Saturday, 29 December 2012

Young seals having a hard time on the May

A bit of an update on what is happening to the young seals on the island. 
Young seals have a tough time of the island. Of the 2000 pups born every year over 200 die before they reach an age to leave the island. A PhD project currently under way is looking at what those reasons are. In some places on the island the density of adults and pups is very high and it is possible that with all the closely packed animals disease and infects are more easily passed to each other. Above is a pup, one of the last, on Pilgrims Haven which has some of the greatest densities of seals in breeding time. You can seen the amount of kelp, driftwood and rubbish that gets washed up that only compounds the problem.
But there is another problem that young grey seals are facing on the island but the cause is a mystery. This breeding season 10 recently weaned pups have been washed up dead with horrific but distinctive wounds. They all have huge spiral injuries that start at the head and corkscrew round the torso. I found this pup washed up the day I went out and a closer look at its back flipper showed that it was an Isle of May animal that had been tagged by the seal researchers. Ross, one of the seal researchers is currently carrying out a research project to find out why these seals are dying. The Isle of May isn't the only place where dead seals with these injuries have been found, they are turning up all along the east cost of the UK. One possible reason is that the seals are getting caught in ship propellers of a certain type but as yet this is only one theory and there is no actual evidence of this.
One thing it does show is the importance of places like the Isle of May where, when a problem like this arises the island can support vital research to answer questions. More information is available on the following link,

Meanwhile the last of the weaners lie on the island living off their fat reserves before they head out to sea to learn fast the skills of catching fish and surviving out in the sea. The one above is fast asleep, the one below is one that didn't make it.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Laundry and out.

Ross and Luke, the seal guys feed me extremely well. We did our best to finish what was left in the freezer, including eating what seemed to be half a pig. The next morning it was an early start to get the rest of the islands bedding all bagged up and loaded onto Colin's RIB so that we could get back into Anstruther before low tide blocked us. The builders from Crail came on at the same time to drain down the water systems of the island in case of deep freezes (not a common occurrence out in the middle of the sea). They came off the island with the last of the seal researchers and gear at the end of the day.

The laundry was unloaded and piled up to be sent off the Dundee to be spruced up ready for next season. Just one of many task I am working my way through in the island closed season; others include writing reports, submitting records, planning events and volunteer work parties and drawing up shopping lists.
However this closed season is going to be a short one as in January the builders will be back out to try to get the Lowlight finished and there are other contractors heading out including those who will try again to demolish the tractor shed. All before things kick off properly in March .

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The silent isle

It is the end of the human year of the island though it will keep going itself for a few more days. I headed out for a night a couple of days ago to close down the 2 cottages and collect all the laundry of the season. Ross and Luke, 2 hard core seal guys were the last men standing out there.
The first thing I noticed was the quiet. Not complete;ly silent but as good as compared to all that had gone before. Just a few days ago it must have been very different as 30 mph winds coming frrom the east combined with a high spring tide and a huge swell caused huge waves to crash onto the East side of the island. At Kirkhaven huge tree trunks had been washed in and left on the access road along with mounds of rocks. Landmarks had been moved around and a number of footballs left on a strand line. What is it about footballs that they always tuen up on the island. Must have been from the Rangers v Arbroath game when Rangers were playing seaward ?
The seals have left mud galore that the woodcock, redshank, oystercatchers and others had been taking advantage of.
The whole island seemed to be moving into a closed down state, the cliffs and rocks dark black where all the years guano had been washed off.
An Isle of May speed bump. There are still weaners lying around plucking up courage to head into the sea.

After the greyness of when I arrived there was a might blast of sunset as the sun dropped below the grey ceiling and scorched the island briefly.

On Pilgrims Haven a few seals lingered, a bull and a couple of cows. You could see their trails where they had slid out of the sea and up the beach. It was these wet trails that gave away their positions as they tried to be boulders on the beach.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Isle of May Bird Observatory needs YOU - next year.

Work is now well under way on the redevelopment of the Low Light on the Isle of May. In June 2012 a tender was let to James Aird and Sons, Builders, Crail to carry out the work. This consists of demolishing the ‘Black Hole’ and the brick extension which forms the wash room. In their place is being built a new extension which will consist of three twin bedded rooms and a flushing lavatory and a room for a future shower facility. The present bunk room is being converted into a kitchen and the living room is being refurbished.
This work is programmed be finished by December 2012 when we expect to have a wind and watertight building. It was always envisaged that some of the finishing work, in particular the decoration, would be done by voluntary work parties to save money.  The exact amount to be done will not be clear until the building is handed over to us in December.
However, it is likely to include (in addition to painting), laying floor coverings, fitting out the kitchen and probably the w/c and shower room, plastering and repairing plasterwork, repairing the stove and fireplaces, some landscaping and a lot of painting and general cleaning. The aim is to have the Low Light ready to take visitors from the beginning of April 2013.
To carry out this work and also any Trap refurbishments and maintenance, a volunteer work party will take place from 2nd to 30th March 2013. Accommodation will be in the Low Light.
 Obviously the building will not be in a completely finished state but it will be wind and watertight and as comfortable as the Low Light currently is. Accommodation and transport to the island will be free for work party members. We will arrange a boat each Saturday in the expectation that individual work party members would be able to manage a week on the island.  Some may be able to manage longer. If there are other boats going to and from the island in March, shorter stays may be possible but this will only be known nearer the time and, if volunteering, you should do so on the basis of a week’s stay.
 We would find it particularly helpful if you could let us know if you have particular skills or know of people who have those skills and would be ready to help. The particular skills we are keen to have available are: plastering, laying floor tiles, experienced carpentry, kitchen and w/c fitting. The new extension will hopefully have an electrical first fit “i.e. wiring only” and we would particularly welcome the services of a qualified electrician to help complete and certify the electrical installation.
Mark Oksien will be the overall manager of the work party and will be on the island for much of March. He will be responsible for drawing up an overall plan and programming the work.
The first week of the March 2013 work party is likely to be taken up with fitting the kitchen and the w/c. Subsequent weeks will be concerned with, plastering, wall tiling, painting, floor coverings and final a deep clean of the building and some landscaping work.
Catering: It is the intention to arrange the catering on a communal rather than individual basis and it would be appreciated if volunteers could indicate any special food needs.
If you would like to volunteer or discuss what is involved could you please get in touch with Mark Oksien 32 Struan Drive, Inverkeithing, Fife KY11 1AR.Phone 01383 419503. E mail  . In doing so could you please let him know the dates you can manage and what skills you can provide (or have a friend who can provide). Could you please let him know by the end of November.
Once we know how many volunteers we have, we will be able to plan the work party in detail. I do hope you are able to help.
Many thanks,
Ian Darling
Chairman, Isle of May Bird Observatory and Field Station Trust

Monday, 3 December 2012

What the seals are doing now

Going to see the building works gave me a chance to see what the seals are up to. According to the seal researchers it hasn't been an earlier season than normal but lots of females have pupped together so the island is actually starting to clear out a bit. For me it still looked like there were seals everywhere when I stepped onto the island with the eerie wailing and sharp musky tang on the air.
Youngsters weaned from their mothers are lying around the island living off their reserves. They often find small patches of water to roll around in and play in the mud before finally plucking up courage to work their way down to the sea.
When you see the mud baths that are created and what conditions the pups have to live in you can see why a percentage of  pups don't survive the first month or two but succumb to infections.
And dotted in amongst the seals are the environmental services team - the greater black-backed gulls the are busy clearing up the dead pups and afterbirth.

The weaners, those pups that have stopped feeding from their mothers get into all sorts of places such as this one welcoming us onto the island at Alterstanes and making sure we went off again.