GS W Iain English

Great Spotted Woodpecker for second day (Iain English)

Rosefinch 1 (Iain English)

Common Rosefinch (Iain English)

Tuesday 19th September comments: The Isle of May has been buzzing the last few days as migrants birds have been arriving, the first real arrival this autumn (due to a direct result of the wind direction).

Our Great Spotted Woodpecker was still r=present for a second day, enjoying life on his new treeless island but glad to report its feeding well. The Little Bunting, the real star of the show was also still present but elusive whilst a Common Rosefinch was new in. On days like this, we do feel privileged to live and work on one of the best east coast migrant stations with migration happening all around us.

However as quickly as birds arrive, they’ll move on as the winds are switching back to the west and we can concentrate on other things; like our Grey Seals. The number of seals are increasing daily around the island and the first pup is doing well with plenty more to follow in the forthcoming weeks and months.

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Can’t See the Wood for the Trees

GS W Iain English (20)

That’s no tree…. Woodpecker on the side of the Lighthouse! (Iain English)



Any trees please?

Little Bunt (Gus)

The real rare bird of the day; Little Bunting (Gus Routledge)


All the way from Siberia; Yellow-browed Warbler

Monday 18th September comments: Just when you thought you had seen it all… Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding on the lighthouse on the Isle of May NNR! Yesterday was an impressive day for migrant arrivals (rather surprising as we weren’t expecting it) as north-easterly winds brought in birds from Scandinavia and beyond.

An immature Great Spotted Woodpecker was discovered clinging to the side of the lighthouse, the first record since 2013 and the bird had to resort to feeding on the ground on this treeless island. This bird is of ‘northern’ origin having originated from Scandinavia and other birds arriving from that similar region included our first Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn and a scattering of commoner warblers.

The rarest of the lot was a Little Bunting discovered mid-afternoon which showed well for a lucky few. You can’t keep your eyes off the Isle of May and with further promising winds forecast, what else will arrive? Blue Tit anyone?

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Seawatch weekend

Manx flight (Ciaran 1)

Plenty of Shearwaters on the move (like this Manx Shearwater)


Monsters! Great Skua (also known as Bonxies) flying over

Sunday 17th September comments: Our focus has altered slightly this weekend away from our first Grey Seal pup (which is still doing well) and we started looking at the sea! However we weren’t staring at the waves, but what was flying above the breaking waves.

The wind has switched to the north and as a result, we’ve had some interesting seabirds recorded. These birds are not the usual island breeders, but migrants on the move. Birds like Sooty Shearwaters (breeders from South Hemisphere) Skuas (from the north) and Geese from the north-west. It’s been all go and just another day in the life of the Isle of May.

Saturdays totals: 24N Sooty Shearwaters, 33N Manx Shearwater, 4N 17S Red-throated Diver, 18N 4S Great Skua, 11N 6S Arctic Skua, 8S Brent Goose, 321 Pink-footed Geese amongst others.

Sundays Totals (so far) as at 10am: 12N Sooty Shearwater, 18N Manx Shearwater, 8S Red-throated Diver, 5 Great Skua, Velvet Scoter, 15 Wigeon and 42 Common Scoter


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First Seal Pup!


New life! Our first Grey Seal pup of the autumn (Gus Routledge)


Healthy baby boy (Gus Routledge)


Pup doing well (Gus Routledge)

Thursday 14th September comments: New life! The Seal season has begun as this morning the Isle of May NNR welcomed its first Grey Seal pup to the world; a young male on the north rocks of the island. The pup, born overnight was in a healthy state with mother in attendance and over the next three week’s we’ll keep a close eye on its development.

Female Grey Seals pup on the Isle of May from September-December (peaking early-November) and almost 2,500 will be born during this period making it one of the most significant Grey Seal pup nurseries in the UK. The mothers will feed their pups with milk for 16-21 days during which time the pup will gain an average of 30kg (66lbs). During the lactation period the female will lose up to 65kg (143lbs) of her body weight. Thereafter the pup will moult and the mother will leave as it has reached independence (it’s a harsh upbringing, independent at just 21 days!)

Hopefully our first pup will survive and soon we’ll have plenty more pups to tell you about. We’ll also be welcoming the team from St.Andrews University who study the seals from mid-October, so plenty of more Seal news to follow…

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Conservation in action…

Wednesday 13th September comments: Conservation comes in many forms and on the Isle of May we boast Scotland’s oldest (and first!) Lighthouse; a beacon which had a coal burning fire basket on the top floor constructed in 1636 (to put it into context Charles I was the King of England at the time).

The building has weathered the storms of time (quite literally) but it sometimes needs a helping hand. In recent months the beacon has been stripped of its white render and conservation work to restore the building has been undertaken by a combined Northern Lighthouse Board and Historic Scotland team.

The final phase of the operation is approaching as the building is being re-rendered and hopefully by early October, we should have a white gleaming beacon once again (for the first time since 2015). Its not just the wildlife we conserve on here but the important buildings alongside. All part of the day job…

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Visiting the May

Monday 11th September comments: No one will disagree with the comments that the Isle of May is a staggering place for wildlife; supporting thousands of seabirds in the summer and one of the most important Grey Seal nurseries in the British Isles. However what else has the place to offer at this quiet time of year?

The Isle of May has a wealth of history dating back to the establishment of early Christianity in the 7th Century and we are celebrating this with an exclusive exhibition which is open daily, in the main lighthouse. So a visit at this time of year allows you access into the 201 year old Stevenson Lighthouse and to view the stunning exhibition at the same time (and all for free!)

The island also offers you the peace and tranquility of getting away from the hustle and bustle of life whilst enjoying the stunning views of the Firth of Forth and beyond. As well as the man-made features, the island will still spring a few wildlife surprises as well, with Grey Seal numbers increasing (we expect our first seal pup to be born mid-month) whilst keep the eyes peeled; its a great time for bird migrants as well as whales and dolphins around the island.

The island is open almost daily (weather dependent) until 1st October. We have a special ‘Seal weekend’ event planned for 30th September-1st October, so don’t delay…. check out the boat websites for sailing times and access:

May Princess (sails from Anstruther):

Osprey Rib (sails from Anstruther):

Seabird Rib (sails from North Berwick):

Forthwild Rib (sails from North Berwick):

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Migrants on the May

Jamie Coleman (26)

migrants on the move through the island (Jamie Coleman)

Jamie Coleman (25)

Birds like Wheatears heading south (Jamie Coleman)

Jamie Coleman (33)

Blackcaps heading south (Jamie Coleman)

Saturday 9th September comments:  At this time of year migrants birds have replaced our breeding seabirds as small passerines are moving through, using the island as a vital stop-over. Northern breeders such as Wheatears, Whinchats and warblers are currently moving with more to arrive over the next few weeks.

However soon we’ll be welcoming other birds on the move as Fieldfares, Blackbirds and Redwings start heading into the UK for the winter from breeding grounds in Scandinavia. The Island at this time of year acts as one big service station, as birds stop off to refuel before heading on their way (to whichever part of the world they are heading).

As well as usual arrivals, if the wind is in the east we can expect a few rarities along the way and in recent months we’ve welcome our second ever Great White Egret and third Two-barred Crossbill! Even today we noted our second ever Goshawk…so if you visit, keep the eyes to the skies…

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