The Chatty Blog

Low Light, Isle of May

Bird Observatory log books in the low light, Isle of May

The chatty logs, held in the observatory provide an informal account of the observatory’s 75+ years of operation. News and items of interest and the occasional extract from past log books will appear here…

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Happy Birthday – 85 years old today

The Isle of May Bird Observatory officially turns the ripe old age of 85 this month. Scotland’s first observatory and the UK’s longest running!

Here is page one of the chatty log which begins on 28th September 1934 with the arrival of a party of 4; W B Alexander, R M Lockley, HFD Elder and EV Watson, great names of 20th Century ornithology!

Among early activity they started building a Heligoland trap.

Good birds were few by the looks of it but the “Cole” Tit on the 30th Sep would still be a good island bird today!

Lets hope the party to arrive today will be able to celebrate the observatory’s birthday with good arrival of migrants!

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Mr Bain would be impressed…

As posted back in early April,thanks to funding support from SNH, we began and have now completed the renewal of the Bain Trap.

The Bain trap is arguably one of the most successful traps on the island for catching migrant passerine birds for ringing. It was first built between 1948 and 1949, single handedly by John Bain, one of the Lighthouse Keepers. Perhaps he felt he had a lot of spare time?

In 1949 the trap materials cost £73 – equivalent to around £2500 today by my calculations, and yes it can be confirmed that building a heligoland trap is not cheap and a good deal more than inflation might predict! We are grateful to SNH for a grant towards the cost and to donors who provided funding support and not least to those volunteers who undertook the task of building it in their own time without them it would have been an impossible task. Built in a period of around 4 weeks it was a speedier job than that of John Bain and has meant the trap is already in action and catching migrants. The finishing touches of course take longer as the bushes and vines need to grow to provide that attractive cover, on the otherwise treeless island, for those migrating small birds as they stopover.

The trap will be used by bird ringers for decades to come and will maintain the catching effort on the island that we’ve seen over the previous 69 years since it was first put in place. The images below tell a little of the story…

and there is a piece also on the SNH NNR Blog which covers the work – click here

The old bain trap in around 2001 already suffering the ravages of the winds and salt spray. still working but not as well as it could
The Bain Trap sits close to Kirkhaven and the ringing hut near the southern end of the island.
Volunteers hard at work building the trap frame – it has to be strong enough to stand up to violent North Sea storms
The inside of the trap is protected from the worst of rabbit grazing to allow bushes and shrubs to grow to provide attractive cover for birds while the “arms are netted to allow birds to be gently “chivvied” into the funnel of the trap
The narrow catching box end nearing completion where the birds end up and can be removed for their rapid ringing, measurement and release
Water and other features are provided to attract birds
The completed trap ready for operation – this angle shows the classic dog-leg funnel of a Heligoland trap…now just for the vegetation to recover for full working glory…well done everyone!

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Bain Trap Renewal

Thanks to funding support from SNH we have begun the renewal of the Bain Trap, one of the Heligoland traps on the island used to catch migrant birds for ringing. Having been first built between 1948 and 1949 it was the third trap to be constructed by the observatory, in this case single handedly by John Bain, one of the Lighthouse Keepers.

There is always debate among visiting ringers as to which of the traps works best and catches most birds, most agree it is the Bain Trap and great care is being taken to maintain the exact footprint and funnel profile of the trap as it has been proven to work so effectively.

The volunteer work parties are out on the island now and are mid-construction. Progress can be seen in the images here:

The trap footprint laid out
Supports and beams being erected and side wall panels

Updates on the finished trap will be posted as soon as available.

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