I've been on a short visit to my sister's in Lincolnshire. Whilst there, we went to the east coast to a place called Donna Nook. It is an area of sand dunes and mud banks, protected as a nature reserve, near the mouth of the Humber estuary. During November and December each year, hundreds of grey seals that normally live out in the North Sea, swimming and resting on distant sandbanks, make for the safety of the shoreline to give birth to their pups. Pups are born with white furry coats. They suckle from their mother for two to three weeks, after which time the mothers (who do not eat while on the beach) return to sea to find food. The babies stay ashore for another week or two, living off the blubber they have accumulated and shedding their white, downy coat. Eventually hunger drives them to make their way to the sea to find their own food. The males (bulls) arrive too, since once the females have given birth, they mate again before returning to sea.
The beach is fenced off from the dunes but the public are able to walk along a boardwalk and view the seals. There are volunteer wardens on duty to ensure that people don't bring dogs or touch the seals. A baby tainted by human touch will be abandoned by the mother. Many of the pups nestle right up to the fence and it's very easy to see them. It is a fascinating spectacle. You can hear the babies calling for their mothers, with a high-pitched cry that sounds just like 'Mum!' The adults make a rather unearthly wail. Some of them snore! If you're lucky, you might see a pup being born or perhaps witness a fight between the males, competing for the females, or see a pair mating.
The count for the last week of November (about the peak) was: bulls 686, cows 1502 and pups 1630. (I'm not sure why they don't call the babies 'calves'... except that the furry little ones do look strangely like earless and limbless dogs!)
Newborn pup and its mother.
This pup is slightly older and is beginning to shed the down and get its spotty coat. The older ones are more alert and seem to enjoy watching the people watching them.
The reserve is home to many birds, like the dunlin below. It is also a Ministry of Defence bombing target range, so there are often military planes flying overhead. We saw two Chinooks and some planes dropping flares. The planes don't seem to bother the seals.