Tuesday 29th June comments: Same date, same place but just one year apart. We have walkers…

This morning the first Puffling (Puffin youngster) was discovered fledged from the Isle  of May, the same date as last years first walker. After 40 days of being fed by its parents, the bird is old enough and big enough to fend for itself so it was time to head to independence. Under the cover of darkness young Puffins (known as Pufflings) leave their underground burrow (without parents’ consent) and head for the open sea as they leave at night to avoid being eaten by large predatory Gulls.

Many of our Pufflings on the Isle of May will actually walk to the sea (rather than fly) and often follow the trails and pathways as it makes easier walking (better than stumbling through nettles and rank vegetation). However as its’ their first experience of the outside world, some get lost on the way down; but it’s not bad news as with a little helping hand the birds are sent on their merry way. For all the Pufflings on the island it is their first taste of the outside world and some don’t quite get it right. A few will end up in the visitor centre, or the toilets or even the showers (makes for an interesting start to the day when a Puffling looks up at you!) However it all ends well as we help them on their way and hopefully in three years time they’ll be returning to breed on colonies like the Isle of May.

So that’s it, the first Puffling is away and over the next 5-6 weeks we’ll be expecting many more night time walkers. The Pufflings are marching, be warned.

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Latest on our Seabirds

Friday 25th June comments: The seabird breeding season on the Isle of May is at its peak now as almost all seabirds now have young whilst some have already fledged but many have only just hatched! As a quick round-up, this is where we stand with the colonies on the island…

On the cliffs the first jumpling Guillemot and Razorbills have gone (their fathers have taken the chicks far out to sea so as a result these birds have finished their breeding season on the Isle of May). Over the next few weeks more and more will make the leap of faith and gaps on the colonies will be noticeable. Elsewhere the European Shags have fledged young with family parties lingering around the cliffs, as they will do for the rest of the summer. However the small Cormorant colony appears to be doing with cicks now appearing but are some way off fledging stage yet. As for the cliff nesting Kittiwakes, theyhave just started the job of raising young so plenty of activity in those areas.

On the island top, the Puffins are frantically feeding young (all Puffins now have young) whilst the same applies to our two nesting tern species; Arctic and Common which are feeding youngsters. The vast majority of Eider ducks have departed with small young although a few late nesters can still be found. The large Gulls are all at chick stage with the first fledglings due in early July. And that just leaves the Fulmars which take an age to incubate their single egg so young won’t start hatching until early July with the chicks fledging in late August.

So it is all go on the colonies and next week on the blog we’ll be focusing on behind the scenes, as we show you what goes on at this time of year and all the hard work which goes into a seabird season from the reserve managers, volunteers, researchers and work parties. Its all go…

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Puffins galore

Tuesday 22nd June comments: For anyone visiting the isle of may (or any other Puffin colonies) then this is the time to see these wonderful little birds. Puffins started nesting (slightly later this year) but the majoroity were on eggs by the end of April.

Puffins lay a single egg in an underground burrow and will incubate for forty days. The first chicks started hatching from 26th May and gradually more and more youngsters hatched (known as pufflings). Now we are entering late June, the vast majority of chicks have hatched and the adults have one thing on their mind; food!

Puffins will start moving from 03:30 in the morning in the hunt for prey, often Sand-eels but also other fish such as sprats and will return to feed their chicks. Both adults will bring in food and it will continue throughout the day as the youngster puts on valuable pounds. Chicks will start fledging after forty days but until then are completely dependent on their parents. Although still early days, it appears their are good supplies of food coming in (which is good news).

So if you visit, you will see a lot of action as adults come backwards and forwards bringing in important daily supplies. It’s a great time to visit a Puffin colony, so make sure you don’t miss out!

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Happy Father’s Day!

Sunday 20thJune comments: Happy father’s day everyone and in the seabird colonies of the Isle of May plenty of fathers do their fair share of duties from incubating eggs to bringing in vital food supplies. However there is one father which goes beyond these duties, as we say hello to the Guillemot dads.

Guillemots pair up in early spring and birds will lay a single egg, incubating under their feet (a bit like Penguins as they don’t build a nest structure). After hatching, both parents raise the chick but then after 20-21 days the male will take the youngster out to the relative safety of the open sea and fend for it over the next 6-8 weeks. To do this, they have to call the chick down from the tops of the cliffs (regardless of the height of the cliffs) and the father will then lead the chick away where it will grow flight feathers and become independent.

For a Guillemot chick of 20-21 days old, its a massive leap into the unknown as these small youngsters still not fully winged, have to leap off the cliff tops and into the sea below. As a result the youngsters are known as ‘jumplings’ and so begins the jumpling season.

It’s an unusual strategy but one which works as the population is increasing and so it is the fathers who will look after the chick far out to sea. So Happy father’s day everyone especially to our superb Guillemot dads!

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Tern Count Complete!

Friday 18th June comments: Today was an important day in the Isle of May calendar. Three weeks after the first laying date of our Arctic Terns we enter the colonies to count the number of nests across the island. This date (three weeks after laying) is regarded as the peak number of Terns which will nest and it is repeated across all Tern colonies in the UK.

Today it was our turn to count as the first eggs were discovered in late May. In ‘police search’ fashion, the team walked through the colonies (we are extremely careful to watch our feet and ensure disturbance is kept to a minimum, moving on quickly after a count). Each nest counted represents a pair of nesting birds so we can build our population levels from this process.

Whilst counting we also discovered several Tern chicks had hatched which is wonderful news and the health of the colony is looking positive so far. The hard work of creating tern habitat has also paid off, encouraging more birds to nest. However the real hard work now starts, as we have numbers to crunch and we’ll reveal the population counts once all the figures are in. Fingers crossed it’s on the up and we can continue to help the Terns of the Isle of May.

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chicks chicks chicks

Thursday 17th June comments: Five days is along time on a seabird colony and since our last update a lot has happened. On the island top we’ve seen huge numbers of Puffins chicks hatching, whilst the number of Guillemot and Razorbill chicks hatching has peaked.

It’s also all go elsewhere as our first Kittiwake chicks have hatched in cliff nests whilst the first Arctic tern chicks have hatched. Its now become a busy place as parents of all species are hurriedly heading out to sea, finding prey (mainly sand-eels) and returning to feed hungry youngsters. This process is going on from 4am until dusk (at this time of year can be about 11pm). So the seabird colony of the Isle of May is at full tilt. The next 4-6 weeks is now crucial for our seabirds and we hope food supply and the weather maintains itself as we are hopefully heading for a good breeding season (fingers crossed).

However still plenty of hard work to be done behind the scenes, as tomorrow we count the nesting terns and yes, I will be wearing a hat! Let the fun begin…

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Cliff counts complete

Sunday 13th June comments: The cliff counts are complete. The big task of counting the nesting seabirds across the cliffs of the Isle of May has been done as all Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags, Kittiwakes and Fulmars have been accounted for this year. The figures will now be crunched with error correction rates applied before we can see the final totals.

These seabirds are counted annually and the trends will reveal the health of the colonies, especially the bigger picture stuff and then compared with other seabird colonies. As we all know seabirds face an uncertain future as some species are doing well (like Guillemot and Razorbills) but the vast majority are struggling (especially Kittiwakes and Shags amongst others). It’ll be interesting to see what the results bring and we’ll reveal the final totals later in the summer.

So with the cliff’s done, we tern (see what I did there) our attention to counting the nesting Terns and Gulls, so still plenty to do. It’s a busy time of year on the Isle of May as its all go and the season is about to peak with the vast majority of our seabirds now feeding chicks.    

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All in a days work…

ALWAYS wear a hat when walking through a Tern colony… I say it many times for forgot myself. Oops

newly washed jacket… a lovely target for the Gulls…

Friday 11th June comments: Living and working on islands dominated by seabirds, sounds so idyllic peaceful and everyone’s ‘dream job’. We can’t disagree that having over 40,000 Puffins in your back garden and having the ever changing North Sea to look at, isn’t good for the soul but it can have its negatives…

Many wardens, rangers, researchers and others can lay claim to funny stories and field work disasters over the years but the last few days have certainly been eventual. Having washed my works jacket because of the amount of bird guano, I then took a direct hit on its first day out from a large nesting Gull, leaving smelly oozing sludge running down my back, binocular and camera strap (I must thank that Gull one day). Fast-forward two days and you have to sometimes hold your hand up and ask yourself why you didn’t listen to your own advice…

Whilst walking down with two boxes (so both hands full) I decided to move through the Arctic Tern colony…without a hat. Bad move. My warnings just the week before to all visitors to wear a hat were all forgotten and within a few minutes and a few taps to the head later, the blood poured from the cuts. Thanks to the Simon and Bex, I was soon sorted and it looked worse than what it was, but next time, like I say to everyone, please wear a hat!! The trials and tribulations of working on a seabird island…   

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Helping Hand…

Thursday 10th June comments: Seabirds like many birds can respond well to active conservation management and over the last six years we’ve been doing our bit for the nesting terns on the island.

In one area of the island we’ve been transforming areas of nettle and rank vegetation into specialist ‘tern terraces’ to help encourage and increase the number of nesting terns. The idea is simplistic enough as we have large beds of gravel and sand complete with specialist Tern boxes. Throw in lots of hard work from lots of people especially our long-term volunteers over the years and we have ourselves some luxury specialist tern nesting habitat (prime real estate!)

The success is in the end result and since the creation of these terraces we’ve welcomed back more Arctic Terns, an increasing number of Common Terns, Sandwich terns have nested in four of the last six years and even a Roseate Tern nested for the first time in two decades. As with anything, it has had its up and downs, as some of the ideas we’ve tried have not worked, but it’s the trying which counts; trying to make a difference to seabirds which are already facing an uncertain future with bigger wider issues such as climate change. We’ll continue to do our bit and try hard to make a difference and sometimes, it pays off.

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Counting season

Sunday 6th June comments: The summer months are always a busy time for seabird colonies and anyone associated with them and we are no different on the Isle of May. Like many other sites, we’ve started the process of counting our nesting seabirds on the cliffs as we look closely at what is going on and the numbers involved.

Since early June the team have been counting the cliff nesting species with all Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Shags and Kittiwakes logged. The mammoth task takes time, patience and skill as we go about the job of counting nesting seabirds on the cliffs of the Isle of May. Although seabird populations can show fluctuations from year-to-year, it is the long-term trends which are more interesting as we can see what is really happening with our seabirds (we’ll be blogging later in the summer with the results).

However until then we’ll get on with counting and then crunch the numbers to see what we have. We’ve also got the Tern populations to count (hats needed for that job) and some news on a very different way of counting our large Gull populations but more on that later. We’ve still got some long hours to do and more counting to complete. The team are working hard and its all go on the island.

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