Winter Wonderland…

Tuesday 14th November comments: The Isle of May NNR is a fabulous island, nestled into the mouth of the Firth of Forth and often described as the ‘Jewel of the Firth’. At this time of the year the national nature reserve is home to thousands of Grey Seals (over 2,500 pups are born annually) but not a lot else.

The landscape of the island has slowly changed as the vegetation has died back, the small number of stunted elder trees have had their leaves burnt off by the wind and salt and the seabirds have long gone.

Soon the last of the human inhabitants will depart, leaving the island to fall into a sleepy slumber for the winter months, with only the mice and rabbits and a few birds staying overwinter. However it won’t be long before this sleeping giant awakes as we’ll soon be welcoming spring and the seabird city will be back with us… to start all over again.

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3 DA

Little Auk (also known as Dovekie!)


Just for size comparison against a small fishing buoy (They are small!)

Saturday 11th November comments: The Isle of May NNR has a wealth of wildlife but one bird which maybe wintering off here and going under-recorded is the Little Auk, also known as the Dovekie.

These small auks (smaller than a Puffin and feed on plankton – that small) breed on high Arctic islands in colonies which are estimated at being one million strong (that’s a lot of Little Auks). At this time of year, if the winds come from the far north, the east coast of the UK can have big numbers of these birds recorded as birds displaced are re-orientating and heading back north.

However the Isle of May is different. there is a sense that a small number winter around the island regardless of weather and that maybe shown in the fact the island has produced daily records over the last seven days, peaking at 13 on 9th November. Interestingly these birds seem to be favouring the same spot off the north-east tip of the island. It makes an interesting thought that the Isle of May might have a wintering population of Little Auks?

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80 Years On…the Island

Thursday 9th November comments: The Isle of May NNR is well known for its spectacular wildlife; from its thousands of breeding seabirds to its important Grey Seal colonies and everything else in-between from cetaceans to migrant birds. However the human history of the island is as long as it is intriguing.

Evidence of medieval Isle of May is very evident whilst the lighthouses are monuments to a bygone era. As the seabirds have now long departed, it gives us the opportunity to explore areas of the island which we often can’t access.

The eastern shoreline is one of those areas and it’s interesting to see the broken, twisted rusting metal fragments that once belonged to a boat (ironically) called the Island. The Island was a Danish cargo ship (1,774 ton ship) which hit the Isle of May in dense fog on 13th April 1937 (80 years ago this year) as it was heading to nearby Leith. Thankfully all sixty-six people on board were rescued and interestingly it was the captains last ever voyage as he was due to retire after the journey having made 260 previous trips.

Once everyone was off, the ships contents were taken for salvage and the boat was left in situ for the North Sea to claim. 80 years on and what remains of her are still on the island and it’s a reminder of the perils to shipping.

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Wood You Believe it!?


Woodcock arriving in good number today


One in the hand is worth….

Jamie Coleman (45)

Fieldfare on the move (but only in small numbers) photo Jamie Coleman


Redwing still arriving

Tuesday 7th November comments: (Isle of May NNR) Just when we were saying that migration is over…it certainly is not! Late yesterday the winds switched direction to the south and today birds were moving through the island.

An estimated 60 Woodcock were present (springing up from under your feet at every turn) as birds are migrating in from Russia to spend the winter in the UK. Several birds were caught and showed very little fat on them suggesting they were fresh in and with favourable weather in the next twelve hours, will be moving on and reaching the UK mainland tonnight.

Its always exciting to see diurnal migration and early November is a good time to witness the arrival of Woodcock into the UK. Alongside our cryptic friends, Thrushes were also on the move with 400 Redwing, 227 Blackbird and a handful of Fieldfare. Interestingly very few Fieldfare have arrived this autumn; an indication that things are not as cold in Scandinavia and hence why they’ve yet to move? Only time will tell but otherwise its been a good day for migrating birds across the May!

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Changing Isle of May

Seal colony 1

South end of the Island looking very different

Suckling pups

Suckling cow seals with their pups

Seal colony 2

All pathways blocked!

Monday 6th November comments: The Isle of May NNR has slowly and surely being changing over the course of the last few weeks. The number of pupping Grey Seals has increased dramatically across the island and in some cases, entire areas are now blocked off by seals!

We’ve now closed the main east face jetty to reduce disturbance and the entire south end is covered with Grey Seals, as the photos show (with plenty more to come). Its an exciting time on the island and the seal research teams are very active monitoring and working with our new residents.

The Isle of May is one of the most important Grey Seal colonies down the east coast with 2,500 pups born annually and numbers should peak mid-November. We’ll keep on bringing you updated news and photos as the seal season develops.

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Bird Obs Winter Dormancy

Saturday 4th November comments: Today saw the closing of the Isle of May Bird Observatory for the season, as the final ‘closing down’ team departed for the mainland. The Bird Observatory is Scotland ‘s oldest, having been founded in 1934 and is open every year from early April to the end of October.

Throughout that period, teams of up to six have been resident from Saturday to Saturday helping contribute heavily to the daily bird ringing and migration census on the island. The photographs above are just a snapshot of some of the teams who have made this season such a success (resulting in the second highest ever number of birds recorded on the island).

Highlights for the groups have included the islands third ever Two-barred Crossbill, both Goshawk and Honey Buzzard recorded from the front door and over 50 Storm Petrels trapped and ringed during the summer. The Bird Observatory is run by a Trust with more details on their website: including reports on bird sightings from the island.

As time progresses, we are now down to the Seal teams living on the island but more on them over the course of the next week or so. Until then we are just saying thank-you to everyone at the Bird Observatory this year and look forward to seeing many of you again next.  Bring on 2018….

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Globe Trotters

Friday 3rd November comments: At this time of year the Isle of May NNR is one of the busiest Grey Seal nurseries in the UK with thousands of pups being born across the island. However the majority of our summer seabirds have gone far and wide and do you ever wonder where these birds are? Well we have some answers…

The majority of our Kittiwakes have now departed the North Sea and are wintering off Greenland, whilst Fulmars are far out in the North Sea, braving the elements. Our Puffins winter across the North Sea and North Atlantic whilst interestingly our Guillemots are not far from the island, wintering locally. Shags generally remain with us all year round.

However the real long distant migrants are the Terns with Sandwich and Common Terns wintering off West Africa, but none flyer further than our Arctic Terns. These impressive flyers winter off the pack-ice of the Antarctic and will be in almost 24 hours daylight during January as a direct result. So the next time you visit the Isle of May, just remember how far these birds have travelled to be with us. Nature never ceases to amaze.

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