Eiders on the March

Monday 12th March comments: Despite the cold windy start to the new season (which potentially has delayed the breeding season for several species), there is also an urge to get going no matter what. In recent days we’ve noticed an increase of Eider duck numbers around the Island including birds coming up onto the loch and that means just one thing; it’s nesting season!

Drake Eiders can be seen and heard displaying (they’ve been displaying for a few months now), trying to capture the attention of the females, whilst the females are now looking to breed and nest. Over 1,100 females nest on the Isle of May making it one of the most important Eider colonies in the U.K. We expect our first female to start nesting soon as she’ll wander up to a suitable nest spot, and will start laying eggs (Eiders will nest all over the island from the thick vegetation of the tops, to the pathways and around the buildings dotted across the Isle). Interestingly female Eiders don’t start incubating the full clutch of eggs until they are all laid, as this ensures that all the eggs will hatch on the same day to allow her to take the chicks to sea within 24 hours.

However despite the first female preparing to nest, there are many more following her and it is often a protracted season as females will still be arriving and nesting in mid-May, at the same time as these early nesters which will have chicks! So if you visit, watch your feet because some very special ladies are coming to town.  

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Saturday 10th April comments: Today we bring you the exciting news that the Isle of May will (hopefully) open its doors to the public from Monday 26th April. As we continue to take advice from Scottish Government we are looking at opening the island, Covid safe, from 26th April.

Work will continue behind the scenes to ensure we are ready for this date but its exciting news and will mean we can share this magical island and all of its stunning wildlife with everyone! We’ll keep you informed as we move forward but in the meantime check out the various boat companies websites (see below) which operate trips to the island (you can book online).


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

Osprey Rib (departs Anstruther): https://www.isleofmayboattrips.co.uk/

Seabird Rib (departs North Berwick): https://seabird-centre.seafari-edinburgh.co.uk/forth-ferry-and-isle-of-may

BlueWild Rib (departs Dunbar): https://www.bluewild.co.uk/isle-of-may-landing-tour/

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What happened to spring?

Thursday 8th April comments: As with the previous few weeks, the weather has dominated life on the Isle of May as we’ve been battening down the hatches more than we can remember! The winds have been strong all week (with the exception of Wednesday morning) and today it was gusting 52mph (in other words windy!)

As a result bird migration has been put on virtual hold as at this time of year we would be normally recording numerous Chiffchaffs on their way north but instead have not recorded a single bird in the month of April so far and we are eight days into the month. The seabirds have also reacted to the inclement weather as many have moved back out to the open North Sea to ride the storms out. Puffins have been away for the last seven days whilst Guillemots and razorbills only appear fleetingly. Apart from the Shags which are on nests, everything else is away and we don’t blame the,.

Hopefully we’ll start to see some normality next week (temperatures above freezing would be nice) and the seabird breeding season can kick start again. We will also bring you some exciting news about opening the island, as we continue to work hard behind the scenes to get the place open! So watch this space. Now can we have some light winds and sunshine please?

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Easter Snowshine

Monday 5th April comments: Easter is often associated with springtime, flowering daffodils, new born lambs and glorious walks in the countryside. In reality today parts of the U.K have experienced snowfall, hail and temperatures below -8. Welcome to Easter everyone.  

Here on the Isle of May the temperatures reached a low of -3 degrees overnight but that doesn’t take into consideration of the wind chill, so you have an idea of what it’s really like (biting cold!). The strong north-westerly wind has also produced some impressive seas with swell and waves crashing into the east side of the island. As a result the majority of seabirds have cleared off the island, back out to the relative safety of the North Sea leaving only those early nesting Shags to sit it out and take the brunt of the storm. We suspect this weather (which is set to continue over the next few days) will potentially delay other breeding seabirds despite daylight hours increasing.

So the island is fairly quiet and with very few migrant birds moving (you don’t blame them for staying where they are) it’s been a quiet day on the island but at least we can stay safe and warm inside, just think of those seabirds sitting on the sea… Lets hope it passes quickly and we can get on with the more spring-like weather and the seabirds can start again.  

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Wader migration

Turnstone on the way north (Bex outram)

Saturday 3rd April comments: When we think of bird migration at this time of year we often think about when the first Swallows are seen, or the first Swift heard or the familiar Cuckoo singing its song in late April. However quietly and slowly there are many other birds on the move and as we are a rocky island, we are perfectly placed and provide great habitat for a number of rocky shore waders.

In the last week we’ve had over 70 Purple Sandpipers (pictured above in the second photo) and 60 Turnstone on the island and most of these will have over-wintered here whilst others will have travelled from more southern wintering grounds and are just stage stopping to take a break. However you may ask, where are these birds going?

Both Turnstone and Purple Sandpipers do not breed in the U.K. (well literally just a few pairs of Purple Sandpipers do) but these birds are heading north. As the spring advances, the weather and daylight hours improve and Purple Sandpipers breed right across the Arctic from eastern Canada to Russia with populations in most countries in between including Greenland and Iceland. Turnstone breed in similar areas including Fennoscandia and therefore both species have some way to go. These migration routes are well studied and both will go about their business without attracting too much attention, but it just shows that migration is in action even i the small corners of the Isle of May. As well as these two, small numbers of Redshank, Dunlin, Whimbrel and Curlew also use the island, so you just can’t take your eyes off the place.

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Well we almost floated off…

1st April update: Well we hope you all enjoyed the laugh this morning and we are glad to report that our anchors have not snapped and we are still very much here, at the mouth of the Forth. the Jewel of the Forth as we are known. Thank you to our great friend Graeme Duncan who helped us achieve the laughs of the day. Happy April Fools Day everyone.

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Anchor Points Snap!

Shocking scenes: aerial photos of the Isle of May this morning wedged against the Fife coast (Graeme Duncan)
Satellite images showing the new location of the Isle of May (Graeme Duncan)

Thursday 1st April comments:

Isle of May anchor points snap!

Island residents on one of Scotland’s most important national nature reserves woke today to the shocking news that their island has moved. Overnight It appears the anchor points of the island have snapped following yesterday’s strong north-easterly winds which have then pushed the island out of position. The Island has drifted up river in the Firth of Forth and wedged itself against the nearby coastlines.

In an almost repeat of the recent Suez event, the island finds itself jammed against the banksides of the Forth although authorities are counting their blessings as the island has come within 500m of hitting the world famous Forth Rail Bridge, the main rail link to Scotland, before becoming wedged.

An investigation is now underway to discover why and how the anchor chains snapped and the island drifted upriver without detection. The area is now a clear danger to shipping and as the Forth is a major shipping route (over 12% of Scotland’s entire cargo trade use the Forth) there will be obvious economic impact if the situation is not resolved soon.

Reserve managers David and Bex who live on the island commented “we woke this morning to a thump and a jolt as the island wedged against the Lothian and Fife coasts”. However their was reassurance for the public that the grounding will not have any detrimental effect for the breeding seabirds as David mentioned “although the island has drifted, there is a clear line of sight out to the open North Sea so the thousands of Puffins will still be able to come and go as usual. However for now the residents of Lothian and Fife have a new puffin filled island on their doorstep for the time being, so enjoy whilst it lasts”

A spokesperson for NatureScot commented that they are now working closely with Transport Scotland to look at solutions to tow the island back into position We’ll keep you posted on the developing story as it happens. Stay tuned.

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First White-bums!

The first Wheatear of the season arrived today (Bex Outram)
Barnacle Goose preparing to head north

Tuesday 30th March comments: The breeding seabirds of the island have been responding to the (relatively) calm weather we’ve had of recent but the winds have not been ideal for migrant passerines until today.

A drop in the wind strength has allowed the first noticeable day of arrivals on the island for a while as birds start flooding in from wintering grounds from Africa and beyond. The most spectacular was the arrival of two northern Wheatears (with their distinctive white rumps) which are on their way to Scottish upland breeding grounds for the summer. In recent days a good number have been arriving further south in England so it was only a matter of time before we got our first. These wonderful migrants light up the dullest of days and late March is peak arrival time on the Isle of May as in recent years the first birds have been seen between 28th March-4th April with the earliest arriving on 22nd March 2017.

As well as the Wheatears, two Sand Martins scooted north on their northerly migration as they arrived fresh-in and that was also reasonably early for the species. Interestingly it is this time of year when birds are not only arriving but also departing having overwintered successful and both Barnacle Goose and Fieldfare were recorded as they prepare for a northern bound journey to Scandinavia and beyond. The Isle of May is an important flyway for so many birds and so it is proving once again. Expect a lot more migration news in the forthcoming weeks.   

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Puffin Nuffin

One of the first puffins back…
a few more
Checking out old burrows
But then off!

Sunday 28th March comments: Whilst our breeding Shags are underway (the first eggs were discovered on Friday), the majority of our seabirds are having their usual slow start to the beginning of the season and some birds aren’t even back yet.

Our Puffins touched land early this year on 16th March having spent the winter out at sea but since then the unsettled weather has resulted in only a small number being present. Over the ten days since that arrival date, birds have been seen on land on only a handful of occasions and we still yet wait for the ‘big’ arrival date when we expect over 80,000 Puffins to land on the Isle of May (and how is exciting will that be?)

Puffins will return to the same nest burrow which they used the previous year and spring cleaning will commence as they prepare for egg laying in mid-April. We look forward to the mass return of birds but until then we’ll wait patiently and will bring you the news once they are all here. Until then enjoy the photos of some of the birds which have landed in recent days; it’s good to see them back.  

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Shags on EGGS!!

Friday 26th March comments: It has been talked about and we thought it would happen (but maybe not this quickly) but we have the news that the first Shags are on EGGS!!

Late yesterday afternoon a pair were discovered incubating the first egg on the island, which kick starts the new seabird breeding season. European Shags are often the first to start nesting in a season and so it has proved with this discovery. Over the last five days, pairs have been involved in pair bonding and some were noted copulating. A good number now have well constructed nests and it was no surprise when the first egg was discovered.

Despite the knock-back in early February due to the bad weather (including snow on the island), it is great to have a start and this egg will be the first of many over the forthcoming weeks. Interestingly the first date is similar to recent seasons (apart from 2018 due to the ‘Beast from the East’ which delayed all breeding seabirds) as shown with the first egg dates below:

2021:   25th March

2020:   Early April (date not known due to lack of any staff on island)

2019:   1st April

2018:   29th April

2017:   29th March

2016:   22nd March

2015:   19th March

So it begins and slowly and surely the seabird season starts after a sleepy winter. We look forward to bringing you all the news and reports from the island this year so keep tuning in.

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