First SEAL PUP!!

First seal pup of the season taken from distance with telephoto lens (Gordon McDonald)

Thursday 6th October comments: SEAL PUP!! At last we have a Grey Seal Pup! We are celebrating the great news that the first seal pup of the autumn has been born and is fine and well. The pup was discovered on Rona and is slightly later than the first born of recent times. In early September we did discover two dead still-born pups, but this is the first living healthy pup.

The Isle of May is a hugely significant Grey Seal nursery; one of the biggest in the UK with over 2,500 pups born annually. The first pups are born at this time of year with a peak in early November before the last pup is born in mid-December. These young pups will remain with their mothers for 20-21 days, suckling on milk before they moult and become independent so we’ll keep an eye on this individual and report back as it grows. It’s great news and we are hoping it’ll be a productive season

So here we go, another seal season has started and its wonderful news for this important national nature reserve.

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Any day now…

Wednesday 5th October comments: It’s a changing world out here as the number of female seals is increasing daily around the Isle of May. Female seals are known as cows whilst males are known as bulls. Seals are impressive animals for example they can hold their breath for 30 minutes while diving, gain fat very rapidly and go for extended periods of time without food or water while they are on land during the breeding season.

The first seal pup will be born any day soon and will weigh 15kg when born but will triple its body mass in just 18 days as it feeds on its mothers milk which can contain 60% fat. The pup will be around 45kg at weaning. Its at this late stage of suckling that the pup begins to moult into its ‘adult’ pelage, which is much more sleek and waterproof and a lot less fluffy than the beautiful white ‘lanugo’.

So we are at the start of a new pupping season and the island will transform over the next two months. As the island is now closed, we’ll be bringing you all the news and views from here showing you how the seal colonies are building and how they are doing so stay tuned.

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The Aurora!

Monday 3rd October comments: Magic lights! Last night we had the privilege of having an almost clear sky, and with very little light pollution, we were able to see the Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights). It was a stunning finish to a great day.  

The aurora is a natural light display in the earth’s sky, predominantly seen in high latitude regions. The display can be in the form of brilliant coloured lights that appear as curtains, rays or flickers covering the entire sky. Auroras are the result of disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by the solar wind.

So we were excited at seeing them and although the photos are not the greatest (taken from the Low Light using a phone camera) you can see the effect of the light sin the sky.

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Thank you!

The last boat of the season… heading off into the sunset!

Friday 30th September comments: Where has time gone? Late yesterday afternoon we welcomed our last visitor boat of the season and said goodbye to our last visitors of the strange and wonderful 2022 season.

This year we were delighted to open our doors from 1st April and the season started well. However with the onset of avian influenza, the island closed at the end of June and we closed our doors for six weeks. Thereafter the momentum had been lost and although we reopened, visitor numbers were low. It was an extremely disappointing second half of the season but as always, we keep moving forward and will be back next season bigger and stronger.

Despite the set-back we have to thank everyone for visiting as without your visits and support we couldn’t achieve the great work we do out here and we thank everyone for that (so please keep on visiting!) We also thank the wonderful boat companies and crew who are part of the wider Isle of May team for their great work, support and friendship; its been another tricky season but we’ve managed to make it special for those who have visited. We thank everyone from the skippers including Alex, Rab, Robyn, Lez, Steve, Caroline and Alan. Also thanks to the great team of Simon, Stef, Scott, Rabbie, Billy and Maggie amongst others for making the Isle of May so special for so many this season. 

So we’ve closed the door on the 2022 visitor season and hopefully we can look forward to a trouble free 2023 (it’s about time we had one!) We’ll be back in the spring of 2023 to start again and I hope you can all join us. However if you want the Isle of May fix, stay with us as we are not leaving yet. We are staying on the island for another month or so, so plenty more stories to follow so please stay tuned!

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Eastern Promise

The first Redwing of the autumn arrived

First handful of Brambling arrived

And a rare Yellow-browed Warbler!

Friday 23rd September comments: At this time of year a lot can happen on the Isle of May but it is very much weather dependant. Millions of birds are migrating as they are heading to wintering grounds with some arriving in the UK to escape the harsher northern weather or heading south to warmer climes.

The skyways are a hive of activity and in recent weeks we’ve been reporting everything from the arrival of geese from Iceland to the smallest of them all; the Goldcrest coming in from Scandinavia. However, a lot depends on favourable weather and if we get an easterly airflow, we can see the arrival of plenty of birds which inevitably (for us!) also incldes some unusual bird species.

On Monday although the winds was light, it was strong enough to encourage migration and two Bramblings arrived, having crossed the North Sea from Scandinavia. These bulky beautiful finches will overwinter in the UK before heading back north the following spring. They were not the only birds crossing the North Sea as the first autumn Redwing was found near the Beacon; they’ll be plenty more of those in the forthcoming weeks and months. As well as these usual migrants, the day also produced a Yellow-browed Warbler, a rare visitor from Siberia which brightened up the day. As well as these, we also had small parties of Swallows heading south, to Africa for the winter so the island was all go! #

Over the next 4-5 weeks we’ll be seeing and reporting plenty more migrants and as ever we’ll keep you informed. There will be plenty of action, especially with the seal season about to start, so keep on checking out the blog for more updates from the magical Isle of May.

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Seal season soon upon us

Tuesday 20th September comments: Slowly and surely the number of Atlantic Grey Seals is increasing around the Isle of May and if you are visiting over the final few weeks of our season (the island closes at the end of September), you’ll certainly see more and more. But why?

The Isle of May is a hugely significant Grey Seal colony and young (called pups) are born on the island from late-September to mid-December. Adult females (called cows) use the island as a safe place to give birth and over 2,500 pups are born annually on the island. This represents one the largest colonies in the UK with other major east coast colonies including Fast Castle (Borders), Farne Islands (Northumberland), Donna Nook (Lincs) and the North Norfolk coast.

Interestingly the first Grey Seal pups are born in the SW of the UK in August and the pupping season goes clockwise around the UK with the first pups on Isle of May in mid-September finishing with the first born in Norfolk in mid-October. So seal season will soon be upon us and we’ll be bringing you all the news and views over the next few months, so stay tuned.

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Shear Double Delight

The bird observatory on the island (a great place to seawatch) with the team & Manx Shearwater flying

Saturday 17th September comments: We got the strong wind, the heavy seas and as predicted, no boats could sail. However we did have some silver-lining when it came to today; the seawatching. Over the last few weeks our attention has been focussed on the small migrant birds moving through the island but today the focus was out at sea as good numbers of seabirds were moving.

In recent weeks we have had a good influx of large Shearwaters into the North Sea and these included Cory’s Shearwaters; a species which breeds on rocky islands in the eastern Atlantic mainly Maderia, the Azores and the Canary islands. There have also been Great Shearwaters which are another large shearwater species which breed in the southern Atlantic around Tristan da Cunha and Gough island. Both these species are rare on the east coast of the UK, but this morning the Isle of May cashed in.

At 09:06 a Cory’s Shearwater was observed flying north and less than 25 minutes later a Great Shearwater cut into view, close to the island before heading north. Both these species are rare for the island as these represent the fifth records for the island for both species with the last Great Shearwater seen in 2007!  As well as these super birds, we also had plenty of Sooty and Manx Shearwaters alongside moving wildfowl and Red-throated Divers. It’s been another good spell of birding on the island and plenty of happy birders but as always we are sure there are plenty more highlights to follow.

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Stormy seas

Friday 16th September comments: Its been a turbulent September and although we have lost our easterly winds, they have now been replaced by strong north-westerly winds which are bringing some big seas! It has resulted in no boats sailing (yet again) and means we are cut off from the outside world.

As you can see from the photo above, the current wave height hitting the island is 2.4 metres (2.9 metres on the Lothian coast). To give you the scale of this, boats can’t sail and land on the island in anything greater than 1.6 metres! So there is some big seas hitting the Isle of May at the moment.

For those interested we take our facts from a variety of means including the Shipping Forecast which is issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (the Isle of May is in the Forth shipping area). We also gain vital information from the wave buoy near the island which is managed by Cefas which beams back data of the current situation.

Cefas (the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science) are a government agency of Defra and are the world leading experts in marine and freshwater science. As part of their work they have a series of strategic wave monitoring networks around the U.K. which provides a single source of real-time wave data from a network of wave buoys. There is one of these buoys just east of the Isle of May which gives us the data and we can see the current situation. Check out their website for more details:

So its an interesting weekend ahead we suspect as the wind and sea are not easing for sometime to come.

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Wednesday 14th September comments: They are back!! Yesterday marked a significant date in the diary as we witnessed our first noticeable arrival of Pink-footed Geese over the island, with 51 west calling away. If anyone has heard the call of wild geese as they arrive to winter in the UK then you’ll know what I mean, it’s a great sight and sound.

Pink-footed Geese breed in Iceland, Greenland and Swalbard and if conditions are right at this time of year, they start departing for wintering grounds in the UK. Aided by a north-westerly tail wind, they cross quickly and some will come down the east coast stopping off at well known Goose areas such as Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire), Montrose Basin (Angus) and Aberlady Bay (Lothian). Birds will winter in these area but many more will head further south to Northumberland with even bigger numbers in north Norfolk.

Over the next four weeks we expect to record thousands as they move into the UK and it’s an amazing spectacle to watch. So watch and listen as birds might be heading over you especially if you live in Scotland or along the east coast. Its just one of the joys of autumn and you can’t beat it. Welcome back geese!

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Migration season

Saturday 10th September comments: Bird migration is an amazing thing to witness and see. Over the last seven day’s we’ve seen some impressive birds with some impressive totals as birds heading south to southern wintering grounds have been arriving in good numbers.

The major factor to these arrivals has been the weather as onshore easterly winds push birds migrating through the North Sea onto the nearest land point and as the Isle of May sticks six miles out, birds will aim for us. We also benefit from having a lighthouse which can be seen from 22 nautical miles away, so any migrant bird travelling at night and getting into difficulty (say hitting a rain front) will aim for refuge and a light beaming out will signal relief. We also have limit cover so birds are more easily found.

Overall this week we’ve seen some impressive totals of Pied Flycatchers peaking at 55, Redstarts peaking at 25 and Siskin peaking at 250 amongst many other species. We’ve also welcomed plenty of unusual birds with Wryneck, Common Rosefinch, Wood Warbler and Icterine Warbler all putting in appearances. And this is just the start as we suspect the autumn still has plenty to offer, so lets see what happens…

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