Puffins arrive on the Isle of May in time for its reopening to visitors

Thousands of puffins have touched down on one of Scotland's most important seabird colonies as it prepares to welcome boatloads of human visitors back from today note-0.

By George Mair
Monday, 26th April 2021, 12:01 am

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Around 90,000 of the much-loved colourful birds will spend the coming months on the Isle of May National Nature Reserve five miles off the coast of Fife.

The seabirds, renowned for their colourful bills and comical behaviour, had not touched land for months as they spent the winter out at sea before reuniting with lifelong partners to nest on the NatureScot reserve.

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Puffin pair on the Isle of May

The Isle of May, also known as the "jewel of the Forth", is home to one of the largest and most accessible puffin colonies in the UK.

Other wildlife awaiting tourists includes guillemots, razorbills, shags, kittiwakes and eiders as well as the island's resident rabbits.

Visitors arriving on boats from Anstruther, Dunbar and North Berwick might also be lucky enough to spot seals hauled out on the rocks, dolphins or whales.

Reserve manager David Steel said: "It's going to be great to have people back enjoying the island and the seabirds on a daily basis.

The Isle of May is a haven for seals

"This is just the start of the seabird breeding season, so birds are coming in and numbers will continue to build up until the height of the season in mid to late May.

"The puffins have been out at sea since August and have just returned in the past week, with perfect timing for our visitors coming back.

"We've seen up to 40,000 pairs of puffins on some days, and in the next week we expect the first eggs to be laid and then we will have somewhere in the region of 45,000 pairs.

"Puffins pair bond for life and we know that some of the birds we can see today have been coming here since the early 1990s.

A precarious perch for a hardy wee Puffin

"There are already probably 10,000 guillemots on the island, and around 1200 nesting female eiders -- which is around five per cent of the British population so it's hugely significant. We've also got 20 pairs of oystercatchers at the moment.

"If the tide is right you can see grey seals, and if you're lucky you might get the chance to see bottlenose dolphins although June, July and August are the best months for dolphins and whales.

"It's been a tough time for everyone recently. A lot of people have been cooped up at home so it will be great to be able to open our doors and share the island with people again -- it's good for the soul."

There have been no visitors to the Isle of May since September. In that time, around 2500 grey seals have been born on the island, undisturbed by humans.

NatureScot staff returned in March to begin preparing the island for visitors, including work on paths and boardwalks and readying the island's visitor centre

Boats will have reduced capacity due to social distancing restrictions for the foreseeable future, while there will be a one-way system operating in some areas of the island.

In addition to thousands of nesting seabirds, the Isle of May is famed for its history and its carpets of flowers. The island's 12th century monastery was a place of pilgrimage for centuries. It was built in memory of St Adrian, who was martyred on the island by Norsemen in the year 875.

The May was also the site of Scotland's first lighthouse, built in 1636, while the current castle-like lighthouse was designed by the engineer Robert Stevenson.

Assistant reserve manager Bex Outram will be based on the Isle of May for over seven months until November, although the visitor season runs until September.

She said: "People are looking forward to coming out of lockdown and getting the chance to explore again. They can come out, go for nice walks, explore the history of the island or just sit by the cliffs and watch all the birds and how they interact with each other."

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