Scottish Natural Heritage’s Isle of May reserve staff have reported an interesting season this year. Not only have they had increased numbers of visitors but they had a few unusual ones as well.
During the months that the visitor boats run (Easter to September) visitor numbers increased by six per cent.
One sailing saw a party of Chinese diplomats visiting to examine the island as an example of green tourism. Themed open days on seabirds, lighthouses, seals and the people of the May attracted a big turn out and SNH is hoping to run more themed days in 2012.
Most people think of birds when they think of May but the Firth of Forth also sees plenty of other animals passing by.
It has been a good year for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) with almost daily sightings of minke whales during August. These are the second smallest of the baleen whales, which have filtering plates rather than teeth, at nine metres (30 feet) long and they are long lived, sometimes living to 50 years.
There were also good sightings of porpoises and a Risso’s dolphin, one of the largest dolphins at three metres (10 feet) long.
Right at the end of the season there was even a distant view, by one of the reserve staff, of an orca or killer whale.
The May seabirds got off to a very early start to their season but only had an average year for chick survival. As usual some species gained and others did less well. Kittiwakes had a good season, as did the shags, but guillemots only had an average season with razorbills doing badly.
It can be difficult to single out one reason for seabirds doing badly but the particularly bad stormy weather earlier in the year might be part of the problem.
The other island residents, the grey seals, have got off to a good pupping season with 2000 young being produced so far.
SNH also had the decorators in to paint the North Horn. The horn is a listed building, built in 1939 to warn shipping in the Forth during foggy weather. As part of the maintenance of the buildings, next year the lowlight bird observatory is due to have renovation work done on it.
The online world came to the Isle of May as well with the reserve staff blogging and receiving over 13,000 page views for the season.
The blog features interesting birds seen on the reserve, this year including a rose finch and the UK’s smallest bird of prey the merlin, and daily goings-on on the island, together with fabulous photography.
Dave Pickett, SNH’s reserve manger for the island said: “I’m really pleased people enjoy the blog.
“It’s a chance to give people a flavour of what it’s like to live and work on this amazing island. The behind-the-scenes look at the May means we can show people the island in all its moods and glory; from the small garden tiger moth, to the huge stormy waves.”
Catch up with all that happened this year and look out for next year’s postings at http://isleofmaynnr.blogspot.com.
The regular boat services will resume at Easter in 2012.