Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Flower Power

Last week myself and Elaine went up to Dunblane to attend the Trust's annual Wildlfower ID course. This is an in house course organised by Lindsay Mackinlay from our Nature Conservation to help Countryside staff hone their botanical ID skills. Lindsay also brought in 3 experts from the BSBI (Botanical Society for the British Isles) to help advise us on some of the trickier areas of ID.

The weather on the first day was kind, and, as you can see in the picture above, we rather took over the local park, hogging the benches and generally behaving in a peculiar way - reading out passages out of ID books in a strange botanical language and peering closely at things with handlenses. We were concentrating on being able to identify all the parts of a flower and use an ID key on common plants, and you could almost hear the locals mumbling "well I can tell the that's a buttercup without looking in a book" as they passed us by!

Day two was less kind - it was tipping it down! So we ventured out, picked some plants, and brought them back in the dry to ID. Then, in the afternoon we headed into Dollar Glen to ID some species in the fantastic woodland there. Unfortunately, Elaine and I had to head back to St Abbs at this stage as we had commitments here, but, as usual, we came away inspired, enlightened and having had a chance to explore another one of the Trust's amazing properties.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Butterfly season at St. Abb's is finally underway. Today, for the first time since the beginning of May, I was able to complete a butterfly transect in full sunshine without having to dodge between clouds and rain showers (and thunder storms!). As part of my monitoring duties I must complete one butterfly transect per week and submit the complete dataset to Butterfly Conservation at the end of the season. They compile nation-wide statistics each year to determine the health of our butterfly populations and to inform environmental policy.

What sounds like the best job in the world has left me despairing over the last month or so. Because our work forms part of a nationwide survey, we can only monitor on particular days where there is over 60% sunshine and no wind or rain so that our data is comparable with data from around the country and with previous years. There have been days that have started out beautifully sunny but by the time I've walked to the starting point of the survey, black menacing clouds have appeared from nowhere and I've had to turn around and head straight back to the office! So today was a real pleasure. It was a perfect day weather wise and butterfly wise...8 species and 75 individuals. Dark Green Fritillary, Ringlet and Grayling appeared on a transect for the first time this season. I want to say a big THANK YOU to all the visitors who have been telling me about their butterfly sightings around the reserve. It has been so helpful to be forewarned before I have to do an official transect so I have time to gen up on the different species.

Friday, 24 June 2011

3 become 4 at St Abbs!

Summer is a busy time of year at the Marine Reserve, so each year the Marine Reserve takes on a Voluntary Marine Ranger to assist over the busy summer months. This year’s recruit is recent Marine Biology graduate, Lorna Hall from Sunderland.

Lorna will be joining the St Abbs Ranger team to assist Marine Ranger, Georgia Conolly in the management of the Voluntary Marine Reserve and also Liza and Elaine in management of the National Nature Reserve. Whilst she is helping to lighten the heavy summer workload she will also be getting on-the-job training and gaining valuable experience in managing a Marine Nature Reserve.

Lorna is a keen scuba diver and her favourite dive site is Cathedral Rock. Here is a photo of Lorna so you know who to look out for over the summer months.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


Sorry to double up on topics folks but I had to add my personal experience of the Guillemot jumplings. I had never witnessed this astounding wildlife spectacle before and it absolutely lived up to expectations.

Last Tuesday evening (14th) I spent an emotional two hours watching many gorgeous, cute and fluffy chicks fling themselves off the top of Foul Carr (one of the large stacks in Foul Bay, near the Lighthouse). First of all they had to fight their way through many hundreds and thousands of grumpy and snappy adult birds to get to the edge of the colony. Then they had to take quite a leap of faith, and literally hurl themselves off the edge of the stack from a height of anywhere between 100 and 300 odd feet! The ones who were lucky enough to survive that fall then had to negotiate between the greedy gulls, who were patrolling the bottom of the stacks in a very menacing fashion.

I witnessed all manner of journeys. Some chicks were beautifully accompanied by their father, who would stay on the lower side of the chick as they made their way to the edge, so that when the chick lost its balance, the father was able to shield it from falling over the edge before it was ready. When the chick finally found the edge and looked ready to jump, the father would fly down to the sea and call to the chick to encourage it. Some chicks completed amazing swan dives to make a text book landing in the water. Other chicks weren't quite so graceful and tumbled head over heels the entire way over the face of the stack, to land in the water dazed and confused.

What a terrifying rite of passage these very young birds have to go through.
Although watching this spectacle is fairly traumatic (not as traumatic as for the birds!), it is really breathtaking and worth making the effort for. Hopefully there will be lots more action over the next few evenings.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

New toys!

I have been out testing out a new toy...I mean, piece of equipment... that I bought with a donation we received from the Edinburgh Members' Centre - a digiscoping kit. This is basically a telescope (which we needed anyway for our seabird monitoring), a compact digital camera (which is always handy) and the wherewithall for attaching the two together so that we can take pictures down the scope. A little overcast, which was not brilliant as the more you magnify, the more light you need but I think the results were pretty good too for a first outing (see above).

Also, when we took our small inflatable boat onto the water the other day we discovered that the transom (the board at the back that the outboard attaches to) was rotten and bowing under the strain of the weight of the outboard. However, we have been kindly offered a small (3.6m) RIB on permanent loan, the opnly problem is that we do not have a trailer or an outboard. So this is a request to see if there is anyone out there who has a suitable trailer and/or outboard (min 15hp, max 25 hp 2 stroke) that we can borrow. If so, maybe you cou;d let us know as soon as possible as we would like to get out and finish counting our seabirds from the sea!


Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The joint is jumping!

So, I was out last night and there were a few guillemot chicks jumping so that's the beginning of the end of this year's seabird breeding season. If you want to experience the jumping then I would suggest coming and checking it out in the next few days at dusk.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Chalk and cheese...

Well, I am oft heard to say that two days are never the same in the life of a Ranger...well the last two days have definitely been a prime example of how different two days can be.

Yesterday myself and Elaine went down to the Farne Islands for a their Management Committee Meeting which included a trip over to the islands to see the seabirds. Always good to share experiences with our colleagues from the National Trust south of the Border, on our neighbouring seabird colony. The sea was calm, the sky (mostly) blue, and the seabird experience just about as great as it can be on the Farnes with all the birds madly feeding chicks. It was interesting to see that they have had an early breeding season too, they are about a week ahead of us even, and so there were quite a lot of guillemot jumplings on the sea (picture left). They are called jumplings because they jump from the land down to the sea when they are only three quarters grown, and have not fledged out of their downy feathers to their true flight feathers yet, and so are not able to fly. Now being a jumpling on the Farnes is not quite such a perilous thing as at St Abbs because they do not have the towering cliffs that we have, but it still pulls on the heart strings somewhat to see these wee birds taking to the open sea (albeit with their parents to escort them) at such a tender age.

Now segue to St Abbs today: a steely grey sea, dotted with white caps, rain being driven horizontal by a brisk wind and a pair of stalwart Rangers (yes, the same two as yesterday) trying to show a group of overseas students from the various Edinburgh universities the glories of St Abbs in June. We did manage to get the telescopes set up at the top of the cliffs, and hold them still enough to allow some of the braver members of the group to see the seabirds before the lenses of the scopes got completely drenched and they ended up getting a view more like the picture to the right. Oh well, you couldn't ever say that being a Ranger is boring!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Messing about in boats...

So, the forecast was good for getting the boat in the water today, the boat is only small so the sea has to be a veritable millpond, and that was how it was this morning. However, the tide also needs to be relatively high to make it easier to launch the boat from the shore (ie not slipping on seaweed covered rocks), but also makes it better for getting into a couple of the caves where shags nest. And today it was not high water until 15.40, so we took the boat onto the Mire Loch to have a test run, checking everything was working OK and letting Elaine get used to steering an outboard with a tiller (see picture). And the plan was to take the boat out onto the sea this afternoon to monitoring the seabirds in blind spots that we couldn't see from the cliffs. However, the wind had got up just enough to make it that little bit too choppy for our wee zodiac so we had to abort. We did have a consolation prize of seeing 9 puffins and a big group of gannets plunge diving in amongst the whitecaps at the launch site though. He hey, Monday looks like the next possible window in the weather, so fingers crossed.