Preparing for closing

Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Sunday 22nd November comments: Its been a strange and unforgettable year (for almost all the wrong reasons) but the wildlife of the Isle of May has continued with life as normal throughout the seasons.

The spring period saw the closure of the island to all people as Covid-19 gripped the nation and it wasn’t until early June before the staff could return. It was then another month before visitors could enjoy the island (in restricted numbers) but regardless the seabirds got on with the job in hand of raising young. The summer was generally a success for the local wildlife whilst the autumn belonged to the islands Grey Seals and the migrant birds.

However we now find ourselves in late November with the shadow of Covid still hanging over us and the future unknown but life has to continue. We will be closing the island down for the winter…

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Hard Working Mums

Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Tuesday 17th November comments: It’s been a busy month or so as the island has transformed into a major Grey Seal nursery since late September. Whilst we worried about the lack of seals present in mid-September, we are now full into the seal breeding season and numbers have peaked across the colonies.

In recent blog posts we’ve been focussing on the pups and bull seals, but we should also take our hats off to the cow seals who actually do most of the hard work. Female Grey Sealsare called cows and can be between 1.6–1.95m (5ft 3in–6ft 5in) long and 100–190kg (220–420lb) in weight. In the wild bull seals live on average for 25 years but females can live well beyond 30 years of age. Cow seals give birth to a single pup between mid-September and mid-December. They will wean their pups for18-21days and although the pup gains almost3lbs…

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Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Saturday 14th November comments: The Isle of May is well renowned for its Grey Seal colonies but do we have Selkies… and what we are talking about? Well lets explain.

As we are an island on the Scottish east coast it is only right we should mention Selkies as they are steeped in Scottish folklore. The word selkie (also spelled silkies,sylkies,selchies)means ‘seal folk’ who are mythological beings capable of changing from a seal to a human by shedding their skin.

The word selkie is diminutive for selch which in Scottish means ‘grey seal’ and folklore has many stories about these shapeshifting creatures (often involving romance). They were regarded as gentle souls and often overlooked in mythology by the more intriguing sirens or mermaids, but nevertheless had a place in Scandinavian, Scottish and Irish folklore. Traditionally Selkies were either men or women, but were…

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New Life…

Isle of May National Nature Reserve

New to the world; an Isle of May Grey Seal pup

Exhausted but born to the world (mum behind)

Looking about to see what its all about

Its first feed!

Monday 2nd November comments: Another day on the Isle of May NNR and yet more Grey Seal pups born across the Isle. The last 24 hours has seen some drama unfold on the west beaches but despite the best efforts of Storm Aiden and the the North Sea, the pups remained unharmed (and we should mentioned after some great work from the mothers – see yesterdays blog post).

Today brought more new life as a good number of seal pups were born including the youngster pictured above, just beside the visitor centre (where the BBC Autumnwatch team are based). As you can see the pup was curious to the big brave new world it had just been born into…

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Woodcock Moon

Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Saturday 31st October comments: The ‘Woodcock Moon’ was shining bright last night over the Isle of May and sure enough today we’ve welcomed a good scattering of these northern migrants to the island.

Woodcock are cryptic woodland dwellers which breed in the UK but during the autumn these birds are bolstered by migrants from continental Europe. These birds are escaping the worst of the weather to the north and east of the UK as Scandinavia and Russia has the vast majority of breeding European Woodcock and they’ll move to warmer climes including the UK. Having overwintered, they’ll then return early the following spring when we can get one or two on the island as they head back. These great birds are a joy to watch as they often ‘explode’ underfoot (erupt out of the vegetation within a few feet of you) whilst you walk around the Isle. However…

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The Show Must Go On!

Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Friday 30th October comments: It’s been a busy week or so on the Isle of May NNR as we’ve welcomed the BBC Autumnwatch team to the island to film the Grey Seal pupping season (the first week is almost finished – where has time gone?) This special time of year has been captured on film and on live web cameras for all to see but it’s taken a lot of work behind the scenes to achieve what they have achieved so far.

The BBC team of three have worked long days setting up, checking equipment, filming (long hours in hides) and recording the daily lives of our seals. For us as island staff we’ve been on hand for all manner of tasks and information from moving equipment to making sure the accommodation is all up to standard. A snap shot into the pressure of getting everything right came…

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Michaela Strachan visits the May

Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Saturday 24th October comments: It’s been another busy few days on the Isle of May as the BBC team continue to prepare for the big Autumnwatch live which is being beamed from the island next Tuesday.

Yesterday we had the delighted of welcoming main presenter Michaela Strachan to the island to show her the place, conduct a few interviews and of course to meet the real stars of the show; the Grey Seals. Michaela will be based for two weeks at our mighty neighbours Tentsmuir on the Fife coast (you can see it from the Isle of May) which is another impressive National Nature Reserve owned and managed by NatureScot (for more information on the site check out the website:

Throughout the two weeks Autumnwatch will be beaming live from Tentsmuir but will be receiving nightly updates from the pupping seals on the island. The BBC will…

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BBC Autumwatch comes to Town

Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Tuesday 20th October comments: We’ve been building up to it but today the news is out that BBC Autumnwatch will be beaming live from the Isle of May next week. Main presenter Michaela Strachan will be based at our nearby Tentismuir NNR on the Fife coast but the team will have a live cameras set up to capture the drama of grey seals pupping on NatureScot’s Isle of May National Nature Reserve (NNR).

It’s a very exciting time as people will be able to enjoy the trials and tribulations of the grey seal colonies on the Isle of May from the comfort of their own home. The island supports almost 2,500 pups which are born each autumn at the reserve, making it one of the most significant grey seal pup nurseries in the UK. David Steel, who manages the Isle of May NNR, said: “The grey seal pupping…

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Slow Start

Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Monday 12th October comments: Its been a slow but steady start to the new Grey Seal pupping season out here on the Isle of May as the number of pups is low (we have six new born). However the first pup has survived its second week and with huge numbers of adults starting to gather around the island, it wont be long before we are in full swing.

The Isle of May is one of the most significant Grey Seal colonies on the east coast of the UK with other major pupping nurseries including St.Abbs Head area (Borders), Farne Island (Northumberland), Donna Nook (Lincs) and the North Norfolk Coastline. The latter site is now the UK’s largest with over 3,000 pups born per annum. Interestingly seal colonies pup incrementally around the UK coast in a clockwise direction as pups are born on the Welsh islands from early August with…

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More migrant Madness!

Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Tuesday 6th October comments: The weekend brought hundreds (if not thousands?) of migratory birds to the Isle of May and the last 24 hours has seen yet more arrivals. All across the island small birds can be found feeding, sheltering, roosting or generally just taking a breather as they continue on their migratory travels.

The island has seen some impressive numbers of Chiffchaffs (88 on Sunday, 79 on Monday), almost 200 Robins, Blackcaps reaching treble figures and much much more. Further unusual birds have included a Hawfinch whilst skulking Grasshopper Warblers are wonderful birds to see. As expected when a large arrival of birds occur so do the predators as three Peregrines, two Kestrels and two Short-eared Owls have been patrolling and taking advantage. Its incredible to see the Isle of May transform from an active seabird colony into a main east coast migratory station. Next…

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