Monster finch… a hawfinch on the island today!

Wednesday 13th April comments: Its fair to say that things have been slow on the bird migration front this spring as we welcomed the first chiffchaffs and wheatear in late March and then nothing. The winds switched to the north, dropping temperatures and anything migrating from the south had other ideas (let’s be honest, staying in the warmer south is a better idea when there is snow in the north!) So overall not much to talk about…until today.

The winds have been in the east and then to the south-west and today a small arrival of birds occurred. The first Willow Warblers of the season arrived with Chiffchaff and even an early Whitethroat. The first Swallows were discovered hawking around the buildings whilst a Ring Ouzel was found amongst the Thrushes. A Black Redstart quickened the pulse before the best of the lot; the reserve manager looked out on the bird table and found a Hawfinch! This monster finch is the first since 2021 and although the island boasts 15 records, nine of these have occurred since 2014, so certainly a pattern emerging.

So things are happening at long last and it’s great to see. We now need some warmer weather to encourage the various seabirds to nest and then we’ll be back in full action. Oh its good to be on an island 🙂

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Solar System

Sunday 10th April comments: Over the last three weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time sorting and moving on the island. A lot of the jobs are small but necessary from cleaning the visitor centre to setting up boundary ropes and plenty more. However we’ve also been undertaking some bigger projects and one of those was extending our solar panel array.

Whilst the ground nesting seabirds were just returning or waiting to return, it gives us the ideal opportunity to do some work, an example shown in the new boardwalk constructed a few weeks ago across a fragile Puffin colony. However one of the big jobs was the extension of our solar panel system which involved a lot of lifting, moving and placing of panels and supports. The technical side (the wiring) was completed this week and as a result we now have more power for the buildings. This is wonderful news for the residence but also good news for the environment as we continue to reduce our carbon footprint. It means we now have plenty more power to charge our electric Polaris (the islands vehicle) and other such things.

Overall we are reducing the use of fossil fuels and hopefully showing that we can live in a more sustainable way despite being on an island. There are plenty other projects which have been done but we’ll report on them in forthcoming days…  

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Weather with you…

Thursday 7th April comments: What happened to spring? The weather has seriously changed in recent days on the Isle of May as we had a settled almost warm month of March but that is long gone as northerly winds, low temperatures and even hail/sleet showers have been dominating the headlines.

As a result the boats have not been able to sail to us (we have been closed again today and tomorrow is already cancelled) as heavy seas are stopping any kind of crossing. It’s also effecting the birds as the Puffins departed on Sunday and have not been back since whilst Guillemots and Razorbills have been low in number. It’s certainly a shock to the system for everything and all.

We’ve also noted the weather is effecting migrating birds as we’ve only had one Wheatear (we would have expected a lot more by now) and just a handful of Chiffchaffs. We have yet to record any Sand Martins (often seen in late March) and in general migration has been blocked by the weather. Hopefully things will change and we can get on with the season but until then, we’ll batten down the hatches… you know the rest. Time to light the fire! 

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Seabirds in early April

Sunday 3rd April comments: The Isle of May has officially opened its doors to the public and now we can look forward to a good visitor season. The seabirds are also responding as the breeding season is just around the corner and for one species has already started!

The end of last week saw cold northerly winds which pushed off the seabirds as they headed back to the relative safety of the North Sea. As a result the island was very quiet for several days but yesterday birds started to return and today even more arrived. The island is once again covered in Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills.

On the clifftops large numbers of Kittiwakes have arrived back to the colonies whilst more Shags are now incubating eggs across the colonies; the first eggs were discovered on 22nd March. Small numbers of Eiders are starting to return to island waters whilst Fulmars are cackling away on the cliff ledges. It’s still very early days in the seabirds breeding season but there are plenty of positive signs as spring is well and truly here (but if someone could tell the weather that would be nice).

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Saturday 2nd April comments: The dust has settled and we finally opened our doors to the visiting public. The weather behaved itself (very sunny conditions) and although scarce on Friday, good numbers of Puffins and Auks returned to the island on Saturday. It’s great to be finally open and the new visitor season is officially underway.

If you are considering a trip out, check out the various boat company websites as once you have paid the boat trip, there are no more fees to pay (no landing fees) and you get up to three hours to explore the island. We have everything an island can offer from amazing wildlife to impressive history and the Stevenson lighthouse will also be open daily.

We hope you find the time to visit as an island trip is well worth it but also remember you can follow us on the various social media platforms to keep in touch with the daily life of the Isle of May. We look forward to seeing you at some stage.

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April fools…

Okay so we are not going to have Puffins in space or rockets launching from the isle of May (see below) as you all have guessed correctly, it is April fools day! Enjoy the day as we are about to welcome our first visitors of the year 🙂

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Lift Off!

Above artist impressions of what it will look like

Friday 1st April comments: Today we can reveal the exciting news that the Isle of May off the coast of fife, has been chosen as the first UK Spaceport in the U.K. The island site has beaten off strong competition from other sites such as in Sutherland and Shetland to be the first place to launch rockets to space, including launching astronauts to the moon (with the possibility of taking a Puffin to the International Space Station).

The selection process was difficult as all three sites had positive criteria but the island was chosen for several keys points. Unlike the other two sites, the Isle of May is only one hour away from the capital Edinburgh allowing millions of people to enjoy the lift-off. The location was also ideal as it was out at sea and there was potential for future renewable biofuel to be used as seabird guano could be harvested to power the rockets.  

Reserve Manager David Steel said “we are delighted to have won this important contract which will allow thousands to watch but also create important job locally”. David went on to say that there were some concerns which had been addressed as he mentioned “we were worried that Puffins may fall over backwards as they look up to watch the launch, but we can reassure the public that no birds will be harmed in the future rocket project”. There has also been consideration of painting the rocket nose-cone in the colours of a Puffin, but these discussions are ongoing.

We’ll bring you more on this story as it develops but it’s certainly a major coup for the Isle of May. 

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38 year old Puffin!!!

Wednesday 30th March comments: One of our colleagues at NatureScot; Kenny MacLean made an impressive discovery last week on a beach off Dunbar, which is opposite the Isle of May on the Berwickshire coastline. Kenny was with his good friend Murray Glass, walking their dogs when one returned with a dead Puffin. The bird had been collected from the beach as a tideline corpse by their dog (called Angus) and much to their pleasant surprise the bird was ringed so the details were submitted to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the result was impressive…

The bird had been originally ringed on the West Wideopens, an island part of the Farne Islands off the north Northumberland coast as a chick on 29th June 1984!! The discovery on 22nd March 2022 made this individual 38 years old (a total of 13,780 days had passed between ringing and the bird being re-found).

This incredible age is not unprecedented as the oldest Puffin was found in Norway at the good old age of 41, but at 38 years of age, this bird certainly had a good life. In general Puffins live between 30-35 years but it just shows the importance of bird ringing as details of longevity can be revealed like in this individual. It’s a great find but the world was a very different place when it was born back in 1984…

Thanks to Kenny for forwarding the details of this amazing discovery.

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Setting up

Tuesday 29th March comments: The isle of may is close to opening (we open our doors to the public on 1st April) and the seabirds have already started to return in good numbers and Shags are already on eggs! However what we don’t show you is all the hard work which goes on behind the scenes to get the island ready for a new season.

Over the last week or so, a team of NatureScot volunteers have been helping set up the island (more on this team later) and give it a spring clean ready for the opening. Various kits and equipment has been carried, lifted and moved onto the island whilst the accommodation has been opened and cleaned. The deep clean of the buildings is important as various people will be living on the island throughout the summer and it’s good to have the dust and dirt removed. As well as this the various supplies of gas, diesel and even the arrival of new solar panels have been brought on in anticipation of the season ahead.

The work does not stop there as boardwalks needed constructing and painted, picnic tables taken from winter storage, signs and ropes erected, visitor centre and toilets’ cleaned and gangways down to jetties. The roadways needed sweeping, and the least favourite of all jobs; any dead seals pups from the previous seal season removed from footpaths. It’s been a busy island and with a few more days to go, we’ll be doing the final sorting as we welcome visitors back to the island.

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Winter Plumage Puffins

Saturday 26th March comments: Puffins look different in the winter as the face becomes darker, almost black in some individuals and the bill plates fall off, leaving a very different looking bird. At this time of the year, large numbers are returning to colonies in the North Sea like the Isle of May but amongst them are signs that winter has just gone.

Amongst the thousands of birds in full summer-plumage a small number are still showing signs of their winter dress. Dark faced birds are evident with some still showing extensive black. However over the next week or so these final dark feathers will moult leaving the adults in superb summer plumage and ready for the new season. Puffins will be present daily soon as the spring cleaning of their burrows will get underway and courtship displays will start.   

It’s certainly been a good start for all the returning seabirds (and human residence) including the Puffins, as the weather has been very settled and calm. However there are suggestions this may change next week, but we’ll wait and see. Until then we’ll keep sharing all the news and views, with updates of the seabirds and the important setting up as we get closer to opening the island to the visiting public.

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