Thank You Bird Obs

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Sunday 10th November comments: The Isle of May season is slowly and surely coming to a close. It won’t be long before the resident SNH staff depart for the winter to allow it to drop into its winter slumber. Yesterday saw the closure of the Bird Observatory, Scotland’s oldest running Bird Obs as the last residence departed.

In the early spring, the Bain Heligoland trap was replaced by the work party before the Observatory opened officially in mid-April. Thereafter various groups and visitors were welcomed every Saturday throughout the season to help contribute towards the ornithological understanding of the island. Migrant birds were found, counted and ringed as part of the observatories work (its been a cracking year) and a full review will appear on here in the forthcoming weeks.

The Bird Observatory plays a big part in the Isle of May and its active members are an important aspect of the island community and we enjoy working and socialising alongside them. A lot of hard work goes in behind the scenes by the Observatory trust to keep the place ticking along and we already look forward to the 2020 season. Until then, thank-you to everyone who has made it another enjoyable year full of great birds and good company. The Isle of May is very much back on the birding map and hope everyone enjoys their winter break because we’ll be starting again next April. Bring it on.

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Chunky Monkies

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Saturday 9th November comments: The Isle of May has completely transformed and anyone familiar with the place will know it looks very different in the summer than the photos shown above (check out the main footpaths). Grey Seal mums have been encroaching up towards the visitor centre whilst the south end of the island is completely taken-over (so no access into that area).

Despite heavy seas in recent weeks from the resulting strong northerly winds, the island is well protected and therefore both mother and pups have been safely getting on with daily life. Seal pups have a unique upbringing as they completely rely on their mothers until 21 days old, feeding on their rich fatty milk (can contain up to 60% fat) and will put on a tremendous amount of weight in that time (as the photos show).

The Grey Seal colonies on the island are now peaking but we still have plenty more to pup, and they’ll continue to do so until late December. It’s certainly an interesting place to live and work at this time of year and we feel privileged to have such an important colony on our doorsteps. Its never dull on the Isle of May…

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Fire, Crests and a Pallas’s

Photos – top Pallas’s Warbler left and right, bottom: Long-eared Owl, Waxwing and Siberian Chiffchaff.

Thursday 7th November comments: Finishing off the round-up of migrant birds this week we’ve had an exceptional spell considering its early November when most migrant birds have long departed. As well as the Waxwings featured a few days ago we’ve also had some other gems which have really completed our year.

On Monday a Pallas’s Warbler was discovered near the Top Trap; a species from Siberia which has not been recorded on here in almost twenty years. The stripey sprite (it has seven stripes) stayed for two days and showed extremely well as it fed on the sunny slopes of the lighthouse as it hunted insects. Alongside that another Siberian visitor (we are starting a pattern here) an Olive-backed Pipit was discovered; only the eleventh ever island record although seventh since 2015!

The week didn’t stop there as a migrant Long-eared Owl was caught and ringed whilst up to three Waxwings were eating the apples provided whilst a Glaucous Gull from the north kept up the wintery feel. Even today we’ve not lost our appetite for birds as a quiet island was brightened up by a stunning Firecrest which graced Holymans Road.

It’s been an exciting spell of birding but our next round-up will bring you news from the Seal colonies as the island is heaving with life. More to follow soon…..

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Wax On Wax Off

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Waxwing feeding on apple!

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Enjoying its meal

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Two of the three birds on the island

Tuesday 5th November comments: In recent days we’ve had northerly winds (as well as stormy seas as shown on yesterday’s blog) which have plummeted the temperatures on the Isle of May but it’s been brightened up by the arrival of some very exotic visitors; Waxwings!

These starling-sized birds often irrupt from Scandinavia to escape the cold winters and can be found in small numbers in the UK during the winter months feeding on berries and fruit (often in back gardens!) These wonderful birds complete with yellow and waxy red markings, yellow-tipped tails and general pink colouration make these wonderful birds to see! On the Isle of May they are scarce visitors which are passing through although with a few apples placed in the elder bushes, the birds are soon devouring their latest meal before moving on (we’ve had three together).

As the autumn progresses it’s well worth keeping a watchful eye in your gardens, towns and even cities as you never know what wildlife you may see including these stunning visitors. The Waxwings are on their way…

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There’s a Storm Brewing…

Monday 4th November comments: We were expecting it and today it delivered…. a beast of a northerly storm battered the Isle of May and we’ve uploaded a couple of videos showing the scale of the east side of the island which took the brunt of the sea.

The storm has the entire North Sea to cross so big heavy swell builds rapidly and sure enough with nothing in its way, it smashes into the Isle of May. However thankfully the Grey Seal colonies are well protected and sheltered so hopefully the vast majority of animals will be safe and well (you can see the seal colonies at the end of these videos). It’s certainly a big sea and we hope the weather eases soon to allow some normality to the island and its wildlife.

In seas like these, any seabirds which have remained around the island like our Shags and Guillemots will struggle to feed (turbulent seas are easy places to find food) so the quicker the conditions improve the better. However these winds did bring some very special visitors to the island (feather visitors) but we’ll be telling you more about that tomorrow. Until then enjoy the sea videos….  

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Northern Invasion!

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Up close to a Woodcock

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Beautiful patterns on head

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One on the ground in amongst vegetation

Saturday 2nd November comments: Its invasion time on the Isle of May as its all change on the migration front. We’ve now seen the end of the season (almost) for birds migrating from the north through the island heading to warmer climes to the south. However we are now seeing the arrival of birds from the north which are heading to the UK for winter (escaping the cold winter weather of Scandinavia and Russia).

After several days of quiet passage (not much to report in recent days), today saw the arrival of several bird species which are heading to the mainland with up to 25 Woodcock (including this one pictured above). These woodland cryptic dwellers migrate in from Russia and spend the winter in the UK before heading back next February-March and can be seen at your feet as they explode out of low vegetation or even Puffin burrows as they stop to rest and feed up.

Its a wonderful sight and these alongside overhead passage of Fieldfare and Redwing along with Yellow-browed Warbler and the islands 13th ever Hawfinch, brought to an end a reasonable day. As the winds are switching to the north-east (temperatures will plummet!) but just how many more birds will arrive off the back of that? Lets wait and see but until then the fire is hot and the thermals are on!

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Seal Island

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Jetties now closed and undisturbed (this is the pathway to Low jetty)

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Seals appearing all across the island

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Even the Top Jetty is a good pace to snooze

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The magic of a new born pup

Thursday 31st October: It may be Halloween on the Isle of May but there is nothing dead about this place as our Grey Seal colonies are lifting with life. Each day more and more Seal pups are born across the colonies and certain areas are now out of bounds to allow the seals to get on with their pup rearing.

The main jetties at Kirkhaven look very different to the summer months, as large female cow seals and their pups are scattered across the pathways, However its not all quiet as bull seals are starting to arrive and soon fighting over prime spots will begin; the general rule of thumb for bull seals is the bigger they are the better; a 40 stone bull seal can take some toppling. However more on that later in November.

For now its all very gentle and quiet, as young pups 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. It has certainly become Seal island…

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