Saturday, 7 December 2019

Time for a nap

At this time of year most of our local grey seals are on the Farne Islands.  They go there for the females to give birth in November and for the bulls to establish a territory on the beach and recruit a harem.  Last year over 2,700 pups were born and the grey seal population was almost 10,000.

Grey seals don't breed until they are at least four years old so some of the younger adults don't trouble to go to the Farnes.  A few stay around St Mary's Island at Whitley Bay and last weekend seven were hauled out at low tide for a spot of sunbathing (in a temperature of 3℃).  In fact they usually don't haul out but swim to the rocks at high tide and stay there as the water recedes, refloating on the next high tide.  I walked over to the island (which isn't an island at low tide) to see them.  There were six females and one bull, apparently asleep most of the time.  This is the bull.

This is a female.  Colours vary greatly in "grey" seals.

This photo shows the size difference between male and female.  Bulls weigh 170-310kg while females are 100-190kg.

If they were sleeping it was a fairly fitful sleep as there was a lot of yawning, stretching and scratching going on.

Although grey seals are gregarious they aren't very sociable and like to keep a space around them.  One female got a bit close to the bull which led to a bit of snarling.

One of the females had injuries on her chest and flipper, possibly from sharp rocks or fishing gear.

Many of them had scars.

Watching them is great fun and they often seem to produce almost human gestures and expressions.

There were two more seals in the water.  One of them made an attempt to get out, trying to use the waves to heave itself up onto the rocks but after a few minutes it gave up and returned to the sea.

On the way back to the car I saw a fox, also asleep.  Foxes only live in dens or earths when the vixens are raising cubs and for the rest of the time they sleep when and where they can.  This one was sunbathing in a very sheltered spot, only occasionally opening an eye or looking up when it heard a dog bark.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Sparrowhawk news

The adult sparrowhawk has been here several times in the past week or so but most of the time the view has been like this.

We have had a lot of rain in the past few days and the wind has been from the north so my sparrowhawk window has been smeared with rain.  When it stops raining I clean the window and the view improves.

It is a strange optical illusion that when he sits with his back to me he looks much larger.

The behaviour of this mature bird is interesting compared when with the previous juveniles.  He takes very little interest in the small birds trapped in the gooseberry bushes but instead sits watching for potential prey coming in towards the feeder.  When he makes an attack he usually doesn't return but I can't tell if that means he has made a kill or has gone off to hunt elsewhere.  I haven't seen him eat a kill near the window but I have seen signs of kills in other parts of the garden.  I have also seen him fly to the perch and start wiping his beak which usually means he has just eaten.

This short video shows how he usually is on the perch.  It is interesting to watch his eyes (easier in real life than on the video) as they swivel and accommodate as he tracks the flights of potential prey.

Here he sets off on another attack.

I have seen less of the juvenile bird but there probably isn't much he can do if the older bird is here.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Otters in November

I spent an amazing hour watching the otter family earlier this week, a more exciting activity than setting the trail cameras.  They aren't often seen in daylight and I haven't been able to spend much time there recently so I feel very privileged.  The first to turn up was the mother and she soon caught a fish and took it off out of view, presumably to give to one of the pups.

Both pups were around but they weren't staying close to mum so I couldn't get all three, or even two, in one shot.  The otters stayed at the far side of the pool and were often hunting in the reeds which made getting a good view difficult.

Then mother caught another fish and again carried it out of view.

A minute or so later she was followed by one of the pups, also carrying a fish.  As the fish was uneaten I think this was one it had caught itself, rather than one it had been given by the mother.  If so, I am impressed it can catch its own fish at (we think) seven months of age.

The last we saw was a disappearing trail of bubbles.  It was a very exciting morning.

After last week's rat videos, I have also had some success using the new high tech(!) Poundland close focus adapter. Judging by the marks I think this is the mother otter although, if so, her injuries are very well healed compared with a few weeks ago.  These are frame grabs from the video, illustrating the big improvement in close focus.

This clip was the only otter video of the night with no sign of the pups, perhaps no surprise as they were no longer close behind mum when I saw them in the water.  I expect they are getting more confident and more adventurous.