Winter weather and our wildlife

This little auk was found on Eyemouth beach recenlty. They normally winter far out at sea and are rarely visible from our shores but lots have been seen off St Abbs and Eyemouth in the past weeks.''beaches, the one illustrated was found on Eyemouth beach.
This little auk was found on Eyemouth beach recenlty. They normally winter far out at sea and are rarely visible from our shores but lots have been seen off St Abbs and Eyemouth in the past weeks.''beaches, the one illustrated was found on Eyemouth beach.

Much of December and the first two weeks in January have been an extremely challenging time for much of our wildlife.

December was exceptionally wet over much of the country, although here on the eastern side of Berwickshire we missed the worst of the rains, but even so, the farmers fields look in a dreadful state and the rivers have been running almost continuously in spate. The other feature in December was the exceptionally high temperatures with almost no cold weather and frost, on one day my car thermometer registered 16c in Eyemouth - on some days in the summer if we had temperature this high we would be delighted.

The unseasonably mild conditions were the result of moist tropical air streaming up from the south west.

On Christmas Day it was quite a surprise to watch a sandwich tern flying round the bay in Eyemouth for about two hours, it frequently stopped in flight, almost hovering, then dived down into the sea after some hapless little fish. This would not be unusual in summer but in mid winter this tern should be fishing somewhere off the coast of west Africa.

At the time this one was at Eyemouth there was a sprinkling of birds recorded along the east coast with at least one as far north as the Black Isle. Were they tempted to stay here because of the high temperatures?

Although I didn’t see it myself, another remarkable sighting in December on the East Lothian coast was a little swift. This is a bird found native in north west Africa. It is much smaller than the swifts that visit us in summer.

The little swift is about the size of a house martin and like a house martin has a white rump. Did this individual somehow get caught up in the warm air currents blowing from Africa in December and ended up in East Lothian, I hope it found enough insects to feed on and found its way back to Africa.

January saw a big change in the weather with gales blowing in from the south-east. This brought in two birds that normally winter far out at sea and are rarely visible from our shores. The little auk is like a half sized guillemot or razorbill with a very short beak. It breeds in huge numbers in Greenland and Spitsbergen.

Occasionally some get blown close to shore and sometimes even inland in gales, lots have been seen off St Abbs and Eyemouth in the past weeks and a few exhausted or sick individuals have been stranded on our beaches, the one illustrated was found on Eyemouth beach. Most will survive and make it back out to sea again. Another bird blown in from out at sea has been the little gull with sightings at St Abbs, Eyemouth and Burnmouth. The little gull is smaller than our other gulls and in summer breeds around lakes in north eastern Europe.