Thursday, 29 June 2017

We had a great day yesterday on our annual ragwort pulling session on Kirk Hill. Volunteers Jean and Ernie helped us pull 18 sacks of ragwort from the exclosure. This might sound like a lot, but it used to take several mornings of work, and several enormous helicopter bags to get the whole area cleared, so it looks like our persistence over many years is paying off! Lizy

Jean and Ernie pulling ragwort

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.