Seabird Update

Sunday 7th July comments: Its time we took a stock of our seabird breeding season on the island as we are now at the ‘business end’ of the season. Lots of chicks are starting to fledge and hopefully (if weather and food hold) we’ll be heading for a good finish. Here is the update on several key species;

Shag   Plenty of family parties (with fledged young) around the island although some nests still with sizeable chicks (it’s been a protracted breeding season).

Guillemot       Approximately half of the youngsters have now jumped and departed with their fathers to the open sea but still plenty on the cliff faces.

Razorbill        Like the Guillemots, plenty of chicks have jumped but will still be evident throughout July.

Puffin             The first fledgling has departed but the month of July is arguably the best time to see them as thousands of adults present and are very active feeding hungry chicks.

Kittiwake        Medium sized chicks being fed in the nests with lots of adults in attendance.

Arctic Tern    The first youngster took to the wing yesterday (6th July) with many more young chicks still being fed (watch your feet as you walk up the island – youngsters run onto the pathways!)

Sandwich Tern          The first chick hatched in recent days and overall 10 pairs are nesting on the island.

Fulmar            First chicks started hatching from 2nd July and over the next six weeks chicks will be raised and they will take to the wing from late August.

Eider   Virtually all have now gone with small numbers on the Loch as the breeding season is now over.

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Bathroom Bonanza

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The fabulous new bathroom on the Isle of May

Friday 5th July comments: Over the last few years we’ve been slowly and surely improving the living accommodation on the Isle of May. As island staff we live on here from mid-March to mid-November and a few home comforts are often very welcome. Improvements in recent years have included a variety of changes from new mattresses and carpets to new furniture and  but a few weeks ago we went to the next level.

The isle of May Bird Observatory welcomes birderwatchers and enthusiasts throughout the year and in early June a group of artists were resident. These included well known (and superb) wildlife artists Darren Woodhead, Keith Brockie and Leo du Feu. During that week they decided to offer their services to improve the newly painted bathrooms and sure enough, they did! (as can be seen from the pictures above)

The creation of seabirds, landscape and a of course a Bluethroat (which the Isle of May is well known for) is a master piece and the bathroom is now something to enjoy (and has the value of the room just shot up?) It is a lovely contribution from all three artists and we’ll now treasure it even more. The Isle of May is certainly the place to be!

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Eggy Sandwich

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Nesting Sandwich terns on the Isle of May

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Sandwich Tern egg…

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Now hatched!

Wednesday 3rd July comments: We’re celebrating World Seabird Day with some positive news from the Isle of May as ten pairs of Sandwich Terns are officially nesting on the island. The birds are all nesting together on the main Tern terrace created in 2015 and the first chicks have now started hatching.

Its more good news for the island as Sandwich Terns have now bred in three of the four years since the creation of the terrace (up until then Sandwich Terns had only nested once in ten years). The ‘tern terrace’ is an area of shingle with nest boxes to help provide the nesting habitat required for the Terns and its proving a success. It shows what a bit of planning and man power can do to help nesting seabirds; it really is conservation in action!

Over the next four weeks all the chicks will hopefully hatch and they’ll go on to have a successful summer. We’ll keep you informed of progress but it’s always exciting to bring good news stories from seabird colonies.

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Puffling Walkers…

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First Puffling of the season…

Sunday 30th June comments: We’ve been expecting it and today we found it! A walker…

It proved to be another significant day on the isle of May as the first Puffling (Puffin youngster) was discovered to have fledged from the island. After 40 days of being fed by its parents, the bird is old enough and big enough to fend for itself so it was time to head to independence. Under the cover of darkness the youngster leaves its underground burrow (without parents’ consent) and head for the open sea (they leave at night to avoid being eaten by large predatory Gulls).

Many of our Pufflings on the Isle of May will actually walk to the sea (rather than fly) and often follow the trails and pathways as it makes easier walking (better than stumbling through vegetation). However as its’ their first experience of the outside world, some get lost on the way down (but it’s not bad news).

Typically our first was discovered in the visitor centre toilets this morning whilst the island team were cleaning them but the good news is that it has now been released to the open sea and freedom. So that’s it, the first Puffling is away and over the next 3-4 weeks we’ll be expecting many more night time walkers. The Pufflings are marching.

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Tern Time

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The magnificent Arctic Tern on the Isle of May

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Arctic terns aggressive towards those who go close to their nests

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Sea Swallows in full flight

Saturday 28th June comments: Arctic terns are incredible birds and the island supports a healthy breeding population as can be seen from the wonderful ‘attack’ photos taken above (birds defending their nests). As well as the Isle of May, a number of other islands in the North Sea also boast healthy populations including the Farne Islands and Coquet Island (to the south of us in Northumberland) and we often have links between the sites.

In recent days we’ve discovered two interesting bits of news which make our work worthwhile. A chick ringed on the Isle of May on 26th June 1992 has been re-caught as a breeding adult on Inner Farne, Farne Islands on 5th June this year. That makes this individual 27 years of age and for a bird which commutes to the Antarctic every winter, this bird has clocked up some miles in its lifetime (approximately half-million!). However it needs to live another five years before we can start looking at longevity records for the species.

The same island, Inner Farne also produced another one of our birds as a chick ringed on 29th June 2016 has been found nesting on the Farnes in recent weeks (its first year of breeding). It’s great to see birds surviving and being recruited into colonies as the next generation of Arctic terns and also shows the value of bird ringing; science in action!

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Jumping Season…

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Guillemots nesting on the cliffs of Isle of May

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Lay one egg and tuck it under their feet!

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Young chick ready to go!

Friday 28th June comments: Here on the Isle of May we tell the story every year but every year we are so impressed that we’ll tell it again. Its all about the Guillemot jumplings.

Guillemots breed in good numbers on the Isle of May (as previously reported on the blog) and birds will lay a single egg and incubate under their feet (similar to Penguins). Once the chick hatches the parents will raise the chick, bringing food daily until its approximately 20-21 days old. Then the interesting bit happens…

As evening approaches, the adult male will drop to the sea and call the chick down! Regardless of the height of the cliffs, the youngster has only one option and that is to jump the big distance into the sea and jump it does (hence why we call them Jumplings).

Thereafter the dad leads the chick far out to sea (to the Wee Bankie or Dogger Bank) where the chick will be cared for by its dad until it is old enough and strong enough for independence. It may be a brutal start to life (jumping 100m at just 20 days of age) but it is a very successful strategy which works for both Guillemots and Razorbills! So the next time you see one, just admire what they went through in that early stage of life. The jumping season is with us…

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And the counts are in….

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Freshly hatched Razorbill chick

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Adult Guillemot – Cristín Lambert

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One of the densely packed Guillemot areas.

Sunday 23rd June comments: It’s that time of year when we can reveal the results of our population counts here on the Isle of May. Today we start with the Auks; Razorbills and Guillemots. Probably the hardest to count as both lay their eggs directly onto the cliff face meaning we have to count all the individual birds. This entails slowly scanning the cliffs face finding sneaky Razorbills incubating in a hidden crevice or counting large areas where the Guillemots gather in their hundreds.

After some totting up and calculations we can say that both have increased from last year. Razorbills have risen by 11% to 4,166 pairs and the second highest count (the highest 4,713 pairs in 2005). The Guillemots have increased by 7% to 15,974 pairs. It is great to see these increasing following a decline last season.

At the moment both species are busily feeding chicks, getti ng them big and strong before they begin to fledge, well “jump”, from the cliffs in a couple of weeks times. Although some are still just hatching and yesterday I saw a young Razorbill that had just emerged and still wet. The parent was preening the youngster getting rid of the left over membrane and bonding. All in all an exciting time here on the Isle of May!

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