Winter wonderland

Photos Top: Left Short-eared Owl, right Curlew, Centre left and right cow seals with pups and bottom left Purple Sandpiper, right Fieldfare 

Tuesday 29th October comments: The Isle of May has a very wintery feel to it at this moment as temperatures plummet (notice the ice on your cars in the morning now?) and the shift in the wildlife calendar continues to gather momentum.

Bird migration is slowly and surely coming to the end as the last of the summer migrants head south whilst the winter thrushes continue to move west towards mainland UK. Across the island the number of Grey Seal pups increases daily and we’ve now shut down the main jetties to the island as cow seals are scattered across that area and need no disturbance at this crucial time.

Over the next few weeks we’ll bring you more updates as the Seal season gathers pace whilst we get ready to close and leave the island for the winter. Its that time of year again but still plenty to report so keep checking out all out social media channels. More to come tomorrow.

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Working Away

Friday 25th October comments: Although the Isle of May is now officially closed to the public, we still have plenty of work to keep us entertained. Behind the scenes we are a busy team as we get on with various work; some big scale jobs and other less mundane bits of work.

Since closing we’ve welcomed the SNH National Nature Reserve Teams from around the country and undertake new practical tasks such as dry stone walling. We’ve had some major jobs including the delivery of over 5 tons of timber for replacement heligoland trap work whilst five years worth of sewage was helicoptered off the island from the septic tank (that was certainly an interesting job!) We’ve also had lesser work such as boardwalk construction but also the usual end of season jobs as we put away all the visitor kit including picnic tables and signage.

We’ve been kept busy and still got plenty to achieve before we depart and of course this is taking into account all the wildlife we have including the pupping Grey Seals. We still have some work on the Tern terrace extension whilst paperwork is never far away. As usual we’ll be keeping you posted with all the latest so keep checking out the blog for the updates from the Isle of May.

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The island that keeps on providing!

Wednesday 23rd October comments: The island that keeps on providing…the Isle of May has certainly had a very good autumn for migrant birds with all sorts and sizes arriving since it all began in late July with the arrival of an Aquatic Warbler.

Today started out as another quiet day with a handful of thrushes (mainly Blackbirds and Redwings) with the resident Robins and Wrens keeping us entertained. However by late morning a bird had been discovered by the chapel which proved to be a Radde’s Warbler, the islands 9th ever (and first since 2016). This rare visitor to the UK breeds in the Taiga forests which cover central and eastern Russia and this bird winters in south-east Asia so is slightly off course!

The bird was later caught and ringed and the body fat suggests the individual was in good condition. However it just shows how good the island is, as we stick out in the North Sea and migrant birds find us as their first landfall. The Isle of May continues to provide and what next…. we’ve still got time for more!

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Seal colony

Monday 21st October comments: Its the time of year when you really appreciate the importance of the Isle of May for wildlife. We’ve had the spectacular summer seabird season, we are approaching the end of bird migration but now its the start of seal season.

Across various areas of the island, Grey Seals have been hauling out as its the time of year that pups are born (as can be seen in the above photos). We now have over 50 new-born pups scattered across the island with attentive mothers looking after them. Over the next 6-8 weeks we’ll have another 2,400 born (the colony is that big) as the island completely transforms into one of the UK’s most important Grey Seal colonies.

We’ll keep you posted with Seal updates but please remember it is an important time for breeding Grey Seals (including haul out sites) and as professionals we maintain a safe distance which does not disturb the animals and take photos with telephoto lens. Seals should not be approached or disturbed at this time of year.

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Butcher Bird in Town


Butcher bird in town…


…eating a mouse….


Great Grey Shrikes don’t mess


Just a youngster but its deadly

Saturday 19th October comments: This place has just got interesting… For the migrant birds and the mice of the island, beware as we have an uninvited guest which has arrived today; a Butcher bird!

The horrendous north-easterly wind with rain which battered the Isle of May this morning has brought in a Great Grey Shrike and these birds are not known as ‘butcher birds’ for nothing. This skilled predator will hunt small passerines and mice and like something from the grizzly medieval traitor’s gate in London, will skewer the bodies of its victims on to thorns to form a larder from which it will dine. The birds may be stunning to look at, but not if you’re a Goldcrest or Robin. They have been warned…

It’s not for the faint hearted but if you look at the second photo down, you can see the bird actually feeding on a mouse it has killed and pinned up…I told you not to look. Suspect this individual isn’t going to struggle for food….

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Thank-you Bex

Friday 18th October comments: We’ve been busy as ever on the island as work never stops (do islands ever sleep?) but more on that later. However one bit of big island news is that Bex has departed for the winter as holidays and a well-earned break is in order.

As assistant reserve manager Bex has been living and working on here since March and this is the end of her sixth season on the Isle of May. It’s some achievement, in fact the second longest serving member of staff with the current record set at seven years so maybe next year might be the record equalling season?

It’s a sad day to see Bex depart as she is a linchpin of the Isle of May as her dependable hard working and well organised nature ensures the national nature reserve operates smoothly as she deals with such a variety of tasks as part of her day-to-day job. Work can be as exciting as the science of counting cliff nesting seabirds or ringing Arctic Terns but can also be very mundane such as fixing toilet door handles or lifting timber off a boat. Bex is an unsung hero of the Isle of May and we thank her for everything she has done this season (we couldn’t do it without her!)

We hope Bex enjoys her well-earned break and a big thank-you from all for your support, hard work and friendship over the past eight months and suspect you won’t be a stranger to these parts.  Thanks again Bex go have a well-earned break!

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Owl Time…

roosting owl

Roosting Short-eared Owl on the island…can you spot it?


Better photo of one!

Sunday 13th October comments: The Isle of May sees so much seasonal change in its wildlife and we are now deep rooted in autumn with bird migration at its peak. We are also seeing Grey Seal numbers continue to increase and we have already seen signs of winter as the Owls are back…

Short-eared Owls escape the harsh winters of Scandinavia and migrate south utilising places like the Isle of May as safe wintering quarters. The island is perfect for these magnificent birds as it is relatively undisturbed and it has a fabulous food source; mice! The island mouse population peaks in late Autumn and the resident Owls take full advantage.

Over the next 3-4 weeks numbers of Owls will increase (we currently have four) and will remain resident until the early spring next year before departing back north. Until then we’ll enjoy these beautiful birds on a daily basis and lets see how many we end up with. In late 2015 the roost contained 24 individuals so lets get counting…

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