Sunday, 29 September 2013

What a way to end the season

  The puffins may have kicked off the 2013 season but the seals well and truly finished it. For the last 2 days that visitors could visit the island this year we made the seals the focus and it was a chance for visitors to find out a bit more about these special creatures. The weather and the seals themselves helped to make the Seal Weekend absolutely fantastic. With 5 pups born on the island now and the big bulls starting to appear around their beaches the seals are now dominating the island and even Jules reappeared for the visitors on the Sunday after disappearing for a few days.
 Over the weekend over 200 visitors made it across to the island. They heard from some of the seal researchers that spend 6 weeks of the winter living on the island in amongst the seals, the heard songs and stories from Claire in the South Horn and they got to look down telescopes at various vantage points to get better looks of seals and most popular of all seal pup no. 2 who managed to get itself into a position for most people to get a glimpse of him.
Pup no. 2 learning to swim.

And so today the Osprey and the May Princess headed out of Kirkhaven harbour to bring an end to what is likely to be the busiest visitor season in the history of the May. (Well actually in recent times, we do know that in medieval times 50 000 pilgrims a year made it across to the island and we are not at that level ..yet!).
I haven't added all the figures up yet but when I do I will post them but in the meantime many thanks for everyone who came over to the island and made it such and enjoyable season.

But this isn't the end of the blog so keep following it and we will keep you posted on what is happening out here.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Seals. Last Chance!

Nose deep in a rock pool

Inquisitive youngster

Sleepy bull

Protective Cow

Whiskers close up

Our first pup of the year is doing fine. I was watching him playing with stones and crabs in the rock pool on Rona.

Come and enjoy our seals on the Isle of May. We will be celebrating them this weekend.

Check out details on last weeks blog -

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Juvenile Gannets

This juvenile Gannet has been sheltering from the storm at the Tarbet Crossing. We see a few of these youngsters from the Bass Rock getting washed up on our shores.


It was nice to get up close to this bird and look closely at its plumage. It has delightful arrow head shapes at the tips of the feathers that become more frequent along the neck.

Don't look too closely. This bird was riddled with feather mites!

There are plenty of juvenile Gannets flying around the island or sat on the sea. Many of them are learning to do their familiar dive. Some are less successful then others. Many are belly flopping into the water. This is very entertaining to watch.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Yellow-browed Warbler finding on an industrial scale

Yellow-browed Warbler a small  warbler that you see in the Autumn and winter in Great Britain. They are a long distance migrant. These birds arrive here from east of the Ural Mountains. This year already unprecedented numbers have been seen in Finland and it looked like many of these would filter through to UK shores aided by easterly winds.

The day started quietly with migrants today with only 3 Redwing spotted before breakfast. (Yes I actually got up. Not to go birding but to see if the builders need owt from me)

After that birds were hard to come by. A routine walk to Rona only yielded a Grey Plover, A Bramble finch and Redstart.

As I wandered round to the Lowlight to see what the chaps had seen I was met with a man with a bag. 


In the bag was our first Yellow-browed Warbler of the season. It was ringed and released at the Lowlight where it flew around calling.

After lunch and routine e-mail reading I headed out to the building site. I spotted a second Yellow-browed in the nettles near the Bane Trap. I set off to find the ringers. I found them on their way down. They seen another 4 Yellow-broweds. Instead of seeing the bird ringed I hung around at the top of the island.

A bird dropped like a bomb out of the sky vertically and landed in the nettles next to the Beacon. Another Yellow-browed. A walk over to Sheepwell yeilded another 3! Another two were together in the top garden. Amazing. 7 of these cracking Warblers in 15 minutes!

I went back down to tell the others. We chatted and thought we must have at least 11 on the island.

I set off for a walk up to the Priory and yet another was bouncing around on the grass in front of me. I'd seen more YB Warbler then Chiffchaffs today!

Can you spot it?

I did not do any spotting after that as I had a barge to meet and I was birded out anyway.

According to the bird information lines the final count was over 20 for the day. I  expect to see more of these little sprites tomorrow.

Still the highlight of the day was two Minke Whales off  South Ness as the Barge left. What a great day of wildlife spotting!

The Pond of Doom.........

This is a small but very productive little pond on Rona. I've never seen anything rare on here but it is good for waders like Dunlin and Redshank and I'll often get double figure counts of Teal so it's worth a wee look when I'm up north.

Just recently I've started to wonder what is going on. It first started a couple of weeks ago I found a dead teal. Clearly they'd been predated by a Peregrine.

The following Saturday I found a dead Shoveler. This is a rare bird on Island. I'd been lucky enough to spot a live one from the May Princess in the spring but was less delighted to find this one.

This wigeon was too weak to get off the pond. I tried to catch it but it escaped. I would have had it repatriated to the mainland. It was probably just lacking fresh water. It's fate was unknown.

Low and behold I return from leave and find a dead Pintail in the exact same place where I find the other ducks!

I don't think it is such a coincidence. If there is a Perigrine flying round the island it's going to go to the places where it has caught prey before. We've had up to three on the island recently plus a Kestrel, Merlin and a Sparrowhawk. No wonder our wader counts have been so low. 

I like my wildfowl but I recommend that they pass by the Isle of May and go to my winter quarters at Loch Leven NNR. They are much safer there!

The start of a new building on the island

We have just started one of the most ambitious projects the island has seen for many years. The work has started on building a new visitor centre. For those that haven't been to the island the exisiting visitor centre is really a large shed originally built as accommadation for mosue researchers and only meant to be used for a few years. Over 40 years later it is starting to show signs of wear and does really function as we would like. As befits one of the best wildlife spectacles in Scotland we think that it is time for a new building that
 - gives people information about how to make the best of their visit,
 - provides more accessible toilets (and more of them) 
-  gives visitors information that they cane take home with them about the island and its wildlife,
 - provides some shelter in the worst of the weather, 

But the challenge is getting this building up. Firstly there are the logisitcs of getting hundreds of tons of material and equipment to and from an island 6 miles out in the North Sea with a jetty only accessible at the top of the tide. Then the building works has to be fitted around the wildlife. And finally there is the weather to contend with. KDM construction have taken on this challenge and their site spuervisor Gordon said to me that normally he is used to parking up a lorry right next to where you want to build your structure so this is a bit different. We wil keep you posted on progress but at the moment the first stage of operatiosn is under way, getting materials out to the ialand and starting the foundations.
And a problem of the future is what to call the building. It isn't really a visitor centre as we don't want visitors to spend that much time in it, we would rather they spent the time around the island. Other suggestions include a visitr hub? or an orientation centre but neither of those sound too good. Maybe it will keep the name of the building that is has replaced - the tractor shed? Which used to be known as the coal shed. Anyway we are happy to hear of another suggestions if you have them.
The old tractor shed, hopefully the new building will look better than this!

Monday, 23 September 2013

A few more barge shots


Just a few shots from when the barge came in tonight. Another 40 tonnes out. The sea was lovely and calm. 

A weekend of seals

Next Saturday (28th) and Sunday (29th) it is the Isle of May Seal weekend and also the last chance to visit the island before the end of the season. The Isle of May is one of the largest seal colonies in the UK and has been a centre for seal research since the early 1980s and so is a great place to see seals. There are so many seals that use the island for breeding and pupping that we have to close it to visitors from the 1st October so this is the last chance to take in the island sights until April next year.  The open days give a chance not only to see the island seals that are starting to come back for the start of their breeding season but also hear from seal experts about the fascinating lives of these creatures (the seals not the researchers) and the research undertaken on the island.  Sea shanties and selkie stories may also be part of the day!
We hope that is will be possible to see one of the new born pups on the open day but that will depend on if they have been cooperative and are in a location viewable from the paths.

And of course it might be possible that Jules the rescue seal is still around to do his welcoming role with the visitor boats.
So if you are interested in coming have a look at the different boat operators on the visiting page of the NNR -Scotland Isle of May page and book a place.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The sound of silence

A day of note today. It was so quiet. You can find peace on the Isle of May nearly anytime you like but silence can be hard to find on the island, or anywhere outside these days. But by lunchtime today it was in abundance. This time of the season there are few birds on the island during the day. The gulls roost here but head back to the mainland landfill sites and chip shops during the day. The builders had gone home for the weekend and in a few weeks when the seals have hauled themselves out then the island echos with their growls, wails and moans but today there is little on the island to break that silence. Even the wind dropped right away, a rare thing this far out in the North Sea.

But is wasn't too last and the barge came in again with more building supplies for the new visitor centre.

And the visitor boats are still running, trips can still be made right up to the end of September.
Today just about every visitor I spoke to commented on the quiet, how rare it is and how much they enjoyed it.
Of course there is a lot more to experience than just silence on the island, there is Jules for instance still entertaining visitors in Kirkhaven. He sleeps all day, wakes up to entertain the visitor boats and immediately goes back to sleep once they have gone, if only I could do that ?