Redwing caught and ringed


Thousands on the move

Friday 20th October comments: The winds turned east and with it, the bird migration tap was turned on. Yesterday as the winds switched direction the weather encouraged thrushes to leave the Near-Continent and Scandinavia to head to the UK.

These birds, including Redwings, Song Thrush, Blackbird and Fieldfare all move to the UK to escape the worst of the winter weather further north. At this time of year, the east coast can experience some impressive diurnal migration action and yesterday was one of those days.

Birders up and down the east coast from Shetland to Yorkshire recorded an impressive 90,347 Redwings moving into the country from 24 different sites, including the Isle of May. This number is only the tip of the iceberg as many more thousands will have arrived undetected. The wonders of nature impress again.

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Thank you Visitors

Thursday 19th October comments: For the third year running, a record number of people have visited the Isle of May. Almost 13,000 visitors came ashore to the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) national nature reserve in 2017 to enjoy the wildlife and learn about the island’s cultural heritage.

The numbers were boosted by a variety of popular events – including a seabird weekend, family days and a seal weekend – and a lengthy feature on BBC’s Countryfile programme in July this year.

A special event this year was an archaeology exhibition, in conjunction with National Museums Scotland, featuring artefacts excavated in the 1990s. As part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, the show told the fascinating story of the island as a focus for Christian pilgrimage for a thousand years, beginning in the 5th century AD.

David Steel, SNH’s Isle of May reserve manager, said: “We’re so glad that so many people have come to enjoy the wonderful wildlife and history that the reserve has to offer. This stunning and mystical island has a backdrop of almost 100,000 puffins which are a major draw, as are the terns, shags, other seabirds and the amazing history. Simply by visiting you are helping the reserve to maintain itself as one the UK’s most important.”

“If you missed out this year, boats will start sailing from 1st April 2018, so make sure you book a place! Sailings are on the privately-run May Princess or Osprey of Anstruther from the Anstruther Harbour; or through the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick or Forthwild Dunbar.

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Migrants arrive


Brambling starting to move through the Isle of May


Short-eared owls back in residence


50+ Goldcrest arrived in last few days

Wednesday 18th October comments: It wasn’t the big arrival we were expecting but migrant birds have started appearing across the island with the first wave arriving today. The winds have switched to the east and with it the possibility that we’d get lots of migrant birds arriving.

Small numbers of migrating Blackbirds and Redwings arrived whilst a Ring Ouzel (heading south for the winter) stopped to fuel up. The UK’s smallest bird; the Goldcrest, were scattered across the island alongside several other migrating birds whilst a Black Redstart was the star attraction.

As well as migratory birds, others have taken up residence and at least two Short-eared Owls are back, taking advantage of our large mouse population! With more easterly winds are forecast, it still looks good for the potential of more to arrive. We’ve not seen the end of autumn migration just yet…

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Weather warning…


Mondays weather was foul and grim…


Tuesday weather bring ‘arrows of doom’


Whilst Wednesdays weather brings promise of birds!

Monday 16th October comments: Its been a turbulent autumn with westerly winds dominating and as a result very few migrant birds have been recorded on the island but that may be about to change…

Today the wind is calm with low cloud and rain, making the day rather dreich (a great Scottish word meaning bleak) but tomorrow that will all change. The weather forecast is suggesting that we’ll get the tail-end of hurricane Ophelia which is currently battering Ireland and the west coast. However this weather system is fast moving and by Wednesday the wind direction will be switching and coming straight from the east…bringing birds!


Its always an exciting time on the east coast with easterly winds blowing as we’ll hopefully see a good arrival of birds especially winter thrushes like Redwing and Fieldfare moving through. So batten down the hatches, brace yourself, we could be in for a stormy but good week!

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Citizen science


Impressive adult Shag in full summer plumage


One of this year chicks sporting its rings!

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Long-living adults revealing their unique codes

Friday 13th October comments: It’s that time of year again when we ask for help to support an important bit of seabird research. Over the last twenty years or so the population of Shags on the Isle of May NNR have been intensely studied by our friends at CEH.

A colour ringing scheme between the University of Aberdeen and Central for Ecology and Hydrology has been looking at the dispersal of the breeding Shags from the Isle of May and other east coast breeding sites. During the summer breeding adults and chicks are fitted with a unique colour ring with three digits – which makes it easy to read at distance with binoculars or telescopes.

What we now need is those sightings! Anyone can take part, so if you are out and about along the coast (especially the east coast) with a pair binoculars, telescope or camera, check out the roosting Shags and spot the coloured rings! If you find any or discover them as tideline corpses over the winter please report all sightings to:

It’s all part of the science and you’ll be making a valuable contribution to increasing our knowledge of this very special seabird. Now go find some colour rings…

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Seal Sanctuary

Thursday 12th October comments: We’ve been celebrating our Grey Seals over the last few days on the Isle of May NNR and we thought we’d post a few more facts and figures about these impressive beasts. The island is home to one of the largest Grey Seal colonies in the UK and holds approximately 4% of the worlds population – the Isle of May is that important.

Adult Grey Seals measure between 1.65-2.1 metres in length (5.4 -6.8 feet) and can weigh up to 180kg (about 28 stone). Adult females (known as cows) can live for up to 35 years whilst males (known as bulls) live for approximately 25 years.

Young Grey Seals are called pups and weigh approximately 14 kg at birth (about 2 stone) and will remain on land feeding on the mothers milk for 21 days (the milk can contain up to 60% fat!) As a result of the rich fatty milk, pups put on tremendous amounts of weight (about 2 kg per day) and are independent after just 21 days. Over the next two months, the Isle of May will see almost 2,500 pups born on the island.

So its the happening place and we’ll keep you posted with more images as our Seal colony grows. Its one impressive place and we’ll like to share it with you, so keep on checking the blog as the seal season cranks up a notch.

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The Changing Face of the Isle of May

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Grey Seal numbers increasing daily

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Watching me, watching you!

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View looking direct south from visitor centre – watch it change over next few weeks

Wednesday 11th October comments: The Isle of May NNR continues to change as Grey Seals continue to arrive. Today we welcomed even more cow seals and three new pups were born across the island.

The photograph above (third down) will be familiar to those who have visited the Isle of May previously. Its taken from the visitor centre looking direct south and during the summer months, Arctic Terns, puffins and other ground nesting birds can be seen from this point. At present there is very little life and the vegetation is slowly dying back.

However this view will change and over the next few weeks, it will gradually fill with more and more seals and pups. We’ll keep posting a regular photo from this spot to show how the colony changes on the island and what the island looks like in November; its a very different place and a very active place because this is Seal season.

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