Sunday, 30 September 2012

Seal season on the May. - the big boys are back

The seal season is really kicking in here with numbers building up each day. The island is taking on the seal atmosphere will their wailings, grunts and snorts drifting across the island along with their rank, musky smell.

Yesterday 2 more pups were born on Rona, north of the North Horn, close to Whaups rest so closing off that part of the island until after Christmas. One of the pups had just been born when we got there and we watched it take its first feed of the high fat milk that it gets for the next 21 days before it is left to its own devices.

The other pup was born to a cow that seemed to be blind or at least partially sighted. Both her eyes are milky which suggests that she hasn't great eye sight but looking at the size of her she hasn't had any problems feeding. It just goes to show how the seals rely on their most impressive whiskers.
The males are starting to take-over the bays and gullies and one or two are venturing onto the beaches. You have to be a bit careful as seals are tucked away in all sorts of places.

 This big old chap was having a nice kip on the east side of Rona when we unfortunately woke him up.

Watching the seals hauled out is always entertaining. The pull themselves into funny shapes so that the can keep their flippers out of the water for the longest time. The flippers and head have the least amount of blubber so can loose valuable body heat quickly the longer they lie under the water. 

 Sitting down at the North Horn watching all this going on was fabulous, made better and more autumnal by flocks of pink feet and barnacle geese coming in off the sea to spend their winter here in Scotland.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Beach cleaning - Isle of May marine rubbish

 Lucy with the results of a few hours rope collecting.

One of the things we have been doing the last day or two is dealing with the residue of the storm earlier on in the week. We moved a tangle of creels that the sea dumped on Tuesday off Pilgrims Haven . This morning we recovered a huge amount of rope from the South Ness and Kirkhaven plus floats from Colm's Hole and over the past few weeks we have been bagging masses of plastic drinks bottles off the beaches for recycling. Some of these items are accidentally released into the sea but some have been irresponsibly disposed.of  and the people who do it don't have an idea what problems they can cause. The plastic breaks down and enters into the marine ecosystem, the ropes tangle seals, whales and dolphins as well as boat propellers and therefore are a safety issue for our visitor boats, and last year a grey seal pup got trapped in a creel washed up on Pilgrims. It is storms like this one that highlight just how much rubbish is floating around in the seas around us.
Have a look at this short film on the Marine Mammal Centre all about the life of a plastic bag in the sea, very cleverly done.

  All this is off the beaches on the Isle of May this season.

Friday, 28 September 2012

An island of 2 sides

Today is the perfect confirmation that the Isle of May is an island of two sides. Two days ago it was still being pounded by the swell from a gale force east wind. Today the wind has swung round to the south west and is pounding the cliffs. On Wednesday all the sheltered areas were along the tops of the cliffs and tucked away in Pilgrims Haven and now today what was warm and still is now howling and cold. And now Holymans Road and Kirkhaven are the sheltered areas where you can linger and enjoy sanctuary from the buffeting.
On Fluke Street, being tucked in a cleft on an east west axis, the wind only ever blows one of two ways and this makes the old warden-made weather vane rather pointless. Instead of checking the weather vane you just have to stick your head out of the door each morning.
So all the birds that were blown in on the storm and huddled along the west cliffs and gullys have been gradually shifting across the island, many seemingly not wanting to leave but instead eat their fill and put some fat on instead. This evening, Kirkhaven and Holymans were alive with song thrushes, dunnocks and robins, calling as they zipped up in the half light like autumn leaves in the wind. At least one snow bunting is also still lingering, plus a garden warbler, blackcaps, wrens, willow warblers and chiffchaffs making use of the blackened and battered nettles beds.
Meanwhile Lucie and I continue to clear up after the storm and start to put away all of the signs and ropes as it is looking like this is the end of the visitor season with these blustery south-westerlies due to continue for at least another couple of days. 

 Pilgrims haven getting the waves today.
There is a mountain of  broken kelp getting washed up on Pilgrims.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Storm Birds

Bass rock loomed in the early morning light this morning. 

The big easterly blow on Monday and Tuesday brought a lot of birds to the island. Big winds like that disrupt bird migration journeys and a big blow like on Monday and Tuesday show just how many birds are on the move at this time of year.  The birds really didn't start arriving until later on on Tuesday when the rain stopped. By far the greatest number was of song thrushes, a guess of about 750 of them mixed in with a sprinkling of blackbirds, Redwings, Dunnocks, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Redstarts, a Pied Flycatcher and a Tree Pipit. Very nearly 100 birds were ringed. .
By Wednesday the weather had eased and observation for island inhabitants and movement for birds became easier and the list grew and included the following totals. 
Four Wigeon, 12 Teal, a Goldeneye on the loch, 9 Grey Heron, 1 Buzzard, 3 Kestrel, 3 Peregrine, 3 Ringed Plover, 16 Golden Plover, 1 Lapwing, 1 Snipe, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit, 1 Whimbrel, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Arctic Skua, 140 Great Black-backed Gull, 100 Guillemot.
1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 30 Goldcrest, 2 Skylark, 30 Swallow, 2 House Martin, 1 Yellow-browed Warbler, 5 Chiffchaff, 3 Willow Warbler, 2 Blackcap, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Common Whitethroat, 5 Wren, 5 Blackbird, 500 Song Thrush, 6 Redwing, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, 40 Robin, 10 Redstart, 1 Whinchat, 15 Wheatear, 10 Dunnock, 1 Grey Wagtail, 1 Tree pipit, 40 Chaffinch, 30 Brambling, 2 Siskin, 2 Redpoll, 2 Snow Bunting, 10 Reed Bunting.
And today some of the birds were gradually leaving the island while others were on the move from elsewhere. Snow buntings were up to 5, Song Thrushes  were down to only 200ish, 50 plus Swallows hung around,  2 Grey Wagtails passed through and the geese were on the move, nearly 800 pink feet including one on the deck, 300 + Greylags and the first 27 Barnacle Geese went past the island. 
All in all an exciting few days for the island.

The clearing up started as Lucie rescued one of the gangplanks for the May Princess.  Bizarrely the other crushed one disappeared into the sea but the sea tossed up onto the rocks part of one lost nearly 2 seasons ago. The sea giveth, the sea taketh away !
Just a few of the geese passing by over head and one pinkie that preferred to sit on the island for a day.
One of a few chiffchaffs and the second greater spotted woodpecker of the season. Just like buses, you wait 11 years and then 2 come along, this one is an adult male .
Even grey herons were on the move. A group of 6 were on Rona and headed south, well 5 did and 1 stayed.
One of 5 snow buntings on the island today.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

September storm hits the Isle of May

So this is what it looks like when 8.1m swell starts pounding onto the island. These photos were taken by yesterday volunteer Lucie Bernardova  showing  the effects of the storm.

 This is Kirkhaven top jetty in case you don't recognise it, the structure is the crane on the end of the jetty. This jetty lies at the end of the harbour and is usually protected by a line of rocks on the sea side. Yesterday the swell just rolled right over the top of the rocks.

 One of the gang planks used by the May princess didn't survive the waves.

The good news is that both seal pups born before the storm have survived even though they were both on the east side of the island. Today we found the pup that starred in the seal open day at the weekend happily sunbathing  though it did seem a bit further up the beach than where it started.
Some good birds have been also blown in including the autumn's first yellow-browed warbler, a second greater spotted woodpecker for the season, snow buntings and about 750 song thrushes but as it is late more about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Still a chance to get to the May this season

It is still possible to get out to the island this season. The May Princess has finished early for the season but this weekend, weather and numbers permitting, the RIB Osprey will be sailing from Anstruther and the Seabird will sail from the Seabird Centre in North Berwick so if you want to take a last look at the island first hand this season, sample the seals, the migrant birds and the island atmosphere then book yourself a place.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Isle of May Seal Day - a cracking day.

Jeremy and I started the seal day at sunrise to carry out the last all island wader count of the season. With seal pups being born now it is too disruptive to get all round the island from now onwards. As usual it was a joy get around the shore, poking around in dark corners, finding greater black-backs, curlews, purple sandpipers and startling one short-eared owl.

Later as I was waiting for the first visitors boats to come in I was entertained by a large shoal of young pollock (a bit like a cod) in the harbour.

The May Princess didn't sail but the RIB Osprey came from Anstruther and the Seabird from North Berwick bringing visitors to mainly see the seals.
At the far end of the island they were able to look through the telescope to see the second pup of the season that had been born the day before.

At the end of the day everyone seemed to have enjoyed the great weather, sampled the island at a different time of year and had a brilliant day. Thank you all for coming.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

No birds, red choppers.

OK, a bit of a catch up here, apologies for the gaps in normal service.
Yesterday was a day of high expectation as we were getting "favourable winds". This isn't a medical term but it means that instead of being pounded by strong south-westerlies which don't tend to blow in the rare birds, we were going to get a bit of easterlies that can bring birds from the continent. So early yesterday morning we were up and about early searching for rare birds that might have dropped in during the night. After covering every inch of the island, thrashing every bush and raking around every nettle and thistle bed the anticipation waned and wild optimism gradually gave way to a more realistic, rational view that though we haven't found a "mega-rare" we still had seen some nice birds. 
 A couple of lesser whitethroats had dropped in, probably Scandinavian birds and so were evidence that some birds had made it across the North Sea

 Bonxies seemed to be on the move with several heading west over the island into the Forth.

 A common rosefinch was probably pick of the birds, though this individual gave no hint to why it got its name.  Other birds of note include 5 goosanders, an arctic skua and a late swift.

More easterlies are expected over the next week so we will no doubt go through the same roller coaster of expectation, realisation and rationalisation .
Today another big bird disturbed the sleep some of the later risers. The Northern Lighthouse Board's maintenance ship, the Pharos appeared with its smart red helicopter to resupply the Mainlight with diesel and water and take off all the rubbish. It does this once each year at a time least likely to cause disturbance to wildlife and visitors. So for the morning we had the added spectacle of watching some amazing flying as the chopper zoomed in a dropped off containers right next to the back door of the lighthouse.

 The island's second grey seal pup of the season didn't seemed too upset by all the noise.

The airlift was finished by early afternoon, the ground crew were ferried back to the boat and they set off to fix a buoy at Montrose letting the island return to peace and quiet.