Tuesday, 30 April 2013

What are the other birds up to?

We've been hearing plenty about the seabirds slow return to the island this breeding season and we know the Eiders are back on the island but what about the other breeding birds?

 Pied Wagtails have been singing and displaying all around the island. They have also been fighting with other Pied Wagtails and chasing anything raptor or corvid looking away. A good way to detect for raptors is listening for the harsh alarm calls of the Pied Wagtails. If they are not on eggs yet they will be very soon. The same applies to our local Rock Pipits.

This unpaired Carrion Crow has been displaying down at the landing.

There is one or two pairs of Shelduck knocking about the island. You can recognise them flying over by their deep quacks and whistles. They nest out of sight down rabbit burrows and it is difficult to prove their breeding.

Not unheard of on the island but surprising was a Mallard laying an egg in the top garden. She appeared to abandon it's nest shortly afterwards but fingers crossed it has laid elsewhere. A pair of Kestrels have been hanging around the loch and have even been observed mating. This would be an interesting addition to the islands breeding list!

We await our swallows returning again this year. It would be fantastic if they bred again.

Away from our breeding birds, this Short-eared Owl was seen on Sunday morning flying over the island and out to sea flying along the  not quite straight horizon. It is remarkable these birds make long migrations across the sea.

This fabulous Redstart is the first to be recorded for the year. It is a first summer male. This was trapped ringed and released on Sunday evening. Shortly after a Tree Sparrow dropped in. A Black Guillemot was seen on the island on Saturday and Sunday. Red-throated Diver, Manx Shearwater and Bonxie were seen off the May Princess over the weekend making for a rather good birdspotting on or around the island.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Finally some moths.....

 We've finally trapped our first moths of the season. We trap more or less every night on the island with a large trap attached to mains in the garden or a small battery trap which could be set up anywhere.

April is generally a quiet moth for moths but this year has been exceptionally quiet due to the cold wild winds that have been hitting the island.

 The trap is set up outside the cottage in a building that looks suspiciously like a toilet but when no rain is guaranteed we will set up the trap outside. We are using this reel to sit it on. This was left on the island by the contractors who fitted the new solar panels. This is a perfect for placing the trap in a prominent position.


This Hebrew Character is the first moth to be extracted this season. It is a common moth that is often the first to bee seen out here. It has a distinctive dark mark on the wing from where it gets its name.

The second moth of the season was this one which is simply called Satellite. The reason it gets this name is because the white spot has two smaller spots surrounding it. This moth was the first one I'd recorded out here but there have been a few other records over the years.

I must apologise for the poor quality of the image. This moth was not actually in the egg boxes in the trap, it was in the middle of the reel. Later on in the day I had to adapt the reel with the jigsaw so I can now extract moths more easily.

Not all moths are caught in the trap. Many are found in the cracks in the buildings or perched on the walls around the trap. We'll post any interesting sightings during the season.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Photo of the sperm whales seen last Thursday.

This photo has been sent through of the sperm whales seen last Thursday from the island. On the island, we were too far away to get photos but this was taken from a microlight flying on the south edge of the Forth near to North Berwick a bit earlier in the afternoon. Many thanks for the East of Scotland microlights for forwarding the photograph to the Scottish Seabird Centre who passed it on. They counted 14 and said they were HUGE!.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The joys of island compost

Cash, our new long term volunteer (more about her later), and I had a very satisfying morning composting the garden. All last year the kitchen waste had been piling up in the compost bin built by volunteers out of recycled fencing timber. As the season goes on the rabbits and gulls pick over it but what is left rots down beautifully.
Now we were able to dig out a soft dark brown soil-smelling compost and spread it on the new potato patch, the fish boxes where the garlic is growing and more fish boxes where we will grow salad. I can't tell you how satisfying that it to do, for me it is a kind of magic where old vegetables are turned into crumbly plant food. 

Now all I have to do is to try to persuade our seabird researchers to stop putting the remains of their dissected seabirds from the seabird wreck in the compost heap!

Friday, 26 April 2013

We have eggs

We have eggs on the island. First nest to be found (not counting the feral pigeons that seem to push them out all year round) was a greater black-backed gull out on Rona. Not often that they get even a mention let alone a first. Lovely looking eggs.
And now a shag nest - the first of a very late season - found to have 3 eggs making the first laying date similar to the greater blacked backed. Hopefully this is the start of an avalanche of eggs. 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Run! Sperm whales at the Mainlight

Island residents on the whale twitch.

Instructions on the notice board.
Well the title says it all. There I was writing a very dull email about terms and conditions of a filming permit when the phone goes on the window ledge (the only place it can get reception in the cottage). It was Mark says "grab everyone, sperm whales at the Mainlight." The steep path from Fluke Street to the Mainlight goes by the name of Palpitation Brae - well the name didn't really cover it by the time I made it to the top clutching a scope -  it nearly had its name changed to Seizure Brae. But once I had stopped coughing, pulled myself together and got the scope up we were able to get distant views on 2 pods of sperm whales, distinguished by the flattened dorsal fin, the way the plume of spray went forward rather than up and the size of one or two (big). It seems like there were probably 12-15 and for the next hour plus we saw flukes being waved, a whole tail waved and lots of spy hoping (when they stick their head out of the water). Another bout of running and coughing and we managed to round up everyone staying on the island and we all got good views.  Eventually they covered the distance from Anstruther, past Fife Ness and out towards the North Sea and we headed down for a late tea.
Now that was about as much excitment as you can get on the Isle of May without feathers involved.

Delivering a spectacle

The day started with the island being very quiet. A brief descent of cloud, rain and murk brought down a few migrants that kept low and north, swallows and pipits mainly. And then  a TV crew came out on a recce for a possible summer filming session. We showed them around and tried to describe what the island might be like in late June when they want to film but I feel that Mark and myself struggled to do the island justice. Though we know that the island can be breathtaking, the best wildlife spectacle in Scotland, give an experience that can last a lifetime and just stunning but we both know that it isn't like that everyday.  So we tried to stress that it might not be possible to deliver the amazing visual spectacle required by the TV crew.
And why should it? TV programmes show nature at its very best but you can't replicate that in real life on a given day and we shouldn't try. Perhaps we should be saying that maybe you will be lucky and maybe you won't, that  nature is sometimes huge, colourful, loud, but sometimes subtle, cold, wet, quiet and brown. But one thing it is is it's always there. Anytime you come to the Isle of May there is always something to see and it is up to you, the visitor, actual or virtual to make the best of what you see.
Still I do hope that we didn't put the TV people off as then we have got a chance to show off the island just as it decides to present itself on that set day. Watch this space !

 Film crew discussions
 Last thing last night the first cruise liner sailed out of the Forth lit up like a Christmas tree. I wondered what the people were doing on the ship and what they thought of our lump of rock with its single cottage lit window, if they even noticed it. What a contrast - bet they don't have to wait a week to shower but I know where I would rather be.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

1 puffin, 500 bottles, 6 footballs, 10 bags of rubbish, 9 shoes and a bath duck

Siobhan and Natalie with their booty.
Amazed and slightly depressed our team of Isle of May SNH volunteers spent some of their time clearing Pilgrims Haven and Rona of the rubbish that had built up over the winter. In rain and howling wind they bagged a huge amount of rubbish, raking around in the slimy pools on Rona and the kelp choked tide line of Pilgrims. Amongst all this rubbish they collected was over 500 plastic bottles, all of which must have been disposed off irresponsibly, 6 footballs (explains the reason for the current state of Scottish football), an exhaust pipe, a barrel of sump oil, 9 shoes (no pairs), a sparkly apple (!) and a bath duck, which must have swum there.
Of these we will recycle the plastic bottles, any metal pulled out which goes as scrap and the sump oil that will go off the island with some waste diesel to be processed. But you can't help get angry when you think of so many people just chucking rubbish away rather than taking responsibility for their own waste.
And the puffin - yet another dead one washed up as part of the wreck - is there a direct connection between the waste and the dead puffin? - who knows but there is an indirect connection in that there are too many people not caring for the environment around them. End of rant.
Gill and Lynne heroically clearing bottles from a slime pool

Gillian surveying the Mars wreck at the end of the island

More rubbish on silver sands

Brendan dragging back a fish box

Another pile of rubbish

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Celebrating John Muir's birthday on the Isle of May


Landscape photos of the island courtesy of David Best.

A fine weekend to celebrate John Muir's birthday the Isle of May,  an island that must have filled his view as a child. John Muir was born in Dunbar and spent much of his childhood roaming the hills and coast around his home town with his friends. This must have given him a love of wilderness that stayed with him through out his life when later he moved to America. He became one of the best known modern environmentalists and his efforts resulted in the setting up some of the first national parks in the world as a way of protecting wildlife and landscapes from the effects of man. He was also a prolific and influential writer and his books have inspired many to value nature and recognise the importance it has to the health of the human soul. As a direct result of John Muir's work the UK passed legislation after the Second World War that enabled National Parks to be set up and National Nature Reserves to be declared. I wonder what he would have thought about an island within sight of his birthplace being made a National Nature Reserve in 1956 as a result of his campaigning.
82 people came out to the May this weekend and leaned a little more about John Muir whole enjoying the island. They also read some of his most famous quotes that were set up around the island - such as "In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks"

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Some seabird action

Well that was good, a fine day all round. It felt today as if the season finally kicked off as for the first day the island really felt full of birds. We woke to find good numbers of puffins around the island and better still they hung around for when the visitor boat came on in the afternoon. On the cliffs the ledges were absolutely packed with guillemots and razorbills while many but not all of the kittiwakes nests had birds on them.
It was so good to see that I went and found a quick spot and just sat down to watch the puffins and get an idea of what they were up to. As I came along they all ducked down their burrows but gradually came out once I had settled down with more flying in from the sea. With a little knowledge gleaned from the puffin bible - The Puffin by Mike Harris and Sarah Wanless I was able to watch them go about the start of their breeding season and understand some of the postures and behaviours.
There was a bit of billing, which a puffin pair use to strengthen the bond of their partnership.

There was some gaping which looks a bit like a yawn and is a threat used by both sexes to other puffins.

A bit of wing flapping or shaking on land usually means that a puffin is getting ready to fly but doesn't want to set off on its own.

Some had dirty tummies from being down their burrows cleaning them out and maybe enlarging them ready for egg laying.

The shags are causing some concern but at least a few are starting to build nests.
The kittiwakes are back on the cliffs kicking up their usual racket.

Today there were over 100 grey seals hauled up on the island basking in the sun.
Greenface- the highest cliffs on the island and home to an awful lot of birds

Friday, 19 April 2013

6 Go Wild on the May

"So what is the plan?"
I have been hearing this all week from the 6 that came over to the island to see wild and go wild. The 6 were Siobhan, Gillian, Gill, Brendan, Lynne and  Natalie (Tinkerbell to some) and they are all Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) employees who "volunteered" to come to the island to help us get the island tidied up for the visitor season while learning all about National Nature Reserves and the Isle of May specifically. Every year we open up the chance to spend a week working on the island to everyone that works for SNH and these 6 were the "lucky ones" selected. They came from all parts of SNH and brought with them an enthusiasm that meant that we needed a plan for every minute of the day. And wild it was.
It started with the boat trip to the island being delayed by half a day due to the wind - the half day being profitably spent in the great Crail pottery plus various coffee shops and eating houses. Their first evening was celebrated with a good view of the Isle of May's 3rd record of a red kite going over. The day after they arrived things really kicked off with a force 8/9 gale that made it difficult working in most parts of the island but gave some spectacular sights of crashing waves.Despite this the visitor centre was painted outside and in and the veg garden was refenced, bordered and planted with potatoes. Over the next couple of days they also made some tern nesting platforms up at the Beacon, carried out path work, cleaned large stretches of beach and painted the boardwalks while also cooking up some fabulous meals that Keith Harris would have given his right hand for. They even ended up spending an extra night on the island when the wind yesterday stopped them for leaving. So they went off this morning, back to the real world but hopefully their experience of the Isle of May will resonate for sometime to come.
Brendan and Natalie working in the garden.

Natalie and Gillian making up frames for tern platforms.

It is like ground force all over again - the garden takes shape.

Gill plants the potatoes while Siobhan rakes (?)
Some views of the storm from last Tuesday.