Touch Down!

1 Puffins on rock

Puffins touch down

2 puffin island

back on dry land after a winter at sea

Winter plumage

Some birds like the individual on left will still have traces of winter plumage

Tuesday 21st March comments: Touch-down! Yesterday proved to be a very significant date in the Isle of May diary as Puffins touched dry land for the first time this season. Having departed the island the previous August, this is the first time they have set foot on land since then!


Over the winter period, the birds have remained at sea (regardless of weather) and this significant landing is the first step in the new breeding season. Over the next few weeks birds will come and go with lots of courtship and displaying. Birds will reuse the same burrows and some may need a spring clean so plenty of work to do.

Then by mid-April, we’ll be expecting the first eggs and the breeding season will be well underway. This cycle is being repeated at all other North Sea Puffin colonies and its well worth visiting one, especially the largest colony on the Isle of May. Welcome back Puffins.

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Promoting the May

Sunday 19th March comments: During the late autumn and winter months, the job of the Isle of May reserve manager takes on a different role. Having lived on the island for up to nine months, the winter is a time to prepare for the forthcoming season and complete all the report work which goes with a nine month stint.

As part of the winter work, its also a good opportunity to promote the Island with a ‘Winter Roadshow’ which has taken us far and wide from north Northumberland up to Aberdeenshire. Yesterday we continued that promotion as we spoke at the joint BTO/SOC birdwatchers conference with over 170 delegates attending.

The theme was focused on the work we are doing to encourage more nesting Terns to the island and it was well received. It’s just another step in the right direction of promoting the May (which is also supported by our colleagues at CEH) and watch out for next winter…we maybe just coming to a town near you…

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Spring Puffins back!

Puffin on sea 2

Puffins back in May waters

Puffin on sea

Welcome home lads!

Wednesday 15th March comments: Its been feeling like spring, its been looking like spring and today it WAS spring (well sort of) as our Puffins are BACK! A visit to the island today revealed a handful of summer plumage Puffins in the surrounding waters of the island and it’ll be a matter of days before huge numbers are seen.

The Isle of May supports the largest population of Puffins on the east coast of the UK (some 46,200 pairs) and the timing is spot on as birds are returning from wintering grounds, readying themselves for another season. Over the next few weeks more and more will arrive and eventually towards the end of the month they’ll touch land, then we’ll be back in business.

The Island opens its doors from 1st April and its a highly recommended visit especially if you are keen to see Puffins; we have plenty! So don’t delay and book a trip through the various boat companies as listed below (and remember its free to land on the island after you’ve paid the boat fare):

May Princess (sails from Anstruther)

Osprey Rib (sails from Anstruther)

Seabird Rib (sails from North Berwick)

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Bird Report


Latest Bird report now out on general sale


The report features a CD with extended information

Monday 13th March comments: Our friends at the Isle of May Bird Observatory have produced the latest report on birds for the Isle of May. The report is a comprehensive 64 pages detailing all the birds that were recorded on the Isle of May during 2015 from the scarcely believable Red Grouse to the report on Seabird success.

The report also comes with a packed CD featuring 136 pages, bringing you all the latest information on the cetaceans recorded (a pod of seven Orcas and a breaching Humpback Whale were the highlights), moths and insects, bird ringing report, chatty log extracts, monthly migration and weather summaries, never mind extensive photographs of some of the birds recorded and much more!

The excellent report, which includes the CD, can be purchased for £8.50 + postage & packing from Stuart Rivers at; Flat 8 (2F2), 10 Waverley Park, Edinburgh, EH8 8EU. Its well worth a purchase.

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Monster Science

GBB Gull chick 3

Yellow colour ring on the leg

GBB Gull1 (Kris Gibb)

Proof it works…readable in the ‘field’

Friday 10th March comments: I think it’s fair to say that Great Black-backed Gulls do not get much good press. This power-house is the largest in the Gull family and with a six feet wing-span can be as intimidating beast. It has the reputation as a formidable predator as it’s known to take out birds up to the size of adult Shags and Puffins are just a light snack (so don’t mess with one).

The Isle of May boasts over seventy pairs of these monsters although we know very little about them…until now. Over the last two summers we’ve been fitting yellow colour rings to the chicks which allow observers to read the ring details without the need for recapture. The results have been fascinating as this winter we’ve had sightings from various locations as the youngsters discover the world.

Reports have come in from as far away as Grampian, Northumberland, North Yorkshire and even northern France. This shows the value of this kind of marking but our learning does not stop there. This year, in partnership with CEH and the Isle of May Bird Observatory we’ll be tracking birds more closely during the breeding season to help us learn even more and find out what birds actually eat, where they forage and hopefully much more.

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Puffins Need You!

Breakfast (simon Chapman)

What are you eating Mr Puffin? (Simon Chapman)

Puffin with FISH (MN)

Its not all about Sand-eels…. (Mark Newell)

Puffins galore MN

Plenty of fish in the sea? (Mark Newell)


Wednesday 8th march comments: We need your help! Our friends at the at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology are studying the diet of Puffins on the Isle of May to determine the type and size of prey that the birds are bringing in and your photos can help them achieve this. If you’ve visited the Isle of May in recent years and taken photos of Puffins (and who hasn’t!) with beaks full of food, then we need those photos!

Ideally the team would like one photo per bird carrying fish with the date on which it was taken (although the year would be sufficient).  The photos will be examined to determine the prey species and relative size estimated which can then be compared with those that we have collected by catching adults. Once analysed they will be deleted and at no time published.  Photos from any year will be useful.

The photos can be uploaded to:

marknewell3 at

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Stunning Stonechat (Mark Newell)


One of 19 on the island (Mark Newell)


It may not look much but Iceland Gulls are rare visitors to the island (Mark Newell)

Monday 6th March comments: We’ve concentrated on the arrival of seabirds and the first human visitors to the island, but we’ve also been experiencing the first migrants of 2017. Although its still far too early for the many warblers, chats and Swallows which will pass through in spring, its been more of a winter-theme to bird movements recently.

Following a few days of easterly winds the island hosted 19 Stonechats on Saturday; a very significant number for the island (the previous record was six). Supporting cast included Snow Bunting, Black Redstart and up to eight Short-eared Owls. As birds start looking to depart the UK for northern breeding grounds, small numbers of Fieldfare, Woodcock and Snipe were also recorded.

More out the ordinary was a third-winter Iceland Gull whilst at least one first-winter Glaucous Gull was also recorded. You cant take your eyes off the Isle of May regardless of the time of year and with spring on its way, we expect a lot more to follow…

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