Thursday, 31 October 2013

Thanks to Jeremy

 After 3 seasons on the May, Jeremy has now finished his work on the island today and gone back to work at Loch Leven NNR. So I would just like to say thanks for the work that he has done over that time which has, as is always the case on the island, been very varied and has included amongst other things posing for a calender (see below), introducing new words to the island vocabulary, dealing with celebrities (well Paul Murton and Lucy Versamy),catching tangled seal pups, nearly sleeping through an island mega tick,
and overseeing a photography project, and of course much, much else. Thanks Jeremy and best of luck with the future.

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Isle of May goes to the big smoke

Last week the island took a trip up the Forth and into Edinburgh to give the city folk there a chance to hear some island songs and stories and find out what makes the place so magical. As part of the Scottish Storytelling Festival, Claire and Fergus McNicol gave a performance of stories and songs at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in the Royal Mile. Claire and Fergus has visited the island many times for open days and stayed a number of nights there so have many stories about the island both from their own experiences and stories passed onto to them. We heard of gull girls, seilkies, Claire's timekeeping and Fergus's muscial tastes and the Isle of May guillemot outfit also made an appearence. Just the head this time but that is scary enough, it looks like a nasty cross between Darth Vadar and Rod Hull's emu. We all got to sing the Isle of May song  by Ed Millar (check it out) and the magical Karine Polwart helped out with a song inspired by the island. All in all a great gig!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

What's happening?

Apologies for lapse in postings, the island is at an in between stage at the moment so this is the state of play at the moment.
Jeremy and I have finished our residential stay on the island for the season though I will be making day trips (weather permitting next week) and occasional night stays through the winter. The bird observatory is only manned for this week and next and then it closes down for the winter.  The builders working on the visitor centre have moved off the island as the seals have taken over the building site and the seal season is in full swing with pups being born all over the place. And with the start of seal season comes the seal researchers. So tomorrow, weather permitting 10 hard-core, dedicated and slightly bonkers scientists head out to the island for a 6 week stay. They will be carrying out a whole range of research looking at amongst other things, communications between mother and pup, using close-up remote control cameras to get film of behaviours, find out more about the carrion community  that helps dispose of the dead seals as well and the long-term monitoring of the seal population on the May including counting this years total of pups born, over 2000 a year for the last few years.
So though the posts will be less frequent over the winter I will try to keep you up to date on want is happening out there but in the meantime you can always what via the Scottish Seabird Centre webcams that are pointed at Pilgrims Haven, why not have a peak?
They look cute and cuddly but cuddle one of these and you may never play the guitar again. Seals have  very sharp teeth and strong jaws and carry a bacteria on their teeth that can cause a serious infection from a bite. So it is a case of let sleeping seals lie.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Hey Luscinia!

There has been plenty of rare birds to the north and the south of us. Unfortunately we have not been seeing many rare birds out here but there has still been plenty to look at. The highlight of the last couple of days has been a pair of Bluethroats including one with a nice blue throat. Normally we see Bluethroats in the spring. They are much less common in the Autumn. It is a bird so synonymous with the island the bird club that they use it as their logo. With over 380 records for the island the two recorded are the latest records for the island.

Massive counts of Redpolls have been seen around the island giving the ringers a challenge of working out which race they belong too.

The same with Chiffchaffs around the island. There have been birds from as far afield as Siberia trapped on the island.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Woodpeckers everywhere.

Woodpeckers are very scarce on the island. We've already seen a couple this year but that is nothing compared to what we are seeing at the moment on the island. With few trees on here it shows how adaptable these birds are!

I think the final count was about 12 yesterday. Surely this must be an island record! They were all over the island.  Mostly on their own but up to 4 have been spotted together. They are feeding in either the short grass or picking invertebrates out of the rocks and vegetation. These three were at Cornerstone.

They also are remarkably tame. One in the top garden was destroying the Elder tree at my feet.

These birds were down at Mill Door. 

It is likely these birds originate from Scandinavia. Birds have been trapped at other bird observatories have been of this race. There are subtle differences between our own birds which include bill structure. At least three have been trapped so far so it is likely origin will be established.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Layers of history

It is this time of year that with the vegetation dying back and with no seabirds to distract your eye you can start noticing the structures left by man from the past. And often they are in layers, one built upon another. Recently waiting for a boat at the north end of the island I had a bit of time to look more closely at some of the structures down there.  Above picture is the built up bit of track where the High Road crosses Cable Cleft near to Alterstanes. The visitor doesn't get a good view but there are actually 2 layers of track, one built upon another. My guess is that the first was built at or after the time of the Mainlight was built, i.e.1816. At that time access was required only by horse and cart to Alterstanes to collect deliveries and meet the passengers boats that docked there. However is 1934 the North Horn was built and so better and wider access with less of a gradient was required and the road was built up hence the second layer of track that shows different stone work and less lichen.

Just to the north is the Rona crossing point. Now there is no bridge across the tidal gap but there are the remains of 2 bridges on either side. The lower, earlier bridge was only wide enough to be a foot bridge and maybe dates to Victorian times. Whereas the bigger bridge which has the air line pipe that went to operate the North Horn must have been built later, maybe as a way of getting machinery and equipment across to Rona to do the actual building. The final bridge across this gap was built in the early 1970's and was dismantled as it was dangerous in 2002 . It was called Nybo bridge but as of yet I do not know why. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Seal pup under the cameras.

Exciting news today when Pilgrims Haven saw its first seal pup born, this is special because it is the part of the Isle of May that is under the cameras linked to the Scottish Seabird Centre. So now you get a chance to see Isle of May seal pups yourself by dropping into the Seabird Centre in North Berwick or if you can't do that then you can look at them from the link on Seabird Centre website. The pup was born in the middle of the day which is unusual, they are normally born at dawn or dusk. And it was born at the north end of the beach which proved to be a bit of a problem as at high tide the sea comes right to the cliff base. By mid afternoon it was getting splashed and occasionally soaked by the incoming tide. High tide was after sunset so we will have to see what happened to it in the morning.
The Pilgrims haven beach on the west side of the island, sheltered today.

Meanwhile on the other side of the island it was blowing a force 9 gale from the north-east. For the island this means rough seas and a BIG swell, 3.5 m to be precise (from the wave buoy  to the east of the island, you can get the swell height from its website!)

 It was quiet day for birds, a few redwings passing through, some small groups of barnacle geese, a ring ouzel and the very tame skylark.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Variety and Contrast

 It is all about contrast and variety in this job. This morning it was blowing a bit but it was a warm wind and in the lee it was warm enough for at least one red admiral to be on the wing, gently reminding us that it wasn't cold yet.
But as the day went on there were plenty of signs that autumn is upon us and winter not that far away.   Taking advantage of the advantageous winds pink feet poured through today, often low over the island taking advantage of every bit of shelter.

Rain showers seemed to pass us by as the wind picked up, even Edinburgh in the distance could be seen to getting them with the sun breaking through over Arthur's Seat afterwards.

And the island doesn't look like it normally does in the visitor season. Around Kirkhaven it is a building site and though it takes a bit of getting used to, it just takes a quick reminder of how good it will be to have a new visitor building to remember that we can live with it.

Nearly time for concreting the footings in.

A surprise today, a cracking looking male stonechat turned up, not a common bird on the May,.

But by late afternoon the wind had moved right round from south-west to north-east and a corresponding 10 degree drop in temperature. Time to light the fire.
At dusk the swell was picking up, the wind whistling round the Lowlight and it was feeling like we had jumped 2 seasons in a day. So plenty of variety and contrast, so what will tomorrow be about?

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Seen today - good news and bad news

Can you see them? Find out what below.
Well it was good news and bad news as I went round the island today.
Good news, the moth trap had some fabulous moths in it, including the out of this world canary-shouldered thorn (like a bit of winged belly button fluff) and one of my favourite moths the angle shades.

Canary-shouldered thorn.

3 angle shades.

Bad news

The first seal pup casulty of the year was the pup that was born by the North Horn just the end of last week. There is a high pup mortality on the isle of may so this isn't a surprise, over 20% of pups born on the island die before they reach the sea.

Good news

As one dies more are born, 2 more pups born in the last few days, one at the Rona crossing and the other beyond the North Horn. .
New born pup at the Rona crossing.
The open day pup, pup no.2 was still hanging around but looking a bit different. As it moults its white baby coat, its adult coat is starting to show through, you can see its grey rear flippers and head. It looks a little like it has out grown it's jumper with its flipeprs and head sticking out.


And on the news - a carrion crow on the TV aerial .