Isle of May Bird Observatory

Wednesday 13th May comments: Over the last few day’s we’ve featured the bird migrants and the early pioneers who studied those birds on the island. Today we bring you the story of the next generation of ornithologists and what it brought to the island; the Isle of May bird Observatory.

The Bird Observatory is Scotland’s oldest bird observatory and the longest continuous running bird observatory in the British Isles. It originally started in September 1934 but closed soon after in the autumn of 1938 as the international situation became acute as World War approached. During the war years the Admiralty took control of the island and based themselves on their throughout the duration of the war (the island has a very fascinating war history).

However good news followed as on 13th April 1946 the observatory reopened and bird migration was once again studied through a combination of bird ringing and daily census. There was also some more positive news as the observatory moved into new accommodation; the Low Lighthouse cottage where it remains in the building to this day.

The observatory is now administered by a charitable trust (The Isle of May Bird Observatory and Field Station Trust) and manned by visiting volunteer observers between March and November (in a normal year. Members who stay on the island record all the migrant birds throughout the season and use the four specialist bird ringing catching traps known as Heligoland traps. Over 6,000 birds were ringed on the island last year and it helps continue our understanding of bird migration. During the season as well as thousands of common migrants, the island has a reputation for rare birds turning up from all areas of the globe. Some of the outstanding highlights over the years have included Pine Grosbeak (from  subarctic Fennoscandia) White’s Thrush (from Siberia), Calandra Lark (from southern Europe), Buff-breasted Sandpiper (from USA) and Britain’s first ever record of Siberian Thrush.

The Isle of May remains one of the best places in the country to observe and enjoy the world of bird migration and people will continue to study and marvel at the wonders of it all. For further information check out the Bird Obs website:

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