Around 400 pairs were nesting on the bottom of the cliff, those that haven’t jumped already have been washed off today.
Tens if not hundreds of chicks could be heard from the water calling for their parents.
Saturday 24th June comments: With winds gusting to 45mph from the west this afternoon, we were expecting the worst for our cliff nesting seabirds. Along with the howling winds have come spring high tides and our fears were realised and many of the low nesting Guillemots have been washed off the cliffs. It couldn’t have come at a worse time of year for these precarious seabirds, with many only days away from fledging. This is most unfortunate for the adults after spending weeks incubating and then feeding their young, for them to be washed off into the North Sea.
Our only hope now is that the father will hear the chicks call and that they are developed enough to swim together, battling the waves. Guillemots are capable of leaving their nesting ledges at an early age, so it may be that they are old enough and strong enough to survive.
These events are not uncommon in the life of a seabird and make up just some of the challenges they face each day. They spend a vast percentage of their lives sitting out on the open ocean during the winter months without touching land, so they’re well versed in coping with storms. They are also long lived birds, with one failed season not the end of the line for many Guillemots that can live for over thirty years. For the chicks though, it really is the survival of the fittest and a battle against a raging sea will sort the weak from the strong.
Food galore; Puffin with Sand-eels (John Nadin)
Just showing off!
Puffins on the Isle of May
Thursday 22nd June comments: I make no apologises for it, as today’s blog post is all about one bird; Puffins. The island supports one of the largest populations in the UK (over 40,000 pairs) and if you want to see one, just come and visit as they are showing fantastically well.
All the Puffins are now feeding hungry youngsters and over the next few weeks the activity will intensify as the youngsters grow bigger. Its a fantastic sight to see as thousands of Puffins swirl across the island and if you’ve not been, we highly recommend a visit.
Touch wood, the food supply (Sand-eels) appears good this year so we are hoping for a bumper crop of young to fledge. The first should depart its burrow in early July as we’ll soon be entering the business end of the season. Once the chicks depart, that is mission complete for the parents and they’ll linger for a few more weeks before eventually departing for the open sea and will not return until the following spring. Puffins we salute you.
The mighty big seacliffs of the Isle of May (Joe Turner CEH)
Guillemot with youngster (Joe Turner CEH)
On the sea and ready to go with dad
Monday 19th June comments: Its jumpling time! Seabirds have different strategies for nesting and raising young and the cliff nesting auks; Guillemot and Razorbill are very unique in their style of raising a chick.
Guillemots will lay a single egg but rather than build a nest, will incubate under their feet (like Penguins). Once hatched the chick will remain on the cliff edge until approximately 25 days old and then it times to jump! Before the chicks have even developed flight feathers, the fathers call the chick down and the chick jumps! (regardless of height of cliffs).
As the birds are so young, they can take big impacts as their bones have not fully developed and once down, they’ll follow the fathers out to sea and will stick with the dads until fully winged and independent. Its a very interesting strategy but it works as Guillemots are on the increase. And last night saw the first birds jump off the cliffs. Success and let the jumplings jump!
Razorbills on the impressive west cliffs (Joe Turner CEH)
Puffins on a wall (as you do)
Good numbers of breeding Arctic terns
Kittiwakes with youngsters
Saturday 17th June comments: We are at the peak of the seabird season on the island as the majority of species now have chicks (only Fulmar still to go which will happen in early July). Parents are now actively foraging in the surrounding seas as they have hungry mouths to feed and its some undertaking as birds fish from first light until dusk.
At present, despite the recent rain it appears to be a reasonable season although we wont know until all the numbers are crunched and the season is over. Its a crucial time for the success of the colony as any hiccups now will result in a premature end and failure for the birds. However early signs are good with plenty of sand-eels coming in at present (the main food source for our thousands of seabirds) and long may it continue.
If you want to see a seabird colony at its best, its well worth a visit, so don’t delay book today! You’ll not be disappointed but please remember to bring a hat…Arctic terns like pecking heads! You’ve been warned.
freshly hatched Arctic tern chick
You can’t see me…right.
A very watchful parent
Wednesday 14th June comments: New life. Yesterday we welcomed our first Arctic Tern chick into the world as ‘nest number one’ hatched much to the joy of the parents and everyone who witnessed it.
Over the next few weeks more and more chicks will hatch across the colony and activity levels will increase dramatically as parents will focus on feeding their youngsters. From first light (about 4am) to dusk (about 11pm) parents will continually feed their hungry chicks and hopefully in 3-4 weeks time the family parties will take to the wing.
However we’ve still got a long way to go before we get to that stage and its going to be a frantic but exciting month ahead. The Isle of May is the place to visit at the moment and boats sail daily to the island (weather permitting) with details below of the boat providers:
May Princess (sails from Ansthruther): http://www.isleofmayferry.com/
Osprey Rib (sails from Ansthruther): http://www.isleofmayboattrips.co.uk/
Seabird Rib (sails from North Berwick): https://seabird.org/visit/boats/isle-of-may-landings/10/22/159
It might not look much but first ever breeding Cormorants on the island!
Adult Cormorant on Isle of May
Tuesday 13th June comments: Its not every day we add a new nesting species to the island list, but today we confirmed the first nesting of Cormorants on the Isle of May. Small numbers breed on other Firth of Forth Islands but have never nested previously on the May (although were suspected in the 18th century but it was not proven).
However today we discovered a nesting pair on the north edge of the island incubating on a small nest and it confirmed our recent suspicions (they were seen nest building earlier in the year). It’s great news for the diversity of species which nest on the May and hopefully we can attract a small colony in the future.
Cormorants are one of the largest seabirds which nest in the British Isles, much larger than their closest relatives the Shags and have distinctive white on their cheek and thigh. We hope they’ll be successful and we’ll keep you informed of nesting progress as it develops. Its all go on the May!
Specialist Tern terraces attracting nesting Terns (Joe Turner CEH)
A Good mix: Nest boxes and Terns
A stunning adult Arctic Tern
Monday 12th June comments: Seabirds, like many birds can respond well to active management and in recent years on the Isle of May NNR we’ve been doing our bit for the nesting terns on the island.
In one area of the island we’ve been transforming areas of nettle and rank vegetation into specialist ‘tern terraces’ to help encourage and increase the number of nesting terns. The idea is simplistic enough as we have large beds of gravel and sand complete with specialist Tern boxes. Throw in lots of hard work, some great help (especially from the SOC/IOM/CEH/SNH Bird Obs Young Birders Course) and we have a winning formula.
The nesting Terns have responded to this management and we’re delighted to see so many now nesting on the Isle of may. We are completing our counts and crunching numbers and we’ll reveal the extent of the success of the management. Until then the terns will keep on enjoying and soon we’ll have some breaking news…we should have tern chicks!