Saturday, 30 July 2011
There has been a number of cetacean sightings recently with Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale and Risso's Dolphins all seen off the island. All very exciting stuff!
Wednesday, 27 July 2011
A lot of Puffins all over the island and long may it continue!
Eiders are still hatching young. Look on the Loch.
Also this week there are fat fluffy Fulmar chicks on the walk up to the Main light and at Mill Door. There are Kittiwakes still feeding young and flocks of fledged birds on the sea. Offshore observations have included Minke Whale, Risso's Dolphins, Harbour Porpoise, Storm Petrels, three species of Shearwater and two species of Skua.
The adults are a uniform grey colour. The juveniles are brown and barred on the upper parts. This is good camouflage as you can see with these pictures.
Can you see it?
Cuckoos are just one of the species that can be seen on the Isle of May that migrate through the island in the spring and autumn. Bird migration has been studied on the island since 1907. The bird observatory is the oldest in Scotland.
Monday, 25 July 2011
Still a degree of field craft is required to take the picture! Birds in places like Bishops are used to seeing people and become habituated. Unfortunately not all our birds on the island are as tame. This is why it is very important to stick to the paths.
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Saturday, 16 July 2011
Well done Rinchen. Great work. That was not in the job description.....
Thursday, 14 July 2011
Saturday, 9 July 2011
Back in the nest.
The adult pied wagtails.
Rock pipits more commonly known as rockets.
Seabirds are big, striking, some are colourful, loud, smelly and often quite tame so naturally they get all the attention on the Isle of May at this time of year. But there are 2 island residents that tend to go under the radar and only the sharpest eyed visitors notice them. They are the rock pipit and the pied wagtails.
The pied wagtails or waggies are highly strung and the more obvious and the males make a bit of a song and dance earlier in the season before they are buried under parental responsibilities. They are an early warning system for birds of prey as as soon as they see a likely predator they make a twittery racket and it isn't uncommon to see a raptor flying through the island streaming a comets tail of 4 or 5 madly twittering waggies. A pair nest right behind our cottages so they are a regular site criss-crossing with beakfuls of food and they are very good parents. They have just about finished bringing up their 2 brood of chicks for the season already and just the other night we ringed the chicks. Though not migrants in the traditional sense the island birds mostly head south for the winter as there is little food for them here during the harshest time of the year.
Rock pipits are the naughty little boys of the island. Naturally their name gets shortened to rockits. There is also a pair nesting right behind the cottages on Fluke Street and the birds are constantly nosing around the buildings, peering in windows and generally look like teenagers up to no good. These birds are tough, they will spend the winter on the island feeding on goodness knows what. The population on the isle of May crashed a few years back for an unknown reason but they are gradually recovering and we now have more than a dozen pairs. So if you come over to the island look out for these chaps.
Thursday, 7 July 2011
This bird was recognisable because it wears a plastic yellow ring with YY marked on it. The beer ring was removed in April.
The latest on the bird is that it has successfully reared 3 chicks this spring. This bird was born in 1995 and has bred every year since 2002 producing 14 young.
As well as putting up with heavy seas and bad weather there are many man made threats to these birds including pollution and litter. As we say in our talk to the public everyday 'The way you live your life can have a direct effect on the birds of the Island.' Yellow YY was lucky, unfortunately many are not.
There are lots of puffins just hanging around at the moment, especially in the mornings and evening.
A large sprat, a good meal for a chick.
A load of sandeels.
The puffin burrows on the island are obvious with a well worn track left by parents bringing fish back for the chicks.
A puffling soon to be launched off the cliff to a new life at sea.
OK, I have to do it, I can't avoid it anymore, I'll have to write about the puffins. With the island residents there is a certain reticence about puffins and this is almost entirely because the visitors are often so keen to see puffins they ignore all the fantastic other creatures found there and there is so much m ore to the Isle of May than just puffins. But I shouldn't hold it against the puffins so here goes.
Well they seem to be having a reasonable year so far. There are literally thousands of adults bringing back good loads of fish and not just the more normal sandeels but also tiny silver and dark rocklings and the much more obvious huge silver sprats. The sprats are good feeding for the chicks but eye catching and obvious to the gulls. There is a war going on here at the moment with gulls being gulls and chasing the puffins that are bringing fish back to their burrows to get them to drop them so the gulls can steal them. Its fascinating to watch the gulls hanging around in and even fighting over prime positions to pounce on puffins, and puffins wheeling in numbers to go back to their burrows in groups to confuse the gulls. The dogfights when the gulls chase the fish-carrying puffins are spectacular to see. But enough puffins get through as the pufflings are starting to emerge. They are abandoned when full grown by their parents and then have to leave their burrows at night to avoid the gulls and head out to the sea on their own. They can't fly properly so sometimes we find them in the morning stuck behind obstacles like walls, that have impeded their progress on their nocturnal journey. It isn't uncommon to hear the patter of tiny webbed feet at night round the cottages at night and then find the a puffling cowering in a corner in the morning. Those we find are ringed, weighed and measured and then put in a cool dark place to be released in the evening. This gives them their best chance to avoid the gulls and escape the island to which they won't return for another 5 years. And at the moment the island seems loaded with puffins because the pufflings of previous years have come back to get to know the island again, find a mate and sort out a burrow. So it is well worth a visit but in another month the island will become a puffin free zone.
Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Gulls looking good.
A mean greater black backed gull, the top predator on the island.
A herring gull not doing itself any favours.
A beautiful kittiwake, still a gull but somehow a diffrent nature and public image.
A rising roof of gulls.
Cause for concern, herring gulls are declining across the UK.
Gull chicks look great, there are loads dotted about the island at the moment.
The vikings got it right when they named the Isle of May, May coming from the viking word "Mey" for gull. And today that name still applies today as gulls dominate the island and like the vikings they stimulate strong emotions and are often falsely portrayed. Some people hate them but a fewer number love them.
Gulls are prominent all year round but this doesn't mean that you are looking at the same birds all year. Of the 3 species of large gull found on the island (I am not counting the beautiful, delicate cliff nesting kittiwakes in these discussions)the herring gull can be found on the island all the time but large numbers use the island for roosting during the winter and breed elsewhere. The similar sized lesser black-backed gulls have the right idea as they mostly head to Spain for the winter and return in March / April. The greater black-back gull, the largest gull species in the world with a wingspan of nearly 6ft, are seen at all times of the year but large numbers come on to the island for the seal breeding season in October to December to take advantage of all of the afterbirths and casualties. That is the thing about gulls, they are experts at taking advantage of all sorts of food. So though they will eat anything within each individual species there are gulls that specialise. On the island some will patrol the cliffs looking for the unattended chicks and eggs of cliff nesting birds, others harry puffins for the fish that they carry, some mostly take tern chicks and eggs while others head off the the mainland to specialise in feeding on farmland, rubbish dumps or outside chip shops. Of course this makes them unpopular and they certainly don't help their public image when they blatantly, in front of the visitors, snatch fluffy eider and shelduck ducklings from the mothers, eat their gull neighbours chicks and eggs or mug the beloved puffins for their sandeels. They also don't make themselves popular with the island residents as they defend their nests vigorously first by dive bombing and then pooing on you and if that doesn't work by smacking you on the head with their feet as they swoop over. Sometime it seems like they save up the poo just for the residents and they are very good shots, one once filled my eye pieces of my binoculars, luckily I noticed before using them but they still smell a bit.
But gulls are having a hard time themselves. The reduction of rubbish going to landfill and less discarded fish means less available food and in some places herring gulls are declining at quite a rate. They actually have the same conservation value on the Isle of May as the terns and the cliff nesting seabirds.
So I am not saying that you should love them as much as puffins for instance but just admire them for the beautiful birds that they are, marvel at their fabulous flying, swoon over their cute chicks and appreciate that they have a role to play in this whole ecosystem.