Saturday 20th July comments: We’re not complaining on the Isle of May as it has been a good season for our terns (as mentioned previously on the blog). In complete contrast to last year, it’s very evident that large numbers of Arctic and Common terns are fledging as youngsters are not sitting around the jetty system waiting to leave.
It’s a wonderful sight and when our visitors arrived, it’s the first thing which will greet them. We’re glad to report the pecking from the adult birds has almost stopped now as they are concentrating on feeding hungry youngsters. Over the next few weeks we’ll be revealing the true extent of the season with population numbers and monitoring data to show just how good it’s been. We’ll not get too complacent as the season is not over just yet, but it’s close to being a success.
The photos above show one adult and three youngsters from near the jetty system. It’s hard to believe that these birds will be flying all the way to the Antarctic in the next six weeks but that is exactly what they’ll do. We wish them good luck!
The Isle of May is a brilliant place to live and work and over the course of the season the team are hardworking and make sure everything ticks along as intended. The reserve could not function without volunteers and last week we welcomed a special volunteer; Francesca the CEO of Scottish Natural Heritage.
The visit gave Francesca the ideal platform to promote volunteering within the organisation as well as to promote the five major causes of nature loss including changing land and sea use, pollution, climate change, direct exploitation and highlighting invasive non-native species.
As well as this core work (and plenty of e-mails and phone calls), Francesca also shadowed our two long-term volunteers Ella and Christin to see how we run this magical National Nature Reserve (we couldn’t run this place without our brilliant volunteers). Work for the week was varied (sometimes involving long hours) with daily early morning puffling rescue walks, various bird monitoring jobs, beach cleaning, Puffin diet work with CEH and preparing for and working with daily visitors (including cleaning the public toilets!)
Overall it was great to show off the Isle of May and how it operates, the day-to-day management and the top work of our great volunteers. Thanks Francesca for all the hard work and look forward to seeing you again in the future!
Foe a more comprehensive round-up of the visit complete with videos (its well worth a read and watch) check out the blog: https://scotlandsnature.blog/2019/07/15/island-life-volunteering-on-the-may/
Wednesday 17th July comments: The Isle of May can be a very busy place during the summer months as the island teams can find themselves busy deep entrenched in their work from research to visitor management and everything in between. However as the seabird breeding season is heading towards the end, the workload lifts allowing us to socialise more and discuss the finer points of the season.
Last night the island community pulled together to catch adult Arctic Terns as part of our study work with everyone helping from the SNH staff and volunteers to the research team from CEH and the PhD Students from St. Andrews University. It proved to be a very productive evening with over thirty adult Arctic Terns ringed as well as several already sporting rings (we can now check the details of when and where these birds were originally ringed).
It was a good night with a valuable outcome and thanks to everyone who took part. Arctic Terns are amazing birds with an even more incredible migration journey (they winter in the pack ice of the Antarctic) and it’s wonderful to have them nesting on the Isle of May.
Tuesday 16th July comments: The Isle of May is full of surprises our visitors enjoy some of the best wildlife encounters this country has on offer. The sheer numbers and how close you get to the birds is impressive and very few people will walk away disappointed (we hope).
On a recent visit, one of our visitors Lesley Danks managed to capture the magic moment that a Puffling departed the Isle for the open sea as it clambered over the rocks and made its way out to the open sea (thanks to Lesley for the above photos). Pufflings will then spend the next three years out at sea only coming ashore as it becomes closer to breeding age.
It just goes to show what you can see when you visit a brilliant national nature reserve like the Isle of May and it shows you should keep your eyes open as you never what you may see. We wish the Puffling well on its life journey and glad Lesley sent the photos.
Adult with its young Kittiwake (Photo – Samuel Langlois Lopez)
Shag Family (Photo Cristín Lambert)
Shag Family 2 (Photo Cristín Lambert)
Shag with small chicks
Monday 15th July comments: The Isle of May Kittiwakes have increased this season, an increase of 22% to 3,061 breeding pairs. This is a welcome rise after the breeding population suffered a decline in 2018.
This ‘kind-faced’ gull builds a nest on the cliff sides on small ledges, setting it apart from the majority of other gulls that nest on the ground. This breeding strategy helps them avoid predation from mammals and other ground predators, which luckily we don’t have here on the island but occur in other places around the world. Currently the Kittiwakes are feeding chicks, with some almost ready to fledge and some still white balls of fluff tucked into their nests.
Shags are also a cliff nesting species, building their nests on large ledges on some of the small cliffs around the island. This year the breeding population has declined again, to 389 pairs, a far cry from the 1,916 pairs that nested in 1987.
Shags feed mainly inshore and are one of the only island inhabitants that will stick around in the north sea for the winter. They will head to nearby harbours and sheltered bays with convenient roosting spots. Their populations can be heavily affected by winter storms, with turbulent seas making it hard for them to find food. Most adults and young are ringed with large coloured rings which make them individually identifiable to add to our understanding of their lives at home and away from the Isle of May.
Friday 12th July comments: Despite the occasional blip in the weather (it’s been described as liquid sunshine) the seabirds on the Isle of May appear to be heading for a reasonably good season. However until all the figures are crunched, we’ll not know for certain what has done well and not so well but that will be in a future blog.
For now evidence suggests that our Arctic Terns are having a good year with plenty of youngsters reaching fledging stage and we now have at least seven fully on the wing with plenty more to follow. Our Sandwich Terns are going strong raising young for the first time since 2017 whilst Common Tern numbers have increased, giving an overall good bill of health for the terns on the island.
Although we have youngsters on the wing, we still have birds hatching young so the protracted summer will mean we’ll still have young at nest sites in early August. If we can maintain food supply and weather for a few more weeks, we should be celebrating as the end of seabird season is fast approaching.
Fluffy young Oystercatcher on Isle of May
Heading back to mum
Thursday 11th July comments: The Isle of May has an abundance of wildlife and we often talk a lot about our seabirds and Seals (and I mean a lot). However we do have plenty of other hidden treasures and if you look closely enough when visiting you’ll find them across the island. Whether it’s migrating butterfly’s or an island mouse, we have it all.
Yesterday we encountered one of our breeding pairs of Oystercatchers (the island supports 20 pairs of these nesting waders) and we were lucky to encounter this chick with its parent. The youngster was feeding well but the adult was keeping a watchful eye and not allowing it to stray too far (as you can see). Oystercatchers are ground nesting birds and although they suffer from predation by the large Gulls (which will take their eggs and young) the majority raise chicks to fledging stage.
This youngster is more than big enough now to survive and we’ll look forward to seeing him on the wing in the next week or so. Until then he’ll stick close to his parents and continue to grow older by the day.