Monday, 20 April 2015

Bass Rock Satisfies Greed for Gannets

19th April.  I might not have arisen from bed quite so cheerfully of a Sunday morning had I realised what weather conditions awaited us at Aberlady.  Sam and I were joining the Natural History Society trip to Aberlady and Bass Rock.  The early morning dullness of Newcastle soon changed to worse than that as we travelled northwards towards the border.  It wasn’t long before we were being driven through heavy rain with only the odd spell of brightness to suggest better to come.  Better hadn’t come as we left the coach at Aberlady for a three mile walk around the bay.  My immediate thought as I stood blown and wet was that I wish I had brought my gloves.

We’d seen Common Buzzards and Brown Hare on the journey and we were soon watching more.  Kestrel and Sparrowhawk were also seen during the walk, which incidentally was I’m sure more than three miles.  Waders were seen in surprisingly small numbers and there was no sign of the recently reported Curlew Sandpiper.  Ruff was seen, but not by me.  I must have had my mind on my quickly soaked coat and cold hands.  Little Egret had been seen in the channels almost as soon as we had left the coach.  This type of habitat seems so often to have Little Egret present these days.  Numbers of Shelduck were showing and as we crossed the footbridge the likes of Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew were showing.  Our walk was accompanied by song from Skylarks and the occasional calling of Meadow Pipits and both these species were seen in a group with Linnet.  Our main target was Velvet Scoter and although quite far out on the water numbers of this species were seen along with Common Scoter.  Numbers of Velvet Scoter were seen in flight as well as on the water thus giving clear views of the differences in species.  Well, clear views if you had access to a telescope which we had.  I think a few participants were struggling to pick out the differences, but seemed to enjoy the walk anyway, despite the dampness.  Eider Duck and Red-breasted Merganser was also seen as well as passing Cormorants showing the white breeding patch.  I saw only one tern and that was a Sandwich Tern.  Roe Deer had also been seen early on the walk.

A lone Puffin
As I have suggested the walk appeared to be longer than three miles and it wasn’t especially easy going in dunes and along sands going at quite a pace and carrying a telescope.  I’m grateful that Sam did more of his share of the carrying.  We needed to keep to time as we had a boat to catch in North Berwick after lunch. I thought we might be in for a rather damp boat trip, but thankfully the skies cleared and the sun shone for this, the main part of the day.  I can’t recall the number of times I’ve looked at Bass Rock from the mainland, including from height at Vane Farm RSPB Reserve, and on crossing to the Isle of May, but I’ve never approached Bass Rock by boat.  Although always aware of the numbers of Gannet on the rock I have never known much about the history, so was to learn a little of it today.  Incidentally there are about 150,000 Gannets on the rock.

One of the 150,000 Gannets
The boat visited the smaller rock at Craigleith before taking us up close to Bass Rock.  I love open spaces and being out on the water is always an exciting experience for me.  Take away the birds and I would still enjoy it, but with the birds it is something special indeed.  The Gannets of course were the star attraction.  I’d forgotten that the scientific name for Gannet Morus bassanus refers to Bass Rock.  Great to have the spectacle of thousands of Gannets close up on Bass Rock, but equally spectacular where the birds flying overhead.  It brought back memories of previous trips to Gannet colonies at Ailsa Craig, Shetland and Bempton Cliffs, all of them with there own special attraction.

Gannets and Guillemots
Of course there were other seabirds to be seen including Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Shag, Cormorant, Fulmar, Eider, Kittiwake, and other gull species.  This was definitely a day for Gannets however.  Grey Seal was also seen.  I would have gone on this trip today for the boat trip to Bass Rock alone.

Lighthouse designed by the cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson

Part of the fortifications


  Once Back at North Berwick we just had time to pick up a couple of cans of Coca Cola and note the prices of some of the good in the visitor centre, and then we were back on the coach for our return journey to Newcastle.  Despite the wet start it had been an excellent day with a very friendly group of participants. Sam has developed a pattern of been hit by bird crap and today was no exception.  As I said to him, ‘you’re bound to be a very lucky guy’.


  1. Nice pics. The weather must have picked up well, as it looked like a very good day for birding.

  2. A really nice afternoon boat trip under clear skies and on a sea with just enough swell to make it interesting was in stark contrast to a wet, cold and breezy morning, although thankfully the rain stopped after the first third of the walk. Bit late I think for finding grebes on the water, but certainly lots of Scoter species. My mind returned to a certain person loosing there hat to the sea on the boat trip to Aisla Craig. Luckily they weren't in it!

    1. Lol, yes I remember the loosening hat thing. I reckon I needed a chin strap, lol!

  3. Cracking post - another place to add to the 'must visit' list. 150,000 gannets would be a sight to see.

    It would be great if you would link up some of your posts to Wild Bird Wednesday, a web link up of about 50 bird bloggers from around the world - although we can always do with more! WBW opens on Wednesday morning (!) my time and closes on Sunday at noon.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne