Dormant February

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The priory and the cold Isle of May

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No seabirds and not much else

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The Loch and the banksides looking lifeless

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However life is on its way….

Friday 21st February comments: Visits to the Isle of May at this time of year are often brief as deliveries are dropped, contractors are organised but the island is generally left to sleep in its winter slumber. The weather of recent (will these storms ever stop?) have also curtailed any serious attempts to get to the island but with any weather windows we make the most of the drop in weather and head out for various reasons.

On Wednesday we took advantage to drop off more supplies and fuel as the preparations continue for the new season ahead but we weren’t long back before the next storm hit. It’s always good to visit the island during the winter months as it gives us an opportunity to check on the place and more importantly check for any winter storm damage. I’m glad to report all was well although the island does look bleak and cold at this time of year. The seals have long gone, the vegetation is dead and it’s often hard to believe that it will become a thriving seabird metropolis in just a matter of months.

However there are signs of life as deep down in the broken soil, the first signs of germination of sea campion are starting to spring up and soon we’ll have life galore across the island. The seabirds are not too far away either, as good numbers of Guillemot and Razorbills are present in the islands waters whilst Shags roost nightly on the island. It won’t be that long before we expect other seabirds such as Kittiwakes and Puffins, but we could do with the wind dropping… but that’s another story.

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Visiting Isle of May

Thursday 13th February comments: Its that time of year again when you look outside and the lighter nights are well on their way. So we are sure many of you have started planning holidays, short-breaks or even day visits to local attractions but have you ever considered the Isle of May?

The Isle of May is a national nature reserve owned and managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and is one of the most accessible and spectacular seabird reserves in the country. Boats depart from Fife and Lothian throughout the summer months (see below for links) and once you’ve paid the boat fare, the island is free to access!

The island is home to thousands of seabirds including the largest east coast Puffin colony (we have over 40,000 PAIRS of Puffins) and home to Grey Seals. If you are really lucky you may even encounter Harbour Porpoise or Bottle-nosed Dolphins and it’s not uncommon to see Minke Whales in late summer. As well as wildlife we have history dating back to early Christianity and an impressive ‘Stevenson’ Lighthouse which is free to enter and climb to the top. However if you just want a stroll across a spectacular island, then we’ve got the place for you…

The island opens from 1st April-30th September and boats sail almost daily weather dependent.  To visit the Isle of May, you can book boat journeys on-line at the various boat companies (see below)

May Princess (sails from Anstruther): https://www.isleofmayferry.com/

Osprey (sails from Anstruther): http://www.isleofmayboattrips.co.uk/index.php?fullsite=1

Seabird Rib (sails from North Berwick): https://seabird.org/visit/boats/isle-of-may-landings/10/22/159

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Quick island visit

Tuesday 11th February comments: Having studied the weather systems, we decided to make a quick island visit on Friday before the fun began with Storm Ciara on Saturday. At this time of year we start planning for the new season ahead and start moving kit and equipment out whilst also taking the opportunity to check the island over for storm damage and anything else that may be of interest.

As you can see from the photos above taken on the day, the island is looking quiet and bleak, with very little wildlife with a scattering of rabbits and a few seabirds present. Interestingly a Buzzard was noted; a species we had failed to record on the May last year but it goes to show the variety of spice on the island even at this time of year (suspect the Buzzard was taking advantage of our rabbit population).

The growing season has yet to start as the battle scars of the previous Seal season were evident but it won’t be long before the island makes a recovery and the seabirds and people will be back. It was a good visit, with supplies dropped and the planning for the new season continues as it won’t be long now…

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Storm Ciara

Sunday 9th February comments: Strom Ciara is currently wreaking havoc across the UK bringing serious storms and damage to all parts of the British Isles. Glancing at the Shipping Forecast their are reports of storms in all areas with ‘severe gale’ or ‘storm’ force with ‘very rough’ or ‘high’ forecast for the surrounding seas. Its certainly epic and one to watch, at a safe distance.

However when these storms rage, has anyone ever thought about the seabirds which live out at sea. What do they do when such storms hit? Many birds are away from the local area but we still have plenty of Shags, Fulmars, Gulls around the island whilst Guillemots, Razorbills and even Puffins are not too far away.

A good majority of birds (Shags, Gulls) can seek shelter on the island but they still need to enter the turbulent waters to feed. If the storm lasts a day or two, birds will be okay but if prolonged weather continues finding food will become more difficult and the old, weak and inexperienced birds will start to suffer. This applies for the Auks which will remain out at sea riding out the seas (yes just sitting on the water regardless of how big the storm is) but if things don’t settle, then we’ll expect mortality and birds will be found dead on beaches, known as ‘wrecks’.

Hopefully Storm Ciara will pass quickly and everything and everyone can get back to their daily routines and the seabirds of the North Sea can dust themselves down and get back to do what they do. Its not an easy life being a seabird, but they are hardy and hopefully the majority will be okay during these rough spells.

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Biosecurity on Isle of May

Friday 7th February comments: It’s been a productive few days for the Isle of May as we’ve been producing a working plan of action for biosecurity for the island; in other words keeping the island free from invasive species. An invasive species is a non-native species which is not naturally found in an area/on an island which has been introduced by humans, either deliberately or accidentally. These species can include mammals such as rats, mice, stoats and mink, some of which are native to mainland UK. However it’s the introduction of these animals to offshore islands which can lead to very serious environmental and economic damage.

Invasive animals can cause a range of problems for our islands as they are often skilled hunters and exploit local wildlife which have not evolved to cope with these predators. The eggs and chicks of ground-nesting seabirds such as Puffins and Terns are particular vulnerable and their populations can quickly be decimated by species such as rats (in some parts of the world, even leading to extinction of vulnerable populations of animals).

Currently the Isle of May, like many of our seabird islands are predator free and are some of the most important areas for breeding seabirds and we aim to keep it that way. As part of this an EU funded LIFE project has been set up called Biosecurity for Life, Website: https://biosecurityforlife.org.uk/ and it is working with several partners including SNH to ensure our seabirds are not at risk.

What this means at ground level is that we’ll be setting up a detection program on the island to allow us to detect rats if any make it to the island. It’ll also allow us to have the response team ready if any incursion occurs but also to make people aware of why it is important we remain predator free. So you’ll be seeing evidence of the new campaign on the island including posters making people aware and hopefully the Isle of May, like many other important seabird colonies, will remain predator free for many generations to come.

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Volunteer 2020

Tuesday 4th February comments: The Isle of May needs you! Are you looking to develop your career in conservation, between years at university or looking for a change of career, well the Isle of May National Nature Reserve may be able to help. We are looking for long-term volunteers who will help with all aspects of this fabulous reserve during the summer months.

We are looking for people who will help with visitor management (meeting and providing information to our daily visitors as well as to help run events and look after the islands infrastructure. As well as this you’ll get involved with species monitoring (especially Arctic Terns, Eiders and Large Gulls) including ringing, monitoring and population counts. On top of all this you’ll get involved with practical maintenance of the reserve including habitat management and basic maintenance tasks and anything else which crops up on the island!

The volunteer posts are for the summer (starting date can be discussed but ideally late April-early May) and you’ll need to be at least 18 years old, personable, approachable, enthusiastic, a good communicator, and have excellent spoken English. You’ll need to be able to fit into a small island community and to work in a team or on your own. You’ll have a strong interest in conservation, a good knowledge of Scotland’s natural heritage and lots of enthusiasm for the Isle of May. You’ll be physically fit and have a responsible attitude to health and safety, complying with procedures designed to keep you and others safe.  You’ll be willing to work outdoors in all weathers, keen to learn and adaptable.

If you are interested, the deadline for applications is on Friday 28th February. For more information please e-mail david.steel@nature.scot for a Volunteer Expression of Interest form and further details.

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The Record Breaker…

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The impressive Arctic Tern on the Isle of May

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Nesting amongst the thrift on the roof of the visitor centre!

Arctic Tern

Youngsters preparing for life on the wing

Friday 31st January comments: We’ve brought you the stories of several seabirds which winter locally to the Isle of May, those which travel further and those which travel to West Africa. But today we bring you the story of the longest, the record breaker; the bird which real does see no borders or boundaries.

Arctic Terns nest on the Isle of May from mid-May to late July and family parties gather in August before heading off on one of the most remarkable journeys any animal undertakes on the planet. The birds depart south and head beyond Europe, down Africa and in some cases into the Indian Ocean before wintering off the pack-ice of the Antarctic. These birds will see 24 hour day light and in February, will congregate around the East Antarctic with research showing that the West Ice Shelves are an important area. These birds are undergoing a full feather moult and feeding extensively on krill before eventually heading back north in early March back to UK breeding grounds.

It’s an incredible journey, the longest of any animal on the planet and it’s undertaken every year and Arctic Terns can live beyond thirty years of age (so think how many miles these birds must fly!) It’s impressive, beyond comprehension but it happens. These birds are the true flyer of flyers and so if you are visiting an Arctic Tern colony over the summer, just remember how far these birds have travelled, it might just blow your mind.

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