Top: Lots of butterflies!
Middle: Peacock and Comma
Bottom: Small Tortishell and Painted lady
Saturday 24th August comments: It’s been a stunning few days of weather and as a result the island has been lifting with Butterflies. We don’t get great diversity out here in terms of species but what we do get is good numbers. In recent days alone we’ve had over 700 Red Admirals as well as lots of Painted Ladies, Large Whites, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells.
These butterflies are migrating through the island (with some stopping off to breed) and taking advantage of the flowering plants on the island. This fuel stop is vital for them and it’s great to see the clouds of butterflies around the island. As well as the usual suspects we’ve also recorded Ringlet on 21st July, Comma on 21st August and Meadow Brown on 22nd August.
If you are visiting the Isle of May enjoy the impressive array of butterfly’s because you don’t often see concentrations like this. Although the summer hasn’t been the best in terms of sunshine, it is certainly delivering now so come out and enjoy it whilst it lasts.
(Very short video of Minke Whale surfacing near the island taken yesterday morning)
Thursday 22nd August comments: Without doubt the best opportunity to see a cetacean (whale or dolphin) in Isle of May waters is to visit during August-September. In recent days we’ve had a Minke Whale resident (photos above) and the animal has been showing well off the south end of the Isle with Harbour Porpoise seen daily from various areas.
As certain fish species move into the area in late summer (especially Mackerel and Herring) we see an increase in predators such as Minke Whales and Bottle-nosed Dolphins. These large marine mammals are frequently recorded during the late summer and in recent years we’ve also recorded Humpback Whales (2019 and 2016) and Orca (Killer Whales) in 2015.
The North Sea is full of life and these large marine mammals are a good barometer of the health of the sea. If you are visiting or even just visiting a headland on the mainland, keep your eyes peeled as you never know what you may just see!
(top Purple Sandpiper, bottom left Turnstone, bottom right Common Sandpiper)
Wednesday 21st August comments: Its the time of year when migration is starting to pick up on the Isle of May as birds are starting to move south or head into the UK for the winter. One group of birds which has been moving for several weeks now are the waders and if you look closely along the rocky shorelines of the Isle of May, we have plenty of them.
Yesterday an all island count revealed Oystercatcher 39, Turnstone 131, Purple Sandpiper 51, Redshank 18, Curlew 78, Whimbrel 3, Ruff, Greenshank and Dunlin (a healthy total of birds). These migrating waders are using the island as a service station, fueling up as they prepare to continue on their journeys although one or two will stay for the winter.
It just shows the importance of the island, not just for seabirds and seals, but also other wildlife including wading birds. Tomorrow we’ll bring you the highlights from the sea and you’ll not be disappointed…
Saturday 17th August comments: It’s almost over. We’ve observed it, we’ve talked about it but now we are officially saying the seabird breeding season of 2019 is at a close. It’s been a mixed season for weather but that hasn’t put the seabirds off. We’ll not know the full extent of how successful the summer has been until the numbers are crunched but circumstantial evidence would suggest a good year for the majority of seabirds.
If you are visiting over the next six weeks (we close the island on 30th September) then we still have lots on offer as the Isle of May is one of those places that just keeps on giving….
Late seabirds: When we say its ‘over’ the seabird season isn’t technically over as the last few Puffins can be seen (still a few attending chicks in burrows), Fulmars have not fledged chicks yet so plenty of large chicks around whilst thousands of Kittiwakes are still present. We’ve also got Shags on the clifftops so still plenty to see.
History and events: Towards the end of August we have two very exciting events lined up over consecutive weekends. We have a local history weekend (24th-25th August) and this is followed by the Open Doors Event (31st August-1st September) which gives you access to all buildings normally under lock and key on the island (including 3 lighthouses!) These are not to be missed!
Walks around island: The views from the island can be spectacular as you can see as far south as St.Abbs Head (Scottish Borders) and heading up towards the Angus coastline. On a clear day you can see Edinburgh and even the famous bridges.
Lighthouse and art exhibition: Completely free to enter, the main Stevenson lighthouse is open daily with the added extra of the art exhibition which is an extension to the popular Pittenweem festival. Well worth a check out!
Migrants: Late August and September is the time to see rare and unusual bird migrants on the island; ask a member of staff about the latest sightings or keep your eyes peeled when you walk around checking any bushes or vegetation for movement. Anything is possible!
For visiting the island, check out the various websites of the boat companies who sail:
May Princess (sails from Anstruther): https://www.isleofmayferry.com/
Osprey rib (sails from Anstruther): http://www.isleofmayboattrips.co.uk/index.php?fullsite=1
Seabird Rib (sails from North Berwick): https://seabird.org/visit/boats/isle-of-may-landings/10/22/159
Fulmar chick on the Isle of May
Run away… (look carefully)
Mucky work ringing Fulmars but important work
Thursday 15th August comments: Even as we enter mid-August and the seabird breeding season is almost finished, we still have work to do. Over the last few days we’ve been working with our Fulmars and that may sound reasonable (it’s just another seabird right?) but until you work with Fulmars, you have no idea…let us explain…
Fulmars are very specialist seabirds as they are members of the tubenose family; they have the ability to excrete salt from seawater in a tube on top of the mouth (basically acts as a desalination unit). The species is very long living with records of birds of forty years old whilst they do not breed until they are 6-8 years old, so as I say very specialist.
However if you’ve ever been close to a Fulmar, you’ll remember it for one thing; its defensive mechanism… The species has the ability to fend off attackers by firing an oily fishy substance in their direction and boy if it hits you, you smell for days! That is why Fulmars are very rarely predated and that’s why scientists grimace when it comes to working with them.
On the Isle of May we have 280 pairs (slight decrease on previous season) and over the last few days we’ve been ringing the chicks on the island and as you could imagine, it’s been a bit of a stinky matter (however after several washes I think the team are starting to smell fresh again). It’s been good fun with a serious element and once figures are crunched we’ll reveal just how well they’ve done.
Adult Kittiwakes on the Isle of May
Young Kittiwakes on the island
Different to an adult
Waiting patiently for parents to return
Tuesday 13th August comments: The Isle of May seabird breeding season is coming to a close for another year and it’s good to see so many young birds taking to the wing and fledged. One species which is currently very evident around the island are our Kittiwakes with young fledgers scattered across the Isle (this year we had 3,061 pairs nest on the island) and appears to have been a reasonable breeding season.
These small elegant cliff-nesting Gulls are often overlooked and underrated but at this time of year the distinctive youngsters can be seen (the young have black and white markings and look very different to adults (as shown in the photos above). Eventually the ‘Kitts’ will depart north and some will go as far as Greenland for the winter.
Until then we’ll enjoy the sight of these wonderful birds and hope the population continues to do well as over the last twenty years the British Isles have seen a 44% reduction in their population (a huge concern for conservationists) but it’s good to have them doing well.
Fulmar chicks growing strong
Puffin heading into winter plumage
Thursday 8th August comments: The Isle of May is slowly and surely changing. The vast seabird city has become a town as seabirds start departing for winter grounds far and wide. Whilst Puffins prepare for the open North Sea, Kittiwakes start thinking about life towards Greenland whilst the Terns are heading on one of the worlds greatest ever migrations to the Antarctic.
As bird dwindle in number its interesting to watch signs of departure as Puffins wheel across the island whilst Kittiwakes flock in vast numbers off the south end. There is also physical signs as birds are starting to moult into their winter plumage like the Puffin in the above picture. The seabird breeding season is almost at a close for another year.
However its not quite over. Our Fulmar chicks still have some way to go as the big fluffballs on the cliffs are still very evident as it won’t be until late August before they depart. Then as we reach September we’ll be into peak bird migration and then comes the final wildlife spectacle for the Isle of May; we’ll enter Seal season. So still plenty to see and to report so don’t go anywhere. The fun is just about to begin!