Thursday 24th August comments: It may not look much but that large ‘white heron’ in the photos is the Isle of May’s second ever Great White Egret (the first was seen in 2015) The island can bring some exciting wildlife moments and yesterday was just another in the long series of good days.
As three Grey Herons approached the island (they migrant from Scandinavia but that’s another story) it was obvious that a white Egret was amongst them. As it approached it became clear it was a Great White Egret (much to the delight of the six people who saw it) and after circling the island, they eventually flew south towards the Lothian coastline.
These migratory birds are widespread in European reedbeds and for the first time in modern history, bred in the UK this year. The species is on the up and having seen two in just three years, are we likely to see more? We suspect so….watch this space.
The impressive Storm Petrel in the hand
So small! the ocean wanderer caught last night
Distinct white rump
Tuesday 22nd August comments: Storm Petrels; the nocturnal ocean wanderers also known affectionately as Mother Carey’s Chickens or St.Peter’s Birds. These small seabirds breed as close to the Isle of May as Shetland (still some way away) and only come to land at night to breed.
However as a result, bird ringers can play tapes to mimic their calls and catch them in the dead of night. The Isle of May is no different and this summer we’ve caught a total of 50 (with the 51st caught last night) with the help of several people especially David and Margaret Thorne amongst others.
These magical birds are very small and they weigh just 24 grams; the same weight as an AA battery! Regardless of the sea conditions or weather patterns, these birds feed far out to sea but are caught on a regular basis up and down the east coast. This year we’ve caught birds which were ringed at nearby Fife Ness, Aberdeen and Souter Point (Whitburn Sunderland). It just goes to show the wonders of nature and what is out there, even at the dead of night.
Sunday 20th August comments: At this time of year people often ask what the Isle of May NNR has to offer? The seabirds have almost gone (apart from lingering Shags and Kittiwakes) and its still too early for Grey Seal pups (born from mid-September). However its an island to be discovered at this time of year as we have a few hidden gems…
- Explore the 200 year old Stevenson lighthouse which is open daily during August and September
- Marvel at the exhibition in the lighthouse which reveals the history of the May as a very important early Christianity site and see the artifacts on display which were discovered during an archeology dig in the 1990’s
- Check out the stunning views across the Firth of Forth from the impressive west cliffs
- or if you just want to get away from it all and just enjoy the boat journey, a magical Scottish island and the ambiance of it all
The Isle of May has it all and its well worth a visit during these quieter times. And when we say quiet, its always worth keeping your eyes peeled as bird migrants are on the move and its a good time to spot whales in the surrounding sea. The even better news is its all free (once you’ve paid the boat fare across) and you get up to three hours to enjoy it all. We’ll hopefully see you out here…
Friday 18th August comments: With the focus of the seabirds gone, we now look at other areas of the Isle of May NNR and as a result we have a very special two day event planned for early September.
We are organising a special ‘Open Doors Weekend’ event on 2nd and 3rd September where you’ll be able to see inside buildings normally under lock and key! Everything from the two main lighthouses (200 year old Stevenson lighthouse and the Low Light built in 19th century – you can visit the top) to the engine rooms and the homes of those who live and work on the island.
As an added feature we will also have experts on hand talking about the history of the island revealing everything from early Christianity to the role the island played in World War Two. Its not to be missed, check out the various boat operators for prices and sailing times and book today! We’ll see you then.
Wednesday 16th August comments: Over the summer months the Isle of May NNR has had two long-term volunteers working on the island, gaining valuable experience and contributing significantly to the running of the reserve. Sacha has been with us since early May and this is her story…
3 months down… 1 to go…
It was 3 months ago that I arrived in Anstruther to catch the ferry to my new home, the Isle of May. It was definitely a daunting feeling to first set foot on what was to become my home and work for the summer. A cup of tea with the team and boatmen soon calmed my nerves and I realised I had to brush up on my Scottish lingo (as well as Geordie – thanks Steely!)
Within my first week I cooked dinner for 14, saw my first ever Black Redstart, ran a moth trap and played island cricket. It was these first experiences that showed me that this was a place I wanted to spend a lot more time. Since then I have cooked a lot more dinners, built a ping-pong table, braced the sea (without a wetsuit!) a number of times and even dressed up as puffin.
The highlight, however, of the last three months has been following the seabirds that also call this home for the summer. I have personally followed 80 arctic tern nests and 71 herring gull pairs from egg stage to fledgling. I have witnessed Guillemot and Razorbill chicks nervously jumping from the west cliffs down to meet their fathers in the sea and helped ring various seabirds including several Puffins.
Many of the seabirds leave the island by late August and we start to welcome migrant birds and seals in the autumn. I look forward to my last month on the island and the changes that come with the seasons.
Purple Sandpipers heading south
Good numbers of turnstone present
Tuesday 15th August comments: Its all change on the Isle of May as migrant birds are starting to move through, using the island as a fueling station on their migrations south. In recent weeks the number of waders has been increasing and counts yesterday revealed totals of 142 Turnstone, 48 Purple Sandpipers, 111 Oystercatchers, 13 Redshanks, 3 Whimbrel and 2 Dunlin.
The majority of these birds are on the move south although one or two will remain resident for the winter. As well as waders, we’ll be expecting an increase of small passerine birds over the next few weeks as the Isle of May takes on its next vital role, playing an important migration station.
The Island remains open until 1st October and if you visit, its well worth keeping your eyes peeled for anything as a day never goes by without some interesting wildlife sighting.
Young Fulmar chick up close and personal
Even at a young age already developing its hooked beak and ‘tube nose’
Team in action
Sunday 13th August comments: Mid-August is witness to the final seabird ringing of the year as the last birds to fledge; the Fulmar chicks are ringed. Having been incubating eggs for up to 60 days and then raising chicks for another 50 days, the Fulmar chicks are almost ready to depart.
However in true Isle of May style, the birds are not leaving without being ringed (which helps contribute to the huge amount of seabird data collected on here). However its not that straight forward and not that easy…
The Fulmar chicks are on the cliff ledges without parents (who are out fishing) but these little bundles of fluff are not as defenseless as they may seem, as they spit an oily substance at any intruder which comes close. And oh boy it smells. So if you are visiting the island in the next few days, be warned its not the seabirds which smell just the staff!