Friday, 31 August 2012

Lighthouse Treasure

Sometimes it is a bit like being an archaeologist. As we walk across the island glimpsaes of previous lighthouse keepers lives can appear infront of us. In the past rubbish was never taken off the island but burnt or buried in one of the many gulleys. Puffins, rabbits and weather mean that some of those rubbish dumps on the island sometimes get uncovered and treasure can then be found.

 Over the last few months we have found a whole selection of little "things" that keep us in touch with the past lives on the island. Like the old Northern Lighthouse Keepers button, maybe burst off a coat after a big meal or when a thread gave way?

And the 1934 penny found right next to the North Horn which was built in 1938, perhaps dropped by a workman sweating away on laying the concrete for the structure?

 And various other items such as bottle stops, glass and beer bottles; horses teeth, maybe from the one that helped to carry the coal up the hill to the Beacon?; the end of clay pipe; a heel tap, looking like an tiny horseshoe and pieces of old metal work.

Most bottles got broken during their dosposal but occassionally we might come across a complete one. After 370 years of lighthouse occupation of the island there is bound to be a lasting impression.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Getting ready for the lighthouse weekend and the Woodpecker

It's all steam ahead on the island with us finishing the preparations for the Lighthouse day. The pictures above are David and myself tidying the engine shed up this afternoon.

As well as the Engine Shed the Beacon will  be open. The Mainlight will be open to the public for only the second time ever.

Last Autumn I made a tree in the garden out of some Elder scrub outside the Kitchen windows. I was laughed at for doing this, but the laughter soon stopped when David saw a Greater Spotted Woodpecker was sat in it! It was a juvenile and the first record for the island for over 10 years. It was pecking around the fence posts on the island and enjoyed basking on the trapping box in the Low Trap.

As well as woodpecker we saw a Buzzard on the south end of the island. These birds are common on the mainland but seldom seen on the island.

The sky was fantastic this evening with the big silvery moon

Monday, 27 August 2012

More rain....

It's rained here from dawn until dusk today. I could not resist a peak at the rain gauge and another 18mm has fallen. Apart from the May Princess not appearing and no moths in the trap, it does not affect me. With most of my outdoor work done, I'm inside writing my annual report. I did go for a walk and got soaked.

But it cleared up nicely this evening. Looking down the loch there were dramatic skies at dusk looking back towards the Fife coast.

Even blue sky could be seen to the east.

Yesterday was completely different with beautiful sunshine and clear blue sky

Apart from the last of the Fulmars chicks on the crags the only other breeding birds on the island are the Feral Pigeons!

We've been seeing the odd interesting bird out here. We've seen Sooty Shearwater, Pomarine Skua Black-tailed Godwits and another Barred Warbler. We also spotted a Minke Whale yesterday.

I found dozens of Hermit Crabs in a rock pool on Rona. I even watched one try a shell on and not liking it and going back to it's original shell.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Lighthouse Open Days - 1st and 2nd September

Visitors to the Isle of May will see the light on September 1st and 2nd, with unique open days highlighting historic lighthouses.

As part of the Fife Doors Open Days, the Isle of May lighthouse buildings will be open to visitors for only the second time in the island's 370-year lighthouse history.

Scotland's oldest lighthouse, the Beacon, built in 1636, will be among the buildings to be open. The Lowlight, South Horn and the engine room will also be open.


The Main Light is a castle-like lighthouse, designed by engineer Robert Stevenson in 1816. This spectacular lighthouse is listed as a building of historic interest, and is 24 metres high with accommodation for three light keepers and their families. Also of interest is the Lowlight on the east side of the island, which began service in 1844 to give extra warning of the treacherous North Carr Rock seven miles north of the May.

David Pickett, the Isle of May reserve manager, said:
"This is a rare chance for people to see inside the lighthouses on the island, and learn more about their dramatic history. There's human ingenuity, tragedy and history weaved into these buildings they all have terrific stories to tell!"

To reach the island, boats leave from Anstruther in Fife or North Berwick in East Lothian on September 1 at 1:15pm and September 2 at 2:00pm, returning between 6 and 7pm. Places are limited, so advance booking is recommended. Normal charges apply to reach the island by boat, but access to the island is free.
Sailings are on the privately-run May Princess and RIB Osprey from the Anstruther Harbour or through the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick:
Anstruther For tickets and details, see or email (Anstruther Pleasure Cruises/May Princess) or or contact Colin Murray on 07966 926 254 (Osprey of Anstruther).
North Berwick - For tickets and details, book online on the Scottish Seabird Centre website at or call 01620 890 202.

You will be able to go up the historical Lowlight Tower, go into the well preserved engine rooms and enter Scotlands oldest Lighthouse.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The May Island Main Korea

 I was recent sent these photos by a colleague taken when on holiday in Korea. he took a boat trip over to an island only to find a "lighthouses from around the world" exhibit there.
 And there in amongst the lighthouses from around the world was a model of the Main light from the Isle of May.

 Interestingly the model shows the Main light as it was first built with lots of castlations along the roof top before they were removed.  If you want to get a close look at the Main light then it will be open on 1st and 2nd September as part of our Isle of May lighthouse weekend. But book early as boat tickets are going fast.
The island in Korea even had a passing resemblance to the May though their boats are bigger than the May Princess, I bet that their harbour isn't as difficult to navigate as ours!

Friday, 24 August 2012

The State of the Island - the views of 24th August

It is an in between time on the island. The seabirds have finished their breeding cycle and all except a few gulls and shags have headed back out to the sea until next March. There is a pause in the autumn bird migration and the seal breeding season has another month to go before its starts. So it is a time of (relative) peace and quiet. The weather has actually been quite warm bringing out a mass of butterflies especially the small tortoiseshell.

But the rain continues, mainly heavy showers, keeping the island still damper than it normally is at this time of year.  And you can just start to see the turning of the season in the turning of the plants. The thistles are fast going to seed, the leaves of the silverweed are rolling up and turning beautiful autumn colours and the sea campion is finally running out of steam in its mammoth flowering effort.

The is a quite tranquillity about the island which brings the lighthouses to the fore and gives a chance to take a bit of a deep breath and review the past seabird season and look forward to the rest of the field season.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Tale of Puffin Billy

Puffins always generate a huge amount of interest amongst visitors to the island, especially at this time of year when they have virtually all left the island. Kevin, one of the crew of the May Princess, told us of a visitor that came to the island on the May Princess recently and a story he heard from a visitor.
The Story of Puffin Billy and the final jigsaw piece after 40 years in the waiting
"I wanted to share with you all a short tale which I hope you enjoy.

At this time of year we often make the most of those puffins we do see and last week during the outbound crossing we had a nice close sighting of a pufffling about half way between Anstruther and The May. Our passengers love to see the puffins and as part of my usual commentary I explained that the young puffin was surviving through instinct and without parental assistance. The puffling was a sturdy wee chap busy showing off flapping wings and diving etc.

It wasn't till some hours later and the return journey that a middle aged lady started chatting to me and explained that the commentary had quite unexpectedly placed a happy ending on what as a girl had been a sad event.

It turns out that this lady although living in Yorkshire, was brought up in the East Neuk of Fife and her father was involved with the May during the 70's. At one point during the early 70's she had an orphan or sick puffling (Puffin Billy no less!) to look after and between feeds it was taken daily to the beach at St Andrews to learn to swim! Her memories are that the puffling loved splashing about in the rock pools and quite happily came back to them till one day it just kept going and didn't come back. She always assumed the puffling perished as it had no parents to teach it how to survive and as a girl she had been quite upset at what became of poor Puffin Billy.

This lady was quite delighted to understand now that there is every chance Puffin Billy did fine and even might just be still alive and actively breeding on The Isle of May."

 The very oldest puffins can be up to 40 years old so it is just possible that "Puffin Billy" is still alive and living on the island - just.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Lighthouse repairs and minke

The Mainlight dominates the island night and day and we quickly notice if something is not right. A couple of nights ago we noticed that the light was looking right. The problem was that the bank of lights that make up the beam weren't firing up properly. Luckily there is a back-up light that flashes at the right intervals to cover for any problems with the normal light.
You can see below the emergency light on in the top of the lantern.
But yesterday the Northern Lighthouse Board sent out their maintenance crew and by the evening the main beam was back working fine.

On Sunday a couple of private boats came over from North Berwick and told us they had seen minke whales feeding near Bass Rock. We had been seeing them on a daily basis but they seemed to move away when a large number of north Scotland fishing boats moved into the area. So yesterday morning I headed out early with a scope and it was a beautiful, flat calm day so I could see clearly across the Forth to the Bass rock, about 10 miles away. Halfway in between there was a mass of gannets diving and I could hear many guillemots and their chicks calling. A sure sign that there were fish about. And then surfacing in amongst the birds was first 1 minke and then another. In another feeding frenzy of gannets a couple of porpoises feed. All very exciting. Later in the morning a minke was seen feeding closer to the island so I decided to see if we could spot whales for the May Princess when she came in. Half an hour spent searching before she arrived revealed no whales. But just as she came round the South Ness one appeared  and with some hastily radioed instructions the boat managed to be in the right place to see it come up 3 or 4 times. When she landed her visitors there were some big smiles on the passengers faces and the crew.

Feeding frenzy of gannets half way between the May and the Bass Rock. Below the May Princess searching for the minke whale.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Living History Open Day Photos

 David and I were out  for our morning walk. As we went about the South Horn and it Pilgrims it looked perfect for an open day!

Today on the Isle of May NNR was the Living History Day, celebrating the various communities of people who have lived on the island for many hundreds of years.

Brother Baldwin made the pilgrimage out to the island and met the visitors

It was a rare opportunity to see inside the Fluke street cottages where the current community of Wardens and researchers now live

Petty Officer 'Chalky' Whyte was on the Quay

The May Princess, Rib Osprey and Seabird One were all full for the event 

Mark came over to do a ringing demonstration. Many people saw the Willow Warblers in the hand.

Jeremy showed the children bits of dead creatures. Telescopes were trained on the sea to watch passing wildlife.