Saturday, 30 July 2011

Dolphins from the Princess!

I'd like to thank Kevin from the May Princess for this picture of two of ten Bottlenose Dolphins that were around the boat as they left Anstruther on Thursday.

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

The World

I've been meaning to upload this picture for a long time. We see all sorts of ships big and small coming in and out of the Forth. This superliner called 'The World' passed by in June. This is one of the biggest cruise ships on the planet. It was bound for Wick when I got this shot. If you look closely, in hot pursuit is the May Princess. I think it was going too fast for them to catch up with it however!

This week so far in a nutshell!

A lot of seals! Picture off the south end from the May Princess Tracey Jolliffe.

A lot of Puffins all over the island and long may it continue!

There are still a few Guillemots and Razorbills on the ledges. The bottom of Green face is best.

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.

Cuckoo in the lighthouse garden

We have seen a few cuckoos this year on the Isle of May but quite often all they do is just fly past. But yesterday this juvenile was in the Lighthouse garden. It showed very well to the visitors though the scope while it fed on caterpillars. Many commented that they have heard them but never seen one.

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

Is this the most photographed Razorbill ever?

This hansome Razorbill sits on top of Bishops Cove. It appears to be here all the time. When I took this picture I was about a metre away! There are still a few Razorbills sitting on the crags along the west cliffs.

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.

Lovely weekend - Why no boats?

The temperature was in the twenties and hardly a clould in the sky. Unfortunately the May Princess and the Seabird Centre were unable to sail over to the island. A swell was from the north. Waves were up to 6 metres high at the mouth of the harbour.

The east side of the island was bashed with waves from Friday night onwards!

The shags were enjoying themselves in the surf!

The swell was coming from the north.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

More visitors....

Last Thursday I was up early waiting for a cruise ship to arrive. We were expecting nearly 100 visitors from the Clipper Odyssey. From half seven the visitors started to arrive. They came on small rigid inflatables. We met all the groups before they landed. I ended up doing my daily talk about 8 times. Rinchen used to work with one of the guides on the boat. This guy knows everbody!

The weather was great and the was plenty of wildlife on display that day. We had a lot of good feedback with the group clearly charmed by our little island. It was the last day of the tour which had circumnavigated Britain. The boat was going into Leith for a couple of days before it went to the Faroes and Iceland.

Never used to get this at Loch Leven!

One eye and other seals....

This is One Eye. He appears to have just one eye. He has been hanging around Kirkhaven for a few weeks. He sometimes comes and has a look at the visitors on the May Princess. This seal appears healthy despite his obvious disability.

These two were enjoying the good weather down at Tarbet. Seals smile when they are happy!

This one was just down at Logans Road. It was quite annoyed when we woke him up because the May Princess came in.

The Grey seal numbers are noticeably rising on the island. Seals can be seen all round the island. Seals start to pup on the island in October. Up to 2000 pups are born on the Island.


Enjoy some puffin pictures. They are the best they've been all year at the moment!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

All part of the service....

It was 5pm and the May Princess was about to leave. Kevin was there counting up the numbers. The Gangway was removed. Just as the engines were engaged a passenger asked if it was possible to retrieve a book their young child had dropped over the side. The book was caught in wind and tide and looked like it might get back to Anstruther unaided. There was nothing long enough to retrieve the item on board. It looked like it was lost forever.

Until a new super hero was unveiled. Rinchen Broadman the Tern and visitor office stripped down to his basics and without thought dived into the water. James the skipper only gave him 5 out 10 for the dive but the book was retrieved to rapturous applause of a full May Princess. The water was only about 15 degrees so it was quite impressive. He even posed for pictures!

Well done Rinchen. Great work. That was not in the job description.....

Thursday, 14 July 2011

TVs own Lucy Verasamy visits the Isle of May NNR

Our very good friends at the Seabird Centre bought out a film crew today to the island. They were filming for 'Daybreak.' They required some footage of the puffins. (which is not too difficult right now as the island is loaded)

The presenter was the very charming Lucy Verasamy. We had a good chat and she told us of her distrust of Owls!

The shots were canned quickly and it was back out to sea for more shooting.

She did decline the offer to release some of our boxed up pufflings!

We will keep you posted on when the programme goes out.

Photos or lack of....

Hello folks.

I have a lot of just lovely photos to blog while David P is away but our lack working PCs has meant I can't post them at the moment. I will post them as soon as the IT is back working.

Sorry about that.

I will try to maintain interest with some flowery creative writing.

But I do know, 'A picture tells 1000 words.....'

Hard times for the island Lepidotra

Here on the island we record the butterflies and moths. We count the day flying insects and set the moth trap at night.

It has recently become clear that these are proving easy prey for some for the other hungry residents of the island.

It is lovely that the Pied Wagtails breed here but is a little sad when I watch the fledged young eating the Tortoiseshell butterflies one after another.

The other breeding passerine on the on the island, the Rock Pipit has been catching the Ghost moths on the island too with great gusto and expertise. Finding them hiding underneath the nettles.

But the biggest surprise came when I emptied the moth trap this morning. Over half the moths had bee attacked. Wings and half eaten moths everywhere. Carnage!

Was it the Rock Pipit mocking me as it made its familiar 'fsst' noise? I doubt it would find its way in and out of the trap. So too the Pied Wagtail that made the 'chiswick' as it flies over.

So what is it? Well, I have my suspicion but I'll solve the crime to the standard Bergerac used to before I go accusing anyone!

I'll post soon.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Under the radar - rockets and waggies

A pied wagtail chick getting ringed.
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

Beer Shag - The latest

Cast back your minds back to April 3rd of this year. David reported that a Shag that was breeding down at Ladies Bed at the south end of the island had a plastic beer can ring round its neck.

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.

Pufflings are go.

What the visitors want to see.

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 - the marmite of the bird world.

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.