Bird & Wildlife information
The Bird Observatory is located on the Island for one primary reason, the island’s importance for birds. In the spring and summer the island is one of the largest breeding seabird colonies in Scotland and is particularly important for Puffins with over 40,000 occupied burrows. Other breeding seabirds are typical of the area but all are found in important numbers including Shag, Eider, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Razorbill, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Tern, Herring, Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls.
In spring and autumn, the island is an ideal site to monitor migrant passerines and when conditions are right in winds from NE round to SSE can receive large “falls” of migrants originating in Scandinavia and eastern Europe, occasionally with scarce or rare species among them. To find out more about recent bird sightings from the island visit the news pages
Bird ringing on the island has a long history and is one of the main functions of the Bird Obs. It is operated under the auspices of the British Trust for Ornithology Ringing Scheme (click here for more info on ringing). There are 5 heligoland traps set in sheltered gardens with specially planted cover to attract and support migrant birds. Ringers also use mist nets to catch migrants and there are also many long term ringing studies of the breeding seabirds.
A downloadable checklist of all the birds seen on the island (to the end of 2011) is available here
The West Cliffs with densely packed colonies of cliff nesting seabirds (pic: S. Russell)
The Bain Trap (above) a heligoland trap used for catching migrant birds for ringing (Pic: AW Lauder)
The Isle of May is one of the largest colonies of Grey Seals in the UK and from late September thousands arrive to pup though many are present around the island throughout the year.
An inquisitive female grey seal in Kirkhaven harbour (above) while a bull seal surveys his territory (right) (pics: J M A Osborne)
Rabbits are abundant all over the island, very tame and their burrows are often occupied by Puffins. Their populations fluctuate markedly with disease.
(pic: J M A Osborne)
The area around the Isle of May can hold large numbers of cetaceans at certain times in particular Minke Whales can be seen ferquently in late summer and autumn both from the island and on the crossing. Up to 20 Minke whales have been seen off the island in a single day in some cases close inshore.
Though rarely seen from the island Bottlenose Dolphins are seen often from the crossing just off the Fife coast in addition Harbour Porpoise are regular and white-beaked Dolphin also likely.
Butterflies & Moths
Just like migrant birds passing through the island migrant butterflies like the Painted Lady, Peacock and Red Admiral can be present in large numbers during migration, late summer and early autumn movements can number thousands on some days. Along with them moths such as Silver Y can also occur in large numbers.
Pics (Painted Lady, Peacock, Red Admiral): JMA Osborne