Raddes remains

Friday 8th October comments: Its been another beautiful day on the Isle of May, with very little wind and sunshine. Although migration has been slow with very few new arrivals, our Radde’s Warbler remained for a second day and could often be heard before being seen.

This Siberian vagrant remained in the nettles along Holyman’s Road and despite the lack of any serious thick flora, the bird could be elusive and disappear for an hour at a time. It’s good to have this Siberian visitor to our shore, the 10th for the Isle of May and we suspect the month of October might produce just one of two more surprises…

As for other island news, it was an impressive day out at sea but more on that tomorrow…

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A skulky Radde’s Warbler (Keith Morton)

Thursday 7th October comments: never rule out the Isle of May. We’ve had a quiet autumn so far by our standards and have yet to produce anything noticeably significant in the way of a rare migrant bird…until today!

Just after  13:00 news broke that a Radde’s Warbler (pictured above, taken by Keith Morton) had been found along Holymans Road on the east side of the island. All island residents soon arrived and were enjoying good but brief views as the skulking warbler enjoyed feeding in the base of the bushes. It’s the 10th record of Radde’s Warbler on the Isle of May and the sixth to have been discovered between 3rd-10th October. Other recent records have occurred in 2019, 2016 and 2013). These birds are from the taiga forests of Siberia and winter in south-east Asia but remain a real rare bird to the U.K.

So at long last we have something to shout out about as migration has been slow but with another month or so of the migration period to go, anything is possible as after all, this is the Isle of May…

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Seal season underway

Our second seal pup of the season just born today
Finding its way in life
and enjoying the sun
but mum is not very far away

Wednesday 6th October: The Isle of May is slowly and surely changing as the number of Grey Seal pups has trebled (from one to three ha ha). The youngsters are looking well, with attentive mothers looking after their new-born.

The Isle of May will gradually transform over the next few weeks as we have seen off the seabird season, visitors have stopped coming (we closed our doors on 30th September) and now it is seal season. The island is home to thousands of seals from now until the end of December with an expected 2,500 pups will be born. It is one of the most significant Grey seal nurseries in the British Isles and it is important we reduce disturbance and let them get on with their daily lives of raising young.

Young seal pups will stay with their mums for 18-21 days as they feed on their mothers milk. Its certainly a interesting time and as ever we’ll be bringing you all the stories from the seal nurseries over the next few months as things are just getting started.

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Thank-you Roy

Monday 4th October comments: The Isle of May is an amazing place for wildlife, an amazing place to live and work and an amazing place to see wildlife. During the course of a season, many different people make up the important wider team who help deliver the success that the place has. From the NatureScot staff both on and off the island, bird observatory teams and committee, various researcher teams and not forgetting the vital contractors who help make this place tick. As part of this wider team we also have the various boat companies who bring the thousands of visitors to us from April-September, from the ticket hut operators, guides and the important skippers of the boats..

Yesterday we said goodbye to an Isle of May starlet of nine years, as Roy Giles has decided to hang up lifejacket and head off for early retirement. Roy has been skipper of the trusty Osprey rib boat throughout the last decade and as well as day visitors, he was the vital supply line for the island who brought the various groups on in all-weather from staff to contractors. He literally brought everything on including the kitchen sink in his time. Roy has been a massive support and friend of the island and without him we’d have struggled to say the least.

So as a mark of thanks, we took to Anstuther yesterday and celebrated his great years and although Roy is moving on, he’ll not be a stranger and is already talking about visiting next year. Thank you Roy for everything you did and we look forward to seeing much more of you in the future.  

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Sensitive around Seals

Friday 1st October comments: Today we welcome the month of October and it’s another crucial time in the Isle of May calendar. This month we will witness the huge increase in Grey Seal numbers around the island and the number of pups being born will swiftly increase. Although the island is now officially closed, it is a good reminder for everyone to take care around Grey Seals at this time of year as they can be found along coastal areas.

Seals represent a tremendous resource for wildlife tourism, and a means to reconnect people with nature. Unnecessary disturbance undermines the opportunities – by making seals more nervous, and in turn more easily disturbed. So it is in both our interests and theirs to be as careful as possible. When on land, seals are usually resting to conserve energy or may be nursing young. There are important thermoregulation benefits of being on land and staying dry which help seals to moult and replace their fur, which is important for their health.

Disturbing seals into the water costs them energy, creates stress and can lead to impacts on health, especially during the annual moult. If you get too close to mothers and pups they may get frightened and agitated. Nursing can be interrupted which is serious as mothers do not stay with pups for long and the pups must achieve a certain level of body condition to have the best chance of survival. Pups can even be injured by stampeding adults or even abandoned if the mum is frightened off.

As well as pupping, seals will haul out (including on beaches like Tentsmuir NNR and St.Andrews West beach in Fife and may be disturbed by being closely approached from the sea or land, including by people on foot. They are particularly sensitive to the presence of dogs, even if the dogs are on a lead. Seals are one of the easiest species in which to identify disturbance. They have a clear three-stage response which has been documented in a number of studies.

When approaching seals, stop at a safe distance away and observe them through binoculars or a telescope. Determine their current behaviour and, as you approach, look for any changes to this behaviour. The first sign that seals are becoming disturbed is the “heads up” response. This is associated with vigilance and means seals are starting to perceive you as a potential threat. If you notice this behaviour, back off and/or change your method and speed of approach. The second stage of disturbance is usually shifting around and becoming agitated. At this point you are getting too close and should back off carefully. If you don’t, this may then lead to the third stage – flushing or stampeding into the water. This undoubtedly constitutes disturbance and should be avoided whenever possible. If the seals slip gently into the water one by one, this may be just curiosity – to get a better look at you – but it may be to ensure that they are safe and that you are not threatening. In most cases this is not a problem, although it may become so if seals are repeatedly leaving their haul-out sites as a result of disturbance.

So please respect wildlife especially seals at this time of year and for more information check out the full ‘best practice guide for watching marine Wildlife’ which is linked here: https://www.nature.scot/doc/guide-best-practice-watching-marine-wildlife-smwwc-part-2

And if you can’t go to see seals yourself then don’t worry we’ll be bringing you lots of news and stories from the Isle of May pupping grounds over the next month or so, so stay tuned and catch-up from the comfort of your living room. Its officially seal season…

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Thank you All

Thursday 30th September comments: Today was a sad day as we said farewell to our final visitors of the 2021 season. It doesn’t seem that long ago we were opening our doors, with restrictions in place but today we said goodbye to our last visitors of the strange and wonderful 2021 season.

We were delighted to open our doors a bit earlier this year (compared to last year) as we welcomed visitors from Monday 26th April, although with restrictions on numbers due to Covid. Since then we have welcomed thousands of people to the island, to enjoy the magnificent national nature reserve from its wild beauty to its incredible wildlife. We even set new records for the numbers of visitors in August and September, showing the appeal of such a place. 

Without your visits and support we couldn’t achieve the great work we do out here and we thank everyone for that (so please keep on visiting!) We also thank the wonderful boat companies and crew who are part of the wider Isle of May team for their great work, support and friendship; its been another tricky season but we’ve managed to make it special for those who have visited. We thank everyone from the skippers including Alex, Roy, Brian, Robyn, Lez and Alan. Also thanks to the great team of Simon, Ed, Stef, Scott, Rabbie, Caroline, James and Maggie amongst others for making the Isle of May so special for so many this season. 

So we’ve closed the door on the 2021 visitor season and hopefully we can look forward to a trouble free 2022 (no more virus’s please). We’ll be back in the spring of 2022 to start again and I hope you can all join us. However if you want the Isle of May fix, stay with us as we are not leaving yet. We are staying on the island for another month or so, so plenty more stories to follow so please stay tuned!

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FIRST Seal Pup!

Pictures above show one of last year’s young pups with mum!

Tuesday 28th September comments: At last we have a Grey Seal Pup! We are celebrating the great news that the first seal pup of the autumn has been born and is fine and well. The pup was discovered this morning down the east side of the island on Rona and is slightly later than the first born dates of recent decade. Regardless the mum is in close attendance and it’s the start of many more to come over the next few months.

Young Grey Seal pups remain with their mothers for 20-21 days suckling on milk before they moult and become independent so we’ll keep an eye on this individual and report back as it grows. The Isle of May is a hugely significant Grey Seal nursery; one of the biggest in the UK with over 2,500 pups born annually. The first pups are born at this time of year with a peak in early November before the last pup is born in mid-December.

So here we go, another seal season has started and its wonderful news for this important national nature reserve.

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Record Pinks!

Friday 24th September comments: Well we told you that the Geese were moving but we didn’t realise on such an epic scale. Over the previous week birds have obviously been blocked by prevailing winds on their summering grounds stopping them from migrating from Iceland and beyond to winter areas in the U.K, but yesterday the winds encouraged them to move (they had a tail wind) and boy did they move…

All across Scotland and northern England including at our neighbouring NNR’s at Tentsmuir and Loch Leven, Pink-footed Geese were reported in huge numbers. People were witnessing these movements at lots of coastal sites but also inland, as birds could be seen and heard flying over. It’s a brilliant sight and sound as they head into the U.K. for the winter and for many this is the sound of autumn, migrating Geese on the move.

However here on the Isle of May we went one better and over the course of the day we logged 10,795 Pink-footed Geese in numerous skeins as the moved south-west over the island. Not surprising, this is a new record for the island and just shows what can and will happen on migration. The natural world is an amazing thing…

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Close up of a pink-footed Goose

Thursday 23rd September comments: slightly later than expected but its now officially autumn… and you may ask why? Well let us explain…

Over the last few days we’ve had our first Pink-footed Geese arrive as they migrate over the Isle of May and today the floodgates have opened as huge numbers have been seen arriving across Scotland. If anyone has heard the call of wild geese as they arrive to winter in the UK then you’ll know what I mean.

Pink-footed Geese breed in Iceland, Greenland and Swalbard and if conditions are right at this time of year, they start departing for wintering grounds in the UK. Aided by a westerly tail wind, they cross quickly and some will come down the east coast stopping off at well known Goose sites such as Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire), Montrose Basin (Angus), Loch Leven (Perthshire) and Aberlady Bay (Lothian). Birds will winter in these area but many more will head further south to Northumberland with even bigger numbers in north Norfolk.

Its an amazing spectacle to watch and real excitement as the call of the geese signals the start of Autumn. It’s good to have them back and suspect we’ll be seeing plenty more in the forthcoming weeks. So when you are out and about, look up and listen and you never know what you may see.

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Migrants on the move

Top left: Honey Buzzard, Top right: Common Rosefinch

Bottom left: Little Stint, Bottom right: Barred Warbler

Monday 20th September comments: Away from the concerning news about the Guillemot and Razorbills in the North Sea 9more on that again soon), it’s that time of year when birds use the Isle of May as a service station on migration. Migrant birds are either leaving our shore for warmer climes further south or arriving from the high north escaping the cold harsh weather of Scandinavia and beyond.

As a result the isle of May is ideally positioned to welcome hundreds (sometimes thousands) of migratory birds as we stick out in the North Sea (and we also have a bird observatory monitoring all this activity!). Birds will use the island as a distinctive landmark as well as a safe place to feed, rest and prepare for their onward journey. This is repeated in spring and autumn and thousands of birds will be recorded during these next few weeks and months.

In recent weeks we’ve had the first wave of birds from thousands of Meadow Pipits moving south to southern England and northern France, whilst several different warbler species have been recorded. More noteworthy arrivals included four different Common Rosefinchs (a scarce drift migrant from the near-continent), a smart juvenile Honey Buzzard on its way to Africa for the winter (the 10th record for the island and first since 2017), whilst other birds of note have included Barred Warbler, Marsh Harrier and Wood Sandpiper to name but a few. Speaking of waders it’s been a reasonable few weeks as birds like Whimbrel, Curlew, Redshanks, Knot and Golden Plover have been recorded moving through the island whilst a Sanderling (a scarce visitor) was seen as well as a juvenile Little Stint which showed well for several days.

It’s now the autumn and anything is possible. We are expecting the floodgates to open on Pink-footed Geese any day soon and if those winds switch to the east, we might expect just one or two exciting things along the way…

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