Wednesday, 26 January 2011


And Aconites too...need I say more?

Footpath Update

Well, those of you who are regulars to the property will already have experienced the fruits of the footpath contractors' labours. They have finished their 2 week stint at the seaside now and have gone back into to them there hills. But what a difference they have made. The three areas they worked on: the Wuddy Slope; up above Clafferts Rock and the footpath descending from behind the lighthouse to the disabled parking area; are all now a pleasure to walk on. I think the area at the lighthouse is probably the section that I am most pleased with. You really had to be part mountain goat to navigate that area happily before the work was done, but now Gus and his team have worked their magic I don't think anyone will have a problem with it (see picture top right). And come the spring, when the vegetation starts growing again, then the new turfs will start to grow into place and all the old scars will heal over.

And there is more news on the footpath front too. The Trust has an in-house footpath team, who work mostly in Glencoe, on Ben Lawers and Goatfell on Arran. They have a week to spare in late February and so they will be coming to do some work at St Abbs too. They will be concentrating on the area above Starney Bay where the path is in need of some surfacing and drainage. If they have time, I will ask them to do a bit of owrk around the Mire Loch area too.
All this work has been possible through funding from Scottish Natural Heritage.

Friday, 21 January 2011

A priviledged view

I was meeting with a man from the Northern Lighthouse Board (who maintain the lighthouses in Scotland) today, and I'm pleased to say that I had the forethought to ask him to bring the keys for the lantern house along so that I could have a look inside. I must admit I do have a thing for lighthouses, but it is very important to know everything you can about the one that is slap bang in the middle of the reserve I think!

It was a great day for it, the sun was shining, lighting up the huge lenses with rainbows! Hard to catch the beauty in a photo, but I did rather like the shot above which also shows a reflection of a mysterious lady in black - not a ghost, but the owner of the cottages who is over from the states at the mo!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Christmas outing to Edinburgh Botanical Gardens

We had our Christmas party yesterday - me, Georgia and our four regular volunteers. A little postponed due to the snow in December, but I think more enjoyable for being in January when everything seems to be a little bit dull post festivities. Rather than just going out for a meal, we always go on an expedition to a place of interest, and this year we decided to go to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh. The weather was kind, so we had a good walk around outside loitering in the arboretum and alpine areas for the longest. Then we had a delicious meal in the restaurant in the new John Hope Gateway Centre, a quick wander around the glasshouses before back to the Gateway for a quick peek at the art exhibitions and then heading for home.

All in all a great way to say thank you to our vollies for all their hard work during the year!

Picture left to right: Sue, Dave, Georgia, John, Ernie, Liza.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Modern Technology helps throw light on Seabird ecology

Love it or hate it electronic technology is an every day part of our lives, and however cynical you may be as to the need for gadgets to become smaller and smaller, there is no doubt that they have their uses. For example, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have been making use of tiny technology to find out more about the ecology of seabirds. Last week they published the following info on their website:

One of Britain's best known seabirds winters on opposite sides of the Atlantic depending on whether its breeding attempt has been successful according to new research published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The findings highlight previously unsuspected links between summer breeding performance and wintering distributions of kittiwakes.

The research team was led by Dr Maria Bogdanova from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) in conjunction with colleagues from CEH and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
The discovery of such patterns of segregated winter distributions is important for defining key wintering areas in declining species such as the kittiwake that are experiencing poor breeding seasons with increasing regularity.

The results show kittiwakes that experienced breeding failure left their colony earlier than successful breeders. Failed breeders then travelled over 3000km and wintered off Canada while their successful neighbours remained close to Britain. The two groups did not differ in the timing of return to the colony the following spring. However, over half the males from both groups made a previously undescribed long-distance journey out into the central Atlantic before the breeding season.

Lead author Dr Maria Bogdanova, an animal population ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, “Our results demonstrate important but previously poorly understood links between breeding performance and winter distribution, with significant implications for populations. It is fascinating that successful and unsuccessful pairs nesting only a few metres apart in the colony can be separated by thousands of kilometres in the winter.”

This study used a tiny instrument (1.4g) known as a geolocator for tracking animal migration. During the 2007 breeding season, the team fitted 80 kittiwakes on the Isle of May NNR off the east coast of Scotland, with geolocators.

Geolocators were developed by BAS and have so far been used on animals such as geese, albatrosses, penguins and seals. They make regular recordings of light intensity, data which can be used to generate two geographical positions per day.

Co-author Francis Daunt, a seabird ecologist also from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said, “Kittiwakes have declined substantially in the last 25 years over much of their range. Conservation efforts to protect wintering grounds should consider that winter distributions may be shifting as breeding failure is becoming more common.”

Maria and Francis visited St Abb's Head last summer to look at how possible it would be to catch kittiwakes and guillemots for radio tracking, work linked to studying the effects of offshore wind farms on seabird ecology.

The CEH website contains lots of interesting information, why not check it out at Picture top left, a colour ringed kittiwake on the Isle of May (colour rings make it possible to recognise individual birds)

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Seabird Summary 2010

At last I have had time to draw together the results of all our hard work last summer monitoring the seabird population at St Abbs. Here is a summary:

Fulmar (picture left) A whole colony count of 175 Apparently Occupied Sites (AOS = a site with a bird sitting tightly on a reasonably horizontal area judged large enough to hold an egg). This is a decrease of 10% on last year (194 AOS) but similar to this and all the counts since 2004, but these counts are all below the 26-year mean (270 AOS).

Shag (picture right) A whole colony count of 157 Apparently Occupied Nests (AON = a well built nest capable of holding eggs with at least one bird in attendance). This is an increase of 14% on last year (138 AON) but similar to this and to all the counts since 2005, but these are all below the 26-year mean (256 AON). Although breeding success was not as good as last year it was exactly on the 21-year mean of 1.19 young fledged per active nest.

Herring Gull (picture left) A whole colony count of 296 AON was an increase of 64% on last year (180 AON). Some of this increase could be due to the count being carried out very early in the season, but the count was not dissimilar to those carried out over the last few years and is below the 26-year mean of 362 AON.

Kittiwake (picture right) A whole colony count of 4,744 AON was an increase of 3% on last year (4,616 AON) but less than half the 26-year mean of 11,102 AON. Although the breeding population has decreased by nearly three-quarters since 1989, the counts for the last couple of years are about the same as those from the 1950s. The breeding success of 0.48 young fledged per active nest is down on last year but a significant increase on the previous 3 years. However, still below the 24-year mean of 0.62.

Guillemot (picture left) Whole colony counts not carried out annually due to the large numbers involved, however a series of counts are made at fixed monitoring plots during the first three weeks of June and a figure for the sum of the plot means is calculated and compared with previous years. This year showed a decrease of 24% on last year but was similar to the two previous years but below the 26-year average.

Razorbill (picture right) Similar to guillemots whole colony counts not carried out annually, but counts made at fixed monitoring plots. A similar decrease to the guillemots, with numbers being 23% down on last year and below the 26-year average.

Puffin (picture left) The maximum number of birds ashore on an evening in late June are counted, this year there were just 9 which was slightly less than the last year (11) but in the same sort of region as the last 3 years.
So, all in all not really a very remarkable year, except that all the species are follwing a general downward trend from the glory years seen in the late 1980s and early 90s.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Footpath Update

Work on the Wuddy Steps is progressing pretty well (picture left). They have one problem though - the ground is very frozen, just what they came down from the mountains to avoid! This makes is difficult when trying to utilise topsoil to surface the path as it will not pack down as tight as usual. Plus, it means that the turfs that are used to help the works blend into the landscape are not packing down very well either. I have told the contractors that it is not usual for us here at the seaside, but that doesn't help them much!

Nevertheless, they are still hoping to finish the Wuddy Slope section by the middle of next week and move on up to the lighthouse from there. The guys tell me that they are getting a few regulars passing by each day, but were bemoaning that no-one had brought them any cakes. So, if you are a keen baker and fancy a walk, you know where to go!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

First Footing?

We are starting the New Year with getting some footpath repairs done on the worst areas on the coast path. Work started at the Wuddy Steps yesterday with the four man team, led by Angus Turner, spending the whole day transporting a stockpile of suitable stones up from the beach at Burnmouth Harbour - no mean feat when you see the size of the stones that they are using (picture right - double click on the image and you can enlarge it)!

Those of you who are regulars on the property will know the Wuddy Steps well as they are so eroded that they seem to have been designed for use by giants! Consequently, they are so uncomfortable to use that most people don't bother, they pick their own route, which has resulted in the path getting very braided ie lots of different paths being formed. This is not only a bit of an eyesore, but also causes damage to our wildflower-rich grasslands.

We are using a technique called pitching, which is not quite cobbling, and not quite steps but where stone is dug into the ground to form an and easy to walk on yet erosion resistant surface. This technique is usually used for upland footpaths, and is very specialised work, so we have engaged Angus and his team, who are specialist upland footpath contractors to carry it out. We are also re -routing the path very slightly to take some of the gradient out of it. The lady in red in the picture to the left is demonstrating very nicely where the path should (and will) be!
Obviously, there will be a bit of a disruption to access to this area of the coast path whislt they are working, but you will be able to get past them, and feel free to ask questions, they will be happy to answer you. They will only be working on this area for about a week, then they will move up to do a couple of areas near the lighthouse. I will keep you posted on their progress.