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.