Monday 16th September comments: Its officially autumn and the reason why? We’ve had our first major intake of Pink-footed Geese. If anyone has heard the call of wild geese as they arrive to winter in the UK then you’ll know what I mean. yesterday afternoon the westerly wind eased and the geese started arriving.

Over the late afternoon and early evening thirty-five skeins were counted with a total of 1,756 Pink-footed Geese involved. These Geese breed in Iceland, Greenland and Swalbard and if conditions are right at this time of year, they start departing for wintering grounds in the UK. Aided by a westerly tail wind, they cross quickly and some will come down the east coast stopping off at well known Goose areas such as Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire), Montrose Basin (Angus) and Aberlady Bay (Lothian). Birds will winter in these area but many more will head further south to Northumberland with even bigger numbers in north Norfolk.

Its an amazing spectacle to watch and real excitement as the call of the geese signals the start of Autumn. Its good to have them back and suspect we’ll be seeing plenty more in the forthcoming weeks. So when you are out and about, look up and listen and you never know what you may see.

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Westerly worries

2 Seal pup

Saturday 14th September comments: The perils of being a Seal pup at this time of year in the North Sea. Our first Grey Seal pup born on the Isle of May has many challenges in its early life and non more so than today (check out the video at the top showing the crashing waves around the pup and mother).

The pup was born on the low lying shingle beach at Mill Door and each high tide the sea crashes around it but today we’ve got the extra concern of strong winds bringing heavy seas. Seal pups at this young age must stay on dry land as they’ll drown in such turbulent seas and thankfully this pupper soon found its way to high rocks and away from danger.

Over the next few months over 2,500 will be born on the Isle of May although this is a pioneer; the first of many. We’re delighted its doing well as it reaches the grand old age of seven days old and we’ll keep on reporting as it grows bigger and stronger, as long as it stays out of trouble…


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First Seal Pup!

First seal pup (down sized)

Isle of May first grey Seal pup of the autumn (Sam Langloislopez)

Sam LL Seal Pup (3)

Safely with mum (Sam Langloislopez)

Sam LL Seal Pup (2)

Having its first feed (Sam langloislopez)

Wednesday 11th September comments: Grey Seal Pup! We are celebrating early this year as we’ve got our first Grey Seal pup of the season, born in the same spot as last year down on the pebble beach of Mill Door on the west side of the island.

The pup was discovered on Sunday (8th September) and is particular early as the average first birth date over the last ten years has been 20th September (the previous earliest during this period was 10th September 2013). However despite the early birth the pup is doing well as mum is in close attendance and it’s been well fed (as you can see on the photos).

Young Grey Seal pups stay 20-21 days with their mothers before they moult and become independent so we’ll keep an eye on this individual and report back as it grows. This is the first of over 2,500 pups which will be born on the island over the next few months so plenty to tell you about as Seal Season has begun!

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Collared Flycatcher!


WOW! moulting adult male Collared Flycatcher (Bex Outram)


Distinctive beast (Bex Outram)


Still showing signs of summer plumage (Bex Outram)

Monday 9th September comments: The Isle of May strikes again! Yesterday just after midday an unusual flycatcher was discovered in the To Trap garden on the island and soon after it was caught (for ringing purposes) in the large Heligoland trap (a specialist bird catching trap).

Over the following few minutes the bird was processed and it was confirmed as the islands first ever Collared Flycatcher!! Although a common breeder in Europe it still remains a very rare visitor to the UK and there are approximately twenty records for Scotland; this being the first ever for the Isle of May. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a very distinctive visitor and from images it appears to be a moulting adult male (black and white plumage is from its summer days).

Its impressive what arrives on the island and this visitor was all so brief, it appears to have gone overnight as no sign today (Monday). We’ve had a good start to autumn (with Aquatic Warbler, Melodious Warbler and now this) and who knows what else will arrive… And this wasn’t even all the news from yesterday as we have more to tell but that will keep for another day soon…

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Go West

Iain Livingstone (3)

Our youngster caught in the Upper Forth (Iain Livingstone)

Iain Livingstone (2)

Looking fit and healthy (Iain Livingstone)

Sunday 8th September comments: We’ve had some great feedback and comments from lots of people (thank you) about the Tern success on the island but it’s only just the beginning…

Overall it takes experience, knowledge, time and effort (as well as money) to achieve the goals we want and managing the island for seabirds is an important aspect of our work. We look to protect and enhance whilst also sharing with everyone and without the public support we could never do what we do, so thank you and keep on visiting!

Following the news of the Roseate Tern success, the hybrid chick fledged with its parents on 8th August and departed the island on its southerly migration. However we were delighted to learn that the bird had been seen elsewhere. Clyde ringing group were catching Terns at Blackness (near Blackness castle) in West Lothian further up the Firth of Forth to ring and caught our individual (as pictured above) on 24th August!

Although it is only 14 miles between the two sites (as a Tern would fly) this site is beyond the main transport bridges over the Forth and is usually a staging post for Terns heading west into the Clyde before heading south. So its wonderful news that the fledger is doing well and I wonder where we’ll hear of it next? We wish it well and hope its parent returns next year and brings a few others along with it. Who is up for 2020? We can’t wait.

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Rosy Future

Roseate Tern June 2019 (EB)

Adult Roseate tern arrived and nested on the island (Ella Benninghaus)

Hybrid chick being ringed (David Steel)

The chick been ringed


Ready to fledge!

Dr Chris Redfern and Bex Outram SNH with Hybrid chick (David Steel)

Dr Chris Redfern and Bex Outram (SNH) with chick

Tern Terrace isle of May (David Steel)

The specialist ‘tern terraces’

Friday 6th September comments: The Isle of May National Nature Reserve (NNR) is celebrating a conservation success story as it welcomes back a rare breeding seabird. An adult Roseate Tern arrived in the island colonies in early June and paired with a Common Tern. The unlikely pairing produced a single chick which successfully fledged in early August.

The pair were attracted to the island by specially constructed ‘tern terraces’ – large square areas covered in sand and gravel with specialist tern boxes added to help aid nesting. Scottish Natural Heritage Nature Reserve Manager David Steel explained, “During the autumn of 2015 we started construction of the first tern terraces on the island to help increase nesting habitat for terns”.

David went on to say, “Over the last three years we’ve increased both Arctic and common tern breeding numbers whilst attracting sandwich terns back to the island, however this year we have gone one better.”

Although this year’s breeding attempt is of a hybrid pair, it did not curb the enthusiasm of David who went on to say, “To provide the habitat and safe nesting site for one individual is a major breakthrough and we can hopefully attract a pure pair in forthcoming years and establish roseate terns back as a regular breeder in Scotland.”

At present no other roseate terns breed in Scotland with the only colonies in Northumberland and North Wales.

Roseate terns are on the Red Data list which means the species is of high conservation concern and has been designated for protection under the government’s national Biodiversity Action Plan. As part of this, an EU-funded roseate tern LIFE Recovery Project was established to focus on enhancing breeding conditions at the core colonies in the UK while also improving five former roseate tern SPAs (Special Protection Areas) in preparation for a potential expansion which included islands in the Firth of Forth.

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Changing of the Guard


The lochside quiet and empty


The islands accommodation looking south


east side and the Low Lighthouse


North Plateau

Thursday 5th September comments: The Isle of May can be a quiet place in September as its the changing of the guard; the seabirds have virtually gone and the Grey Seals are starting to arrive. We’ll soon be entering Seal Season and the then the fun will really begin, but that’s another story for another day.

At the moment the last of Fulmar chicks are flopping off the cliffs and heading out into the North Sea for the first time whilst small numbers of Shags and Kittiwakes remain. It’s all that remains of the seabird breeding season as everything else has long gone, not to return until next spring. The islands vegetation still looks lush (the rabbits enjoy this time of year) whilst the annual autumn boom in the mouse population continues.

Its also a good time to reflect as you walk across the Isle enjoying the great views of Fife to the north, Edinburgh to the west and St.Abb’s Head to the south as the Isle of May offers so much at different times of the year. For the birders amongst us, its also a good time for bird migration so its never dull out here and we’ll enjoy the peace and quiet at present because that’s all about to change…

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