have had our first sightings of fieldfares already, and they, and their cousins the redwings, just love to stuff themselves with berries, they're not too keen on mushrooms, but the slugs like them!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Splash In 2010 - photos now online

Scuba divers travelled from all over the UK to take part in the ‘Splash In’, an underwater photography competition held on the August bank holiday weekend. Organised by the St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve, this annual event is in its 23rd year, and is a favourite date on the underwater photographer’s calendar.

31 competitors gathered at the Marine Reserve on Saturday 28th August, hoping that the forecast inclement weather would hold off long enough for them to capture what they hoped would be a prize winning image. The competition has three categories: Marine Life Portrait (close up images of the Reserve’s amazing marine life); Reserve Atmospheric (wide angle shots showing the stunning underwater landscape); and Most Humorous Shot (where the photographers use their imagination in an attempt to raise a smile). 80 images were ultimately submitted in the competition by the photographers. They were projected at the Old School, St Abbs, on the Sunday evening for the audience to vote on their favourite shots in each of the three categories.

Underwater visibility was excellent, allowing the competitors to capture some fantastic images. In the Marine Life Portrait category, Sarah Forbes’ nudibranch won the best beginner prize; Steve Bateman’s colourful Ballan wrasse won third prize; Clair Jubb’s close up of a shanny second prize; and Kam Arya’s striking image of a coalfish next to a lion’s mane jellyfish in mid-water won first prize. Clair Jubb’s shanny (pictured) was so well liked by the audience that it also won the prize for the best image in the whole competition.

The winners of the Reserve Atmospheric category were a mixture of the new and the old, with Alex Blythe taking the best beginner prize with his shot of underwater photographers next to a reef. The top three prizes were taken by folk who have been regulars in the competition for a good number of years. Mike Clarke won third prize for his atmospheric image of a diver next to a lion’s mane jellyfish; Paul Bury took second with his stunning image of a ballan wrasse at the famous ‘Cathedral Rock’ dive site, a site which can be reached by a 50m swim from St Abbs harbour wall; and Derek Clarke took first prize for his shot of a diver inspecting some colourful soft corals on a reef.

The Most humorous Shot category had a good number of entrants this year, and it was a close fought competition, with plenty of laughs. Third prize was taken by Paul Slater’s “Outgassing”; second prize went to Alex Tattersall’s plumose anemones entitled “Oooh Matron” in homage to the ‘Carry On’ films; with first prize being won by Colin Samuel who went all out with his “St Abbs – a place with real bite!” photo.

Apart from the prestige of taking a winning image, there was over £3000 worth of prizes to fight for; anything from a bottle of wine to a dive computer. All prizes were generously donated by local, national & international businesses and were presented by Rhona Goldie (the most humorous shot category being in memory of her husband) and Lawson Wood, Chairman of the Marine Reserve Committee.

The winning images are now available to view on the Marine Reserve website
http://www.marine-reserve.co.uk/ and all the images entered into the competition are available to view on the St Abbs and Eyemouth VMR Facebook page. So, that's it for another year! Next year's competition will be held on 27th and 28th August 2011.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Who needs Power Rangers when you've got Mini Rangers!

Last Thursday I went to Coldingham Primary School and to meet some Mini Rangers, also know as P5, 6 and 7! I gave them a slide show about the Nature Reserves at St Abbs, what is special about them and how we at the Trust go about managing them. It was amazing the knowledge that the MRs (as I call them) had of all sorts of different types of wildlife, and it was great to hear the stories of encounters they have had with various creatures.

After the classroom session, the tables were turned and it was down to the MRs to show me their local patch. They are incredibly lucky because just over the road from the school is a fantastic bit of woodland that they manage as their own Nature Reserve. As a group they gave me a guided tour, explained that they had designed the various information boards that were alongisde the path (pictured left) and we chatted about different types of bird boxes, and bat boxes and all sorts of other things that we came across. We were also lucky enough to hear a great spotted woodpecker and a nuthatch (pictured right). All in all, a great afternoon with all of us learning something new.

Next week the MRs are out with Georgia helping her do a bit of a beach clean and learning about how she manages the Marine Reserve.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Minke Whales!

Yesterday was AMAZING!!!!! The sea was flat and calm and perfect for looking for whales and dolphins, so I decided to peer at the sea for a bit to see what was about. Within five minutes of arriving on the clifftops I spotted two minke whales very close to shore. I was gobsmacked! I have seen minke whales before but on most occasions I only got a few brief glimpses and then they disappeared. These whales just kept coming back though, patrolling up and down St. Abb's Head for over two hours! Sometimes I could hear them exhaling and on two occasions one was so close to shore that I could see its white markings under the water. I could actually see it swimming underwater and see where it was going to surface next!!!

There are a few cetacean species that can be seen from St. Abb's Head. Sightings in recent years have included minke whales, bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoise and rissos dolphins. Minke whales are much larger than the others though, growing up to 10m in length. You see very little of its body when it surfaces. The tip of its snout breaches first, its dorsal fin is set quite far back on its body and you don't see its tail at all. They have quite a distinctive dive sequence too. They tend to surface several times in a row then they disappear for a while.

Anyway, this is the best time of year to see them so get out there and have a look!