Welcome Storm Francis…


Todays predicted wind strength on the Isle of May


A bleak Isle of May today

Tuesday 25th August comments: batten down the hatches, theirs a storm brewing… the weather forecast has been predicting it and as I type, the wind has cranked up a notch and the rain has been constant since early morning.

The Isle of May is about to be hammered by a severe easterly gale (called Francis) which will bring predicted heavy seas and strong winds. According to reports, winds will be gusting over 40 mph this evening which will make interesting viewing. As for us we’ll be getting on with work (indoor work of course) and hoping everything and everyone is safe and sound. So here goes, we’ll report in again soon…

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Welcome NatureScot


Monday 24th August comments: It’s been an exciting day for all concerned with SNH and the Isle of May as the organisation has had a rebrand as we have become NatureScot, Scotland’s Nature Agency.

It’s a new short and snappy title but does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a modern up-to-date rebrand that has been welcomed by many and marks the next step on the remarkable organisation’s journey. NatureScot is Scotlands nature agency and we will work to improve the natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. It will mean that all nature in Scotland; the key habitats, landscapes, all green space and native species are maintained, enhanced and will help bring benefits to people.

Scottish Natural Heritage chief executive Francesca Osowska said: ‘Nature is at the heart of what we do, and as NatureScot we will continue to work with partners to help deliver the transformational change needed to bring a nature-rich future for Scotland. We know the importance of nature to the wellbeing of Scotland’s people and places, and as an enabler of sustainable and inclusive growth.

‘As NatureScot we will be more recognisable to the general public as the organisation at the heart of helping to deliver the transformational change needed to ensure a nature rich future for Scotland, which is part of Scotland’s commitment to tackling climate change.

‘People know that climate change is a big issue but not as many know that nature – and biodiversity loss – is also a global and generational threat to human well-being. But it’s not just about conservation – enriching our nature is also part of the solution to the climate emergency too. We want everyone to know that they can make a difference by caring about our natural world.’ NatureScot is Scotland’s nature agency. They work to improve our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it.

For more information check out our website: https://www.nature.scot/


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Last but not least


Tuesday 18th August comments: Today our last Arctic tern chick has finally taken its first flight, almost a week after the last ones left. This persistent pair have stayed behind whilst the rest of the colony have started to make their epic journey south. They were constantly making feeding trips and keeping a close eye on the youngster, protecting it from any predators. Their effort has now paid off and the chick can now fly. In the coming days it will leave the island and undertake the longest migration of any species; destination, Antarctica.

This chick was over a month later than our first chick that fledged, meaning it was probably a pair making a second attempt at breeding after their first attempt failed. With their determination and urge to protect the chick, especially without the help of protection from the rest of the colony, they have been successful. Often the stragglers can struggle to raise their chick as they don’t have the protection the larger numbers of adults provide against predators. They are also risking worse conditions on their journey south by staying later, but the parental instinct for this pair was strong enough to help them succeed.

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August Arrivals

Migrant birds on the May (all Ciaran Hatsell)

Top left: Willow Warbler, right: Booted Warbler

2nd row left: Tree Pipits, right: Spotted Flycatcher and Wheatear

3rd row left: Wheatear, right: Spotted Flycatcher

Bottom left: Greenish Warbler, right: Whinchat

Sunday 16th August comments: It’s been an exciting week on the Isle of May as the easterly weather front continued to dominate bringing with it yet more migrant birds. The Booted Warbler was the star of the show as it was only the third ever occasion the species had been recorded on the island following individuals in September 1992 and August 1975.

However other star birds included a Greenish Warbler from the near continent, a Barred Warbler from Scandinavia and some really good totals of common migrants including 150+ Willow Warbler in one day, Cuckoo, double figure counts of Tree Pipits, several Spotted Flycatchers, two Green Sandpipers amongst many more. These birds are generally heading south and are using the island as fuelling station before undertaking their long journey. The May also offers an ideal safe location free from predators (no cats, land mammals etc) whilst avian predators are few and far between.

The Isle of May is a wonderful place at any time of year but can feel extra special during the migration period when the island comes alive with birds. The seabird breeding is now well and truly over but the real autumn fun of migration is just starting. We’ll be reporting plenty more over the next month before the Island heads into its next big nature calendar event; the seal season.

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Suited and Booted


Wednesday 12th August comments: We are now coming to that time of the year where the majority of the seabirds have finished breeding and departed for their wintering grounds. This is a similar story for other birds and is the start of the autumn migration season. As the Isle of May is an island it draws in migrant birds that have made the long flight across the North Sea from the continent, taking a welcome rest here and feeding up before travelling on.

With the easterly winds and frequent rain showers yesterday, we had a mini “fall” of migrants. The most exciting discovery was a Booted Warbler, only the third ever record for the island. It took a while to be confident in the identification, as the very similar (and much rarer) Sykes’s Warbler had to be ruled out. After some head scratching and discussion, the team were happy that they had found a cracking Booted Warbler.

Breeding around central Russia and China, these birds normally spend the winter in India so it has a way to go to reach there. In the autumn many birds get blown off course on their migrations but that doesn’t always mean it’s the end of the line. There is evidence from ringing recoveries that birds can get back on the right track. Through studying and recording these migrants we can learn more about the way species use land and build plans to conserve their habitat.

The supporting cast for the Booted Warbler wasn’t too bad either, with a smart Icterine Warbler, a Barred Warbler and an increase in several other passage migrants. One of the great things about autumn is its unpredictability; you literally never know what is going to be around the next corner.

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Fulmar chicks…


Monday 10th August comments: Whilst the majority if seabirds have gone or are going off the Isle of May, one is still very much taking its time; the Fulmar. Fulmars are magnificent birds which belong to the ‘tube nose’ family (due to the tubular nostril on top of the bill which excretes the salt out of the water) and just over 300 pairs nest on the Isle of May. They are very long living birds and don’t start breeding until they are 6-7 years old. They will lay a single egg and incubate for 49-53 days before hatching. The chick is then fed a varied diet of fish offal, crustaceans and even jelly fish (hence why plastic bags can be a problem) before eventually fledging 50 days later (usually in late August).

So as part of our work, as well as counting the Fulmar population we also ring their young when at the correct age to ring. However Fulmars have a very good defensive strategy against any intruders and that is to spit out an oily, fishy substance which (if it lands on you) you will certainly not forget and will take days to clear. So the ‘right age to ring’ is also the ‘right age to spit oily fishy substance at you’ so it’s fair to say it’s not the cleanest of jobs (it stinks) but someone has to do it… its a tough life

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Changing seasons

Sunday 9th August comments: This last week on the Isle of May has seen some noticeable changes on the island as summer is starting to leave us with autumn just around the corner. The signs are noticeable in the wildlife calendar on the Isle of May as we’ll explain…

The seabird breeding season is drawing to a close as the last of the Guillemot and Razorbill chicks have departed leaving the cliffs that little bit more quiet. However Shags and Kittiwakes are still present in good numbers whilst Fulmar chicks are growing ever bigger and are not far from fledging. On the island top, Puffin numbers have reduced dramatically as the majority of adults are away although we still have some reasonable numbers in the surrounding sea whilst a few late stragglers still have chicks underground. The Arctic and Common Terns have switched to roosting near the jetty as their season is over (and some have already left) whilst Eiders have long gone (apart from six large chicks on the Loch which are almost ready to fly).

So the summer breeding season is almost over (it seems to have gone in a flash) and our attention turns to the autumn. As numbers of summer migrant birds start increasing (as they use the island to feed and rest on their way south for the winter) it will soon be autumn and then seal season will be upon us.

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Bird Obs open!

Wednesday 5th August comments: It’s been a strange year on the Isle of May (and even stranger elsewhere!) but due to the restrictions and lockdown, the island has been operating under very difference rules this year. As a result the Isle of May bird Observatory was closed for the entire spring period but we are glad to report the exiting news that it is now open!

In recent weeks we’ve welcomed our first guests to the observatory but with the current restrictions, numbers have had to be capped to three households so the autumn season will see a reduced number of people able to enjoy the place. Despite the cap, we’re convinced the birding, migration census and ringing duties will be covered extremely well by the teams who make it out and we look forward to another productive autumn.

The Isle of May Bird Observatory is Scotland’s oldest bird observatory and the longest continuous running in the British Isles. It originally started in September 1934 but closed soon after in the autumn of 1938 as the international situation became acute as World War approached. During the war years the Admiralty took control of the island and based themselves on their throughout the duration of the war (the island has a very fascinating war history). However good news followed as on 13th April 1946 the observatory reopened and bird migration was once again studied through a combination of bird ringing and daily census. There was also some more positive news as the observatory moved into new accommodation; the Low Lighthouse cottage where it remains in the building to this day.

The observatory is now administered by a charitable trust (The Isle of May Bird Observatory and Field Station Trust) and manned by visiting volunteer observers between March and November (in a normal year. Members who stay on the island record all the migrant birds throughout the season and use the four specialist bird ringing catching traps known as Heligoland traps. Over 6,000 birds were ringed on the island last year and it helps continue our understanding of bird migration.

During the season as well as thousands of common migrants, the island has a reputation for rare birds turning up from all areas of the globe. Some of the outstanding highlights over the years have included Pine Grosbeak (from  subarctic Fennoscandia) White’s Thrush (from Siberia), Calandra Lark (from southern Europe), Buff-breasted Sandpiper (from USA) and Britain’s first ever record of Siberian Thrush.

The Isle of May remains one of the best places in the country to observe and enjoy the world of bird migration and people will continue to study and marvel at the wonders of it all. For further information check out the Bird Obs website: https://isleofmaybirdobs.org/

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Open Sea Beckons…

Monday 3rd August comments: Change is on its way on the Isle of May as our seabirds are starting to look at their next phase of their life; the autumn and winter. For the majority of our seabirds the open sea is a much safer place to be than on the land so once the breeding season is over and the job is complete the birds leave.

At present we’ve lost a lot of Guillemot and Razorbills as they’ve departed having generally had a successful season. Our Puffin numbers have declined as some of our birds have already headed for the open sea but the good news is that we still have some and are showing well in the main puffin colonies on the island. However it won’t be long before they move off so best get yourself here before it’s too late!

Elsewhere our Arctic and Common Terns are also looking to be heading away soon but several pairs still have small chicks so it maybe some time before they all go. There is also all the Shags, Kittiwakes and Fulmars still around the Isle so the seabird breeding season is not over just yet. And we’ll also be starting to focus on the next wildlife events in our calendar; the migrant birds and then the Grey Seal pupping season. It’s never dull out here…

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Seabird Update

Saturday 1st August: Welcome to a new month (where has time gone!?) and it’s a month which will see plenty of change on the Isle of May NNR. To bring you up to speed, here is a guide to the seabird species we have and what they are doing at this moment in time as we enter a new month.

Cormorant: The small colony (four pairs) on the north end of the island have successfully fledged two young today with more due in the next week.

Shags: Adults and fledged youngsters are scattered around the Island but their breeding season is well and truly over

Fulmar: All chicks are still present on the island as the first fledgling is due to leave later this month (over 300 pairs nest on the island)

Arctic Terns: Still good numbers present at roost with some chicks still yet to fledge (should be present for another couple of weeks)

Puffins: Numbers have decreased today for the first time as adults look to leave. Over the next two weeks more and more will depart for the open sea and not return until next March.

Kittiwakes: Good numbers of youngsters are now flying (distinguishable by their black markings on head and wings) and it appears to have been a good breeding season. The vast majority of adults are still present on the cliff sides.

Guillemot and Razorbill: Almost all gone now as parents have successfully fledged lots of youngsters and headed for the open sea. However we still have a few stragglers so well worth checking the clifftops for these individuals.

Eiders; One female Eider with six large chicks remain on the islands Loch but all others are now out in the open sea

Over the next few weeks we’ll start seeing a complete change on the Isle of May and then our attention will focus on other things such as history, migrants and then Grey Seals. Still plenty more to follow…

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