Friday, 17 July 2015

Isle of May Part 2

As well as the many thousands of Puffins there are large breeding numbers of other species too. Namely Eider Duck,Shag,Guillemot,Razorbill,Arctic Tern,Kittiwake,Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull. Fewer in number there are also Great Black-backed Gull, Fulmar,Oystercatcher and Common Tern amongst the seabirds as well as the odd pair of Barn Swallow,Wren,Dunnock,Rock Pipit and I think possibly Starling, although the latter built up numbers to nearly 50 by the time we left.
Amongst the birds passing through we had singles of Chiff Chaff,Goldfinch,Wheatear and Willow Warbler.
Willow Warbler

Sea watching proved largely disappointing with no cetaceans spotted at all ( only weeks earlier a pod of 5 Orca had been seen extremely close to the island but it was not to be a return visit) although there are a fair number of Grey Seals that live and breed on the island. The latter not photographable from dry land within the area where access is permitted.
Talking of access, the island has distinct waymarked trails and visitors are asked to stick ridgidly to them because the adjoining land is full of fragile Puffin burrows. The pressure of visitor numbers is always in direct opposition to nature but if they adhere to sensible requests the two can live in harmony.
Let's take Puffins for example. Every visitor wants to take a picture of a cute Puffin with a bill full of Sand Eel but what they don't realise is that the Puffin has flown as far as 80 kms out to sea to find the catch then returned to feed the young. In an ideal world they would drop in to their burrow ( as seen in my previous post's  flight shot) and the jobs done but if they spot potential danger they will land away from their nest and wait for the opportunity to dash in when it appears safe to do so.
The presence of marauding Gulls ( again seen in the previous post) will send them flying off for another circuit of the island to await the opportunity to land and try again.
These are natural hazards but the introduction of visitors creates additional pressures. The Puffin see the humans as a threat too and will fly off or will sit out the presence of humans until they believe the coast is clear.
Here the only Puffin not to have flown creates a lot of interest!
Isle of May
It's worth remembering not to hang around the same spot for too long. You are denying a hungry Pufflet an eagerly awaited meal, perhaps it's first for many hours.
Far less vulnerable to humans are the cliff face breeding birds, in fact many are totally inaccessible to visitors as they nest on precarious rock ledges many,many feet above the sea.
Isle of May
Those that are close to the viewing points seem far less perturbed by humans.... their main threat are from the predating Gulls. The Greater Black-backed patrols the cliff face looking for unguarded chicks which make no more than a snack for such a large bird.
Great Black-backed Gull
Right up to the time they fledge the youngsters are a potential meal.
British Razorbill
As if hurling themselves a 100 feet in to the sea isn't dangerous enough, they can still get picked off once they are in the water. No wonder they choose to leave the nest at night under the cover of darkness. 
This June seemed to have witnessed an early breeding season and there were signs that many chicks had already departed or were close to doing so. Some of the Shags were particularly well advanced.
Whereas the Guillemots and Razorbills offer good photo opportunities.
British Razorbill
Common Guillemot    Uria aalge
both on the ground and in flight
British Razorbill
Common Guillemot     Uria aalge
The Shags are both unattractive as chicks
Shag pile
and as juveniles.
Shag juvenile
not helped by all that bling they have been adorned with!
It's a reflection on the efficiency of the research teams that finding an adult without a ring is nigh on impossible.
It's difficult enough trying to photograph very dark birds against light backgrounds, especially in the wrong light but with a bit of luck and the right position a half decent image can be obtained.
Looking like this you can truly appreciate the glorious colouring the Shag actually possesses.

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