Siskins Galore!

Thursday 8th September comments: We continue the theme of migrant birds and highlighting a species which has arrived in good numbers. In the last six days the island has experienced a noticeable influx of Siskins (amongst other birds) and the source of these birds is probably from across the North Sea.

Despite being a widespread breeding species in the UK, they also migrate with large numbers arriving from the continent. With the recent easterly winds we suspect these birds are coming in from Europe. The flock first arrived on 3rd September with 38 over and the following day a large flock of 135 were present. Since then numbers have remained steady with 150 present yesterday afternoon.

The birds are feeding on the seed heads of common nettle and ragwort and with plenty of both available, its good feeding time. However it does not come without its dangers as the island is host to both Kestrels and Sparrowhawks, so these birds are being kept on their toes.  

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Painting the Town Red

island birding… Redstart on the rocks

Wednesday 7th September comments: The wind has remained in the east and so the bird migrants have continued to arrive. This morning the vast majority of the Pied Flycatchers had departed overnight and on there way to southern wintering grounds. However these little pied masters were replaced by a splash of red… in the form of Redstarts. Over 25 arrived today in various plumages including several distinctive males, drifting into winter plumage.

Redstarts are summer visitors to the UK breeding in northern and western oakwoods but at this time of year they are departing these shores for wintering grounds further south. These birds are travelling to sub-Sahara Africa where they will spend the winter before returning next spring. Early September is peak migration season for these colourful visitors and today didn’t disappoint as the photos show with plenty scarttered across the Isle.

With yet more easterly winds forecast we suspect more birds will arrive and we’ll be featuring them on the blog as they arrive. It’s an exciting time on the island so keep tuning in to see what else we discover as its migration in action.

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Snake Bird!

Tuesday 6th September comments: One of the migrant birds which arrived on the island over the weekend was a Wryneck. These unusual birds are members of the woodpecker family and get their names from the ability to twist their heads almost 180 degrees! Like all woodpeckers they have long tongues for feeding on insects (Wrynecks rather enjoy eating ants) whilst they also have two toes pointing forward and two back.

Wrynecks are scarce visitors to the UK and can be seen in both spring and autumn, especially along the east and south coast if winds are favourable. However in recent years Wrynecks have been noticeable by their absence as they were recorded every year on the island from 1992-2016 apart from four years (2003, 2009, 2011 and 2013). However since one arrived on 9th May 2016 there have been none since! Its’ been a long six year vigil but finally the wait was over at the weekend as one was discovered on Rona. The bird then relocated to the main part of the island and has enjoyed feasting on ant’s ever since.

It’s a wonderful addition to the islands year list (the total number of species we record on an annual basis) and glad we have them back.

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More migrant mayhem

Pied Flycatchers in every area of the island

Over 135 Siskin were present on the island

Whilst other birds were putting in an appearance with 3 Common Rosefinch (left) and Whinchat (right)

Monday 5th September comments: It proved to be a busy weekend as the avalanche of migrant birds ensured the bird observatory team and the staff present on the island were kept on their toes. The most significant arrival proved to with Pied Flycatchers; this summer visitor to the UK arrived in huge numbers with 55 counted on Saturday with at least 48 still present the following day. Every elder bush, walled garden and small sheltered gully had birds present as individuals took up temporary territories to feed on insects before preparing for their long journey south.

The island was generally lifting with migrants as Whinchats, Wheatears, Spotted Flycatchers, Willow Werblers,, Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats were also seen. Interestingly 135 Siskin arrived and remained as these small finches were seen feeding on the seeds of the flowering ragwort. Amongst them rare birds were also discovered including a Wryneck, Icterine Warbler, three Common Rosefinch and a Greenish Warbler amongst others. there were also an arrival of raptors as six Kestrels and two Sparrowhawks were buzzing about the island whilst a Merlin added to the wing-wizardry.

Elsewhere waders were arriving with 19 Common Sandpipers, Green Sandpiper, 15 Dunlin and Greenshank making it a very busy island. with more easterly winds forecast we might expect even more, so we’ll keep you posted as its migration season and anything is possible.

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Marvelous Migrants

Cryptic visitor; a Wryneck surprisingly the first island record since 2016

Common Rosefinch – a new bird as the previous bird a few days ago was ringed!

Pied Flycatcher; over 40 arrived on the island today

Saturday 3rd September comments: We suspected it might happen as the forecasts were suggesting it, but sometimes these things never happen, but it did today. The island was blasted by an easterly wind and as a result the boat were cancelled due to the rough seas. However one silver lining is that migrant birds have been arriving throughout the day with some noteiable rarer species involved as well.

The island was fairly quiet early morning but by mid-morning birds were arriving and gradually numbers increased. Overall over 40 Pied Flycatchers were counted, many showing well as they perched on the branches and walls around the isle. Other common migrants taking advantage to rest and feed included six Redstart, four Garden Warblers, Lesser Whitethroat amongst many others. However as the island does, we also pulled in some rare visitors.

In the Top lighthouse garden a Greenish Warbler was discovered, a rare visitor from the near-continent and the 21st to be seen on the island although the fifth in the last five years. In the north of the island a Wryneck (a member of the woodpecker family) was discovered on the artificial tree which showed well and was the first record since 2016! The other bird of note was a immature/female Common Rosefinch which was the second this week. For a complete list of all birds and totals, check out the Isle of May Bird Observatory bird news page (which will be update Sunday):

Overall its been a cracking day and with more easterly winds forecast, tomorrow might just bring even more. stay tuned…

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Bad news but good…

Friday 2nd September comments: We’ve been watching the weather forecasts closely and today we have confirmed that the weekend event is cancelled. The winds have been in the east for several days but this weekend we are expecting those winds to increase which will prevent boats from sailing. As a result all visitor boats have cancelled this weekend meaning we do not have an Open Doors weekend to celebrate.

However…some good news… we are going to do it again but next weekend! So some of the islands buildings, normally with restrictions and no access will be opened up next weekend on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th September. These include the impressive Stevenson lighthouse, Scotland’s oldest lighthouse the beacon, the engine rooms and the Low lighthouse tower. So get booking and visit next weekend!

Although its a big disappointment we will repeat the event next weekend and in the meantime we might be getting some migrant birds over the next few days so plenty to keep us going and as ever we’ll be bringing you the news. The winds are looking interesting because birds migrating south through northern Europe will be pushed over the North Sea and will reach the Isle of May as first landfall. Here are the latest maps of the wind…

Maps taken off Windy website

As ever we’ll be keeping you posted…it’s never dull on the Isle of May…

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Dry island

Thursday 1st September comments: As we welcome in the new month we are now discussing weather patterns in more detail as the weather on the Isle of May dictates our daily lives. We check to see if visitor boats are sailing, or if we can get on and off and even checking the latest weather systems to see if we have any potential for migrant birds arriving.

However we are also checking for one very important aspect of the weather; rain. The Isle of May is generally a dry place, and we can go months without any droplets of rain. As with many places this summer, we have had very little rain and that is starting to impact daily lives. We now have a restriction on water usage on the island as the main well is low whilst the island itself is showing signs of drought as seen from the photos above. Many of the main pathways are now just dusty tracks and the small water bodies dotted around the island have since dried up a long time ago.

So we really could do with a spot of rain and as we look at the forecast we notice some interesting developments this weekend but more on that later…

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Ground pigeon

An Isle of May Pigeon

Wednesday 31st August comments: Something you may not consider when thinking about the Isle of May is of our humble Wood Pigeons which nest on the island. Wood Pigeons were just migratory on the Isle until it all changed in 2015 when two pioneering pairs took advantage of the elder bushes on the island and bred successfully. Since then the population has maintained itself with the number of pairs increasing to four.

However in recent years there has also been a shift in the use of the habitat on the island as we are generally a treeless island so the birds have adapted and are now nesting on the ground. In the last seven days a total of four nests have been discovered but interestingly two of these are on the ground. With no ground predators such as fox or rat, then this is a perfect strategy and with the only other potential risk gone (the large Gulls have departed the island) then this is a good idea which will hopefully end well (we’ll keep you posted). Ground nesting has been recorded in birds in the U.K but to what extent, we are unsure but will do some research. Overall it just shows the different uses of the island by different species and the importance of the place to a wide diversity of birds.   

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Can’t see the wood for the trees…

Friday 26th August comments: Migration is underway as discussed in Wednesday’s blog and yesterday brought the first autumn surprise; a Treecreeper!

For many these will be very familiar birds which people will see in parks and gardens as this cryptic woodland dweller is fairly common across the British Isles…but not here. As an island we find woodland birds are rare and their occurrence is well received (this Treecreeper even got people running). Island birding is something very different as drift migrants such as Red-backed Shrike, Bluethroat, Icterine Warbler and Barred Warblers are almost annual visitors but we can’t say the same about woodland birds. To put it into context the last Blue and Great Tits recorded on here were as long ago as 2005 whilst there has only ever been one Magpie back in 1986!

So the appearance of this Treecreeper was most welcome but it must have found the island strange as we have no trees, so instead it was happy picking off insects off the walls of the buildings as seen in the photos. It just goes to show what is migrating out there and expect the unexpected. hopefully we’ll have plenty more interesting birds to report over the next few months.

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On the move…

Juvenile Wheatear (left) and Whinchat (right)

both Tree Pipits

Willow Warbler (left) and Pied Flycatcher (right)

Wednesday 24th August comments: It’s late August and things are getting exciting on the Isle of May as its migration season. At this time of year migrants birds have replaced our breeding seabirds as passerines are moving through, using the island as a vital stop-over.

Northern breeders such as Wheatears, Whinchats and warblers are currently moving south with more to arrive over the next few weeks. However it won’t be long before we are welcoming back other birds such as Fieldfares, Blackbirds and Redwings as they start heading into the UK for the winter from breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

The Island at this time of year acts as one big service station, as birds stop off to refuel before heading on their way (to whichever part of the world they are heading). As well as usual arrivals, if the wind is in the east we can expect a few rarities along the way so stay tuned.

For more detailed news of bird migrants which are arriving, check out the islands bird observatory sightings page at:

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