Over 50…

Thursday 18th October comments: The Isle of May is rapidly changing into a major Grey Seal colony as the nurseries now have over 5o Seal pups scattered across them. Various areas on the island are seeing more and more Grey Seals arrive with new life being born.

Every day we are witnessing new pups born across the island in all the traditional pupping areas and today’s count revealed 66 pups on the Isle of May. Its a great start to the new season and with the fine settled weather looking like continuing its an ideal time for the mothers to pup.

However that will change as the nurseries will become busy and then the fun really begins as the bulls (male Seals) arrive. Male Grey Seals will battle and defend a harem of cow seals and the colonies will certainly become more lively…but that story is for another day…

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Record Season…again

Tuesday 16th October comments: It’s been a fabulous year on the SNH-owned Isle of May National Nature Reserve in the Firth of Forth. Famed for its large puffin colonies, the island welcomed a record number of visitors again this year – the fourth consecutive season the record has been broken. That winning combination of good weather, flat seas and incredible wildlife has attracted visitors from far and wide.

Our reserve manager on the island, David Steel, said: “It’s been another wonderful season for both the wildlife and human visitors to the island, with over 13,500 people coming out to enjoy this seabird spectacular. A visit to the May is not just about the wildlife; the rugged island, its location and the historic buildings, such as the Stevenson lighthouse which is open to the public, also attract many visitors. It is a real ‘must do’ for many people”.

The popularity of the island has increased in recent years as it supports the largest puffin colony on the east coast of the UK, as well as thousands of nesting shags, kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and eiders, amongst other seabirds.

Grey seals are currently gathering on the island and over the next two months more than 2,500 pups will be born on the  Isle of May. The island is now closed for the winter but will reopen from 1st April 2019.

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Seal Takeover

Saturday 13th October comments: Whilst the Isle of May has been inundated with migrant birds in recent days, slowly and surely beneath our noses more and more Grey Seals have been arriving…

The number of pups has increased as we’ve now reached 14 pups scattered across the island (with just a small matter of 2,486 to go). Thousands of Grey Seals call the island home for the autumn with over 2,500 pups born from late September to mid-December, peaking in early November.

The island transforms as areas once dominated by seabirds change to major pupping grounds for Grey Seals. We’ll take some ‘before and after’ photos of areas well known on the island and you’ll see the change as it happens. Life on the Isle of May is certainly a different place in the autumn and that’s just for the staff!

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Bird-tastic May

Thursday 11th October comments: Earlier in the week we predicted that Thursday could be the day that would deliver migrant birds to the Isle of May…and it did. Big time.

The winds switched to the south-east, perfect for bringing bird migrants to the island and it did not disappoint. As dawn broke across the island it was very evident that birds were on the move. Hundreds of Redwings, Blackbirds and Song Thrush could be heard swirling in the mist and as conditions improved more birds started arriving. Brambling peaked at over 100 whilst Skylark, Blackcaps and Reed Buntings were seen in good numbers.

The best of the bunch was the discovery of an Olive-backed Pipit; a rare visitor from Siberia and only the 9th ever for the island (although this was the fifth in four years). The bird was caught and ringed but incredibly a second bird (unringed) was found late afternoon (its never dull out here) making it the 10th record for the island! (are you keeping up!)

To add to the Siberian theme, five Yellow-browed Warblers were noted; these Siberian waifs are being seen in increasingly higher numbers in the UK as birds arrive during the autumn. Other interesting birds included a female Hawfinch which was caught and ringed; but not before taking chunks from a ringers hand (they can crack cherry stones so they do pack a punch) whilst a Long-eared Owl graced the island. Throw in two Yellowhammers (scarce on here), the first autumn Woodcock and you can see it has been a busy island.

With further south-easterly winds forecast, we could be in for some more treats, but we’ll not be greedy….well go on then….

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TONIGHT – on the One Show

Wednesday 10th October comments: The Isle of May will feature TONIGHT on the BBC One Show  at 7pm…so tune in!

During the late summer a small team led by presenter Richard Taylor-Jones were on the island for three days capturing the moment when young Pufflings walk down to sea under the cover of darkness to head out to the open sea. You’ll have to tune in to see if the team succeed but regardless, its great to see the Isle of May on national television….

So tune in! BBC ONE 7PM

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Seal Survival

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With high tides and winds this pup was washed away

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The mother kept close-by 

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She even helped the pup keep above the water

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All end well as the tide dropped

Tuesday 9th October comments: The Grey Seals pup in every nook and cranny on the Isle of May and every year pups are born at Milldoor. This is a risky area for the seals; although quiet, it has a low-lying boulder beach that gets washed through at spring high tides and we are having those at the minute! A 5.6 metre tide combined with strong westerly winds meant the two seal pups down there were in danger.

One pup was safe; however, the other was not! It had been swept out to sea and at we first thought it was gone but after five minutes the mother popped up with a tired looking little white face close by. Miraculously the pup had survived out at sea for over an hour swimming, constantly battling against the swell. The mother was so attentive, keeping close to her young, even nudging it to the surface for air and trying to rest the pup on her back.

After an agonising fifteen minutes watching this drama, feeling helpless, the swell subsided and both were able to ground themselves on the beach. Almost immediately the mother was feeding the tired and hungry pup. Although it kept getting washed away by the odd wave it kept coming back for more nutritious fat rich milk.

It is a tough introduction to life for these pups but hopefully facing these challenges will make them stronger and able to survive the many more challenges they will come up against in their lives.

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Westerly day after day

Jamie Coleman

Fieldfare in flight (Jamie Coleman)

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Redwing on the move

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Wednesday weather (BBC Weather website)

Monday 8th October comments: The Isle of May is a fabulous location for wildlife whether its breeding seabirds or pupping Grey Seals. It’s also renowned for its migrant birds and boasts the second oldest Bird Observatory(http://www.isleofmaybirdobs.org/Home) in the UK having started life in 1934 to record the birds which moved through the Isle.

During the autumn certain weather systems will bring more birds than others. Winds from the west are arguably the worst and this autumn we’ve had our fair share (its been westerly all autumn!) Some people are even suggesting that this is the quietest autumn in recent memory for the lack of any bird migrants. But that maybe about to change…

Later this week the first easterly winds of the entire autumn of forecast and are we about to see a big movement of birds? In recent days a small handful of winter thrushes; Blackbirds, Redwings and Fieldfare have battled their way through the winds but later this week we could be inundated. However we approach with caution because we all know what weather forecasting is like…

On a final note, from the Bird Observatory itself a comment (poem) left by a visitor in 1947 which still stands true to this day…

There was an old man on the May

Who knelt on the north Ness to pray;

‘Oh, Lord, I have sinned

But why need the wind

blow westerly day after day?

Indeed.

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