Seabird colonies at this moment

Thursday 2nd April comments: Seabird colonies around the UK coasts are gearing themselves up for another hectic breeding season although things maybe a bit different this year with the lack of human presence to witness it in the early months. However, we know they are busy places and here is a species-by-species guide on what is happening in early April during a ‘normal’ year….

Puffins: Now ashore on colonies, birds are currently re-establishing pair bonds having been out at sea for eight months and inspecting nest burrows. ‘Spring cleaning will commence with soil and dirt kicked out of any burrows which need a bit of attention before egg laying commences in mid-April.

Guillemot and Razorbill: The two-cliff nesting Auks are now on the cliff ledges but will come and go over the next few weeks. Egg laying will commence in late April but until then they will be very evident including display flights (Razorbills have a beautiful butterfly display flight)

Kittiwake: Are in good attendance on the cliffs, but generally their breeding season have been becoming later across the UK as nest building activities now don’t start until late April (back in the 1970’s were on eggs by end of April).

Shag: The first seabird species to start nesting in the calendar year, a good majority are now on well-constructed nests and have been since late March, with the first eggs expected any day soon.

Eider: these handsome birds will be very evident around their breeding islands as females look towards heading up the island to start nest building and laying. Adult males (drakes) will be involved in elaborate displays as they try out-competing each other for the affections of females.

Fulmar: Cackling adults will be present on the cliffledges although egg laying won’t commence until mid-May.

Gulls: the three large Gull species (Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed and Herring) are establishing themselves on territories as nesting season will commence soon.

Terns: Still yet to arrive as birds return from wintering grounds in the southern hemisphere and wont be on breeding grounds until early May.    

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Isle of May

So you all guessed it, we are not changing the name as it is April Fools Day after all. We’ll be staying the glorious Isle of May and we’ll be updating the blog again soon.

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Isle of June


The newly named island

Wednesday 1st April comments: Today it has been announced that the Island will change its name from its current ‘Isle of May’ to a new name the ‘Isle of June’. Every new decade the Island changes its name and has been on a monthly cycle for almost 200 years. The start of a new decade brings in a new name and with 2020 staring, the island will now be officially called ‘the Isle of June National Nature Reserve’

Isle of June Reserve Manager David Steel commented “we are delighted to be changing to our new name as it will give everyone a boost at this present moment in time and will really put us on the map”. The name change comes into operation with immediate effect and these changes will be noted in many areas. David went on to say “it’s a big job changing our name as we’ll have to alter interpretation, leaflets and literature whilst also contacting Ordnance Survey to alter map names and road signs”. Despite the initial cost, David could only see the benefits to the name change “large companies rebrand on a regular basis and we are no different as we have been looking forward to this name change for sometime”.

The Isle of June remains currently closed due to the unique and exceptional circumstances we currently find ourselves in. In accordance with current UK and SG government policy and NHS guidelines, the island will be closed to all personnel wishing to visit or work on the island. We are hoping this will be lifted by the time the month of June comes around. Further details of the name change will be sent out in due course.

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Seabird World Cup

World Cup

Storm Petrel; Seabird World Cup 2018 Winners (drawing by Liz Morgan)

Monday 30th March comments: We can’t hide from the fact that it is a tough time for everyone at present so we’ve decided to have a bit of fun.

To bring a smile too many (and just for a bit of fun) we’ve launched a ‘Seabird World Cup’ on twitter, for people to vote and get involved. The rules are rather straight forward as we’ve got sixteen competing seabirds all aiming to be number one. The first round will see four seabirds in each group (four groups of four). The top two (the seabirds with the most votes) will go through to the quarter-finals.

The team’s finishing top of the groups will play against a second placed seabird in the quarter-finals. It is then a case of a straight knock-out until the final and an eventual winner. The last time the tournament took place in 2018 witnessed the Storm Petrel beating Puffin in the final. It’ll certainly be interesting to see what happens this time around….

To join in the fun and the debates (what is your favourite seabird?) then check out the twitter account of our Isle of May reserve manager David Steel @Steelyseabirder  and start voting! Group A is underway (voting closes at 5pm) but then Group B voting will start. Enjoy. Any thoughts on the eventual winner?

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Puffins in winter plumage

2 WP

Dark faced Puffin…a bird showing signs of winter plumage

WP 3

Slowly moulting into summer plumage

WP 1

Another individual showing winter plumage signs

Saturday 28th March comments: As mentioned in the recent blog post the Puffins are now ashore having touched down for the first time since last August. However the birds will come and go over the next few weeks until they’ll finally settle and will be incubating a single egg by mid-April.

On arrival on Thursday it was interesting to watch this early behaviour as birds were adapting back to life on land (it must be strange for them to touch something solid after eight months at sea). We also noticed subtle plumage differences amongst the birds as some were still showing signs of winter-plumage. You can see in the photos above the differences especially in the face patterns, which is expected at this time of year. In winter-plumage the face pattern is dark, sometimes black especially in front of the face and the bill can look strange as it is constricted at this time of year. It’s an odd colouration as you expect puffins to have gleaming white faces contrasting against its colourful bill, but at this time of year you do get differences.

However this will all change over the next few weeks as the breeding season will advance and the birds will complete their moult to look as good as ever. After that the spring cleaning of burrows will begin and then the serious business will start; the incubation of an egg. Interestingly Puffin colonies up and down the east coast are all now at this same stage as birds will be arriving at colonies ready for the new season ahead but more on that soon.

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Puffins on Land!

2 (2)

Puffins back on land for the first time since last August

1 Puffin (Downsized)

Showing well and looking mighty fine

4 Puffin dowbnzixed

Darkness around face shows a touch of winter plumage

3 Puffin donzied

Arriving and touching down

5 Puffin downzised

Thousands across the colonies

Thursday 26th March comments: Touchdown! Today was a monumental day for the Puffins of the Isle of May as these charismatic seabirds arrived back on the breeding colonies for the first time this year. Puffins spend the winter out in the North Atlantic, mainly in the North Sea around Scotland with some penetrating into the Atlantic Ocean itself.

Since departing the island last August these hardy seabirds have been living life out on the ocean waves, regardless of weather and just bobbing about for the last eight months. So today was a big news story as these birds arrived back touching land for the first time since leaving. All across the island Puffins carpeted the grassy slopes, as over 80,000 individuals had arrived.

Some of the birds were sporting a touch of winter plumage (dark smudging around their face) but otherwise the majority looked in good spanking summer plumage. It’s a noticeable event for the islands calamander and we look forward to having these birds around for the next four months. Their next job, now they’ve landed, is to start courtship displays and spring cleaning of underground burrows as egg laying will commence from mid-April. The lives of the Puffins has just changed as here comes the breeding season.

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Migrant May

Top left Redwing, Top right Blackbird

Middle Left Dunnock, Middle Right Robin

Bottom left Chiffchaff, Bottom Right Goldcrest

Wednesday 25th March comments: It’s been a stunning day on the Isle of May as the bright sunshine and warm temperatures have definitely made it feel like spring! Whilst our attention focuses on setting and checking out the seabirds, at this time of year migrant birds are also on the move as they use places like a service station; refuelling (on juicy insects) and resting before heading on.

It’s an interesting time of year for migration as we have birds both coming and going depending on the species. In recent days we’ve seen small numbers of Redwing, Fieldfare and Woodcock which have been wintering in the UK but are now heading back north to Scandinavia for the summer months. We’ve also got migrant Dunnock’s and Robins both on their way north following a similar journey (yes both these species migrate!)

However it’s not just birds departing, but bird arriving. Over the last few days we’ve had 5 Chiffchaffs; a species which winters in Africa and returns to breed in woodlands across the UK. Over the next few days there is a possibility that we could also see the first Wheatears and Ring Ouzels on the island (both having wintered in Africa). So birds are coming and going and soon we’ll have more as spring progresses and birds such as Sand Martins, Swallows and various warblers will be seen. It’s never dull on the Isle of May and it could get even better tomorrow…

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