Shags have it tough on the Isle of May. Everyone wants to see the puffins with their comical looks, multicoloured bills, orange feet and big fan club. So a black bird with a funny name and that is usually mistaken as a cormorant doesn’t get much of a look-in. So far in my time on the island I have only ever had one person come off the boat and ask where the best place is to see a shag (and she was American) whereas every boat that arrives has a handful that are asking about puffins. But really people ought to spend a bit more time looking at shags because at this time of year they are absolutely stunning.
The shags on the island are just returning from a winter spent elsewhere. There are a couple of PhD’s looking at exactly where shags go in winter but that is another story. They return to the island having moulted so have not only a stunning set of feathers but also their beautifully plumed crest. This is what gives them their name, the old norse word for beard is skegg and actually refers to the crest. As the season goes on the feathers of the crest get worn with all the fish catching and chick feeding and the crest disappears so this is definitely the time of year to look out for shags. For me the feathers on the body are the real highlight. They are like a polish chainmail that changes colour as it catches light at a different angle. It is black but with a bronze, electric blue or vivid green tinge and as far as I am concerned blows the gaudy puffin out of the water. But you can’t really catch it properly on camera so to really see the beautiful shag you have to see it in real life, so why not make their day (and mine) and come over to the island specially to see a shag.