June 4th   Leave a comment

I visited the May Island today. A 09:00 sailing out from Anstruther on the May Princess. The haar made the crossing a little cold but the visibility was more than good enough with the gannets making spectacularly close fly-bys as usual. When we got to the island it started to lift and we were greeted by the largest number of puffins I have ever seen on the island. Something about the weather, or the time of year, just at the point of hatching and before serious chick feeding, meant that just about every puffin was on the island and not down a burrow. Or so it seemed – tens of thousands – if not the full 94,000 that are probably in residence this year (based on last year’s count). It is hard to describe that many puffins loafing in great flocks on the turf, or clustered in lines on the old buildings, or flying up like a cloud of insects when a great black-backed gull flew too close. You need to see it yourself. If you haven’t been to the May Island in puffin season, then go. It really is one of the best wildlife experiences you can have anywhere. And never mind the thousands of guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes along the cliffs; the eider ducks nesting everywhere, but so cryptic and unmoving that you don’t notice them until you stop somewhere to find one literally by your feet at the side of the path; the blizzard of arctic terns and the grey seals loafing on the rocks. And everything at very, very close range. It’s one wildlife experience when you hardly use your binoculars.

Eider on a nest on the May Island

The seabirds were the real stars of today – their sheer number and closeness. But there were some other things on the island. A couple of spotted flycatchers, a willow warbler, a chiff-chaff and a very elusive rose-coloured starling (a pink and black version of a starling from central Asia). I probably had a brief glimpse of it – a pale coloured starling amongst a flock of puffins suddenly flying off from the beacon at the top of the island. But not “tickable” and I am consoled by the fact that I saw the last rose-coloured starling on the island in 1992. I will wait until we get one on the mainland for the Crail list: they are more usual in the autumn, although have become much rarer vagrants to the UK in the last 20 years. I also had my first common tern of the year – a challenge to pick out among the hundreds of arctic terns.

Some of the tens of thousands of puffins to be seen daily on the May at the moment

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Posted June 6, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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