Nearly time…

Monday 26th October comments: We have reached the big week and its now just 24hours before Autumnwatch is beamed across the nation on the BBC from various localities including Tenstmuir NNR with updates from the Isle of May seal colonies.

Its been a fairly quiet weekend on the island as the BBC team have been recording the daily lives of the seals. At present the number of female seals (known as cows) is increasing daily as animals return to the Isle of May to pup. These heavily pregnant females are finding a safe and secure area to give birth whether it’s on a beach or grassy flat plateau. Cow seals generally give birth overnight but we do still see births on the colonies during the day. Once born, the pup will stay with the female for up to twenty-one days as the young are weaned on the rich fatty milk of the female (up to 60% fat in the milk content). The Isle of May Grey Seal colonies will peak in mid-November and we’ll expect 2,500 pups to be born over the course of this autumn.

Other than the cows and pups, we’ve seen a few male (bull) seals move in as they’ll start setting up and defending territories on the colonies, which can be very brutal and graphic but much more on that later.

Until then you can continue to follow the news from the island on this blog or our facebook page whilst check out the action on the BBC Autumnwatch live web camera (which will run daily from 11am-11pm) at this link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e354mb/live/c6b5d4

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Michaela Strachan visits the May

Saturday 24th October comments: It’s been another busy few days on the Isle of May as the BBC team continue to prepare for the big Autumnwatch live which is being beamed from the island next Tuesday.

Yesterday we had the delighted of welcoming main presenter Michaela Strachan to the island to show her the place, conduct a few interviews and of course to meet the real stars of the show; the Grey Seals. Michaela will be based for two weeks at our mighty neighbours Tentsmuir on the Fife coast (you can see it from the Isle of May) which is another impressive National Nature Reserve owned and managed by NatureScot (for more information on the site check out the website: https://www.nature.scot/enjoying-outdoors/scotlands-national-nature-reserves/tentsmuir-national-nature-reserve-busy

Throughout the two weeks Autumnwatch will be beaming live from Tentsmuir but will be receiving nightly updates from the pupping seals on the island. The BBC will also have a live webcam from the island beaming live transmissions of the Grey Seals all day every day throughout the two weeks and we’ll send out a link early next week. In the meantime the hard work continues and it was great to welcome Michaela to the Isle of May to show her this very special island off the east coast of Scotland. 

As the countdown continues to live transmission we’ll keep on bringing you the news and views from behind the scenes and tomorrow we’ll actually bring you news of the Grey Seals themselves. After all those are the stars and the pupping season is well and truly underway.

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Setting up continues…

Thursday 22nd October comments: Its been another busy day on the Isle of May NNR as the set up for the live BBC Autumnwatch continues. The remote cameras have been rigged and testing is underway as well as the occasional challenge the team didn’t expect (making sure cameras are Grey Seal proof is rather interesting).

As well as the cameras the BBC team have been trying out the infrared technology to allow any nocturnal activity to be captured (seals can be very active at night). Infrared cameras (also known as thermal imaging cameras) are cameras designed to pick up infrared radiation as a heat signature allowing filming at night. As well as night filming, the team have also installed some specialist features including an underwater camera for footage of seals in their natural habitat underwater. So as you can see, it’s still all go as the countdown is on for next Tuesday Isle of May debut performance on Autumnwatch.

As all of this is going on, the Grey Seals of the island have been getting on with their daily lives as more and more appear on the colonies. The main nurseries at the north end of the island (on a small islet called Rona) is very active whilst the south end is steadily filling. Its all building for a great few weeks and hopefully all the action will be brought to you live on television. We can’t wait.

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Behind the Scenes…

Wednesday 21st October comments: Its all go on the Isle of May NNR! Yesterday we brought you the exciting news that the island will be beamed to the homes of millions as this year’s BBC Autumnwatch will be with us (and the mighty Tentsmuir NNR) for the Grey Seal pupping season (its going to be exciting).

However before the live broadcast on Tuesday there is a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes (it takes a lot of time, kit and patience to bring you the brilliant stories). In recent days remote cameras are being fitted ahead of the arrival of the pupping seals which will reduce any disturbance to the area, so the cameras will be able to pick up the trials and tribulations of the colony from day one. The visitor centre has been transformed into a mini-production and editing suite with cables, wires, computers and monitors all set up ready for kick-off. It’s all hard work but hopefully it will pay off and the BBC team will be ready to go for next Tuesday evening. Autumnwatch bringing you the Isle of May to your very own front room, who would have thought?

As always we’ll also be keeping you posted with all the news and views from the island so stay tuned and expect lots of blog updates as things progress. The fun is just about to start…

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BBC Autumwatch comes to Town

Tuesday 20th October comments: We’ve been building up to it but today the news is out that BBC Autumnwatch will be beaming live from the Isle of May next week. Main presenter Michaela Strachan will be based at our nearby Tentismuir NNR on the Fife coast but the team will have a live cameras set up to capture the drama of grey seals pupping on NatureScot’s Isle of May National Nature Reserve (NNR).

It’s a very exciting time as people will be able to enjoy the trials and tribulations of the grey seal colonies on the Isle of May from the comfort of their own home. The island supports almost 2,500 pups which are born each autumn at the reserve, making it one of the most significant grey seal pup nurseries in the UK. David Steel, who manages the Isle of May NNR, said: “The grey seal pupping season is one of the great autumn spectacles along our shores and each year the Isle of May is transformed as the youngsters take over.

“As the island is closed to visitors during the season to give the pups and mothers peace, it’s a spectacle that usually not many people get to witness. It’s fantastic that thanks to the Autumnwatch cameras this year we can bring all the joy and drama of the colony live to people right across the UK.”

Catch Autumnwatch at 8pm on BBC 2 from Tuesday 27th October. It’s going to be a roller coast so stay tuned and as always we’ll be bringing you the news and view behind the scenes from the island as it all unfolds. I hope you’ll enjoy.

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Woodcock on the move

Woodcock on the rocks…but can you see him?
There it is!
And a much better view

Thursday 15th October comments: Over the last few days the winds have switched to the north with a hint of north-easterly which has brought more migrant birds to the island including those which are leaving Scandinavia to escape the harsh winter weather to overwinter in the UK.

During this weather spell we’ve had several Woodcock across the island. These cryptic woodland dwellers breed in the UK but during the autumn these birds are bolstered by migrants from continental Europe. These birds are escaping the worst of the weather to the north and east of the UK as Scandinavia and Russia has the vast majority of breeding European Woodcock and they’ll move to warmer climes including the UK. Having overwintered, they’ll then return early the following spring when we can get one or two on the island as they head back.

These great birds are a joy to watch as they often ‘explode’ underfoot (erupt out of the vegetation within a few feet of you) whilst you walk around the Isle. However others can be seen in some unusual places sometimes on the rocks as the photo shows above. We wish them well and over the next 2-3 weeks we’ll expect plenty more as the Woodcocks are on the move!

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Slow Start

Monday 12th October comments: Its been a slow but steady start to the new Grey Seal pupping season out here on the Isle of May as the number of pups is low (we have six new born). However the first pup has survived its second week and with huge numbers of adults starting to gather around the island, it wont be long before we are in full swing.

The Isle of May is one of the most significant Grey Seal colonies on the east coast of the UK with other major pupping nurseries including St.Abbs Head area (Borders), Farne Island (Northumberland), Donna Nook (Lincs) and the North Norfolk Coastline. The latter site is now the UK’s largest with over 3,000 pups born per annum. Interestingly seal colonies pup incrementally around the UK coast in a clockwise direction as pups are born on the Welsh islands from early August with the North Sea colonies not starting until Mid-September. As always the Isle of May is the first to start on the east coast followed by the Northumberland colonies before eventually finishing in North Norfolk.

So we’ve now started and we’ll be bringing you plenty more news from the colonies as they increase over the next few weeks and months as its an exciting time to follow the news and events from the Isle.

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More migrant Madness!

Tuesday 6th October comments: The weekend brought hundreds (if not thousands?) of migratory birds to the Isle of May and the last 24 hours has seen yet more arrivals. All across the island small birds can be found feeding, sheltering, roosting or generally just taking a breather as they continue on their migratory travels.

The island has seen some impressive numbers of Chiffchaffs (88 on Sunday, 79 on Monday), almost 200 Robins, Blackcaps reaching treble figures and much much more. Further unusual birds have included a Hawfinch whilst skulking Grasshopper Warblers are wonderful birds to see. As expected when a large arrival of birds occur so do the predators as three Peregrines, two Kestrels and two Short-eared Owls have been patrolling and taking advantage. Its incredible to see the Isle of May transform from an active seabird colony into a main east coast migratory station. Next up is the Seal season but more on that soon (and we have some very exciting news about it!)

So its still all go and wonderful to watch and experience. We’ll keep you posted with further sightings but until then enjoy the photos above. Just for interest the top row is Blackbird, Blackcap and Starling, with second row of Siskin, Goldcrest and Robin

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Migration in Action

Sunday 4th October comments: We knew it was coming and boy did it deliver. An easterly weather front was predicted for the weekend and the anticipation couldn’t have been greater as the weekend grew closer. Headlands and islands including the Isle of May up and down the east coast were rubbing their hands with flee the easterlies would bring migrants.

At this time of year millions of birds are migrating from northern Europe and if the wind blows from the east, a good number will be blown onto the east coast before navigating their way back south. As well as birds heading south, there are also birds heading into the UK for the winter and so it is an exciting time to be present on the island. Over the weekend we experienced some impressive arrivals including continental Robins, winter thrushes moving into the country including Blackbirds, Fieldfare and Redwings, warblers in good numbers such as Garden, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, with other summer migrants such as Spotted Flycatchers and Redstarts, whilst Bramblings and Chaffinch’s have been feeding across the island as they migrate in from Scandinavia.

As well as the birds in numerous numbers, we also had many strange and wonderful birds (as always!) including a Spotted Crake (only 4th for the island and first since 2000), an unseasonal Nightjar, Barred Warbler, an influx of Yellow-browed Warbler (up to 16 in one day), an invasion of Jack Snipe, Short-eared Owl 2, and Lapland Buntings. Its been a fabulous time witness migration in action on the island and we suspect we might see even more over the following few days…

Highlights:

                                                Saturday                     Sunday

Woodcock 1 – 7

Jack Snipe 1 – 19

Short-eared owl 1-4

Peregrine 1- 2

Willow Warbler 3-1

Chiffchaff 12-88

Yellow-browed Warbler  16- 15

Blackcap                                 14-78

Barred Warbler                     1-1

Goldcrest                                46-101

Ring Ouzel                              8-9

Blackbird                                19-87

Fieldfare                                  1-2

Redwing                                  300-225

Song thrush                             123-447

Spotted Flycatcher                 2-7

Robin                                        74-172

Redstart                                  2-24

Wheatear                                2-6

Chaffinch                                12-28

Brambling                                42-107

Siskin                                      11- 25

Reed Bunting                          2-4

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Seal Pup!

Friday 2nd October comments: Grey Seal Pup! We are celebrating (later than normal) our first Grey Seal pup of the autumn. The pup was discovered this morning on the north end of the island and confirms the late start to the season as we normally expect our first pup by mid-September.  

Female Grey Seals pup on the Isle of May from October-December (peaking early-November) and almost 2,500 will be born during this period making it one of the most significant Grey Seal pup nurseries in the UK. The mothers will feed their pups with milk for 16-21 days during which time the pup will gain an average of 30kg (66lbs). During the lactation period the female will lose up to 65kg (143lbs) of her body weight. Thereafter the pup will moult and the mother will leave as it has reached independence (it’s a harsh upbringing, independent at just 21 days!)

So the season is finally underway and hopefully our first pup will survive and soon we’ll have plenty more pups to tell you about. Remember if you visit a Seal colony please keep a safe distance 9dont get too close), avoid any disturbance and ensure the seals are not stressed (keep quiet) as mothers can abandon pups if frightened off.  For more information check out the website: https://www.nature.scot/plants-animals-and-fungi/mammals/marine-mammals/seals

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