Back on Track


Stunning Razorbill on the cliffs

Kittiwake (VH)

Kittiwakes pair bonding at nest (Viv Hastie)

Puffins sandeels

Puffins bringing in plenty of sandeels

John Nadin (14)

Arctic terns nesting in good numbers (John Nadin)

Saturday 15th June comments: We’ve had the wind, we’ve had the rain and (whisper it quietly) we might be getting some much needed sunshine. The worst of the weather has moved on and the seabirds have generally been unscathed although we have lost a small number of chicks on the cliff ledges.

The storms which lashed us mid-week were generally from the north-east meaning the vast seabird colonies on the west cliffs were generally sheltered. The deep soil cap has helped Puffins (no flooding of underground burrows reported) whilst the Terns are all on eggs, so no small chicks were susceptible. It’s been a grim start to June and for everything and everyone concerned, we’d now like a settled spell of weather (please).

We are now heading into a busy and an important six week period which will make or break our seabird season and there is a need for settled weather. At present plenty of food is being brought in and long may that continue. Tomorrow we’ll bring you a full seabird breeding round-up and reveal what the latest is from this impressive seabird city.

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Flaming June


Shags in a storm (Jamie Coleman)


Heavy seas with Herring Gull (Jamie Coleman)


(The video above – sorry its on its side) shows the waves hitting us yesterday….

Thursday 13th June comments: Flaming June; glorious sunshine, BQ’s, beautiful sunsets….or maybe not. The Isle of May (like many parts of the country) have been hammered by the weather with north-easterly winds bringing heavy seas and rain. It’s not ideal for any bird never mind cliff nesting species or birds which nest underground, but that is what we are currently facing.

As you would expect, the visitor boats have been cancelled and the team have generally been inside (going stir crazy) as this is peak season for all work but the weather has stopped play. The good news for all concerned is that we are due to see a change tomorrow and it’ll give the seabirds some rest-bite so they can get on with incubating and raising young.

However until then, they’ll have to sit tight and we hope any damage is minimal as seabirds are tough resilient birds and they’ll face a lot worse in their lives, so hopefully we’ll get that good weather and we can actually start our summer.

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Nesting with a View…

Tuesday 11th Comments: The Isle of May attracts internationally important seabirds from the cliff nesters to the burrow diggers and its also enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year. In 2013-14 decisions were made by SNH to replace the old visitor centre (formally known as the mouse house) with a new modern facility and as part of the design it was decided that the new building would blend in with the landscape and therefore a green roof was constructed (amongst other things).

Fast forward a few years and our Arctic Terns are now nesting on the island, just like these birds…

These Arctic Terns may look like all other ground nesting terns, but these are special. These Terns are (technically) not nesting on the ground because they are nesting on the roof of the visitor centre…

Its a brilliant result and we have a total of seventeen pairs nesting on the roof this summer. It’s also not all about terns as the building is also been used by…

…nesting Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits who have both taken advantage of the artificial nest cups provided!

It just shows that with careful planning and some thought, new buildings don’t have to be negative towards wildlife as our new visitor centre proves. It’s a good result for the islands wildlife.

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Puffling 1

Very small Puffin chick, called a Puffling (a few days old) – (Cristin Lambert)

Puffling 2

The same chick four days later (Cristin Lambert)

Sunday 9th June comments: Pufflings! If you’ve ever wondered what a young Puffin looks like, well you now know by looking at the top photographs! The first Puffin chicks (known as pufflings) started to hatch from 22nd May and a good majority have now hatched across the Isle of May (but not all).

Puffins nest underground in burrows and adults will incubate for forty days (they only lay one egg) before the chick hatches and the busy activity of feeding the youngster begins. Unfortunately you’ll never see young Puffins as they will remain completely underground due to the dangers of the outside world (small Pufflings would make a tasty snack to a marauding large Gull).

After another forty days of being underground the youngster will be ready to go and without parents’ consent will leave the burrow (at night) and head for independence, but more on that later in the month. For now we have plenty of small chicks being fed and we thought we’d share some images of a youngster.

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Count Season

Saturday 8th June comments: The summer months are always a busy time for seabird colonies and anyone associated with them and we are no different on the Isle of May. Like many other sites, we’ve started the process of counting our seabird colonies as we look closely at what is going on and the numbers involved.

Since 1st June the team have been counting the cliff nesting species with all Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars,  Shags and Kittiwakes logged. The mammoth task takes time, patience and skill as we go about the job of counting nesting seabirds on the cliffs of the Isle of May. Although seabird populations can show fluctuations from year-to-year, it is the long-term trends which we are interested in and what is going with each individual species (we’ll be blogging later in the summer with the results).

However until then we’ll get on with counting and then crunch the numbers to see what we have. We’ve also got the Tern populations to count (hats needed for that job) although we only count the nesting large Gulls and Eiders every other year (we counted them last year with 1,685 pairs Herring Gull, 3,398 pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 1,183 nesting female Eiders). Its all go on the Isle of May…

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Eastern Promise

Photos above: Top – Icterine Warbler (left) and Red-backed Shrike (right) Bottom: Marsh Warbler (left) and cuckoo (right)

Thursday 6th June comments: The Isle of May is surrounded by spectacular wildlife and amazing scenery and despite heading into early June (and technically summer – tell that to the weather) we can still pull in some good migrant birds. Over the last few days we’ve had another spell of easterly winds and it’s produced another good haul of birds.

The floodgates opened on 5th as we discovered a skulking Marsh Warbler near the lighthouse which was later caught and ringed by the team from the Bird Observatory. This rare migrant was the 31st island record and comes hot on the heels of an individual last year on 26th May. This reedbed skulker is a rare breeder in the UK and it was great to see one out of context on the island.

However today the excitement continued as fresh in were two Icterine Warblers and a female Red-backed Shrike backed by several other common migrants. It’s been another good spell for the island and we can’t complain about the spring passage we’ve had (more on that later). However we’ll get back to the seabird work as we are about to head into a busy period. The Isle of May, the island which never sleeps.

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1 Storm

On the knife edge…nesting Guillemots on the cliffs

2 Storm

Big seas pounding the west cliffs

4 Storm guille

Guillemots clinging on

3 Storm guilles

Guillemots on the ledges

Monday 3rd June comments: Survived…but only just. The forecast of strong westerly winds was accurate as we woke to buffeting winds and heavy seas pounding the west cliffs. For the human residence of the island it just meant another windy day but it was more serious than that for our nesting seabirds.

The west cliffs are packed with nesting Guillemots at this time of year and two small colonies are very low down, close to the sea (as you can see in the top two photos). The strong winds brought heavy sea swell and waves crashed around the nesting birds. However the wind never got to gale force and as a result the Guillemots (and their eggs/young) survived the ordeal. With the wind expecting to calm overnight, the birds have survived…for now.

These weather events in mid-summer can last for just 24 hours but it can be catastrophic just like it has for the last two years (big westerly winds  washed the low nesters clear in 2017 and 2018). So we now just need several weeks of calm weather to enable our seabirds to have a successful season and is that much to ask? Lets see what the summer brings…

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