May in Autumn – Inbetween Times



This is a funny time of year for the island. It is very much inbetween times but that is not a bad thing. Most of the seabirds have finished their breeding cycle and left terra firma to head out to where they spend the bulk of their lives, far out at sea. The seals have spent the summer stuffing themselves with fish and are starting to return but haven’t yet claimed the island for their own; that will come in 4-5 weeks time. So there is a tranquil, calm feel about the place. Even the gulls are down to ones and twos during the day though good numbers come back to roost over night. There are places to think without being immediately distracted by puffins or kittiwakes and the wind becomes ever more evident, even more so today as it is building for a right good blow tonight. No visitor boats today and unlikely for tomorrow. This end of season feel is strengthened by the colour of the plants. The elder and the nettles are turning black from all the winds, the yellow ragwort turning to fluffy seeds and the grass is in places just starting to show signs of winter die back. There are also more subtle signs such as the day length and the height and intensity of the sun in the sky and intensity that subconsciously tell us that summer is over the autumn is well with us.

Autumnal rustic – first island record
Pink-barred sallow
But there is still plenty to see. The migrant birds are coming to the fore and generate excitement with their amazing journeying. This morning a flood of swallows, sand martens, house martens and meadow pipits headed south with some purpose. Maybe they can feel the change in the weather and want to get far south as fast as they can? Over an hour several hundred went through the island, slipping between the gaps in the gusts of southerly wind. A kestrel followed them eyeing them up for a possible meal while a party of redpolls went through last evening with the same determination. Out at sea there is a lot of movement but the seabirds have different flight plans to the song birds with some heading north, some west and some south. The other night I got very excited as I saw my first sooty shearwater, a large brown (clue is in the name) seabird that breeds in the southern oceans but spends its winters in ours. The more familiar gannets are still trailing backwards and forwards past the island to a from fishing expeditions and kittiwakes, young and old, have been gathering in a group of over 4000 to roost on the island. On a smaller scale the autumn moths are often the best and in the last few days we have caught only the second ever pink-barred sallow and the first autumnal rustic for the island. My favourite is the latter as it is subtler and more stylish that the bubblegum pink and yellow sallow.
So on the Isle of May, even in inbetween times, it is not about whether you will see anything but just how long will you watch.

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