Minority May


Muddy Puffin

Puffin 2 nest material

Time for a bill clean

Puffin 1 nest material

Nest material going into burrow

Friday 9th June comments: Having experienced a very dry spring (almost drought conditions on the island) we’ve certainly made up for it in early June. In recent days we’ve had heavy persistent rainfall and although we can cope with it (we are in our warm houses) our seabirds are starting to struggle.

Standing pools of waters are now forming and more crucially a small minority of Puffin burrows are starting to waterlog (some Puffins are looking muddy!). However these hardy seabirds are resilient little birds and some have been seen taking fresh nest material down burrows to help absorb the dampness.

On a brighter note, the weather forecast looks reasonable (no more rain) so the nesting birds will survive and will hopefully go on to have a very successful breeding season. However it just goes to show, the wrong weather at the wrong time of year can be so crucial as it can make or break a season.

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Flaming June

Flood 2

Doom clouds approach as rain arrives on Isle of May (John Nadin)

Flood 3

The bleak view of the island yesterday

Flood 1

Puffin burrows starting to flood…

Wednesday 7th June comments: So much for the British summer. Its early June and the weather in recent days has made it feel more like mid-Autumn than sunbathing weather. The Isle of May has been shrouded in fog, with rain showers (heavy at times) over the last few days and its all been a bit grim.

Bad weather at this time of year can be catastrophic as strong wind can whip up the sea and wash off eggs and young of many of the cliff nesters. Heavy persistent rain will lead to Puffin burrow flooding with the loss of anything inside whilst tern chicks are very vulnerable to a drop in temperatures. This is the crucial time and we could do without any blips, especially with the weather.

However we’re pleased to report despite a few soggy entrances to some Puffin burrows, and a few bedraggled Guillemots, everything is okay as the weather has not maintained itself and more settled (even sunny!) weather is forecast. We’re hoping that’s the last of any unsettled weather and the seabirds can get on with business of raising their chicks.

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cliff count 2

Counting sections of nesting seabirds on the island

Cliff counting 1

The impressive west cliffs hold a lot of birds!

West cliff view

Scale of the matter; Bex counting above the Angel

Monday 5th June comments: June is always a busy month on the island as its not just the height of the seabird breeding season but also peak time for the team on the island. Counters across many seabird colonies in the UK spend the first week or so of June counting all the nesting seabirds and we are no different.

The mammoth task of counting all the nesting Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Shags and Fulmars on the cliffs was started on 1st June and if weather holds (which is hasn’t!) then we should be finished by the end of this week. Its a huge task which is undertaken annually to look at the breeding seabird population and trends. As normal, we’ll bring you the full results on the blog once we have crunched all the numbers.

Until then, we’re working long hours and counting lots of seabirds which is all part of living and working on an active seabird colony. Now back to counting…1…2…3….4…

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Seabirds Galore

Cliffs (Joe Turner CEH)

Action packed seabird cliffs (Joe Turner CEH)

Guillemot hatching (Joe Turner)

New life; Guillemot chick hatching (Joe Turner CEH)

Tern (Joe Turner CEH)

Mind your head! Arctic Tern attacks (Joe Turner CEH)

David Steel (4)

Puffin of the May

Saturday 3rd June comments: We are in the thick of it now. The seabird breeding season is full on and if you want to experience the sights, sounds and smells (!) of an active seabird colony, then now is the time to visit.

On the island we have Puffins with young (since 22nd May), Guillemot young (since 20th May) and Razorbill young (since 24th May). Add large numbers of Eiders with ducklings and Shags with well grown young, you start getting an idea of the immense nature of the Isle of May National Nature Reserve.

However not all our seabirds are that advanced, as the Terns (Arctic, Sandwich and Common) have all just settled on eggs whilst Kittiwakes and Fulmars are still incubating. We are now entering a crucial stage of the season where we need good weather and plenty of sand-eels for the birds to ensure we are celebrating a successful season come August (which is the month our seabirds depart). Until then we’ve got a lot of seabirds and a lot more to happen over the next few months…so don’t miss out.

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Picnic Time


Sandwich Terns on eggs!


Welcome back

Thursday 1st June comments: The first day of June and yet more good news coming out of the Isle of May NNR this morning. A pair of Sandwich Terns have been discovered on an egg at the beacon colony on the purpose built ‘Tern Terraces’ the second consecutive year the species has now bred.

The pair have been lingering for a few weeks and have finally settled and we hope a repeat of last year occurs; once one pair arrived several more soon followed (a total of 21 pairs bred last year). Its great news for the island and the hard work which has been put in to help encourage more Terns to nest.

We’ve now got three species of terns on eggs; Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns and we’ll be bringing you a full round-up of all the latest seabird news in tomorrow’s blog, so tune in then! The Isle of May, its the happening place…

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The Sound of Chicks


Two little heads poking out from underneath their mother


Two hungry mouths to feed


Beak full of fish for its’ youngster


Eider duckling copying its mum; preening after a swim

Monday 29th May comments: It’s that time of year when you start to hear the high pitch peeping of chicks as eggs are hatching all across the island.  Over the last couple of days Guillemots have started to hatch on the cliffs and the ledges will soon be full of youngsters and a hive of activity with adults coming and going on feeding trips.

Eiders are still hatching with females taking their ducklings down to the water and forming crèches, teaching them what it is like to be an Eider.  Shags are at various stages, some with medium chicks and other still sitting tight incubating eggs. They have quite a protracted breeding season and can still be busy into August.

With every new day we are seeing more and more Puffins flying over carrying beaks of fish for the hungry pufflings underground in their burrows. They will be fed many times each day for around fourty days and grow at a rapid rate before they head out to sea.

Over the next couple of months the activity of the parents will increase as more chicks hatch and grow. This is the peak of the seabird season and is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the British Isles. The small size of the May combined with the high density of seabirds make it a visit at this time of year a truly memorable experience.

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Guillemot Chicks

2 Guillemot on ledge

Guillemots nesting on a ledge…no nest required

1, Guille on egg

Proof; egg incubated under feet

3 Guillemot chick

And now chicks!

Saturday 27th May comments: Time if flying, quite literally. Following the news earlier in the week that we had our first Puffin chicks, we’ve now had confirmed the first Guillemot chicks today. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were welcoming the birds back and now we have chicks!

However this is just the first chick to hatch and it’ll be another 10-12 days before we see the majority of pairs with young. Then just like the Puffins and Shags, the adults will be in full flow as they feed their hungry youngster raising the chick until it’s time to go (and they have a spectacular way of leaving the island but more on that next month).

Until then we’ll enjoy the news that we’ve got chicks and next on the agenda? Razorbill chicks! It’s that time of year when it becomes a chick fest in the Seabird city and with busy parents it certainly is a good time to visit. The season just got busier…

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