Autumn migration


Sunday 19th August comments: The Isle of May is slowly and surely changing as the last of our breeding seabirds depart for winter quarters and the hint of autumn is just around the corner.

As we say goodbye to the last of our Puffins, Kittiwakes and Shags, focus will turn to the thousands of small migrant birds which will descend on the island over the forthcoming months.  Small birds heading south to warmer climes will use the island as a service station, stopping to refuel, rest in relative safety before continuing their journey south. Birds like Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and many more will be recorded in good numbers.

We’ll also welcome northern breeders such as Fieldfare, Redwing and Blackbirds as they move from Scandinavia to escape the harsh weather to winter in the UK. The Isle of May acts as one big beacon, as birds will use the island to navigate to wherever they need to get too.

So its never dull out here and the change is about to happen. And we also will be welcoming or first Grey Seal pup of the autumn…then the fun really begins!

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Three Weekends, Three free Events!

Thursday 16th August comments: As the seabird season is coming to an end, we now focus on other aspects of the Isle of May and over the next three weekends, we have some free exciting events! These include:

Sunday 19th August: Top Archeologist Peter Yeoman will be conducting tours and guided walks at the monastery on the island, discussing the importance of the island in early Christianity and the findings of recent studies of the importance of the Isle of May.

Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th August: Meet the artist! Local artist Leo Du Feu will be present in the lighthouse on both days where an exhibition of his work featuring the landscapes and wildlife of the island is on display. Leo will be available to chat, offer tips and advice to anyone with an interest.

Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd September: Open Doors weekend!  We open the doors of buildings we normally keep under lock and key and give you special access to buildings such as the main Lighthouse, the Low lighthouse, engine rooms, the Beacon and much more. Its a great way to see the magic of the May from a very different perspective.

All these events are free but the usual boat fare costs will apply. Check out details  of boat availability, sailing times and costs on the respective boat operators websites:

May Princess (sails from Anstruther)

Osprey Rib (sails from Anstruther)

Seabird Rib (sails from North Berwick)

So don’t delay, book up and see you out here!

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Ending on a High



Shelduck pair seen leaving with their 5 ducklings

Wednesday 15th August comments: As we come to the end of our population blogs we shall end on a positive note. The Eiders are up 5% to 1,183 incubating females; the third ever highest count on the Isle of May, making it one of the UKs largest Eider populations.

We have also had the ‘other’ breeders that people don’t often notice on the island. We have recorded twenty pairs of Oystercatchers breeding, with many successfully fledging chicks. One pair were in the bad books for predating on the tern eggs, an unusual adaptive behaviour that spells bad news for our tern colonies.

There have been four pairs of Swallows nesting in the outbuilding on the island, creating mess on the freezer. Twenty three breeding pairs of Rock Pipits have been noted across the island, including one pair at the back of the Fluke Street cottages. Pied Wagtails remain stable at ten pairs, nesting in the walls and rock crevices.

Although our one pair of Manx Shearwaters have not had a breeding attempt this season, there are some positive signs. Last year the female never returned and the male sang his heart out the whole season, finally giving up in September. This year a new female has come to join him and they have been courting and singing away so fingers crossed they will return in 2019 to breed.

Shelduck have also had a good year with at least three pairs being recorded across the island and we were very lucky to see one pair take their little humbug ducklings out to sea.



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Not Everyones Favourite…Gulls!


Adult Herring Gull

Sally Gulls

Becky ringing gull chick – T:18V (Sally Reay)


Herring &LBB GullsGBB Gulls

Monday 13th August comments: They might have a bad reputation but the gulls of the Isle of May are decreasing in number. Herring Gulls have declined by 11% over the past two years; with 3,398 pairs breeding, the lowest count since 2010. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are also on the decline with 1,684 pairs breeding, the lowest count since 2007.

The Great Black-backed Gulls have also taken a decline this season; the first drop in the population for six years. There are 79 pairs breeding, most of which nest of Rona (an area inaccessible to the public) and probably nest there as there is less disturbance. This is one of the world’s largest gulls and you certainly know about it when getting close to their nests and ringing their chicks.

This season Becky Lakin (our long-term volunteer from 2017) has started collecting data on the Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls for her PhD project. She is looking at feeding dispersal, behaviour and breeding success of urban and wild gulls. Along with this she has also been colour ringing adults and chicks, so if you do see any yellow colour rings on the legs of gulls please look closer, taking note of the number/letter combination. It would be fantastic to see where these beasts go in the winter and to learn more about their movements.

Please email the following to report any sightings

Great Black-backed Gulls:

Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls:


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A Tern for the Worst

Ck1IqsmWUAAqsmlTern 1


Saturday 10th August comments: After seven years of population increases the Isle of May tern numbers have fallen. The Arctic Terns have shown the largest decrease with a 69% drop, to 261 breeding pairs.  The Common Terns have decreased to 17 breeding pairs, a decline of 41% but only two pairs short of 2016’s count.


There are a variety of reasons we think this year has been so poor. Firstly we had lengthy periods of fog which caused the terns to be unsettled, not sitting on laid eggs, leaving them vulnerable to predation. The regular presence of Peregrines also made the colonies more flighty and nervous. Several rogue Gulls came in and predated eggs and with fewer adults to defend to colony, dive bombing and chasing these gulls away, the gulls wiped out some areas.

The breeding Oystercatcher pair at the Beacon walked through the colony picking off eggs, something that is quite a rare occurrence. Perhaps because of the dry weather Oystercatchers found it hard to probe the ground for food and the terns eggs were an easy meal. As if that wasn’t enough, a female Kestrel was seen predating on some chicks that had made it.  So all in all not a great season for the terns but some did make it and we have seen chicks fledge.

It has been depressing for the island team after years of hard work from many people; creating habitats, building shelters, watching their number increase. It has at times been a delight but this crash in numbers and unsuccessful season has been a shock. However, we won’t let this stop us from continuing in our conservation efforts and making the island an attractive place for them to breed in hope they will return in 2019.

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Counts Continued!



One of the breeding Kittiwakes with young



Shag Family


Fulmar chick

Fulmar chicks are still present on the cliff tops

Friday 10th August comments: The cliff nesting birds on the Isle of May have all declined in numbers this year, following the trend of the Razorbills and Guillemots.

The numbers of breeding pairs of Kittiwakes have fallen by 30%, to 2,516 pairs.  This may seem drastic but in reality more adults birds were around hanging out on the cliffs and just haven’t bred this year. This is a good strategy as they may not have been in great condition having had to survive a rough winter storms. Kittiwakes will save their energy to see them through to next breeding season, rather than using vast amounts, laying eggs and raising chicks.

The Shag population has fallen by 15% from last years count, to 404 breeding pairs; this is still higher than in previous years. Our first Shag pair with eggs was seen on 29th April, a month later than the first egg last year.  It seems all the birds were delayed this year, probably due to the cold start we had at the beginning of the season and who would blame them for delaying?

Breeding Fulmar pairs are down 17% from last year; this tube nose breeder is now down to 283 pairs, the lowest count since 2013. These birds take their time breeding, incubating eggs for nearly 60 days, feeding chicks for around the same amount of time, meaning these fluffy chicks are still present on the island and will be here until September.


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The Counts Are In….




Wednesday 8th August comments: It has come to that time of year on the Isle of May that we reveal our seabird population figures, so over the next week we will be bringing you updates from this season.  Today it’s the start of our cliff nesting birds; Razorbills and Guillemots.

The number of Razorbill pairs has decreased by 4%; after four years of a steady increase it is the first drop in the population since 2013. However with 3,738 pairs this season it is still up there with one of the higher counts; the highest being 4,713 pairs in 2005 and lowest 1,425 pairs in 1991.

Guillemots have followed suit and numbers have also dropped by 10% to 14,902 pairs, making it the lowest count since 2014. This decline could be due to high winter mortality, with many being found dead along the coast during the winter storms earlier in the year.

Both species have now finished breeding and many are now away from the island at sea.  The youngsters will be making their way out alongside their fathers and developing into young independent Razorbills or Guillemots, moulting and growing their new flight feathers, learning to dive and fish for food.  There are still a handful on the cliffs, the late ones, so if you are out visiting the island soon, be sure to scan the cliffs for the last adults feeding chicks.


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