April 20th   Leave a comment

More arrivals today: a steady stream of barn swallows and the first house martin of the year at Boarhills.

I went to the May Island in the afternoon. The first time I have been in April. Usually I go late May or June when the seabird breeding season is in full swing and the island can be full of thousands of puffins. Today it was just hundreds. Still really nice and impressive, particularly for anyone who hasn’t seen puffins before, but most of the puffins were either underground on newly laid eggs or still out at sea improving their body condition for their stint at incubation and the coming frenzy when they have to work constantly to feed their chick.

Puffin touching down on the May Island

If you haven’t been to the May Island yet, then make it this year. You won’t regret it – puffins alone make it worthwhile and it is almost magical as you approach the island and start to glimpse puffins at a distance or flying by, then you realise you are surrounded by them, and when you land they really are everywhere, shooting past your head, waddling along like penguins, or popping out of burrows. Then there are all the other birds to see – guillemots and razorbills (even more penguin like – yet surprisingly aerobatic in the updraughts of the big cliffs on the west side of the island), kittiwakes, shags and later in the season terns (just a bit too early for terns today unfortunately). Everywhere you look there is a little natural history story: female eiders trying not to be noticed as they incubate by the paths while the too conspicuous males, their job done, try to find late females to bother down on the shore; great black-backed gulls on the prowl for an unwary puffin (hundreds get eaten a season, but then there are 96,000 puffins there…); newly arrived willow warblers feeding on the short turf like pipits because there are so few bushes on the island; razorbills in pairs, in synchronised slow wing beat display flights, confirming their pair bond and commitment before their lay their egg for the season. The two hours or so on the island before the boat goes back to Anstruther flash by. And on the journey back there are always the gannets – in fantastic close flybys – to enjoy.

Shag newly sitting on its nest for this year

Any trip to the May Island in spring or autumn might turn up a rarity as well. Today I failed to connect up with a common redstart that had been seen earlier – still, we get those in Crail and it’s a likely species this weekend. The rarest bird on the island was actually a common buzzard. This could have been a Scandinavian migrant off course or just a chancer from Fife out on a day trip just like me. Exciting for the warden who might only see one or two buzzards on the island every year, less so for a visitor from Crail. Rarity is always relative.

Posted April 21, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

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