"Happy New Year" by We Are The City
"Piste 1" by Galaxie
Yesterday, having pre-booked our seats, we boarded the May Princess (along with about 20 school kids from Kingsbarns) and set off for the Isle of May. Over the centuries, the island has been home to early Christian communities (until they were beset upon by Vikings), pilgrimages, a priory and village, lighthouses, foghorns, an army outpost, and (most recently) a research station. The island is now a National Nature Reserve and the researchers have their own blog detailing the current state of the island (busy), the water (scarce), and the birds (everywhere).
The trip to the island was calm and uneventful. I was struck by how quaint our wee village looks from the water. Clearly this was the angle designed to impress.
The skipper let us know when we were passing by jellyfish, gannets, and puffins. As we approached the island, the seals poked their heads out. After we docked at Kirkhaven and had a brief introduction from the warden, we quickly made our way out of the terns' breeding area, as they like to dive bomb intruders and I had no intention of being pecked or christened. We took a path out towards the Low Light, then circled around to the Beacon and Stevenson Lighthouse, before heading out towards the South Horn. I wasn't really prepared to see the sheer number of birds and expected that I'd only see a few puffins, shags, and guillemots.
This proved to not be the case at all. There are around 40 000 breeding pairs of puffins on the island. I think we saw all 80 000 of them. In the two hours we spent on the Isle of May we also saw a lesser black-backed gull with chicks:
Kittiwakes with a chick:
Shags, which bear a resemblance to their cormorant relatives:
Guillemots (they don't have a white stripe on their beaks), in amongst razorbills (which do):
And even more puffins (the sitting one has a full mouth of sandeels for the young chicks):
Check out the Isle of May NNR blogpost about "Tossing Puffins" to gain a greater appreciation of that beak. According to David Pickett, the NNR Reserves Manager, "It has to be said that a puffin in the hand is not the quaint, comical creature that many people think they are. Basically they are very sharp at both ends and grumpy in the middle". They are a little more skittish than the razorbills, which were content to let us take hundreds of pictures, although considering that puffin beak it's probably for the best that we can't get too close.
I tried to get a picture of an oystercatcher, but I wasn't fast enough. Also, the terns proved impossible for me to capture without a better zoom. The majority of the birds perch themselves on these narrow ledges on sheer cliff faces. How they didn't all blow away during that gale is a mystery.
During the trip back to Anstruther, the sea was a little more rough (although nothing like how it looked during the gale force winds a few weeks back) and slightly more eventful. A few of the Kingsbarns school kids took turns steering the boat, which made for some interested jags and loops. I'd've taken photos of our approach into Anstruther, but I was feeling pretty green and eager to put my feet on solid ground again.
I'd love to say that this morning I had a new appreciation for the gull perched atop my roof, screeching away at 8am, but that would be a lie. Instead, I've nothing but amazement for the researchers on the Isle of May and their ability to retain their hearing after months of studying seabirds.