Ready to Open

Sunday 25th April comments: Well the dust has been cleaned, the windows washed, the pathways checked, the jetties scrubbed, the interruption cleaned and the uniform washed; it’s now time we opened our doors.

Tomorrow we finally open the Isle of May to all licenced boats as we welcome back visitors for a new season. For the foreseeable future we’ll have restricted visitor numbers to ensure social distancing is followed on the boats but gradually this (hopefully) will change. We certainly look forward to seeing you and sharing this magical place with you.

Over the last few weeks the reserve staff have been sorting the Isle of May and after a delayed start (due to cold weather) the seabirds have returned in good numbers. It is now full steam ahead as we’ll welcome boats from both Lothian and Fife. For further details on costs and times, please see the links below. And remember once you pay your boat fare, its free of charge to enter the island. We (the staff and the seabirds) look forward to seeing you.

May Princess (sails from Anstruther): https://www.isleofmayferry.com/

Ospreyrib (sails from Anstruther): https://www.isleofmayboattrips.co.uk/index.php

Seabird Rib (sails from North Berwick): https://seabird-centre.seafari-edinburgh.co.uk/forth-ferry-and-isle-of-may

Bluewild (sails from Dunbar): https://www.bluewild.co.uk/isle-of-may-landing-tour/

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Puffins on Eggs!

Pair of puffins enjoying the early morning sun
Isle of May puffins
Puffins on the island

Thursday 22nd April comments: Today we can bring you the exciting news that Puffins are now on eggs! We suspect birds have been incubating eggs for a week or so but it is now confirmed (we’ll know more about the first egg laying date once we discover the first feeding puffins but more on that later).

Since the weather improved last weekend, Puffins have returned and become more settled across the Island and egg laying has now commenced. Over the next few weeks the vast majority of birds will be incubating underground and each parent will take their turn in this important duty. Overall Puffins will sit for 40 days and the first chicks will hatch from late May and then the fun really begins (lots of hungry chicks to feed). 

Its wonderful news for the puffins as we are on the verge of opening to the public (we open from next Monday 26th April) so it’s even more of a reason to come and visit. The Isle of May seabird breeding season is cranking up but we still have plenty more to come and some of our birds have not even arrived yet.

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Migrants on the Move

The first Grasshopper Warbler of the year arrived today and showed very well (and was ringed on the island)
Roosting Barn owl on a seabird cliff (Sam Langlois)

Wednesday 21st April comments: Whilst the seabird season has been slow to get underway, bird migration has followed a similar pattern. After a push of early migrants in late March with the fine weather which brought the years first Wheatears, Sand Martins and Chiffchaffs, migration then came to an abrupt halt.

Cold northerly winds dominated early April and as a result nothing was making it through and staying further south to avoid the freezing temperatures of this area. At long last those days are now over (we hope) and warmer southerly winds are rising temperatures and bringing with it migrant birds which have been wintering in Africa are now making a push north. As usual the Isle of May has seen a noticeable increase of bird migrants in recent days.

Amongst the arrivals have included several Willow Warblers, a good scattering of Wheatears, an obliging Grasshopper Warbler (which showed extremely well), more Sand Martins and Swallows with others on the move north including Meadow pipits, linnets and Siskins. Interestingly a Brambling today is a species heading out of the U.K. to head back to breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

More unusual for the island was the discovery of a Barn owl roosting and it appears to be the same individual seen in late February and early March, so it obviously likes the island (and its mice). Also other noteworthy birds included a House Sparrow (rare on here!) Stock Dove (another scarce visitor) and Black Redstart amongst others. It is now an exciting time to be on the island and each day can bring surprises. What will happen over the next week or two, you’ll just have to wait and find out…   

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Underway (again)

Tuesday 20th April comments: The weather has finally improved and as forecast, the breeding season has started (again). Following the discovery of the first Shag eggs in late March, the season was put on hold as cold northerly winds dominated in early April (dropping temperatures to below freezing). However the season goes on and over the last few days we’ve had news of two more species joining the list now incubating eggs.

The first Great Black-backed Gulls are now incubating on nests on Rona whilst a female Eider was discovered this morning on a nest under our solar panels (which is a bit later than normal). However its a start and over the next few weeks more species and more birds will be sitting on nests incubating valuable clutches. We should see both Guillemots and Razorbills on eggs by the month end whilst the first terns will start to arrive, but won’t be nesting until mid-May.

It’s an exciting time to visit the Isle of may as things get underway and from next Monday we open our doors to the public, so have you booked a trip yet? It’s going to be an exciting summer ahead…

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Slow start…

Saturday 17th April comments: It’s been a slow start to proceedings for the Isle of May despite the quick egg laying date of our Shags (late March). Since then cold weather has dominated which has slowed the progression of the breeding season.

Despite this birds are still arriving and things will get back on track very soon, just in time for our first visitors from 26th April. Puffins have been coming and going and appear unsettled, the Guillemots and Razorbills are present on the cliffs but still some way from starting their season whilst Kittiwakes are having their usual slow start. Elsewhere the first Eiders have now arrived on the island whilst the large Gulls are attempting to start but are still only at the courtship displays. As for our Terns, they are still heading north from southern wintering grounds so it’ll still be a week or two before they return.

Speaking of returning, today also sees the return of some of the research staff from UKCEH for the summer months whilst other researchers from the BTO and St.Andrews will arrive in early May. The pace of the Isle of May is slowly and surely picking up and we look forward to it going into full throttle (and some warmer weather please) as the exciting times are just around the corner…  

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Eiders on the March

Monday 12th March comments: Despite the cold windy start to the new season (which potentially has delayed the breeding season for several species), there is also an urge to get going no matter what. In recent days we’ve noticed an increase of Eider duck numbers around the Island including birds coming up onto the loch and that means just one thing; it’s nesting season!

Drake Eiders can be seen and heard displaying (they’ve been displaying for a few months now), trying to capture the attention of the females, whilst the females are now looking to breed and nest. Over 1,100 females nest on the Isle of May making it one of the most important Eider colonies in the U.K. We expect our first female to start nesting soon as she’ll wander up to a suitable nest spot, and will start laying eggs (Eiders will nest all over the island from the thick vegetation of the tops, to the pathways and around the buildings dotted across the Isle). Interestingly female Eiders don’t start incubating the full clutch of eggs until they are all laid, as this ensures that all the eggs will hatch on the same day to allow her to take the chicks to sea within 24 hours.

However despite the first female preparing to nest, there are many more following her and it is often a protracted season as females will still be arriving and nesting in mid-May, at the same time as these early nesters which will have chicks! So if you visit, watch your feet because some very special ladies are coming to town.  

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OPENING 26th APRIL…

Saturday 10th April comments: Today we bring you the exciting news that the Isle of May will (hopefully) open its doors to the public from Monday 26th April. As we continue to take advice from Scottish Government we are looking at opening the island, Covid safe, from 26th April.

Work will continue behind the scenes to ensure we are ready for this date but its exciting news and will mean we can share this magical island and all of its stunning wildlife with everyone! We’ll keep you informed as we move forward but in the meantime check out the various boat companies websites (see below) which operate trips to the island (you can book online).

ARE YOU READY? BRING IT ON!!

May Princess (departs Anstruther): https://www.isleofmayferry.com/

Osprey Rib (departs Anstruther): https://www.isleofmayboattrips.co.uk/

Seabird Rib (departs North Berwick): https://seabird-centre.seafari-edinburgh.co.uk/forth-ferry-and-isle-of-may

BlueWild Rib (departs Dunbar): https://www.bluewild.co.uk/isle-of-may-landing-tour/

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What happened to spring?

Thursday 8th April comments: As with the previous few weeks, the weather has dominated life on the Isle of May as we’ve been battening down the hatches more than we can remember! The winds have been strong all week (with the exception of Wednesday morning) and today it was gusting 52mph (in other words windy!)

As a result bird migration has been put on virtual hold as at this time of year we would be normally recording numerous Chiffchaffs on their way north but instead have not recorded a single bird in the month of April so far and we are eight days into the month. The seabirds have also reacted to the inclement weather as many have moved back out to the open North Sea to ride the storms out. Puffins have been away for the last seven days whilst Guillemots and razorbills only appear fleetingly. Apart from the Shags which are on nests, everything else is away and we don’t blame the,.

Hopefully we’ll start to see some normality next week (temperatures above freezing would be nice) and the seabird breeding season can kick start again. We will also bring you some exciting news about opening the island, as we continue to work hard behind the scenes to get the place open! So watch this space. Now can we have some light winds and sunshine please?

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Easter Snowshine

Monday 5th April comments: Easter is often associated with springtime, flowering daffodils, new born lambs and glorious walks in the countryside. In reality today parts of the U.K have experienced snowfall, hail and temperatures below -8. Welcome to Easter everyone.  

Here on the Isle of May the temperatures reached a low of -3 degrees overnight but that doesn’t take into consideration of the wind chill, so you have an idea of what it’s really like (biting cold!). The strong north-westerly wind has also produced some impressive seas with swell and waves crashing into the east side of the island. As a result the majority of seabirds have cleared off the island, back out to the relative safety of the North Sea leaving only those early nesting Shags to sit it out and take the brunt of the storm. We suspect this weather (which is set to continue over the next few days) will potentially delay other breeding seabirds despite daylight hours increasing.

So the island is fairly quiet and with very few migrant birds moving (you don’t blame them for staying where they are) it’s been a quiet day on the island but at least we can stay safe and warm inside, just think of those seabirds sitting on the sea… Lets hope it passes quickly and we can get on with the more spring-like weather and the seabirds can start again.  

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Wader migration

Turnstone on the way north (Bex outram)

Saturday 3rd April comments: When we think of bird migration at this time of year we often think about when the first Swallows are seen, or the first Swift heard or the familiar Cuckoo singing its song in late April. However quietly and slowly there are many other birds on the move and as we are a rocky island, we are perfectly placed and provide great habitat for a number of rocky shore waders.

In the last week we’ve had over 70 Purple Sandpipers (pictured above in the second photo) and 60 Turnstone on the island and most of these will have over-wintered here whilst others will have travelled from more southern wintering grounds and are just stage stopping to take a break. However you may ask, where are these birds going?

Both Turnstone and Purple Sandpipers do not breed in the U.K. (well literally just a few pairs of Purple Sandpipers do) but these birds are heading north. As the spring advances, the weather and daylight hours improve and Purple Sandpipers breed right across the Arctic from eastern Canada to Russia with populations in most countries in between including Greenland and Iceland. Turnstone breed in similar areas including Fennoscandia and therefore both species have some way to go. These migration routes are well studied and both will go about their business without attracting too much attention, but it just shows that migration is in action even i the small corners of the Isle of May. As well as these two, small numbers of Redshank, Dunlin, Whimbrel and Curlew also use the island, so you just can’t take your eyes off the place.

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