The Isle of May, in the north of the outer Firth of Forth, is just 1.8 kilometres long and less than half a kilometre wide but it hosts over 200,000 nesting seabirds of 14 different species during the breeding season May - July.
Puffins are by far the most popular species and many of the day trippers coming to the Island by boat from Anstruthers are just keen to see this colourful and amusing species, as well as the numerous Grey and Harbour Seals that also breed here....
...there are also however lots of keen birdwatchers and photographers here to see the whole range of species that this incredible site has to offer, both breeders and passage migrants.
My only reservation as an enthusiatic bird photographer is that they are often just too easy! The Razorbills, Guillemots and Artctic Terns here get so close one has to literally stand back sometimes to get them in focus. It was good advice to wear a hat as the Arctic Terns tend attack your highest point if you wander near a nest, and as Mike said "You could literally stroke the resting Eiders if you wanted to".
Mike is a trustee of the Reserve and was once the bookings officer for all the volunteers, ringers and survey workers who spend a week at a time out there, between Feb. - October counting, ringing and looking after the myriads of breeding birds and passage migrants.
There are plenty of Gulls to be seen, maily Common, Herring and Lesser Black-Backed and although the nesting Fulmars superficially resemble gulls they are not related, being petrels or "Tubenoses". Fulmars are interesting. They produce a pungent stomach oil that is a rich source of protein but it can also be sprayed on predators to deter them. It can clog their plumage and ultimately kill them.Fulmars breed on cliffs, laying a single egg on a ledge of bare rock. Outside the breeding season they are pelagic, feeding on fish, squid and shrimp. They are long-lived, up to 40 years. Former inhabitants of St. Kilda would each eat over 100 Fulmars a year; the meat was their staple food, the oil fueled their lamps and was used as medicine. The feathers were also used as down so they caught around 12,000 birds annually. Since the human population left St Kilda in 1930 however the fulmar population there did not suddenly grow, but they have extended their breeding range to the South.
Shags are quite handsome birds, long slender hooked bills, a yellow chin and dark bottle green plumage make it a much more attractive species than its cousin the Cormorant. They are mainly bottom feeders and can dive down to 45 metres, hunting their favourite food the sand eel.
After having such an easy time photographing the big marine birds it was quite fun to spot a couple of smaller species that were at least a bit more demanding to capture on camera. The first of these also happened to be a lifer for me. The Rock Pipit may not be the most imposing or remarkable looking bird, but I have never seen one before so was delighted to capture one or two good images of this new species.
The Dunnock was a bit of a surprise. In my youth we called them Hedge Sparrows as they were usually seen underneath garden hedges. Well there are no hedges out here but I caught this rather well marked Dunnock on a rock with a nice juicy caterpillar in its beak.
We continued to watch and admire the avian inhabitants of the Isle of May until it was time to return to the landing to board the boat for the short return trip to Anstruthers. We had enjoyed our visit immensely and I hope to return next year perhaps even to spend a week as a volunteer to do some of the surveying and maintenance work of the Reserve.
On a final note I would like to thank Mike Martin for introducing us to the Island and for his and his wife Eleanor's wonderful hospitality during this week in Scotland. I hope we can reciprocate one day and show them some of the birds of Spain.
We arrived in Edinburgh Airport at midnight and were very kindly collected by my friend Mike Martin for a week of birding and sightseeing in Scotland. Mike and I had toured together in Ecuador where we enjoyed each other's company through our mutual interest in birding, and we continued this friendship here, based in his and Eleanor's delightful Georgian House in Perth.
Day one got off to a fairly late start due to us having arrived in the middle of the previous night. We drove North up the A9 through beautiful Dunkeld and across to the impressive A93, the old Military Road which sweeps its way up through stunning glens and slopes to the Ski Centre at Glenshee. This has to be one of the finest drives in Britain with amazing scenery and long stretches of open road visible for miles ahead. We made various stops along the way including at a small freshwater loch where Mike had previously spotted this superb Black Throated Diver.
It was a dull, drizzly morning and mist was swirling across the loch giving us patchy views of this amazing bird so I trudged across the wet heather to the water's edge to get a closer look. This is one of the sleekest and most elegant of birds with Incredibly fine black and white filigree feather patterns, a super streamlined body with a sharply pointed spear-shaped bill, giving the appearance of a lean-mean hunting machine. The Black Throated Diver, or Arctic loon in America, is a rare and vulnerable breeding species in Scotland and it was a thrill to see it here.
The following photographs are all from this general area and were taken over a few days and are in no particular order. The Common Snipe above is a reminder of the prevailing weather as it stood on one leg on a fencepost in the driving rain. The light was for the most part very poor but I was quite pleased with some of these shots anyway.
Probably the most common birds of the area are Meadow Pipit and Oystercatcher. The meadow Pipit above makes a nice image on a bed of moss with a large grub in its beak. The Oystercatcher was just one of many seen in a green meadow on the banks of a fast flowing river. Stunning scenery all round.
I managed a quick snap of this overflying Common Buzzard and quite like the primary and secondary wing feather details on the shot.
Another very common inhabitant of the heather and hillsides up here is the Curlew. The call of the Curlew ringing across the Glens will be one of my abiding memories of this beguiling place. This one below had actually joined the Snipe in sitting out the rain on a roadside fencepost....
...and the one below was typical of frequent sightings we had as we drove through the countryside.
The little bird seen here singing from the top of a pine tree is a Willow Warbler. I know people will disagree with this because the legs look black in the photograph. But they were not there watching and listening to the song as we were, it is just the way photographs often fail to pick up the colour on legs in the shade, it can be deceptive.
Lapwings vied with Oystercatcher and meadow Pipit as the most numerous species, there were many with chicks too which could be difficult for them in such cool and wet conditions, but I guess they are hardy enough.
It wasn't just birds to be seen. At Glenshee a party of Red Deer stags came down from the hills quite close to the road giving us great views. Very handsome animals they are too.
I was pleased to see a few Yellowhammers in Scotland, this one by the River Tay in Perth. A very common species in my youth it is now red listed in the UK as a severely declining species, mainly due to intensive agricultural practices.
Up in the Glenshee area we did see both Red and Black Grouse, mainly from a distance. I did get close to some Red Grouse in the meadows but they were always partially obscured by the long grass so were difficult to photograph. At one point as I tried to get close to them I almost stepped on a Quail which made me jump as it flew up before me with wings whirring. needless to say I was too slow to get a photograph.
Another bird we had good but distant views of was the Ring Ouzel. Something of a nemesis bird for me as I can never manage to get close enough for a decent photo. I will keep trying.
Here's a record shot of a Common Gull standing at the edge of the loch with the Black Throated Diver. I include it solely for the record as it is not a species of Gull that normally occurs in Southern Spain.
As I mentioned earlier we were surprised at the number of Oystercatchers. They were everywhere, in the glens, on the high slopes, on the Island and even at the edge of Town in parkland. Here are a couple more shots, a nice one of a parent with a very young chick and another in flight over a meadow full of buttercups.
Here's another Red Listed bird that has declined drastically in the UK in recent times and one we see very little of in Andalucia. The Song Thrush is a songbird I miss from my youth and am always happy to see and hear it when I can.
Before flying back to Spain we hired a car & drove down to Seahouses in Northumberland, hoping to visit the Farne Islands. Well our bad luck with the weather this year continued as they were closed on the Monday that we were there. It was just too cold and wet which is dangerous for young Tern chicks when disturbed parents leave the nests. I should have known about nearby Coquet Island which has a breeding colony of Roseate Terns. We could possibly have taken a boat trip around the Island had I known in time, although no landing is allowed we might have had views of the rare tern from the boat.
As it happens I thought I might have discovered a pair of Roseate Terns on a small freshwater lake close to Seahouses, Is there a faint roseate tint on those breasts? The bill colours a ok for breeding Roseates but the tail streamers look a bit short, as do the legs, so perhaps these are just Common Terns after all.
On the same barbed wire fence as the Terns I also picked up a group of Sand Martins preening themselves in the rain. It's not a great photo but it is the first time I have ever caught this species on camera so I was well pleased. On the lake itself the only birds of note were a couple of Tufted Ducks, and across the road on a fencepost a rather wet and bedraggled Reed Bunting, the weather had not dampened his spirits however as he was calling loudly.
Retired seafarer living in Frigiliana, a white village in Malaga Province in southern Spain. Married to Elena. Keen bird and wildlife watchers.
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