And in conclusion a word from team leader Pine.
The Equipment is stored, the sea is still rough
Indeed, what a fabulous last survey day! I still can’t stop smiling thinking about it! The Countryfile film team was awesome to have on board. Director Bob Hockenhull, presenter Adam Henson, cameraman Colin Maclore and sound technician Peter Elliott were all very inquisitive, friendly and funny. It was a real pleasure!
With help from Dr. Kevin Robinson from the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit (CRRU, a small charity working on bottlenose dolphin and minke whale identification and ecology in the outer parts of the southern Moray Firth), we were able to identify a minimum of 21 dolphins, including 3 calves looking through the photographs and short videos that Alice and I had taken during our exhilarating encounter.
With great help from Jim, Davy and Bea, the equipment was cleaned, dried, catalogued and stored underneath the stairs in the volunteer house in Spey Bay where it will hopefully be dry and mouse-free until we need it for next year’s survey.
I want to thank everyone who helped to make this survey work: Davey and Iris from the Gemini Explorer for their patience, advice, friendliness and help; Alice for sorting out volunteer schedules; Bea, Jenny, Cath and David who were absolutely remarkable on the boat doing their observer job and running around in their breaks to make sure that radios and dictaphones were working or that people had enough warm clothes; Davy, Katie, Jim, Chris and Ian thrown into the deep end of mastering survey techniques in a very short time and being absolutely superb; Kevin Morgan for letting us stay in his superb cottage, Kevin Robinson for advice and use of his office facilities and the Wildlife Centre staff for all their support and friendliness!
I will now take on the task of cleaning the data to then write a smashing BBC report with all our finding!
PS: My quote of the day: Save the earth! It’s the only planet with chocolate!!!
And in conclusion a word from team leader Pine.
And just to add to the last posting - what a fabulous way to end the final WDCS outer Moray Firth survey of 2008!!!
It was a still morning when we arrived at Buckie harbour. As we headed offshore, the wind picked up a little and it became a bitterly cold, grey morning. What else would you expect in the middle of November?? It was all worthwhile, and we were all enjoying our last opportunity of the year to get out into the outer Firth and enjoy the very bracing sea air! We were fortunate enough to encounter a number of harbour porpoises, bobbing grey seals and seabirds, including juvenile gannets, guillemots, cormorants, long-tailed and eider ducks in our offshore transect block. We managed to complete two transects before we headed back to the coast to shelter from the wind, swell and increasing sea state. It was then that I saw a rolling movement in front of some rocks just off the coast of Cullen Bay. And then another, and another! Davy reduced our speed and two small groups of bottlenose dolphins came over to investigate us – I’m sure they recognise the sound of the Gemini explorer. They were interested in us but were also busy playing together.
One group was engaging in lots of ‘tumbling’ over each other and another dolphin was tail slapping in the direction of the second group. A young, light grey coloured dolphin stayed close to mum but came over close to the side of the boat. For 15 or 20 minutes we gleefully enjoyed the company of the 12-15 bottlenose dolphins, as there were dolphins blowing and jumping on the port side of the boat. A big male occasionally came past the bow of the Gemini, belly up, and others belly down showing us up close the rake marks that some of the dolphins have on their bodies. We heard them whistling from time to time as we looked down on them from the bow.
Happy, we left them to play alone and continued on our way home, filling our bellies with Pine’s warming and delicious veggie chilli as we went. We had the Countryfile film crew on board with us and the dolphins gave them a real treat. But it wasn’t just the film crew that were smiling from ear to ear when we stepped off the boat in the middle of the afternoon, we were all very cold and tired, but happy!!
Thank you to everyone who made the surveys possible this year, including the crew of the Gemini and all the WDCS staff and volunteers who did such a professional and brilliant job!
The mice living in the old 'bicycle shed' at the Wildlife centre in Spey Bay are no doubt looking forward to having some of the survey equipment stored back in their home. (For those that missed the beginning of the survey, we started by evicting ten mice from one kit bag.) And yesterday, despite deteriorating weather, the team managed to complete half a day's survey and then made a nice track inshore which took them (and the film crew they had with them) close to some bottlenose dolphins that came over to say hello.
The film crew was from the BBC TV programme Countryfile, who had come to cover the survey and the presence of the dolphins (who are never camera shy) will hopefully make some compelling TV and help support our call for their better protection.
The WDCS Science Director is now back safely in his warm and dry office (for a little while anyway) and would like to thank the BBC Wildlife Fund for funding these four surveys; Pine for stepping up to lead this latest one (which was hard work); the summer volunteers from the Spey Bay centre (David, Jenny, Cath and Bea for staying on to help conduct the survey); the new winter volunteers for also taking part; the crew of the Wildlife Centre for joining in (especially Alice for inspired logistical and training support) and otherwise hosting us; Jim for coming to join us (I'm glad you got to see your dolphins in the end); Simon for continued technical support; one Kevin for his support and encouragement and another Kevin's for providing a roof over our heads. (Sorry if I forgot anyone and I would be happy to amend this as necessary. )
What this should show is that this is a huge team effort and only works when many people pull together.
You can find the story of the August survey here (it was less cold but more wet).
And finally, here are those dolphins that showed up for the final survey day and so they could make their point for the TV cameras.
Wednesday evening – looking towards the dawn.
Survey Leader Pine has been studying the three relevant weather charts on and off all day. It is over a week since we last got out to sea and we are running out of time. However, we also don’t want to spend money (mainly boat fuel) unnecessarily. In the later part of the afternoon (when the decision has to be made for the next day) she consults remotely with Mark (who is over at the wildlife centre). He consults with Alice (who is also there). Pine consults with Alice.
Minutes pass…. still not sure.
Pine calls skipper Davy and consults with him.
Still not sure.
The three weather websites all say slightly different things one from another.
Some time passes. More consultation later in the afternoon:
The three weather websites now say slightly different things to what they said earlier (but still slightly different to each other).
Pine talks to Mark. Mark talks to Alice. Alice and Pine confer. All stare at the websites. It doesn’t help. Several other people at the wildlife centre give an opinion as they pass. Pine talks to Davy again.
A little more time passes.
Pine makes a decision. ‘We go for it she says’ and she makes a number of calls and rallies her team who have wondered off all over Scotland.
‘We start at 7am.’ She says. Some team members rush off to disinter their thermals from the depths of their kit bags and try to remember where they left their waterproofs. Other team members remain missing.
Is it a good decision? Will everyone be there? Only dawn will tell.
WDCS Moray Firth Winter Survey: Tuesday: Gull Politics.
The big climatic depression that is circling around Scotland at this time has today brought foam-tipped waves into life all the way from the shore to the horizon. However, as the depression oscillates overhead it also brings confusion. One moment the seas seem calm, next they have have been whipped back into life. Last night a trip to the shoreline at Portessie found peace and quiet. A friendly sea gently lapped at the rocks. The next morning waves are breaking with some violence. All this makes it very difficult to find a suitable ‘survey hole’ in the weather and calm seas in the increasingly lengthy nights are of course of little use to us.
The stormy seas also seem to chase even the hardy sea birds landwards. There is a large population of gulls living and lurking in Buckie harbour. Out at sea we have noticed them following fishing boats and in one instance they surrounded one vessel in a cloud that may have numbered in hundreds. They are obviously benefiting from fishing discards and perhaps thieving from the nets as they are hauled in, and they obviously know that following a fishing boat can provide an easy dinner. Most of them are herring gulls and many of these are this year’s fledglings, still in browny-grey plumage. These youngsters are now experiencing the teeth of their first winter storm. There are also some lesser black-back gulls. These are birds of impressive size and all the gulls have large sharp bills and a stern eye.
Over the rooftops of Buckie, where the winds are shaking the TV aerials and probably threatening the odd ancient chimney pot, a crowd of gulls are in dispute. One bird obviously has a particularly exciting morsel; perhaps something that it has snatched from the grounds of the nearby fish processors. An acrobatic conflict follows. The gull is harried and pounced on from above by others. But they fail to make contact. It checks and drops, and then twists and soars to new heights trying to shake off its pursuers. It is helped by strong gusts of wings which seem to facilitate the chaos of its flight.
But the other gulls are relentless. Sometimes they seem to chase in teams. Sometimes a particular assault is the initiative of one bird alone. If there really is some team work going on, and if they win the morsel, will they then share the food? Here is a key question of gull politics; are those congregations of gulls malingering in little groups in the harbour all facing into the wind or the clouds of then following fishing boats en masse, actually helping each other, or just there to look after themselves?
Eventually, the gull being chased makes a break for it, suddenly soaring down lower than the roof tops. It flies low just above the ground along a narrow twisty lane, around a shark corner and out of sight. He or she is an adult and this display of skillful flying certainly shakes off the younger gulls. Hopefully the food reward will bring more energy that the bird had to spend in defending it.
The other gulls now spread out around the town. They keep an eye on the bins, monitor the fishing boats, scavenge the shores and patrol the windswept streets of Buckie looking for those opportunities of spilt and discarded food that they need to make their living.