Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Thanks very much to our volunteers Jean and Ed who helped this morning with clearing up the car park. We raked up the fallen leaves, pulled up weeds and cut back brambles, all whilst enjoying the beautiful sunshine. Lizy

Jean and Ed tidy the car park

Monday, 12 December 2016

I brought a friend up to see the breeding seals at the weekend. We spent a good half an hour watching a pair of seals mating in the shallows, gently being wafted in and out by the waves. Soon after they had finished, another female seal started making advances on the male, swimming round him, calling and slapping her flippers on the surface of the water. Its all go! My pictures were taken from up by the car park too, but with not such a snazzy camera as Margaret's. Still, not bad though! Liza.

Mating involves the male and female being coupled for up to 45 minutes. Its usually on land, but sometimes it occurs in the shallows.

Luckily seals can hold their breath for 20 minutes or so if they need to!

Here's some great shots taken by one of our volunteers, Margaret, of some seal action on Petticowick beach. These were taken from the car park, admittedly with a zoom lens, but it gives you an idea of what can be seen from there, even just with the naked eye. Liza.

A mother and her middle-sized pup - much communication is done through smell, sound and touch.

The pup having a suckle - seal milk has 50-60% fat content. The pup will triple its weight from 15kg at birth to 45kg at weaning in just three weeks! The mother doesn't feed during the suckling period, so she can half her weight during the same time period.

Females will guard their pups fiercely from anything they see as a threat - here another female was just getting a bit too close! Mostly its just snarling, posturing and a bit of flipper waving, but it can escalate.

It's always a nice surprise at this time of year to arrive up at the clifftops and find them filled with seabirds! For the past week or so the Guillemots have been coming in from the sea to sit on the cliffs around Foul Bay in the early morning. They have always disappeared back out to sea, where they spend the majority of the winter, by lunchtime. Lizy

Thursday, 8 December 2016

A great wee film showcasing St Kilda, but with a worrying message. The good thing is, though, you can help. Definitely worth spending 15 minutes watching this. Liza.

Monday, 5 December 2016

We've had beautifully calm weather here for the last few days, and the perfectly flat sea conditions are ideal for spotting cetaceans. On Sunday a local birdwatcher spotted 24 Bottlenose Dolphins in the sea near Fast Castle, and then today we spotted a group of about 7 just off Foul Bay and the lighthouse. They were moving pretty slowly so I even managed to get a photo. The calm weather should hopefully last until the weekend so keep a look out if you're up on the cliff tops! Lizy

Bottlenose Dolphins - Tursiops truncatus

Thursday, 1 December 2016

We have had a couple of instances of people getting in contact and expressing concern about seal pups lying around in unusual places. Here's some info that might help - please feel free to share and spread the word. Liza.

Some of you may have noticed that the potholes on the road leading to the Nature Reserve car park are getting bigger and more numerous. Unfortuntaley, this is public highway, not road belonging to us, so there is nothing we can do about it apart from report it to Scottish Borders Council. We have done this, but they are working on a limited budget, and as it is an unlisted road, it is not top priority. With safety in mind, we have ringed the potholes with yellow paint, so hopefully you can spot them and avoid them. Fingers crossed that SBC manage to find some underspent money towards the end of the financial year to carry out repairs Liza.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

After another hard day's work clearing gorse above the lighthouse road we were treated to these beautiful winter skies. Lizy

Monday, 28 November 2016

After finding a few more fresh Otter spraints on the spillway of the Mire dam we decided to see if we could catch a glimpse of this elusive but regular night visitor.  Leaving the trail camera out overnight rewarded us with this fantastic video!  Lizy

Friday, 25 November 2016

Today I have been out on our land at Lumsdaine filming a piece on the grey seal breeding colony for Border TV. We were incredibly lucky with the weather; its been a beautiful, sharp, frosty day, with lots of sun and not a breath of wind - perfect for filming! And the seals didn't disappoint, it was all going on - pups suckling, pups playing, females flirting with males, mating, fighting between females and fighting between males. Fantastic! Both Emma, the presenter, and Paul, the cameraman, were suitably impressed, and I think they will have got some stunning shots. The piece was for Border Life, which will be aired sometime in January - watch this space for a date nearer the time. Here's some shots to give you a flavour of the day. Liza.

Paul gets a wide angle shot of St Abb's Head from an unusual angle

Suckling and snoozing galore...

The dark animal in the centre of the picture is a male, he will hope to mate with as many female that he can on his stretch of beach, and defend his patch if threatened by other males.

This fairly new born pup (you can tell because its still pretty skinny) spent quite a lot of time following its neighbour (who is older an fatter) round in circles and biting its back flippers. A seal version of an ankle-biter perhaps?!

All life is here! Top right, a pup that has just about moulted all is white fluffy coat. Just below it is the body of a dead, fairly newly born seal - it may have been crushed by a bull by accident, or separated from its mother in last week's storms and starved to death. At the bottom of the picture there are two healthy looking white coated pups and a snoozing female. Centre stage are a pair mating - they couple up, and lie in this embrace for up to 45 minutes.

They just about got all the shots they wanted before they lost the light - this was Emma doing the last piece to camera.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

We had a phone call from a local today, who had come across a seal pup in the grass right near the coast path at Burnmouth Harbour, at the bottom of the Wuddy slope this morning. After the weather we have had the last few day, he was, understandably, concerned about its welfare. Myself and Ed went out to check on it - it was very alert to our presence, it looked quite fat, and had no signs of injury or disease. So we have left it be, and will keep a bit of an eye on it to ...see how thing pan out over the next few days. If it doesn't move on and starts to lose weight, then we will intervene.

Seal pups have cute faces, big, puppy-dog eyes and when they cry they sound like a human baby, so the temptation is to want to rescue them. However, lying about on beaches is what seal pups do. In the first three weeks of their life, when they are being fed by their mother, they do little else by lie about a feed. And then after that, when their mother leaves them to their own devices they then moult their white, fluffy coat (as the one is the pitcure is doing) and learn how to catch food. All quite exhausting, and somewaht bamboozling no doubt, and so no surprise that it involves quite a lot of lying about on beaches too! So, if you come across a seal pup - give it a wide berth so as not to stress it out (or ending up with you getting bitten), have a good look to see if it is looking skinny, if it has any injuries (they can get knocked about a bit in stormy seas), or any substance oozing out of its eyes or nose (which might indicate disease). If any of the above, call the SSPCA on 03000 999 999. If none of the above, then the best thing is to leave it be and enjoy watching from it afar.


Thursday, 17 November 2016

Yesterday we went out to carry out a grey seal pup count on our beaches up at Lumsdaine. The vast majority of them are on Lumsdaine Shore, pictured, and in order to count them, we take a series of photos and then count them back in the office. Smaller beaches we count out on site. I have not quite finished the count for Lumsdaine Shore yet...but I've got to over 450 pups in about 2/3 of the beach! Numbers have been steadily increasing over the last decade which is good news - the number of top predators is a great indication of the health of the wider environment. Lots of top predators means that there must be plenty for them to feed on.

We are right in the middle of the pupping season which means that there are pups at the two ends of the size spectrum on the shore. In the second photo, the one just below and to the left of the centre of the photo is about 3 weeks old. You can tell the age because it is beginning to moult its white coat. You can also see that its very rotund, their mother's milk has a huge fat content so a pup triples its weight in the 3 weeks that it feeds on its mother's milk. After this 3 week period, the mother deserts the pup and goes off to mate. The pup gets no more parental care, and has to learn to fend for itself, hence it need the large reserves of body fat to survive through this learning period. That's why you get so many pups aparently abandoned on beaches at this time of year.

The pup below the portly individual is at the other end of the spectrum - only a few days old, with plenty of growing yet to do.

If you fancy a walk, why not head out to the cliffs above Lumsdaine Shore with a pair of binoculars...its an amazing sight to behold, and noisy too! But please don't attempt to go down to the beach - its pretty inaccessible, and you will disturb the seals. If you want a closer look, here's a link to some footage taken down there by Trust staff last season.


Monday, 14 November 2016

We were setting up the siphon from the Mire Loch AGAIN this morning when we noticed this interesting lump of poo on the wall of the dam spillway. The location next to water, on top of a prominent feature, as well as the tiny fish bones and scales you can see inside the dropping tell us that this is an Otter spraint. If you're into advanced poo identification then you can also try smelling it! Otter spraint has a characteristically sweet scent, slightly like a hay meadow, while the similar Mink scat has a foul and very unpleasant odour. This is the third one we've found in recent weeks, which suggests that an otter is visiting us regularly at the moment. They are mostly nocturnal in this part of the world, so pretty difficult to spot, but keep your eyes peeled and you never know your luck! Lizy

Otter spraint

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

We had an exceptionally hard day's work with our volunteers today. Together me, Bill and Ed managed to shift over a ton of stone onto the path above Starney Bay, where it was starting to get a bit muddy. Thank you Bill and Ed for a morning of back-breaking (hopefully not literally!) work.  Lizy

Improvements to path above Starney Bay

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Another big thanks to our volunteers Bill, Ed, and Ernie who came out today to help with some more gorse bashing. Because it was too windy to have a fire we have put all of the gorse we've cut into white helicopter bags temporarily, until we are ready to burn it. Pictured are Ed, myself and Ernie with the results of a hard morning's labour. Lizy

Ed, Lizy and Ernie with bags of cut gorse

Sunday, 30 October 2016

I spotted this group of Eider Ducks on the old jetty at Petticowick the other day. Although they are elegant birds on the water, and excellent at swimming underwater, they were having a bit of trouble staying upright on the slippery jetty surface.  Lizy.

Eider Ducks Somateria mollissima

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

I caught these beautiful autumn colours on the path to Starney Bay the other day, in between heavy rain showers! Keep an eye out for Waxwings which come over from Scandinavia at this time of year and love eating berries from trees like this. At least one of these beautiful pink birds has already been spotted this year at nearby Burnmouth.


Monday, 17 October 2016

We had a fantastic time with the National Trust for Scotland's Lothian Conservation Volunteer group this weekend. The mission was gorse bashing, a vital task for preserving our wonderful grasslands, and we certainly got a lot done. Unfortunately it was too wet and windy to burn anything we cut, so expect to see a bonfire regularly as we try to burn our way through the enormous amount of gorse that was cut! Thanks again to everyone who came out and gave us a hand (24 people over the whole weekend!). Lizy

Lothian CVs clearing a large area of gorse near the Mire Loch

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

This morning I was down at the Mire Loch with Lizy and our volunteers Bill and Jean. We started off by setting up a siphon to lower the water level in the Mire Loch so we can carry out some more repairs to the dam. Then Lizy, Bill and Jean then went off to do some fence mending and I went for a walk around the loch to check how everything was doing and to put together a "to do" list for our new long term volunteer, Ed, who is starting with us next week. I stepped off the path into the trees to have a quick wee just as a sparrowhawk carrying prey chose to fly through that particular bit of woodland. Talk about being in the right place at the right time, it was there and gone within a couple of seconds! No chance to get a photo, but here is one I have borrowed off the net to give you an idea. Lots of other bird activity down there too - the trees were zinging with goldrests, blackbirds galore and redwings flying over calling too. Then I had a great view of two roe deer springing away across the field as I cam to the top of the Mire Dean.  Who says there's nothing to see here outside the summer months?! Liza.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

24 hours later and you can see that the ink caps are deliquescing nicely. The one at the top left has almost entirely melted into black spore-carrying goo since yesterday morning. Lizy

Shaggy Ink Caps deliquescing nicely

Monday, 10 October 2016

If you happen to be in the reserve car park in the near future then do check out the fantastic display of Shaggy Ink Caps which are growing right beside some of the car parking spaces. They won't be around forever though - this striking fungus spreads its spores by gradually melting, or deliquescing, into a black, inky liquid, and you can see that the top left hand mushroom is already melting away.  Lizy

Shaggy Ink Cap Coprinus comatus

Thursday, 6 October 2016

There have been hundreds of Barnacle Geese flying over the reserve today, migrating south from their breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle, the first we’ve spotted this year.  If you have binoculars you’ll be able to spot that these smart birds are black and white, rather than brown like the Pink-footed Geese which are also flying south at the moment.  If you don’t have any visual aids though, you can still pick out a skein of barnacle geese as they make a very different sound.  Listen out for a short yapping sound, like small dogs barking:  Pink-footed Geese, on the other hand, make a very distinctive, high pitched “wink wink” call:  Lizy
Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis, flying over

Monday, 26 September 2016

The migrant birds continue to come through. One of our volunteers, Fran, had great view of 4 Lapland buntings up near the lighthouse yesterday along with more common sightings like wheatear. I don't have a photo of one myself, so have borrowed this one off the net to give you the gist. Liza.

Friday, 23 September 2016

So, today is the first day of autumn, being the day after the equinox. We've had a fair few migrants passing through over the last few weeks, always a sign of autumn: pied wagtails, wheatears, various warblers and tits and there have been flocks, or should I say charms, of goldfinch around too. These beautiful birds have been feasting on the thistle heads and on the knapweed in the Rangers' Office garden too. They are pretty mobile birds, but I did manage to get a wee snap of them. We've not had anything terribly unusual come through on migration, but we have had a yellow-browed warbler or two, which is nice. Liza.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

This year's State of Nature Report was published earlier this month. This link gives you a useful summary but also links to the full report and the separate ones for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Liza.,4HB87,39H4VD,GJOF6,1

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Today was a momentous day - the day of the official launch of St Abbs Independent Lifeboat - less than a year after the RNLI decided to take their lifeboat away from the village. The weather was perfect, and the village was buzzing with people who had come from near and far to see the launch. A brilliant day.  Liza.

The Thomas Tunnock leaves the cradle officially for the first time.

Showing off the vessel's capabilities to the crowd - and why not!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Yesterday I was at a training day on wildlife crime - interesting stuff., if a little difficult to stomach at times. We covered many things, including which forms of trapping are legal, and which aren't - the trap shown in the photo, a Larsen trap, is legal. Liza.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Today Lindsay Mackinlay, one of the NTS's Nature Conservation Advisors, came for a site visit. He came to discuss various things, but also, as he is trained and licenced to do so, he also checked our bat boxes whilst he was here.

Usually checking bat boxes involves finding a lot of cobwebs, some poo (of which a sample is taken and sent away for DNA analysis to ID the species), and maybe the odd birds nest, but little else. But today he found a bat roosting in one box, very exciting, and even got a photo! Lindsay identified it as a Pipistrelle but we will have to wait to see what the DNA analysis of its poo tells us before we know if it is a common or a soprano pipistrelle (the only other way to tell is by the frequency of the echolocation call). Here's a few photos. Liza.

Checking the box at the office - nothing, not even poo!
Down by the Mire Loch we were more lucky with this wee Pipistrelle in one box.
This box was empty, but there's lots of evidence of bats being in it recently - notice the grease stain in the top left of the box - this came of a bat's fur, and plenty of fresh poo at the bottom of the box.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

It's not just our human visitors who have been enjoying the fantastic sun we've been having here at St. Abb's Head. The rabbits on the slopes of Kirk Hill have been taking the opportunity to relax and do some sun-bathing too.  Lizy

European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus

Sunday, 4 September 2016

If you happen to be walking around the Mire Loch and hear an incessant, high pitched begging call coming from the water, then you've probably found our brood of Little Grebes. This is the second brood on the Mire Loch this year, with another brood of a single chick recorded earlier in the summer. Young Little Grebes are attractive beasts, striped black and white on the head with bright orange/yellow beaks. Although this is normally a small, and quiet bird which can be difficult to see, these chicks are not shy about advertising their presence, and as the adults are constantly busy collecting fish and invertebrates to feed them, they are easy to spot at this time of year.  Lizy

Little Grebe chick Tachybaptus ruficollis

Adult Little Grebe feeding chick

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The minke whales were showing well at the Head again this morning. That's a fair few mornings in a row, so if you want to see them, I suggest you get up there as this is your best chance! Look out where the birds are feeding as they are all after the same thing - fish! In fact, this morning one of the local creel fishermen was up there too catching fish (I would guess mackerel) to bait his creels with. This morning there were a whole load of seals hauled out on the rocks just below the lighthouse too, singing and snorting - also an unusual occurrence at the Head, believe it or not. Liza.

All the drainage work is now complete at Starney Bay so the area has gone back to being its usual peaceful place to be. We have put some stone on the disturbed area of path so that it doesn't get muddy when the rains come. We have also cordoned of the disturbed area near the cliff edge to let it settle and maybe green over a wee bit before autumn hits. Thanks for bearing with us, let's hope its solved the issue. Liza.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

This evening we started some essential repair work on the coast path above Starney Bay (the first bay along from St Abbs village). Over the last couple of years were have had a series of small landslips that have been nibbling away at our land and threatening the coast path. This has been of great concern to us and we have been having many discussions behind the scenes with engineers, rope access contractors, footpath experts, drainage experts and our neighbours at Northfield Farm. Today, at last, we have been able to start work to try and solve this issue and safeguard the coast path.

What we are doing is installing new, deep, drains in Northfield Farm's field to pick up the old land drains that don't seem to be able to be up to the job any more, and take the water underneath the coast path and off the cliff. We didn't want to have to close the path as its so popular, so we decided to do the work in the evening when less people use it. Our plan worked, we only had to down tools once to escort people through, and by 8pm we had the stretch under the coast path laid and backfilled. Work will carry on in the field for the next day or so, which means there will be a bit of noise, but the path is free for you to use again.

We have cordoned off the area nearest the cliff edge, just to give the ground time to settle and with the hope that we might have time for it to grass up a little before the autumn. Which leads to a question I bet is on many people's lips - why do the work in August, one of the busiest times of year? The answer is simple - we had to wait until the field was harvested - not a time we would have chosen I assure you.

I really hope that this has solved the issue. We will keep a close eye on things over the winter, and if we have no further landslips, we will be able to open up the path down to Starney Beach again (we have had to close it as it passes directly beneath the area of landslips). Fingers crossed! Liza.