Sunday, 30 June 2013

Art on the May

Many people have been inspired to have a go at representing what they have seen on the island in a form of art and the last few weeks have been no exception. Our whiteboard has received and number of fantastic pictures of what artists have seen as they have gone around the island and a selection have been included below:

 Puffin by Alesha aged 4

 Rabbit and seal.

Another artist producing work almost as good is Leo Du Feu who stayed a week on the island and has written up his stay on his blog  -  Leo du Feu blog.                 
Why not have a look?

We have an Art on the May Open Day coming up on 18 August where you can see inspiring art of all sorts including stories from Claire McNicol, songs from Karine Polwart, painting by Derek Robertson, seabird knitting and photography from Celine Marchbank. Tickets for the boat will be scarcer than shags teeth so better book soon.

Friday, 28 June 2013

The flowering of the isle

 The flowers on the island this year have been stunning. Nothing too rare but just stunning all the same. I don't know why they have produced such a display - it might be to do with a previous summer or winter or it could be the current season but either what people have been noticing.

 Even the buttercups look pretty good.

 The sea of hogweed makes great landing pads for nectar seaking insects.

 The forget-me-nots are giving a blue haze across the old ash heaps left by the original coal fired lighthouse.
 The thrift has been beautiful where it manages to flower away from the reach of the rabbits. Locally it is called May Daisy.

 The silverweed is just such a nicely put together plant with its finely divided, silver dusted leaves and its bright yellow flower.
 The sea campion has drawn rave reviews from any a visitor.

 A small patch of stonecrop manages to squeeze out a delicate pink flower away from the rabbits and nestled in amongst the lichens.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Terns, chicks and plastic bottles.

The terns are doing really well this year, at the moment even better than last year. There are strong colonies up at the Beacon and especially down at Kirkhaven where they are giving all visitors arriving a really good going over.

And now chicks are popping out left right and centre. This little chap (below) is doing what all good tern chicks do right from when they hatch - when they hear their parents alarm calls they look for cover and freeze. This one just needs to find bigger stones to hide next to.
The recent high spring tides have given us a challenge or two. Five pairs of terns had decided to nest on the top of the sand  at Kirkhaven beach which goes under water in the big spring tides. So we set about moving the nests higher up the beach by lifting the eggs, building the nest in the bottom of a large plastic bottle, putting the eggs back into the nest and setting it down into the sand again. Then over the period of a few days we moved the nests in their plastic bottle base up the beach about 1 foot a day until it was safely out of the tides reach. One nest got flooded out by a heavy downpour but all the others were successfully moved and are now starting to hatch. You can just see the plastic containers with a chick and egg, and an egg below.

This egg was photographed this morning just starting to hatch, you can see the small hole first punched through by the chick.

The chicks can vary in base colour from a sandy brown (above) to a greenish grey (below) - all part of their strategy to stay hidden from predatory gulls.

We still have a way to go but to have such a strong tern colony and so many chick is really exciting as in past years the terns have done so badly.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

What can I do for puffins?

A visitor made me very happy the other day by asking me a question i had never been asked before (despite in my 4th season on the May with several hundred days of boats bringing thousands of visitors - what can I do for puffins? And it is a good question not easily answered. Puffins on the island have a beautiful, legally protected and well managed island to breed on safely but their main problem come from the fact the seas where they feed during their breeding season and in winter that are less well protected. If you have a safe island to nest but no food in the seas around it you are just giving the birds save places to starve.  Couple this with increasingly frequency of big weather events and higher levels of pollution and plastic wastes in the seas and things could be better for puffins.
The visitors question made me think a bit and below is a list of things that if anyone was interested in doing their bit for puffins (and all the rest of the marine ecosystem) then following all or even just a few of these will help.

1.) - Firstly in general you could change your lifestyle to have less impact on the planet's climate by using less energy, especially carbon. Everyone knows these things but it might mean travelling by either walking and cycling more or using more public transport, disposing of your rubbish more responsibility so that as much as possible is reused or recycled and you could make your own compost rather using peat products. All of these will help to reduce climate change and levels of pollution so improving the health of the oceans.

2.) - More specifically you could look at the RSPB Marine Protection Areas Campaign to have Marine Protection Areas set up for seabirds. This will help to have feeding areas for seabirds protected

3.) -You could also support sustainable fisheries by only eating fish that comes from these. There is more information produced by the Marine Conservation Society Sustainable Fish Guide.

4.) - You could also support a conservation organisation that campaigns for healthier seas, e.g. Marine Conservation Society, Scottish Seabird Centre, and the RSPB.

So would you like future genrations to be able to see puffins on the Isle of May?

Can you do any of these?

Monday, 24 June 2013

Ups and downs with puffins and kittiwakes

With puffin chicks hatching all over the island the adults are frantically bringing back loads of sandeels to get the chick to grow as fast as possible. Over the last week more and more puffins are coming in with fish loads so the photographers are at last happy. With the season being so late visitors were coming in the first week in June expecting to see puffins carrying fish but instead nothing was happening. With the season running late this at least it means that there will still be chicks needing to be feed into August. But it isn't that simple and it all depends on how long there continue to be good numbers of sandeels available to be caught. But so far so good anyway.

But it isn't going well for all the birds. The kittiwakes have been very slow to get started and even now there are lots of kittiwake pairs that are either still nest building or are sitting on empty nests. We don't know why this is as the birds were back on the cliffs right at the start of the season but it might be that the kittiwakes are not finding the sandeels that the puffins are or that they came back to the island in poor condition after the bad winter and haven't been able to get into the right condition to lay eggs. There are always winner and losers and the kittis haven't been winning for a while. Their population on the May has dropped in the last 20 years from 8000 pairs to 2000 pairs and this season is a big disappointment after they had such a productive year last year. But these seabirds are amazingly tough and are in it for the long game so we have to hope that somehow the drop in population will turn around and future generations will be able to hear the kittiwakes call on the cliffs.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Rain (a bit) last.

 After only 15mm of rain in the last month and running at just  55% of the normal rainfall for the season so far, this afternoon we had 10mm of rain in 1 hour. Unlucky for the visitors that came today but on the postive side that is a fair few toilet flushes. A few more downpours like that will help no end. And a complete contrast to last season when we had twice the average.

The Scottish Seabird RIB coming in from North Berwick in the downpour.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Isle of May Live and Done

Filming the tern chicks

The stars of the show.

The island looking wonderful under a blizzard of sea campion.

Well thank goodness that is all done. The last 24 hours have been a little on the mad side. The BBC were up yesterday at 0400 to start filming puffins, sunrise etc. I made it at out 0530 to help them and over the first part of the morning we helped them film us putting in canes for the terns, fabricated tern watches, mean-looking gulls (all part of the script) and best of all tern chicks including one still wet from just hatching. At midday we had the usual 110 visitors to deal with including our presenter of the day Catriona Shearer who sailed in on the May Princess. At 1300 the next wave of BBC arrived, riggers and technicians to set up the satellite link and and 90 minutes later then next load of kit. From then onwards things became a little more frantic as various communications issues needed to be solved, rushing riggers needed to be guided through areas of puffin burrows and all the BBC personnel needed to be given guidance of how to deal with the terns. The rehearsals took longer that was planned and then suddenly the programme was starting. In the end there were 4 times the programme came to the island, I think, immediately after tea Mike and a puffling  gave their usual assured performance. But I had to hang around waiting for nearly an hour on the jetty just waiting for the time for a bit about terns. Finally, at 2140, after all the fuss and preparation my 3 minutes was done and over with and what a relief. But that wasn't then end of the work. There was a mad rush to get the cameraman and his camera from one end of the island where he was filming the sunset to the other end where it could be sent across the airwaves to be added in the programme and once the programme was finished we had to get the whole crew of 12 plus a mound of equipment off the island and back to their luxury accommodation on the mainland. Finally, after many quad bike loads taken to the jetty and whispered conversations while clearing out the cottage (the researchers were in bed as they had fieldwork at 0330 the next morning) we waved off the last boat load at 0030 in the morning, the jetties light by head torches and the quad bikes headlamps for Colin to see his way.
It does leave you wondering why all the fuss but if it means that more people find out about the Isle of May and the issues linked to the NNR and then come and visit then it must be worth it. I will let you judge!  
But for us it is back to normal and full visitor boats again today. 

A midsummer arrival.

These guys come with a lot of kit.

Satellite dish amongst the gulls at the South Horn

Well I think they knew what they were doing?

Mike doing his bit.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Isle of May Live

Mike weighing a puffling for the cameras.
Well it is all happening out here....again. The BBC arrived in force today with a second wave expected tomorrow. The invasion is for filming for the Midsummer Live programme, that celebrates Midsummers Day (tomorrow), and is being broadcast live from 3 places in Scotland, Callanish Stones in Lewis, the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and of course the Isle of May. Personally I think the team based here is the lucky one as they aren't stuck in a city and don't have to deal with a milluion midges and west coast weather...but then I am a little biased.
So today the crew were filming Mike weighing a puffling and getting fottage of cliffs, terns, puffins, sunsets (not a great one it has to be said) and gulls. Tomorrow we will have 12 people on the island (including make-up artists and least that what they told me) all working away to get set up for the start of the programme at 1930. It should be an interesting day.
 Midsummer Live can be watched live through the BBC website or watched at a later date

Miles of cable have arrived.

The crew had a bit of a bumpy ride round the island for the "from the sea" footage.