Ten small stowaways.
The WDCS autumn survey of the outer
The team went on Sunday to the Wildlife Centre in
As the team retrieved the kit bags from the old stables behind the wildlife centre, we became aware that we were not entirely alone. First one mouse, then another and then a third jumped out from the bag, which contained various essential pieces of equipment, including our binoculars and distance sticks. From the excited scrabbling in the bag, there were more mice yet to come. Regrettably they had obviously made their homes inside a couple of the cloth binocular cases and, being famously incontinent, the mice had left their strong acrid odour behind.
Seven mice remained scurrying around inside the bag when all the equipment had been lifted out. They were liberated into the local nature reserve.
However, this was not quite the end of the mouse saga (and indeed the smell may stay with us for some time) because various food stuffs had also been stored in the old stables and the mice, perhaps not surprisingly, had found their way into some of them. These of course were discarded (and we noted that they seemed to like some breakfast cereals more than others) but the small rodents had also left their mark on the sealed cans and jars. A sticky mixture of mouse urine, droppings, grains and cereals had adhered to many surfaces. Out came a bucket, cloth and some hot soapy water and the food stuffs were slowly cleansed. This is not quite the glamorous start that we expected to the survey. (We will obviously be more careful with our storage in the future.)
(strong>Towards the snowy mountains.
By 6.45 am Monday, de-moused equipment (this is a technical term) and crew were lined up in the dock in Buckie harbour ready to board the Gemini Explorer, our survey vessel for the next two or so weeks. Our crew is a mixture of WDCS staff and volunteers, including the resident volunteers who have been based at the Wildlife Centre through the summer season and two new volunteers who have now moved there for the winter.
Most of the equipment was already lashed in place but there were the frenetic last minute fumblings with the two data-logger computers to try to make them ‘talk’ to the hydrophone and the GPS. As the Gemini edged daintily from the harbour, various combinations of leads were being tried and buttons being pushed with increasing vigour. The old IT recommendation of turning things off was also deployed. Eventually, before we reached the start of our first transect leg, everything was up and running and the long blue hydrophone cable was running out behind us.
A surprisingly flat sea and sunny conditions appeared with sunrise and, so we headed out towards the deep waters in the middle of the Firth spotting birds and searching for cetaceans along our predetermined lines as we went. The weather forecast (doubly surprisingly because of the severe weather conditions last week) promised light wind and only a small threat of rain.
However, out close to the Beatrice oil field, the Gemini started to sway increasingly enthusiastically from side to side and white peaks appeared on many waves. A ‘sea-state’ three appeared as if by magic. Bad magic! Little change of spotting animals in these conditions; so, reluctantly, we turned back towards shore. Out in these choppy waters was a surprising density of seabirds: gannets including many juveniles (‘chocolate gannets’) in their brown or brown and white immature plumage; herring gulls; guillemots, razor-bills and puffins. (So if you are wondering where these famous little black and white birds with the multi-coloured bills go in the winter, we can tell you that the puffins are presently out on the high seas, but without the festively coloured bills at this of year.) An hour (and some sea-sickness) later, the seas started to calm and a couple of porpoises showed up. (In total 5 were seen during the day.)
By the time we got back to Buckie, the seas were flat, the air was surprisingly warm and the team was starting to peel off some of the multiple layers it had donned to keep warm.
A five hour day at sea was a very reasonable start to the WDCS autumn/winter survey and tomorrow the forecast is again good, so we expect more of the same.Jenny celebrating the hydrophones Cath in data logger mode.