Flying Visit

Tuesday 11th December comments: Yesterday we took full advantage of the good weather to visit the Isle of May and deliver some important fuel deliveries. The high pressure weather system produced very little wind and as a result flat calm seas so it was a good opportunity to visit.

The Island at this time of year always looks bleak as the Seal season is almost over (still a few new pups being born but the majority have gone) whilst the vegetation is either dead or trampled (often into a mud bath). There are very few seabirds present (mainly Shags) and the island is deserted as no one is resident until the early spring. Despite this the island was still looking good and with no serious storms, there was no damage to report.

It’s always good to see the Isle of May through the seasons, even if we did just make a brief visit but it was good to get the jobs done and the place sorted as Christmas is on its way. Then we’ll be heading into 2019 and the new season will be upon us, you’ve been warned…

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Rare Birds Review (part 2)

(top from left to right: Rose-coloured Starling and Buff-breasted Sandpiper, middle: Short-toed Lark and Olive-backed Pipit, bottom: Thrush Nightingale and Greenish Warbler)

Saturday 8th December comments: The Isle of May attracts migrant birds from all parts of the globe and although this year was quieter in terms of variety (mainly due to westerly winds dominating – it’s better if it comes from the east!) Despite this the island still attracts plenty of interesting arrivals and this year still produced one or two noticeable highlights.

The first ever Buff-breasted Sandpiper, discovered by the Beacon in early September proved to be the first ever American bird to reach the shores of the island. Other highlights included a stunning looking adult Rose-coloured Starling, only the 3rd for the island and first since 1991 whilst a Short-toed Lark (from continental Europe) was only the 6th for the Isle of May. The recent good run of Olive-backed Pipits (all the way from Siberia) continued with two noted (the 9th-10th for the island), whilst other noticeable birds included two Sabine’s Gulls, two Thrush Nightingales, fourth ever spring Greenish Warbler, Marsh Warbler and Ortolan Bunting amongst others.

Overall a total of 169 different species were recorded this year, the third highest ever annual total for the island. It’s always interesting to see what arrives and we know every year is different so what will make the headlines in 2019? We’ll just all have to wait and see…

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Rare Bird Round-up (part 1)

(Top row: Coal Tit and Black Redstart, middle row: Red-backed Shrike and Hawfinch, bottom row: Tufted Ducks and Yellow-browed Warbler)

Thursday 6th December comments: Now the dust is settling on the completion of another Isle of May season we will look back over the year and bring you the various highlights from the season. Today we start with the scarce birds which arrived on the island throughout the season and made headlines (locally!)

The location of the Isle of May makes it ideal for migrants to arrive from all corners of the globe. However its not just about extreme rare birds but also unusual visitors to the island from the nearby mainland. Woodland birds are rare (the last Blue Tit was seen back in 2005 and the only ever Magpie was in 1986!).

This year we welcomed five Treecreepers (a record number), only the 10th ever Raven, the 10th-12th ever Hawfinch, the first Shoveler since 2010, Stock Dove (less than annual), two Coal Tits and seven Long-tailed Tits, all making it fascinating viewing locally. We also had record counts of several species including Tufted Duck, Grey Plover, Black Guillemot and Pomarine Skua amongst others.

However this is the Isle of May and we had rarer species which arrived but more about that in the next few days….

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December visit

1 seal trip

Early December and Seals remain

Wednesday 5th December comments: The Isle of May is starting to head towards winter dormancy although we still have plenty of Grey Seals present. The photos above show a snap shot of the island taken just a couple of days ago revealing several Grey Seals and their pups around the visitor centre.

Following the end of the Seal season in late December the island will retreat into a state of dormancy until seabirds start returning in early March. It’s always impressive to see the recovery of the island following the Seal season, as all the vegetation is dead but by the early spring it is showing signs of recovery.

Until then the island will remain quiet but we’ll be making brief visits out and will keep you all posted (as ever) on what is happening on the mighty Isle of May. Its been a great season but another is just about to start…not long now!

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Belgium calling

Down sized

One of ours….in Belgium (Nathalie C)


Our youngster in coastal Belgium

Monday 3rd December comments: We may have departed the Isle of May for the winter months but we are still very much connected as plenty of news and views coming from the island over the next few months. Today was a good start as Belgium came calling…

Our successful Great Black-backed Gull ringing project from the island, now in its fourth year has been generating reports of ‘our’ birds from far and wide. In recent months some of this year’s young have been sighted in France and Ireland amongst many other places.

However today we received news that M:112 has been sighted in Oostende harbour, along the coast of Belgium on 30th November (thanks to Francis Kerckhof for the information and photos). It just shows the movements of these birds as this individual was hatched this summer and ringed on 3rd July and yet just four months later the bird is wintering in Belgium! Impressive, most impressive.

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Mating Season

Friday 30th November comments: The Isle of May Grey Seal colonies are changing again as the number of new born pups is decreasing whilst young ‘second coat’ weaners are finding their way in the world. As for the adults, it’s all change as once the lactation period is complete (after 18-21 days) the female cow seals job is done. But not quite…

Over the last few weeks large Bull seals (which can weigh up towards 40 stone) have been battling and fighting for prime areas of the colonies to protect a harem of cow seals. It is at this stage that bulls will mate with cows either on land or in the sea. Interestingly female cow seals delay implantation (despite mating at this time of year) which allows the female to give birth at the same time every year.

Following mating, cow seals will head off into the North Sea to start the process of fattening up and getting fat reserves built up again for the winter and the new pregnancy in the New Year. Then next autumn the process will start all over again…

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Migrant Kings

Wednesday 28th November Comments: In yesterday’s Isle of May blog post we touched on the whereabouts of our seabirds during the winter. Whilst the majority remain in the North Sea, some do venture much further and in some cases, across the other side of the world…

One of our summer breeders the Arctic Terns are the world’s longest distant bird migrant (get your head around that!) These wing-wizards spend the summer breeding on islands such as the Isle of May which provide safe havens to nest, generally predator free and provide a good food supply in the surrounding seas. However these birds leave our shores in September and head south…. (and as south as you can go!)

Unlike other Tern species which winter off West Africa, Arctic Terns keep going and by late November (about now) are feeding off the pack-ice of the Antarctic. Some of these long distant travellers go beyond New Zealand for the winter and considering they live beyond 30 years, they really do pack in the miles (they can clock over half-a-million miles in a lifetime!!)

As the winter fades, the birds will turn their attention into returning north and will be back in late April around the Isle of May to start all over again. So the next time you visit in mid-summer, take your hats off to appreciate the king of migrants but please beware, watch your heads…

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