Moths 2017


Magpie – 6th year recorded on the Isle of May

Garden Tiger

Garden Tiger – recorded every year.

Canary-shoulder Thorn

Canary-shouldered Thorn – 2 individuals recorded this year.

Tuesday 12th December comments: This year has been exceptional for moth records with a record breaking number of different species being recorded; 106 different species to be exact! This included seven species recorded for the first time on the island. The last previous record was 96 different species in 2013.

Throughout the season the island residents from Fluke Street and the IoM Bird Observatory set moth traps at night, a light over a catching box, and then in the morning identify and record the numbers of the moths before being released.  The trap works by the moths being drawn towards the light and then fall into the box unharmed, taking shelter in egg boxes that are placed in the box.

There is common thought that moths are brown, boring and even scary but there over 2500 different species in the UK all with a unique pattern, yes some are brown but others are colourful and bright, such as the Garden Tiger, a regular to the Isle of May in the summer. This year we also caught two Canary-shoulder Thorn, another stunning moth. So, if you see a moth take a closer look and admire their patterns.

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Visiting the Isle of May

Thursday 7th December comments: The Isle of May NNR is a very special place for wildlife at any time of year from the breeding seabirds in the summer to the vast numbers of Grey Seals in the autumn. However its at this time of year when people start planning trips for next year and if you’ve not been, then we’d highly recommend a visit to the ‘Jewel of the Forth’, the Isle of May.

The Isle of May is a national nature reserve home to thousands of breeding seabirds during the summer months, including over 40,000 pairs of Puffins (the largest puffin colony on the east coast of the UK). Its a unique experience and an opportunity to encounter nature at your feet and we mean that quite literally as you’ll be walking over nesting Eider ducks and having to watch out for pecking Arctic Terns.

The island is open from April-September with boats sailing almost daily (weather dependent) from both the north side (Fife) and south side (Lothian) of the Firth of Forth. After you’ve paid the boat fare, the island is free to enter and you can have up to three hours on the island exploring everything from the cultural history (the island is steeped in history dating back to the 7th Century), the buildings (free access to the main Stevenson lighthouse) the views and the wildlife, it really is well worth a visit.

People often ask how they can support the important work we do looking after such a magnificent place like the Isle of May and we simply say; just visit. So if you’ve been before or you are looking for something new, then get planning and we’ll see you in 2018.

Links to boat companies operating to the Isle of May:

May Princess (sailing from Anstruther):

Osprey Rib (sailing from Anstruther):

Seabird (sailing from North Berwick):

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Bird Highlights 2017


Saturday 2nd December comments: Here on the Isle of May NNR we’ve had a reasonable year for the variety of bird migrants which have been found although it could have been better! The weather system during the autumn months was generally westerly dominated which brought fewer birds than hoped for (we need easterly winds for good birds to arrive).

Despite the weather the Island remains one of the best east coast localities for unusual birds and we still welcomed several noticeable highlights including a Two-barred Crossbill all the way from the boreal forest of Russia and a Great White Egret flying over with Grey Herons. The list of ‘best birds’ is shown below, still not bad considering we think that we’ve had an average year! Enjoy the list below and what will 2018 bring….

Major Highlights:

2nd       Taiga Bean Goose, White-billed Diver, Great White Egret, Goshawk,

3rd        Two-barred Crossbill

5th        Golden Oriole

6th        Gadwall, Red Kite, Arctic Warbler  

7th        Gadwall, Red Kite,     

8th        Gadwall, Olive-backed Pipit, Hawfinch

9th        Gadwall, Honey Buzzard, Hawfinch

12th      Slavonian Grebe, Subalpine Warbler (Eastern subspecies*)

(*first DNA sampled individual with two others of this form awaiting review of sight only record)

13th     Sabine’s Gull

14th      European Nightjar

Record breaking

New record day counts of the following species:

  • Pink-footed Goose – 3,585 on 3rd October (was 2,500 in 20015)
  • Goosander – 12 on 22nd September (previously 10 on 22nd September 2010)
  • Tree Sparrow – 55 on 2nd September (previously 47 on 3rd June 1973)
  • Stonechat – 19 on 4th March (previously six on 1st October 2000 !!!).
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Winter Residence

Guillemot 1

Winter plumage Guillemots on the cliff ledges

Guillemot 2

An interesting time of year to view them

Tuesday 28th November comments: As we’ll all know, the Isle of May NNR is one of the most important seabird reserves in the country but at this time of year, very few seabirds are evident. Or are they?

As first glance, the cliffs are empty, the Puffins are in the Atlantic and the Terns are in the southern hemisphere so what should we look out for at this time of year? The only seabird to truly winter on the island is the Shags, with good numbers roosting on the island which feed nearby during the short winter daylight hours.

However a fairly recent phenomenon has seen the return of the Guillemots to the cliff ledges during mid-winter. These birds, the majority in winter plumage, return early morning for an hour or so to cement their claim on important breeding ledges before heading back out to the open sea to feed and rest. It’s an interesting winter strategy and it just shows you the importance of the places like the Isle of May even in mid-winter when you think very little is going on…

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Seal Safari

seal pup and mum

Mother and pup beside the visitor centre entrance


Mother and outside the front door!


Main road on the May blocked!

Saturday 25th November comments: The Isle of May NNR has certainly changed in recent weeks and as a gentle reminder of who really owns the island at this time of year you just need to look at the above photographs!


Grey Seals (cows, bulls and pups) completely dominate the south and north end of island including the jetty landings (this is now closed to prevent disturbance) and even the bit in the middle is being taken over. Several mums have now given birth around the visitor centre whilst one has crept further up towards the main residence.

It’s not just the adults, but young second coat pups are now wandering freely having successfully reached independence. One pup even made it to the Loch although disappointingly for it, it wasn’t the North Sea and will have to keep going. Its a changing world on the Isle of May.

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Plastic May

Monday 20th November comments: (Isle of May NNR). For those who watched the impressive Blue Planet II on Sunday night will have seen the problems of plastics in our seas & oceans but more importantly the impact it has on our wildlife.

It is considered that 8 million tonnes of plastic reach our seas every year and that amount is increasing annually. It’s a frightening statistic when you really think about it. Scientist believe that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050 and that the average person who eats seafood swallows up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic every year. Even our seabirds are affected with suggestions that 99% of the world’s seabirds will have eaten plastic at some stage in their lives.

You have to remember we are not just talking about the largest oceans and deepest seas but the areas we live. Just take a walk along your nearest beach and you’ll find evidence of plastics from cotton buds to bottles and polystyrene bits. It’s very evident and its’ causing serious problems.

Even out here, 6 miles out in the North Sea, the Isle of May NNR doesn’t escape the increasing problem. Every year we have various items washed up along the tideline and once removed, it is soon replaced on the next incoming tide. Even items people don’t consider as hazardous are some of the worst offenders. A good example would be balloons which we find at increasing regularity on the island and the impact can be devastating from birds being spooked off nests (and contents lost) to entanglement and death. We’ve seen it all and the problem is getting worse.

However there is some good news, some positivity’s coming out. As awareness of the problem increases attitudes and actions are being taken. We’ve stopped using as many bags in supermarkets, people are now reconsidering balloon releases and the use of daily plastic is being discussed. It’s a slow but positive step in the right direction and long may it continue.

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Pups Go Forth…

Fat Pupp 1

Fat and happy; a young Grey Seal pup with plenty of reserves

fat pup 2

21 days old and already moulted from its white coat

Sunday 19th November comments: The Isle of May NNR seal colony is slowly and surely changing as the autumn advances. Over the last month or so, Grey Seal pups have been born on the island and attentive mothers have been weaning them on a daily basis. However as the young pups grow in age and size, independence looms at just 21 days of age.

During the first three weeks of life the pups put on tremendous amounts of weight as after this period, they’ll start moulting into a second coat and their mothers will head off for the open sea. At present we have plenty of ‘second coaters’ around the island getting ready for their next big step…the North Sea.

The majority of these young pups have not encountered the North Sea before but they must brave up to the fact the next meal is not coming from mum and they must venture forth to feed. Its’ estimated that one-third of all pups which make it this far don’t survive their first year so it’s not going to be an easy 12 months ahead.

However despite this, thousands do make it and hopefully we’ll see this some of this year’s crop of youngsters return to breed on the Isle of May in future years. The circle of life continues.

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