Young at heart

1 Shag

Plenty of Shags with healthy youngsters

2 Razorbill

Razorbills with newly hatched chicks


Young Guillemot getting some attention from its parent

4 Kittiwake

Kittiwakes on eggs

Tuesday 9th June comments: Its been a busy day on the Isle of May as we are starting to settle back in but with plenty of work and catching-up to do. Its been a strange time to be away from the place as the seabirds have just got on with business as usual, However for us human visitors, we are catching up as we attempt to see how the seabird breeding season has been so far. We’ll bring more full in-depth reports later but a quick round-up of progress s far:

All three Auk species; Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin, all have chicks as busy parents are actively foraging throughout the day as they have hungry youngsters to feed. The first species to start nesting, the Shags, have plenty of mid-sized chicks in nests around the island whilst Kittiwakes are incubating in cliffside nests. Both Arctic and Common Terns are incubating eggs in the usual nesting areas  whilst another species incubating; our Fulmars, are also present in good numbers. Its very evident that plenty of nesting Eider ducks have departed with youngsters (plenty on the Loch and lots of empty nests around the island) whilst all three Gull species; Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull, all have chicks.

Overall the colonies are in good health but there is still plenty of time to go and plenty of stories to tell. We’ll be keeping you updated daily as so much to report and plenty happening. Despite the lack of people, for many seabirds its been business as usual and its good to see.

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Welcome back!

4 blog

Approaching the Isle of May

2 blog

The seacliffs teeming with life

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The Loch in the centre of the island with Fluke Street buidings

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View looking south across the island

Monday 8th June comments: We are back. After weeks of dotting the ‘I’s and crossing the ‘t’s, today two members of staff returned to the Isle of May but ensuring they strictly followed all NHS and Scottish Government guidelines. The team of two will be joined by a further three researchers on the island later this week and the skeleton crew of five will complete all the important work which a national nature reserve like the Isle of May requires.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you up to date with all the news and views from this fabulous seabird reserve but on today’s reflections, the place is looking good and we’ll have plenty of stories to tell. The above photographs are just a snap shot of what it looked like on arrival and we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the island and its seabird tomorrow.

Until then, enjoy the photographs and we’ll be posting plenty more for you to follow over the forthcoming days. Its good to be back.

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Sunday 7th June comments: Today we received the special news that a small number of essential staff can return to the Isle of May national nature reserve. After lots of discussions and advice we are allowing a very small number of staff to return to the island on Monday. We have taken advice from the NHS and Scottish Government and will be following all the current guidance and social distancing protocols which are currently in place.

The island will remain closed to the general public at this moment in time but it’s important we have staff present to carry out essential protection work of our precious wildlife which lives on the Isle of May. We’ll also be continuing important research whilst carrying out habitat management to ensure our valuable nesting seabirds strive to complete their breeding season.

Despite no visitors, you can still enjoy the Isle of May through our regular updates, photos and videos from this very special place. We hope this little corner of Scotland can brighten up your day, so stay tuned, plenty of updates on the way. The seabird city of the Isle of May is alive and well.

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1, Count the number of standing Guillemots


2, A bit more tricky but how many?


3, the most difficult of them all! But how many?


4, How many nesting kittiwakes???

Wednesday 3rd June comments: So the seabird counting season is upon us but how easy is it to count? Counting seabirds has so many difficulties as you have to be extremely careful with access (keeping disturbance to a complete minimum) and then plenty of other factors involved such as weather, sun light (glare!), species you are counting, size of cliffs and colonies. I could go on as its a huge task and experience really does help when dealing with such a job.

So how good are you? have a look at the above and see how you get on? Its not as easy as you think (and these are photographs, when dealing with moving birds its even more difficult). Anyway good luck with you counts…

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Count Season

Monday 1st June comments: Can anyone believe it is now June and where does time go? Today is a significant date for the staff of seabird colonies as today usually indicates the start of ‘cliff counts’. It’s not about the counting of cliffs but the birds which nest on them. This important annual job gives conservationist and scientist the valuable data of what is happening on each seabird colony around the UK each year in terms of seabird populations. As these figures build up over the year, they can be analysed to look at trends and to see which species is doing well and which are not doing as well.

Today we would have started the big job of counting the nesting pairs of Shags, Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes on the Isle of May. So how do we count this swirling mass of seabirds? Well its made a little easier to tell you that we count the number of nests of each species rather that every individual, as a nest indicated a pair of birds. Sounds easy so far?

Well think again. Remember the previous blog posts about Guillemots and Razorbills? Both these species do not build nests as they just lay a single egg and incubate on their feet. So as a result we have to count ever individual on the ground so maybe not so easy after all.

So fancy giving it a go and counting some nesting seabirds? Tomorrow (Tuesday) we’ll post some photos of the cliffs and you can have a go at counting the various seabirds and guess how many are nesting. So check out the blog tomorrow and have a go!

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The Percentage game

Friday 29th May comments: As we approach the end of May (where has time gone?) and like many seabird colonies in the UK, the Isle of May is fast approaching the crucial part of the season. Over the next two months lots of young will hatch and hopefully go on to fledge off the island and the season will be done! It’s incredible just how quickly a seabird season can turn around but at the end of the day these birds are pelagic species and prefer to be out at sea rather than on land as they are at greater risk from such things as predation.

When you consider the lifestyle of these seabirds, the figures reveal just how little time they actually spend on land and here are some examples…

Puffins will return to the island in late March and spend April, May, June and July and occasional early August on the island, which means that they spend only 35% of their year on the Isle of May. For other seabird species it will be less time as species such as Guillemots and Razorbills may spend as little as 28% of their year on the island. For other birds it will be much long, as Shags may spend up to 44% of their year nesting as birds return to roost during the autumn and winter months.

The most extreme is arguably the Fulmar which returns to the cliff ledges in April before eventually fledging their chick in early September. The incubation period can last between 49-53 days with the chick rearing over another 46-51 days. In total a Fulmar can spend 45% of its year on the island in the breeding season. Its interesting statistics and makes you appreciate that these birds really are SEAbirds!

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Killer Whales…5 years ago!

(Photos Stuart Rivers)

Thursday 28th May comments; We sometimes look back at great wildlife moments and experiences we’ve had on the Isle of May NNR over the years and without doubt one great memory stands out on this day five years ago.

From our prospective, it started with the cancellation of the visitor boats as the north-westerly wind put a block to the boat travelling out. As the day progressed, the wind eased and we received a phone call from the birders staying at the island Bird Observatory on the east side of the island. The words uttered will stick in our minds for a long time “David we’ve got a pod of Killer Whales off the east side of the island, come quickly”.

Seconds later the islands main accommodation which houses up to eighteen people (known as Fluke Street) went into meltdown. The shout went up and pandemonium ensued in all rooms as people leapt from research hides, offices, video conference chats, lunch making duties and even showers to race across the island to watch these magnificent animals.

A total of six Orcas (Killer Whales) were seen including one bull (which was later identified as Buster from a Shetland pod) lingered for approximately one hour before eventually departing north at 15:35. The six were checking out the Grey Seal colony at the north end of the island before eventually moving off. However in the meantime and as the photos show, everyone was rather pleased at what they were watching. We’ll never forget the 28th May 2015 in a hurry.

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Eider Down!

(all photos above Ella Benninghaus)

Friday 22nd May comments: Its that time of year…Eider ducklings are on the march. Over the last few weeks Eider ducklings have been hatching across the Isle of May and gradually leaving for the nearby coastline.

Eider ducks are fabulous mothers, as successful females will troop their newly hatched young away from the nest to the Loch in the centre of the island (within 24 hours of hatching). Once there, birds will crèche as non-breeding females, failed breeders and all other mothers will group together to care for their young. Then after a few days, its time to leave. The mothers and ducklings will take for the open sea and head west for the relative safety of the nearby coastline. At just a few days old the ducklings will paddle across six miles of sea (even further in some cases) but will remain with their mothers until old enough to look after themselves.

Its an eventful start to life for the small bundles of fluff but it’s one which is repeated year-after-year. Over 1,100 female Eiders nest on the Isle of May making it one of the UK’s most important colonies. If you are on the coast in future weeks, keep your eyes peeled as you never know, you might just see some of these magnificent ducks.

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Beautiful Butterflies

Small Tortoiseshell (left) and Painted Lady (right)

Peacock (left) and Speckled Wood (right)

Thursday 21st May comments: Butterflies are far less diverse than moths, in total the Isle of May has recorded 16 different species of butterfly compared to 250 moth species. This is the same throughout the UK, moths are 30 time more diverse.

Butterflies are found across the island throughout the season, Small Tortoiseshells are usually the first to be recorded and peak later in the season when the second wave emerge. Peacock, Red Admiral and the Whites (small, large and green-veined) are recorded each year, along with the Painted lady.

Painted Lady numbers fluctuate year to year as they are long distance migrants, who knew that a butterfly can fly from the deserts of Africa across land and sea to reach the UK and the Isle of May in the summer? An amazing feet for any creature let alone a small fluttering butterfly. Last year was an amazing migration spectacle for the Painted Lady, when thousands were seen en-masse passing through. On one day 10,000 were recorded. A willing resident from the Isle of May bird observatory sat at the picnic site and counted as waves and waves of the dainty waifs came in off the sea, flew up the island and continued on their way. This continued for a further few days with many stopping off and feeding on the islands nettles, ragwort and thistles.

Other species that are not so commonly recorded are Wall, Comma, Ringlet and Meadow Brown. It was only in 2017 when t first Speckled Wood was recorded, this is a species that is beginning to spread northwards, as temperatures rise butterflies, like other insects, will expand their range.

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Creatures of the Night

MV Light Trap

MV light trap – moths are attracted to the light, hit the perspex and fall into the box.

Monday 18th May comments: Over the last twenty years island residents have been recording all the different moth species that appear on the Isle of May. This is done through ‘moth trapping’ during the night when moths are drawn to a light that is set up over a catching box and then fall down into the box and seek shelter in egg boxes for the remainder of the night. In the morning an eager moth-er (person with a slight interest in moths) counts and identifies all the moths that have been caught, simple! Well, not so simple on some days as many moths can be brown and dull especially if they are coming to the end of their life and their markings are worn. It can take some time scanning through books, taking note of every little detail and occasionally even after all that, some cannot be identified.

In recent years trapping has become more frequent and the number of different species has increased. In 2018, 114 different species of ‘macro’ moths were recorded, the highest total in any one year. Every year new species are recorded for the island and it is through diligent recording that we can use these records to look at national trends and look into the reasons behind the changes.

All the data is collected for the island and sent to the county recorder who collates and checks through the records before putting them into a central database. This can then be used to assess the status of moths in the UK.

By assessing which species are increasing or declining, we can start to look at the reasons why, using moths as biological indicators for the health of our habitats. This includes the potential to assess climate change as we start to see species from the south becoming more common in areas they were not previously found. Including records from the early 1900’s, 250 different species have been recorded on the Isle of May; not bad for one small island in the North Sea.

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