Monday, 31 July 2017

Happy #WorldRangerDay everybody.  Today is the day when we celebrate the vital work that Rangers across the world do to protect the environment, and commemorate Rangers killed or injured in the line of duty.  Here at St Abb’s Head we do a lot of important work protecting valuable habitats, and the wildlife that lives here.  From removing invasive species from our flower-rich grasslands, to counting the various bird and butterflies that make this place their home, to talking to the public to spread knowledge of how they can enjoy and protect the world around them, we are always busy working to preserve the places we love.

Seabird Monitoring

Attending public events

Controlling Gorse

Saturday, 29 July 2017

We had a lovely afternoon at St Abbs Lifeboat Gala today - Zander and I were joined by Jack, Ernie and Jean who helped us man our stall. It was a tad breezy, but the sun shone most of the day, so we were not complaining. If you missed us today, why not come and see us at Coldingham Gala tomorrow! Liza.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Last week St Abbs was a venue for the Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail, with a band playing in The Old Smiddy Coffee Shop next door to our Nature Centre. The Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail is a professional development opportunity for outstanding young musicians who are considering a performance career in music. After being selected through an audition process, the young musicians are taken on tour across Scotland for four weeks through the summer. Part of the tour involves visiting National Nature Reserves, so that is why they came to St Abbs.

Here's couple of shots taken by one of our volunteers, Margaret Renstead, who also works in the coffee shop. And here's a link to the Feis Rois website in case you want to catch them elsehwere on their Trail…


Monday, 24 July 2017

Last week Rangers from various different locations all over West, Mid and East Lothian and the Scottish Borders came to visit St Abb's Head. About three times a year representatives from the Scottish Countryside Rangers Association (SCRA) organise a site visit somewhere in the region, and this time it was our turn. These meets are a brilliant way to network, share good (and bad) practice and find out what other rangers are up to. I'm pleased to say the weather was stunning, so they could see the reserve at its best. It made sitting on the bantry at Eyemouth eating fish and chips and ice cream a very pleasureable way to end the day!. Liza.

Our team here at St Abb's Head had a nice start to last week when we had a day of vegetation training with ecologist Lindsay Mackinlay. Volunteers Zander, Margaret, Jack and Jean came along for a whole day of learning how to identify some of the flowers and grasses growing on the reserve. It was a very educational day, but also fun for everyone involved, and we all had a great time wandering around in the flower rich grassland in the sunshine. Thanks to everyone who came along and made the day so enjoyable. Lizy

Saturday, 22 July 2017

If you're planning on visiting Eyemouth tomorrow to enjoy the Herring Queen festivities, then you can come and visit us in the Eyemouth Hippodrome, from 10am - 4pm. We'll have some tables with lots of information, activities for children, and lovely, helpful people to answer any questions you might have about the reserve or our wildlife. Hope to see you there! Lizy

Our table at the St Abb's Science Day 2016

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sad news - I went to check on the progress of the gannet chick yesterday, and the nest was deserted - no adult and no chick to be seen. Who knows what caused it to fail - I suspect it was possibly a first time breeder as it started very late in the season. I have no doubt that they will try again next year, and possibly earlier in the season. Only time will tell. Liza.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

It was a good day on the butterfly transect today here at St Abb's Head. Species spotted included Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Copper, Small Skipper, Common Blue, Grayling, Northern Brown Argus, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Dark Green Fritillary (pictured). We carry out our butterfly transect once a week, and it takes over 2 hours to complete on a sunny day when there are lots of butterflies! We have been monitoring the butterflies here for over 30 years and this kind of data is vital for scientists to learn more about the long term trends for butterfly populations. If you'd like to contribute to butterfly conservation then don't worry, you don't need to spend two hours a week for 30 years! The Big Butterfly Count is taking place from the 14th of July to the 6th of August, and they're asking you to spend just 15 minutes sitting somewhere such as a garden or a park and recording any butterflies you spot.  Head over to to find out more. Lizy

Dark Green Fritillary Argynnis aglaja

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Have you noticed anything different about the lighthouse in the last week or so? I received a call yesterday from a guy from the the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB), who rang to to chat about parking arrnagements for maintenance contractors that will be coming up to work at the lighthouse next week.
Just in passing he mentioned that some contractors had be up there recently to shroud the lantern and replace it with small LED unit. The big old lantern, still sitting in a b...ath of mercury, has too many working parts to maintain it seems, and it is cheaper and more reliable to have an LED that flashes on and off. So the constantly turning lantern has been brought to a stop, and curtains have been placed around it so that it does not cause a fire by concentrating the sun's rays in one fixed spot on the headland.

I was amazed that I hadn't noticed any change, and a little bit saddened to think that we wouldn't be able to see those beautiful lenses constantly turning any more. I was also surprised that the shrouding hadn't been done with a little more ceremony. In my mind its a pretty notable event in the lighthouse's history, but I guess its more of a day to day operational change for the NLB. But there we are - its done.

Here are a couple of pictures I took today of the shrouded lantern with the new LED unit in front of it. Also picture I took of the lantern in the gloaming a couple of weeks back, and some pics I took a few years ago, when I was lucky enough to get inside the lantern room and see those magnificent lenses close up. Liza.

Friday, 14 July 2017

When I shared the news of our first ever gannet chick folk at seabird colonies from Blackeney Point to Troup Head via the East Coast Seabird Network, I got the following interesting information from the folk at Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire.

The gannet colony there continues to expand. Where gannets and guillemots intereact, the gannets win battles for space for nest sites causing the loss of guillemot eggs and chicks. There have been one or two occasions where gannets have b...een seen to stand over or apparently brood guillemot chicks (as in the picture) but these chicks do not survive. However, news hot off the press, this year's counts show that the numbers of guillemots are also increasing. So it seems, if there are enough alternative nesting areas for the guillemots in the area, they move into them.

As you may know, numbers of kittiwakes at St Abb's Head have decreased by 85% over the last 25 years or so. Whilst this is a tragedy in itself, and although kittiwakes and guillemots do utilise different areas of cliff, it does mean that there may be some areas where kittiwakes used to nest that can be colonised by guillemots ousted by gannets. Only time will tell, however. We most certainly live in interesting times! Liza.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

We have some amazing news  - the first ever gannet chick to hatch out at St Abb's Head was spotted by Zander, our Assitant Ranger, the other day.

Up until last spring there had only been three occasions in the last 30 years or so when gannets had been seen settling down on the cliffs at St Abb’s Head.  In late May 2016, a number of birds started prospecting one of the large seabird stacks (Foul Carr) with a few settling onto the stack and pairing up, looking like they were getting ready to breed.  One pair even brought in nesting material which, but nothing came of it.

This year, the prospecting birds came earlier and in larger numbers, with around 70 gannets scouting out the same stack, and with many pairs settling on the stack and performing courtship displays.  However, as with last year, after a short flurry of activity most of the birds left, leaving just three pairs of birds which have been sitting tight since then.

The sighting of an egg, at the beginning of June, was a first in itself, and we have been watching and waiting with baited breath to see if anything would come of it.

It was such a momentous record that when Zander spotted it he called me and I went up to verify the sighting.  Gannet chicks are naked when they hatch, so the adults sit pretty tight on them to keep them warm until they develop insulating down.  So it was a nail biting hour and half, a during which we were only getting the briefest of glimpses of something in the nest, before I was able to get a good enough view to confirm that it was definitely a chick and Zander wasn’t just seeing things!  Its also been tricky getting a photo of the small chick - but Zander did manage to snatch this shot when the adult stood up to stretch.  No doubt we will get more once the chick gets a bit bigger and grows down.

With Bass Rock, the world’s largest breeding colony of gannets just a few miles up the coast, full to capacity, it was only a matter of time before gannets started checking out the cliffs at St Abb’s Head for suitable nest sites.  Gannets are stunning birds to behold and there has been a palpable air of excitement surrounding their presence here at St Abb’s Head over the last couple of years.  However, we do have slightly mixed feelings about them taking up residence at St Abb's Head.  Over the last 20 years seabird numbers at St Abb’s Head have declined from 80,000 to just under 45,000 birds, reflecting UK wide declines.  The only species that have maintained their numbers have been guillemots and razorbills.  The stack on which the gannets have chosen to breed is a favoured breeding area for guillemots, so I fear that as gannet numbers increase, as they are bound to, the guillemots will be pushed out.  This feels very much like a pivotal moment for the seabird colony at St Abb’s Head, and only time will tell what will happen in the years to come.


Monday, 10 July 2017

Thanks very much to the National Trust for Scotland's Lothian conservation volunteer group who came out on Saturday to help us control creeping thistle on the reserve. In the morning we went up onto Kirk Hill to cut down some of the thistles growing around one of our most important archaeological sites; St Aebba's Kirk, and in the afternoon we cleared the headland above the lighthouse road. It was very heartening to see the difference between the two sites. The thistles on top of Kirk Hill were large and very numerous, as they have not been controlled for many years, whereas the thistles on the headland were much smaller and less dense, having been controlled every year for several years. This is much better for the valuable plant species which would otherwise be crowded out by the thistles. Thanks again to everyone who came along and helped out, your enthusiasm and hard work is much appreciated!  Lizy

Thistle whacking on top of Kirk Hill

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

I came across a linnet having a bath in a wee burn today. It was there for quite some time splashing about, long enough for me to enable me to take this shot, I'm pleased to say. They are very smart wee birds that you might see, but more likely hear, twittering around the grasslands of the reserve, especially in amongst the gorse around the Mire Loch. They have a lovely song, which is what made them popular cage birds in the past. Liza.