• Gulls by Laurie Campbell

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A tetrad atlas of the birds of Lothian and Borders, RRP £40

South-east Scotland is a significant region for breeding, passage and wintering birds, holding large proportions of Britain’s Gannets, Goshawks, Water Rails, non-breeding Red-necked Grebes, Slavonian Grebes, Pink-footed Geese and Velvet Scoters - just a small number of the 277 species that feature in ‘Birds in South-east Scotland 2007-13'.

This exhaustive tetrad study, based on 1,770 2x2 km plots and nearly half-a-million items of data collected by over 850 observers, covers the recording areas of Lothian and Borders, an area of 6,456 km². The varied habitats of this region, from estuarine mud and sandflats of the inner Forth to rocky shorelines backed by cliffs in Berwickshire, from the cereal farming areas of the Merse and lochs and reservoirs of the hills to the extensive stands of conifer plantations, as well as heather-clad uplands, river courses and the built-up areas of Edinburgh, all contribute in providing a varied avian fauna that is fully reflected in this milestone publication.

We are now pleased to say that the Atlas has been published by SOC and is be available at RRP £40 from the SOC at Waterston House, Aberlady, East Lothian (cash and cards) and Viking Optics, Rose Street, Edinburgh (cash only). Anyone wishing to buy a copy, but unable to collect at either of these two venues, should email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

Each of the main species has two pages devoted to it, with a full page of attractive, easy-to-read maps showing seasonal distribution and abundance, change in breeding distribution since 1988-94 (the period when the last breeding atlas survey was carried out), maps at the 10x10 km scale which compare changes in breeding and winter distribution over the past 50 years and graphs showing distribution by altitude between the seasons and between the two atlases. These are supported by an account which helps to explain the distribution, its seasonal changes, changes over the years, supported by estimates of current population and their recent trends. 

The 554-page hardback will include introductory chapters and appendices, in addition to the species accounts and maps.

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A tetrad atlas of the birds of Lothian and Borders, RRP £40

South-east Scotland is a significant region for breeding, passage and wintering birds, holding large proportions of Britain’s Gannets, Goshawks, Water Rails, non-breeding Red-necked Grebes, Slavonian Grebes, Pink-footed Geese and Velvet Scoters - just a small number of the 277 species that feature in ‘Birds in South-east Scotland 2007-13'.

This exhaustive tetrad study, based on 1,770 2x2 km plots and nearly half-a-million items of data collected by over 850 observers, covers the recording areas of Lothian and Borders, an area of 6,456 km². The varied habitats of this region, from estuarine mud and sandflats of the inner Forth to rocky shorelines backed by cliffs in Berwickshire, from the cereal farming areas of the Merse and lochs and reservoirs of the hills to the extensive stands of conifer plantations, as well as heather-clad uplands, river courses and the built-up areas of Edinburgh, all contribute in providing a varied avian fauna that is fully reflected in this milestone publication.

We are now pleased to say that the Atlas has been published by SOC and is be available at RRP £40 from the SOC at Waterston House, Aberlady, East Lothian (cash and cards) and Viking Optics, Rose Street, Edinburgh (cash only). Anyone wishing to buy a copy, but unable to collect at either of these two venues, should email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

Each of the main species has two pages devoted to it, with a full page of attractive, easy-to-read maps showing seasonal distribution and abundance, change in breeding distribution since 1988-94 (the period when the last breeding atlas survey was carried out), maps at the 10x10 km scale which compare changes in breeding and winter distribution over the past 50 years and graphs showing distribution by altitude between the seasons and between the two atlases. These are supported by an account which helps to explain the distribution, its seasonal changes, changes over the years, supported by estimates of current population and their recent trends. 

The 554-page hardback will include introductory chapters and appendices, in addition to the species accounts and maps.

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This year, the SOC and Isle of May Bird Observatory's Young Birders' Training Course was shortlised in the SNH Youth and Education category of the Nature of Scotland Awards. Also recognised in the shortlist at this year’s Awards, was Alasdair (Ally) Lemon, for the Young Nature Champion Award. Some of you may recognise Ally from his attendance at Club events and conferences, alongside his sister Hannah. Both Club members, Ally and Hannah were successful in gaining a place on SOC and Isle of May Bird Observatory’s Young Birders’ Training Course in the summer of 2016. The course only helped to deepen their commitment to preserving Scotland’s nature and cemented their respective conservation-minded career paths.

 
Ally tells us more about how he got into wildlife and what led to him being nominated:

My love of nature started from a young age when I used to spend my summer holidays searching for the wildlife that lived on the coast and in the woodlands of Knapdale on the West Coast, and from watching the birds visit the feeders in front of our caravan window. It was a favourite task of my mum’s to empty my pockets at night as she never knew what wonders might be hiding away, from shells to mulchy leaves.

These summer holidays played an important role in my decision to study Marine Biology at the University of Stirling, where I spent four years learning about the natural environment and during my studies I saw my first Minke whale while on a trip to Mull. While at Stirling University, I set up and was President of the Marine Society which aimed to raise awareness of marine conservation charities and ran fundraising events to help them continue the amazing work they do.

Last year I completed my MSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at Edinburgh Napier University which allowed me to get out and study Scotland’s wildlife. I was also fortunate enough to gain employment with Froglife towards the end of my MSc. This saw me spending 15 months travelling all over Scotland talking to people and learning about Scotland’s amphibians and reptiles. During my time at Froglife, I took a week of my annual leave to take up the amazing opportunity of being one of the SOC and IoMBO's Young Birders' Training Course participants of 2017, an experience I’ll never forget.

With my contract at Froglife coming to an end, unfortunately I had to start looking for new employment but my luck was in as Buglife had just launched their 'Marvellous Mud Snail' project and were looking for a Conservation Officer to deliver it - I have been with them ever since! It’s been an amazing experience, from talking to kids about the amazing invertebrates living in the UK to appearing on Countryfile highlighting the species of freshwater snail, the Pond mud snail, I spend my time, along with partners, conserving. Outside of work I have spent the past three years (alongside my sister Hannah) heading up Scottish Badgers events team, have recently joined the Scottish Wildlife Trust local group committee, become an SWT Young Leader and am working towards my bird ringing license.

I am honoured to have been shortlisted for the RSPB Young Nature Champion Award, which is down to my sister for nominating me! 

Ally Lemon

You can find Ally on Twitter, here

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This year, the SOC and Isle of May Bird Observatory's Young Birders' Training Course was shortlised in the SNH Youth and Education category of the Nature of Scotland Awards. Also recognised in the shortlist at this year’s Awards, was Alasdair (Ally) Lemon, for the Young Nature Champion Award. Some of you may recognise Ally from his attendance at Club events and conferences, alongside his sister Hannah. Both Club members, Ally and Hannah were successful in gaining a place on SOC and Isle of May Bird Observatory’s Young Birders’ Training Course in the summer of 2016. The course only helped to deepen their commitment to preserving Scotland’s nature and cemented their respective conservation-minded career paths.

 
Ally tells us more about how he got into wildlife and what led to him being nominated:

My love of nature started from a young age when I used to spend my summer holidays searching for the wildlife that lived on the coast and in the woodlands of Knapdale on the West Coast, and from watching the birds visit the feeders in front of our caravan window. It was a favourite task of my mum’s to empty my pockets at night as she never knew what wonders might be hiding away, from shells to mulchy leaves.

These summer holidays played an important role in my decision to study Marine Biology at the University of Stirling, where I spent four years learning about the natural environment and during my studies I saw my first Minke whale while on a trip to Mull. While at Stirling University, I set up and was President of the Marine Society which aimed to raise awareness of marine conservation charities and ran fundraising events to help them continue the amazing work they do.

Last year I completed my MSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at Edinburgh Napier University which allowed me to get out and study Scotland’s wildlife. I was also fortunate enough to gain employment with Froglife towards the end of my MSc. This saw me spending 15 months travelling all over Scotland talking to people and learning about Scotland’s amphibians and reptiles. During my time at Froglife, I took a week of my annual leave to take up the amazing opportunity of being one of the SOC and IoMBO's Young Birders' Training Course participants of 2017, an experience I’ll never forget.

With my contract at Froglife coming to an end, unfortunately I had to start looking for new employment but my luck was in as Buglife had just launched their 'Marvellous Mud Snail' project and were looking for a Conservation Officer to deliver it - I have been with them ever since! It’s been an amazing experience, from talking to kids about the amazing invertebrates living in the UK to appearing on Countryfile highlighting the species of freshwater snail, the Pond mud snail, I spend my time, along with partners, conserving. Outside of work I have spent the past three years (alongside my sister Hannah) heading up Scottish Badgers events team, have recently joined the Scottish Wildlife Trust local group committee, become an SWT Young Leader and am working towards my bird ringing license.

I am honoured to have been shortlisted for the RSPB Young Nature Champion Award, which is down to my sister for nominating me! 

Ally Lemon

You can find Ally on Twitter, here

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    [title] => Young Birders' Training Course Blog 2018
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On Saturday 30 June 2018, six young birders set sail for the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth to take part in the SOC/Isle of May Bird Observatory's, 'Young Birders' Training Course'. Here's how they got on on their island adventure...
 
SATURDAY

At 11:30am, 6 intrepid young birders – Alice, Bethia, Dylan, Hannah, Mark and Sean (me) - gathered at Anstruther Harbour to be boated out to the Isle of May for a week. Rather surprisingly, we were met with glorious sunshine which persisted for the whole week! I was especially happy to be able to set off for the island, as 11 hours previously had been in Kirkcaldy accident and emergency with a broken collarbone and concussion from a bike accident, uncertain whether I would be able to take part in the course at all. Gathered on the pier, we were told the boat wouldn’t be leaving for another hour or so, giving us some time to explore Anstruther.

A 20-minute sailing, with close sightings of Gannets, Guillemots and Puffins, brought us to the Island, where we were greeted by many of the staff and researchers. Disembarking the boat, we were treated to a close fly-by of a large group of Arctic Terns, low to the water and in perfect synchrony. The sunny walk from harbour to the bird observatory took us past Puffin nesting grounds, quickly putting smiles on everyone’s faces.

After lunch, unpacking and a short introduction to the island by Stuart, one of the course leaders, we were given a quick tour of the island, with plenty of close-up views of Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Fulmars and gulls. Returning to the observatory, we were treated to a delicious dinner, cooked up by Mark Oksien (another course leader), after which Steely and Becks, Isle of May Warden and Assistant Warden respectively, came around to introduce themselves and their work.

Sean Irving

 

SUNDAY

Our first ‘proper’ day on the island and we kick-started with a morning sea-watch from 08.00-09.00. Some were perhaps more ready to go than others - with the boy’s room being up and about well before 07.00 – but needless to say, everyone was excited for the first day! Despite the sea-watch from both Lower Light and Rona being rather uneventful, there was much to see in the moth trap. From 09.00 - 10.00 we identified the species. A particular favourite among all was The Spectacle, Abrostola tripartita, with the circular tufts of scales rising from its thorax looking like… well, you guessed it… spectacles.

After taking quite a while perusing over the moths (don’t worry, we got faster as the week went on!), we headed outside to check the Heligoland traps and set up mist nests in the Top Garden and by Lower Light. Mark Oksien explained the principles of bird ringing and after a demonstration it was our turn to ring the Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Pied Wagtail caught in the traps. Ringing was a first experience for many and so was an especially enjoyable activity to do on the first day.

After some much needed lunch, it was time to meet Mark Newell from CEH and learn about the work he does on the island. Following on from this, Stuart spoke to us about the data collection and logs at the Observatory, along with providing tips for becoming better birders. A number of us put this into practice after dinner, when we tried to distinguish between Puffins and Guillemots from ever increasing distances. Time seemed to slip by and before long it was 23.00 and we had yet to fill out the log books. By 24.00 they were finally complete and we resolved to start them much earlier the following evening.

Alice Edney

 

MONDAY

Another beautiful day on the Isle of May. The morning began with checking the moth trap at Fluke Street - we had 11 species today. We then set off to Rona for our first experience of ringing Great Black-backed Gull chicks, a fun but challenging task due to the chicks’ large size, sharp bills and knack of escaping. Ringing is an important way the island’s staff contributes to research, so it was worth the patience, bites and smell of damp, algae-covered feathers to have a chance to ring these young birds. After that, we headed down to Pilgrim’s haven to carry out a beach clean. On the surface it appeared relatively unpolluted, but as we moved stones piled up by this year’s storms, we were appalled by the never ending mass of polystyrene fragments, cotton buds and other litter. We hauled our filled bin bags up the beach with the grim awareness that we had, quite literally, only scratched the surface. 

On return to the Low Light, Stuart taught us some important skills in fieldcraft and identifying birds - being able to thoroughly describe plumage is key to providing solid evidence that a certain rare bird has been sighted. Tea was a lovely meal outside in the setting sun at Fluke Street (an unexpected upside of a malfunctioning oven). Back at the Obs, we completed the log and drank tea until dark, excited for the night ahead. With the mist net set up and the odd-sounding recordings of Storm and Leach’s Petrels blasting out to sea, we stocked up on biscuits and waited. The first ‘stormie’ arrived at 00:30. Everyone gathered around to see the House Martin-sized seabird and catch a whiff of its distinctive musky smell. It was quite a treat to see such an amazing bird up close. Those who stayed up longer were awarded with a second stormie at 01:30. Once it had been ringed and examined I had the honour of releasing it back into the night. 

Hannah Coburn

 

TUESDAY

The morning began with our first porpoise sighting of the week, spotted by David Steele on his way back from a routine sea watch. We then spent time at the observatory identifying and noting down Shag rings, with some entertainment as one individual jumped back and forth along the rocks to pinch nest materials for their chick! After lunch, we took it in ‘terns’ to observe the feeding rates of the nesting Arctic Tern residents, before attempting to ring Greater Black-backed Gull chicks for a few hours. With thoroughly messy waterproofs and a few arm scratches later, we headed back for a much-deserved tea break before attempting the same with Lesser Black-backed chicks – RIP Mark’s regurgitate-covered record sheet! We then headed up to Fluke Street for a wonderful curry night, before heading out to the clifftop hides to observe Guillemot jumplings fledging from their ledgings. This was without a doubt one of the most emotional moments of the week – we all became so invested in those we spotted that seemed likely to jump! Each was given a cute (I mean…totally scientific and non-biased!) name, and as each took the plunge we leaned over the cliff edge to make sure they landed safely – which I am happy to say they did! By around 11pm it was dark enough that watching the birds was a tricky business, and so we headed back to the observatory for another faithful logbook completion and to await a second round of Storm Petrels as their song was echoed into the night.

Beathia Pearson

 

WEDNESDAY

Wednesday was a very practical day, full of grafting and hard work! Although I came into the course with very little in the way of woodwork and construction experience, I definitely learned more than I was expecting. The day wasn't all hard work however, and between the building of tern boxes, we were able to go to one of the hides to carry out Puffin counts. This involved identifying all individuals which had coloured rings within a certain area. This was very entertaining, especially since the Puffins were so close, probably just a metre or so away! The afternoon was focussed around building and fixing tern boxes. Although many of the old tern boxes were beyond our salvation, we built plenty more, each with their own tern-pun related name.

In the evening the mist nets were put up once more, with limited hopes for amount of birds we would catch. However, the nets were very successful, and enabled us to ring plenty of loud Starlings, which, despite the racket they made, did not put up much of a fight when it came to being handled.

Mark Pitt

 

THURSDAY

The morning started well with little wind and no rain, which would define the weather of the day. As with most mornings, we retrieved the moth trap from its traditional spot under the elder trees, near the low lighthouse where we were staying. These mornings were most enjoyable with moths covering every surface as we tried desperately, often unsuccessfully, to identify each individual that came out of the trap. The week had seen huge numbers of species like Dark Arches, however the brightly coloured Garden Tiger had truly dominated earlier in the week. By Thursday numbers of them had started to decline but lack of Garden Tigers was made up for in abundance of other species. The Burnished brass, like trapped animated gold drops, fluttered in their specimen boxes and a Campion, with its gold and silver outlines looked like a miniature Persian rug. A Beautiful Golden Y, with the flash of gold on its wing, sat contently among the more colourful species. One true beauty emerged from that morning was the White ermine, a species of pure snowflake white that even a novice moth trapper can identify.  Overall that morning we caught and identified fifty-seven moths. Two Sexton’s Beetle wandering around on the bottom of the box like little black and yellow tanks, with little scarlet mites attached to them, no doubt picked up from their food, rotting meat.

Much of the morning was dedicated to a talk lead by Professor Sarah Wanless who recently won the ‘Outstanding women of Scotland' award for her work. Whilst fascinating, it was too long to write about here, but it did bring up some interesting points such as the fact that plastic and elastic pollution has been suggested as an impacting factor on seabirds since the seventies. From the end of this talk up to lunch, we worked to repair one of the helioland traps that had suffered the regular wear-and-tear of life on an exposed island which resulted in an entirely new roof due to the last one disintegrating. We also did a second beach clean, yet another depressing adventure in the world of human overconsumption.

That evening we decided to join some of the seabird ecologists in their Puffin ringing. Almost as soon as we arrived Puffins started hitting the net. Running to retrieve the Puffins and their meals before the gulls did was fraught with difficulty as the ground was littered with Puffin burrows that one needed to avoid for the birds and your own sake. Overall 29 Puffins were caught, rung and released and their meals recorded so the scientists could record what food they had and when. Of the three Puffins I rung, they collectively completely put me off all Puffins by giving me some of the worse bites I’ve ever received from an animal. At around twelve o’clock, after the mandatory record-keeping, we all fell into bed after another exhausting but incredible day on the May.

Dylan McKenzie

 

FRIDAY

Our last full day on the island came around far too quickly, with all of us wishing we had another week. As it was the last day a few of us decided to take an early morning walk, which once again reminded us what a special place the island is. Returning for breakfast, we were all excited to see what our final day had in store for us.

After breakfast we set out on our final Great Black-backed Gull colour ringing session of the week, running around after gull chicks while trying not to fall in the sea or let the chicks escape. As usual, this wasn’t without some added excitement. Highlights included: spending a very long time persuading four stubborn chicks to leave a pool of water, resulting in more than one set of sodden feet, and watching Alice carry four large gull chicks at once, all determined to escape, back to the ringing area.

Next task for the morning was some routine maintenance on the Heligoland traps, replacing broken or rotten beams and rusty chicken wire, rather hot work in the scorching Scottish sunshine.

After lunch we were given a demonstration of how to catch and ring a Shag, using a hook on a long stick and some careful handling of that large beak, followed by what has got to be the highlight of the week: Puffin grovelling. This requires lying on the ground and sticking your hand as far down a Puffin burrow as possible to try and retrieve a puffling, so that we could measure and ring it. There are four possibilities when pushing your hand into this lucky dip: the latrine, an empty burrow, an angry, fierce adult Puffin with a sharp, powerful bill or a cute, fluffy puffling with a soft bill. After being told at the start of the week the nesting season was too late this year for safe Puffin grovelling during the course, we were all overjoyed to hear that we would get to handle pufflings. After being given a quick demonstration and sticks to increase our reach, we set out across the survey area, methodically checking each burrow. Mark was first to find a bird, but unfortunately this was a dead adult. A few minutes later Bethia excitedly pulled out our first puffling. A few more finds ensued, giving all of us the chance to measure, ring and get a photo taken with “our” puffling.

While the public were on the island we had, yet another, interesting and informative talk by Stuart on how the data collected at the observatory is used, analysed and stored.

To celebrate our time on the island, after dinner we headed over to the researchers’ and wardens’ accommodation at Fluke street for a pub quiz, a lovely way to finish an amazing week.

Sean 

 

Useful Links: 

Find out more about how the SOC tries to support and develop young ornithologists. 

VISIT OUR YOUNG BIRDERS PAGE

 

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On Saturday 30 June 2018, six young birders set sail for the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth to take part in the SOC/Isle of May Bird Observatory's, 'Young Birders' Training Course'. Here's how they got on on their island adventure...
 
SATURDAY

At 11:30am, 6 intrepid young birders – Alice, Bethia, Dylan, Hannah, Mark and Sean (me) - gathered at Anstruther Harbour to be boated out to the Isle of May for a week. Rather surprisingly, we were met with glorious sunshine which persisted for the whole week! I was especially happy to be able to set off for the island, as 11 hours previously had been in Kirkcaldy accident and emergency with a broken collarbone and concussion from a bike accident, uncertain whether I would be able to take part in the course at all. Gathered on the pier, we were told the boat wouldn’t be leaving for another hour or so, giving us some time to explore Anstruther.

A 20-minute sailing, with close sightings of Gannets, Guillemots and Puffins, brought us to the Island, where we were greeted by many of the staff and researchers. Disembarking the boat, we were treated to a close fly-by of a large group of Arctic Terns, low to the water and in perfect synchrony. The sunny walk from harbour to the bird observatory took us past Puffin nesting grounds, quickly putting smiles on everyone’s faces.

After lunch, unpacking and a short introduction to the island by Stuart, one of the course leaders, we were given a quick tour of the island, with plenty of close-up views of Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Fulmars and gulls. Returning to the observatory, we were treated to a delicious dinner, cooked up by Mark Oksien (another course leader), after which Steely and Becks, Isle of May Warden and Assistant Warden respectively, came around to introduce themselves and their work.

Sean Irving

 

SUNDAY

Our first ‘proper’ day on the island and we kick-started with a morning sea-watch from 08.00-09.00. Some were perhaps more ready to go than others - with the boy’s room being up and about well before 07.00 – but needless to say, everyone was excited for the first day! Despite the sea-watch from both Lower Light and Rona being rather uneventful, there was much to see in the moth trap. From 09.00 - 10.00 we identified the species. A particular favourite among all was The Spectacle, Abrostola tripartita, with the circular tufts of scales rising from its thorax looking like… well, you guessed it… spectacles.

After taking quite a while perusing over the moths (don’t worry, we got faster as the week went on!), we headed outside to check the Heligoland traps and set up mist nests in the Top Garden and by Lower Light. Mark Oksien explained the principles of bird ringing and after a demonstration it was our turn to ring the Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Pied Wagtail caught in the traps. Ringing was a first experience for many and so was an especially enjoyable activity to do on the first day.

After some much needed lunch, it was time to meet Mark Newell from CEH and learn about the work he does on the island. Following on from this, Stuart spoke to us about the data collection and logs at the Observatory, along with providing tips for becoming better birders. A number of us put this into practice after dinner, when we tried to distinguish between Puffins and Guillemots from ever increasing distances. Time seemed to slip by and before long it was 23.00 and we had yet to fill out the log books. By 24.00 they were finally complete and we resolved to start them much earlier the following evening.

Alice Edney

 

MONDAY

Another beautiful day on the Isle of May. The morning began with checking the moth trap at Fluke Street - we had 11 species today. We then set off to Rona for our first experience of ringing Great Black-backed Gull chicks, a fun but challenging task due to the chicks’ large size, sharp bills and knack of escaping. Ringing is an important way the island’s staff contributes to research, so it was worth the patience, bites and smell of damp, algae-covered feathers to have a chance to ring these young birds. After that, we headed down to Pilgrim’s haven to carry out a beach clean. On the surface it appeared relatively unpolluted, but as we moved stones piled up by this year’s storms, we were appalled by the never ending mass of polystyrene fragments, cotton buds and other litter. We hauled our filled bin bags up the beach with the grim awareness that we had, quite literally, only scratched the surface. 

On return to the Low Light, Stuart taught us some important skills in fieldcraft and identifying birds - being able to thoroughly describe plumage is key to providing solid evidence that a certain rare bird has been sighted. Tea was a lovely meal outside in the setting sun at Fluke Street (an unexpected upside of a malfunctioning oven). Back at the Obs, we completed the log and drank tea until dark, excited for the night ahead. With the mist net set up and the odd-sounding recordings of Storm and Leach’s Petrels blasting out to sea, we stocked up on biscuits and waited. The first ‘stormie’ arrived at 00:30. Everyone gathered around to see the House Martin-sized seabird and catch a whiff of its distinctive musky smell. It was quite a treat to see such an amazing bird up close. Those who stayed up longer were awarded with a second stormie at 01:30. Once it had been ringed and examined I had the honour of releasing it back into the night. 

Hannah Coburn

 

TUESDAY

The morning began with our first porpoise sighting of the week, spotted by David Steele on his way back from a routine sea watch. We then spent time at the observatory identifying and noting down Shag rings, with some entertainment as one individual jumped back and forth along the rocks to pinch nest materials for their chick! After lunch, we took it in ‘terns’ to observe the feeding rates of the nesting Arctic Tern residents, before attempting to ring Greater Black-backed Gull chicks for a few hours. With thoroughly messy waterproofs and a few arm scratches later, we headed back for a much-deserved tea break before attempting the same with Lesser Black-backed chicks – RIP Mark’s regurgitate-covered record sheet! We then headed up to Fluke Street for a wonderful curry night, before heading out to the clifftop hides to observe Guillemot jumplings fledging from their ledgings. This was without a doubt one of the most emotional moments of the week – we all became so invested in those we spotted that seemed likely to jump! Each was given a cute (I mean…totally scientific and non-biased!) name, and as each took the plunge we leaned over the cliff edge to make sure they landed safely – which I am happy to say they did! By around 11pm it was dark enough that watching the birds was a tricky business, and so we headed back to the observatory for another faithful logbook completion and to await a second round of Storm Petrels as their song was echoed into the night.

Beathia Pearson

 

WEDNESDAY

Wednesday was a very practical day, full of grafting and hard work! Although I came into the course with very little in the way of woodwork and construction experience, I definitely learned more than I was expecting. The day wasn't all hard work however, and between the building of tern boxes, we were able to go to one of the hides to carry out Puffin counts. This involved identifying all individuals which had coloured rings within a certain area. This was very entertaining, especially since the Puffins were so close, probably just a metre or so away! The afternoon was focussed around building and fixing tern boxes. Although many of the old tern boxes were beyond our salvation, we built plenty more, each with their own tern-pun related name.

In the evening the mist nets were put up once more, with limited hopes for amount of birds we would catch. However, the nets were very successful, and enabled us to ring plenty of loud Starlings, which, despite the racket they made, did not put up much of a fight when it came to being handled.

Mark Pitt

 

THURSDAY

The morning started well with little wind and no rain, which would define the weather of the day. As with most mornings, we retrieved the moth trap from its traditional spot under the elder trees, near the low lighthouse where we were staying. These mornings were most enjoyable with moths covering every surface as we tried desperately, often unsuccessfully, to identify each individual that came out of the trap. The week had seen huge numbers of species like Dark Arches, however the brightly coloured Garden Tiger had truly dominated earlier in the week. By Thursday numbers of them had started to decline but lack of Garden Tigers was made up for in abundance of other species. The Burnished brass, like trapped animated gold drops, fluttered in their specimen boxes and a Campion, with its gold and silver outlines looked like a miniature Persian rug. A Beautiful Golden Y, with the flash of gold on its wing, sat contently among the more colourful species. One true beauty emerged from that morning was the White ermine, a species of pure snowflake white that even a novice moth trapper can identify.  Overall that morning we caught and identified fifty-seven moths. Two Sexton’s Beetle wandering around on the bottom of the box like little black and yellow tanks, with little scarlet mites attached to them, no doubt picked up from their food, rotting meat.

Much of the morning was dedicated to a talk lead by Professor Sarah Wanless who recently won the ‘Outstanding women of Scotland' award for her work. Whilst fascinating, it was too long to write about here, but it did bring up some interesting points such as the fact that plastic and elastic pollution has been suggested as an impacting factor on seabirds since the seventies. From the end of this talk up to lunch, we worked to repair one of the helioland traps that had suffered the regular wear-and-tear of life on an exposed island which resulted in an entirely new roof due to the last one disintegrating. We also did a second beach clean, yet another depressing adventure in the world of human overconsumption.

That evening we decided to join some of the seabird ecologists in their Puffin ringing. Almost as soon as we arrived Puffins started hitting the net. Running to retrieve the Puffins and their meals before the gulls did was fraught with difficulty as the ground was littered with Puffin burrows that one needed to avoid for the birds and your own sake. Overall 29 Puffins were caught, rung and released and their meals recorded so the scientists could record what food they had and when. Of the three Puffins I rung, they collectively completely put me off all Puffins by giving me some of the worse bites I’ve ever received from an animal. At around twelve o’clock, after the mandatory record-keeping, we all fell into bed after another exhausting but incredible day on the May.

Dylan McKenzie

 

FRIDAY

Our last full day on the island came around far too quickly, with all of us wishing we had another week. As it was the last day a few of us decided to take an early morning walk, which once again reminded us what a special place the island is. Returning for breakfast, we were all excited to see what our final day had in store for us.

After breakfast we set out on our final Great Black-backed Gull colour ringing session of the week, running around after gull chicks while trying not to fall in the sea or let the chicks escape. As usual, this wasn’t without some added excitement. Highlights included: spending a very long time persuading four stubborn chicks to leave a pool of water, resulting in more than one set of sodden feet, and watching Alice carry four large gull chicks at once, all determined to escape, back to the ringing area.

Next task for the morning was some routine maintenance on the Heligoland traps, replacing broken or rotten beams and rusty chicken wire, rather hot work in the scorching Scottish sunshine.

After lunch we were given a demonstration of how to catch and ring a Shag, using a hook on a long stick and some careful handling of that large beak, followed by what has got to be the highlight of the week: Puffin grovelling. This requires lying on the ground and sticking your hand as far down a Puffin burrow as possible to try and retrieve a puffling, so that we could measure and ring it. There are four possibilities when pushing your hand into this lucky dip: the latrine, an empty burrow, an angry, fierce adult Puffin with a sharp, powerful bill or a cute, fluffy puffling with a soft bill. After being told at the start of the week the nesting season was too late this year for safe Puffin grovelling during the course, we were all overjoyed to hear that we would get to handle pufflings. After being given a quick demonstration and sticks to increase our reach, we set out across the survey area, methodically checking each burrow. Mark was first to find a bird, but unfortunately this was a dead adult. A few minutes later Bethia excitedly pulled out our first puffling. A few more finds ensued, giving all of us the chance to measure, ring and get a photo taken with “our” puffling.

While the public were on the island we had, yet another, interesting and informative talk by Stuart on how the data collected at the observatory is used, analysed and stored.

To celebrate our time on the island, after dinner we headed over to the researchers’ and wardens’ accommodation at Fluke street for a pub quiz, a lovely way to finish an amazing week.

Sean 

 

Useful Links: 

Find out more about how the SOC tries to support and develop young ornithologists. 

VISIT OUR YOUNG BIRDERS PAGE

 

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The SOC and Isle of May Bird Observatory’s (IoMBO)  pioneering ‘Young Birders’ Training Course’, which funds naturalists aged 16-25 years to spend a week learning essential bird survey skills and techniques, has been shortlisted for a prestigious Nature of Scotland Award.

The project was shortlisted in the SNH Youth and Education category of the Awards which celebrate the businesses, charities, public sector and individuals working towards preserving Scotland’s unique wildlife and natural environment.

This year the Awards, which are run by RSPB Scotland and co-sponsored by Scottish Natural Heritage, attracted a record breaking number of applications across the board with the shortlist of entries revealed at a reception in the Scottish Parliament, hosted by Claudia Beamish MSP, on 12 September. 

The Club and Observatory’s entry, the Young Birders’ Training Course, provides a unique opportunity annually for three females and three males to spend a week at the Observatory learning first-hand, a wide range of skills and techniques. Outwith the scope of most university/college curricula, these skills are essential attributes for those embarking on a career or role in wildlife recording/conservation.

I am delighted that the Club has been shortlisted for this award. The course has been running for five years and has provided a very valuable opportunity for the participants to learn about many aspects of bird identification, ringing and to see at first hand, the management of a reserve. It demonstrates the value of working in partnership with the Observatory with additional input from SNH and CEH. None of this would happen without the involvement of those volunteers who are delighted to spend a week on the island, giving the participants the benefit of their knowledge and enthusiasm”, James Main, SOC President

Lucy McRobert, Communications Manager, The Wildlife Trusts and ex Creative Director, A Focus On Nature, went on to say:

"Opportunities for young people to connect with, understand and immerse themselves in the natural world have diminished over the past century, however the SOC and IoMBO has bucked the trend and is offering a high-quality, fun and popular opportunity for young people to learn new skills, make new friends and make the most of inter-generational mentoring relationships. These are the scientists, nature-lovers, conservationists and birders of the future, and the SOC and Isle of May Bird Observatory are setting a high bar for other organisations around the country to now replicate what they've achieved - and in just a few short years”,

Working in partnership, SOC and IoMBO draw upon the talents of highly experienced bird ringers, researchers and surveyors and ensure that participants receive first class expert tuition in an unrivalled and unique setting. With additional teaching and support provided by Scottish Natural Heritage and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology staff, YBTC also provides a network of contacts to assist participants on their journey.

The Isle of May Bird Observatory is delighted that the YBTC has been recognised for making an important contribution in the career development of future wildlife monitors/recorders and conservationists, and in the subsequent encouragement to other organisations to do likewise. I offer thanks and congratulations to the course leaders and to the members of SNH and CEH who have made a major contribution to the success of the course on the island,” Ian Darling, IoMBO Trust Chairman.

So far thirty young birdwatchers have taken part in the course which is funded by the SOC thanks to generous past members and supporters who have left legacies to the Club. To read about the impact the course has had on participants, click here

Investing in a future generation of conservationists, bird recorders and surveyors is, in my opinion, an excellent use of the Club’s funds. Not only are we helping equip these young people with the skills which will help stand them apart in an employment setting, we’re working to address the seemingly widening gap between today’s young people and nature. One of the greatest legacies of the course has been the stimulation of related-organisations to introduce and establish similar initiatives”, Jane Cleaver, SOC Development Officer.

The winners in each award category will be announced at a black-tie Presentation Dinner taking place at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Edinburgh on 22 November 2018. The awards will be hosted by TV presenter, writer and naturalist, Kate Humble, and BBC TV and radio presenter, Euan McIlwraith.

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The SOC and Isle of May Bird Observatory’s (IoMBO)  pioneering ‘Young Birders’ Training Course’, which funds naturalists aged 16-25 years to spend a week learning essential bird survey skills and techniques, has been shortlisted for a prestigious Nature of Scotland Award.

The project was shortlisted in the SNH Youth and Education category of the Awards which celebrate the businesses, charities, public sector and individuals working towards preserving Scotland’s unique wildlife and natural environment.

This year the Awards, which are run by RSPB Scotland and co-sponsored by Scottish Natural Heritage, attracted a record breaking number of applications across the board with the shortlist of entries revealed at a reception in the Scottish Parliament, hosted by Claudia Beamish MSP, on 12 September. 

The Club and Observatory’s entry, the Young Birders’ Training Course, provides a unique opportunity annually for three females and three males to spend a week at the Observatory learning first-hand, a wide range of skills and techniques. Outwith the scope of most university/college curricula, these skills are essential attributes for those embarking on a career or role in wildlife recording/conservation.

I am delighted that the Club has been shortlisted for this award. The course has been running for five years and has provided a very valuable opportunity for the participants to learn about many aspects of bird identification, ringing and to see at first hand, the management of a reserve. It demonstrates the value of working in partnership with the Observatory with additional input from SNH and CEH. None of this would happen without the involvement of those volunteers who are delighted to spend a week on the island, giving the participants the benefit of their knowledge and enthusiasm”, James Main, SOC President

Lucy McRobert, Communications Manager, The Wildlife Trusts and ex Creative Director, A Focus On Nature, went on to say:

"Opportunities for young people to connect with, understand and immerse themselves in the natural world have diminished over the past century, however the SOC and IoMBO has bucked the trend and is offering a high-quality, fun and popular opportunity for young people to learn new skills, make new friends and make the most of inter-generational mentoring relationships. These are the scientists, nature-lovers, conservationists and birders of the future, and the SOC and Isle of May Bird Observatory are setting a high bar for other organisations around the country to now replicate what they've achieved - and in just a few short years”,

Working in partnership, SOC and IoMBO draw upon the talents of highly experienced bird ringers, researchers and surveyors and ensure that participants receive first class expert tuition in an unrivalled and unique setting. With additional teaching and support provided by Scottish Natural Heritage and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology staff, YBTC also provides a network of contacts to assist participants on their journey.

The Isle of May Bird Observatory is delighted that the YBTC has been recognised for making an important contribution in the career development of future wildlife monitors/recorders and conservationists, and in the subsequent encouragement to other organisations to do likewise. I offer thanks and congratulations to the course leaders and to the members of SNH and CEH who have made a major contribution to the success of the course on the island,” Ian Darling, IoMBO Trust Chairman.

So far thirty young birdwatchers have taken part in the course which is funded by the SOC thanks to generous past members and supporters who have left legacies to the Club. To read about the impact the course has had on participants, click here

Investing in a future generation of conservationists, bird recorders and surveyors is, in my opinion, an excellent use of the Club’s funds. Not only are we helping equip these young people with the skills which will help stand them apart in an employment setting, we’re working to address the seemingly widening gap between today’s young people and nature. One of the greatest legacies of the course has been the stimulation of related-organisations to introduce and establish similar initiatives”, Jane Cleaver, SOC Development Officer.

The winners in each award category will be announced at a black-tie Presentation Dinner taking place at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Edinburgh on 22 November 2018. The awards will be hosted by TV presenter, writer and naturalist, Kate Humble, and BBC TV and radio presenter, Euan McIlwraith.

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Last July, six more young birders set sail for the Isle of May to take part in the SOC/Isle of May Bird Observatory's, 'Young Birders' Training Course' 2017. Here's how they got on on their island adventure...

SATURDAY 1 JULY 

Following first introductions on a lovely sunny morning in Anstruther, our group set off on a wet and windy journey by RIB across choppy waters to the Isle of May. As we got closer we found ourselves surrounded by Puffins (I’d never seen so many at once). Upon arrival at Kirkhaven harbour, we were greeted by the raucous shrills of nesting Arctic Terns, and spotted a chick or two amongst the rocks. We ambled along Holyman’s Road to our cosy accommodation at the Low Light where we unpacked, set up our telescopes and had our first lunch on the Isle of May. 

After lunch we had a visit from the CEH Isle of May Field Manager, Mark Newell. Mark gave us a rundown on the seabird research undertaken on the island and prepared us for our taster week of daily life on the May. Next, we were treated to a tour of the island, visiting Burnett’s Leap with a view to Rona, and then up to Three Tarn Nick on the North Plateau where we saw Razorbills as close as two metres away. We visited the Heligoland Traps to see if they were working, and found a Chiffchaff and four juvenile Pied Wagtails, which allowed us our first ringing demonstration. Then finally off to the Low Light for pizza. Not a bad start to the week! 

Emma Anderson

 

SUNDAY 2 JULY 

Tern Boxes © Hannah Lemon

Another glorious day on the Isle of May. Today we took shifts in the hide near Low Light so we could record Puffin feeding rates. I arrived at 8am for my shift, and before long I spotted my first Puffin scuttling into its burrow with a mouth full of fish. It was at that point I realised the next two hours were going to be a lot of fun. I had thought the Puffin’s ‘flying brick’ type flight pattern was comical but it is nothing compared to their ridiculous penguin-like run. I’ll be honest, it’s only day two and I’ve already fallen in love with this place. I saw two Pufflings brave the outside world to stretch their wings before retreating back to the safety of their burrow. Some of the Puffins came up really close to the hide which was great as it meant I got to hear their very sweet grumbling noises. 

After my stint in the hide I went off to join the rest of the group while they were building tern huts. We’re learning so many different skills out here, I never thought when I applied for a birding course that I would be measuring, sawing and hammering wood.

After this we all headed out to do a bit of habitat restoration. We weeded out a lot of nettles in various places so we were able to put up some mist nets. That evening we managed to get a few juvenile Starlings, juvenile Pied Wagtails and a Swallow in the mist net. We’re still all a bit apprehensive about ringing but I’m sure our confidence will grow. 

Hannah Lemon 

 

MONDAY 3 JULY  

After breakfast we headed to Fluke Street to open the moth trap, which yielded two moths. It was bright and sunny while we checked the walls towards the south of the island for any Pufflings that had gotten stuck during the night on their descent to the sea. Next we got our waterproofs on in preparation for our trip to Rona. Not for inclement weather, but to protect us from the predicted shower of gull excrement we’d endure whilst searching the undergrowth and rocks for Great Black-backed Gull chicks. Any unringed chicks were fitted with metal rings alongside a coloured ring with a visible short code which allows researchers to record the movements and success of chicks, data which is used by SNH to monitor the population. 

After lunch we met with Mark to do some ‘Puffin grovelling’. This meant sticking our arms down Puffin burrows to pull out the chicks to ring them. This was very hit and miss - some burrows were full of water from the rain the previous week, some had inches of excrement which was unavoidable as your arm went into the burrow. Others had very long burrows, too long for an arm to reach the chick at the end. I was fortunate in the burrows I checked and managed to retrieve three chicks plus one adult. Mark Newell told us about the concrete Puffin boxes which had been installed on the island when burrow space had become limited one year. However during the winter there was a mass mortality resulting in a considerable reduction in the Puffin population size, meaning that the boxes were no longer necessary. No Puffin pairs had successfully bred using these boxes until this year; box AO contained a Puffling which was the first to be hatched. Lewis ringed the Puffling then we put it back into the box - what an honour!

After this we had an ‘essential skills’ session with Stuart followed by some free time. I wandered down to Altarstanes, probably my favourite part of the island and a good place to look up at the cliffs and their inhabitants.  

Later that evening we donned our coats for some Puffin netting. We had to run down to the net when a Puffin had been caught to pick up the fish they had dropped and then take the Puffin to be ringed before release. We did this until it got towards dusk, then went to the south of the island to watch Guillemot chicks jumping into the sea, or ‘fledging’. Emotions ran high whilst watching this; seeing the small, fluffy chicks jumping from such a height into the inky water below was nail-biting stuff. Thankfully all the chicks made it down alright whilst we were watching. It was very late by the time we got back to the Low Light, and quickly got into bed to make the most the time we had to sleep before the 04:30am start the following day.

Amy Hall


TUESDAY 4 JULY 

Tuesday began early, despite staying up until after 23:00 the night before watching Guillemot jumplings. Our 04:30 rise and 05:00 start were justified by the chance to help CEH members with their dietary study of Puffins. Birds were to be caught with mist-nets on their return journeys from the sea to their burrows, dropping their edible prizes in the process. Running to the birds was key not only for their welfare, but also to deter opportunistic gulls that would otherwise be onto the fish in a flash. Catching double figures of birds gave us all a chance to ring at least one adult, alongside the usual Pufflings that we rescued from beside the customary wall each morning. A novelty for that Independence Day afternoon was a tern feeding watch; in pairs, we were to monitor two randomly chosen Arctic Tern nests and the only Sandwich Tern nest with a chick, tallying up the incoming feeds for one hour. My partner drew a blank with his Arctics, but my Sandwich chick got one feed exactly halfway through our slot, so at least I had something to write!

Alexandros Adamoulas 


WEDNESDAY 5 JULY 

We started off today by visiting the moth trap down at Fluke Street - our moth ID skills are improving each day. Next we searched for Pufflings which had got lost in the nettles while trying to fledge overnight. We came across seven Pufflings this morning, I find this job very rewarding because without our help these Pufflings would not have survived. Next we helped with tern chick recording. With each chick we found, we picked it up and either read out the ring number or took it to be ringed. We were able to see tern chicks of all different ages which I found really interesting as we were able to see the age progression.

Later that day we went back and ringed the Puffin chicks we had found that morning, everyone seems to be becoming far more confident with the ringing which has been great to see. After this we headed off to ring Kittiwake chicks which was enjoyable as the chicks were very sweet and fluffy.  

Stuart then took us round to see the south end of the island where we got some really impressive views, it feels very calm round that end of the island. Later that day we set up a huge mist net so we could hopefully catch some storm petrels that night. We stayed up until 2:30am and in that time we did manage to catch a storm petrel which was very exciting!

Hannah

 

THURSDAY 6 JULY

The Storm Petrel caught on the Thursday
evening/Friday morning © Lewis Hooper

After a long late night of Storm Petrel ringing, the morning got off to a slower start with everyone falling out of bed at around 8:30am. The first activity of the day was to go through the moth box we had put out the night before. Emptying the box and identifying all the moths had become an eagerly anticipated activity most mornings, especially amongst a select few who were seemingly becoming experts as the week progressed. I personally wouldn’t have put myself down as being overly keen on moths, however, I found myself growing to love it and that morning Alison and I were the first to dive in. Key species we were growing to know included Dark Arches and The Spectacle, while the Beautiful Golden Y were present in numbers as well as some new species for the week including Burnished Brass and Large Yellow Underwings. 

Our hands-on work with the birds and any work off the main paths comes to a halt whilst visitors are on the island so as not to encourage them to wander from the paths. Instead time was put towards creating nest boxes for the terns. The tern chicks are easy prey for the larger gulls on the island and so providing the young with places to shelter reduces the predation risk massively. After already completing half the boxes earlier we soon turned the final two sheets of plywood into another 13 nest boxes. This made our 26 boxes for the week, more than last year’s young birders by one box…. not that it is a competition ! 

The weather was panning out to be a nice night for another Storm Petrel ringing session, however before this was the main event of the year, the quiz. The observatory was split into two teams and so was Fluke Street. After several rounds of tough questions, including a ‘bird’ round of course, everyone showed their strengths (and weaknesses) and the observatory came first. With some added drinks this kind of social event really encompasses the family spirit on the island. Sometimes it is not always easy living in such an enclosed environment but with everyone sharing a common interest and passion for birds and conservation at no point did I or anyone feel out of place or unwelcome. 

Last but not least was another night of Storm Petrel ringing, which although an amazing experience to be able to see these stunning, charismatic little sea birds up close, it is also very draining staying up until 3am for the second night in a row. Some did not make it all the way through the night, but everyone managed a look at the one individual we caught. With standard views of Storm Petrels being 100m off shore in stormy conditions, having one in your hand is just incredible.  

Lewis Hooper


FRIDAY 7 JULY 

Gull chick ringing © Ally Lemon

We were off to help Bex do some more gull chick ringing. This was no mean feat, a small group of larger chicks were pretty wary of us and if we got too close they would just go into a large pool of water. In the end it took us all staged at various points around the pool to get the chicks back to dry land and a few of us were army crawling (me included) and hiding in ‘ambush’ as the chicks were walked towards us. Let me tell you it is not easy staying upright when you are trying to get across slippy rocks quickly, but we did it and lying flat on my stomach strewn across the rocks, I caught the chick that needed ringed. Woo, Go Team!

We headed up to the main lighthouse to have a look at the archaeological exhibition that has been on show since May. We then had a session with the SNH team to hear about what had led them to this point in their career. It was really interesting to hear about the variety of ways in which people got involved in the conservation sector and ended up being on the Isle of May. 

Our last evening on the island, what should we do? Well of course have a ceilidh! Simon from SNH was able to provide the music and it was up to the Scot’s to remember the routines. We got there in the end and everyone seemed to enjoy ceilidh dancing as it was some of the group’s first experience of Scottish dancing. It was a great way to end a fantastic week just the tidying and cleaning to go tomorrow….

Ally 

 

SATURDAY 8 JULY 
On the last day of an active week, we had a short but eventful morning. As well as cleaning and tidying the Low Light for the next lodgers, we wrapped up our final thoughts on the week’s events in the Chatty Log. And, as a bonus activity, we investigated a Rock Pipit nest and ringed three (very cute) chicks, before setting off to Kirkhaven to say farewell. We watched the Isle of May grow smaller behind us as we set off, and released a Puffling passenger into the waves, before arriving at the last destination on the week’s journey, a (yet again) sunny Anstruther. 

Emma

 

Useful Links: 

Find out more about how the SOC tries to support and develop young ornithologists. 

VISIT OUR YOUNG BIRDERS PAGE

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Last July, six more young birders set sail for the Isle of May to take part in the SOC/Isle of May Bird Observatory's, 'Young Birders' Training Course' 2017. Here's how they got on on their island adventure...

SATURDAY 1 JULY 

Following first introductions on a lovely sunny morning in Anstruther, our group set off on a wet and windy journey by RIB across choppy waters to the Isle of May. As we got closer we found ourselves surrounded by Puffins (I’d never seen so many at once). Upon arrival at Kirkhaven harbour, we were greeted by the raucous shrills of nesting Arctic Terns, and spotted a chick or two amongst the rocks. We ambled along Holyman’s Road to our cosy accommodation at the Low Light where we unpacked, set up our telescopes and had our first lunch on the Isle of May. 

After lunch we had a visit from the CEH Isle of May Field Manager, Mark Newell. Mark gave us a rundown on the seabird research undertaken on the island and prepared us for our taster week of daily life on the May. Next, we were treated to a tour of the island, visiting Burnett’s Leap with a view to Rona, and then up to Three Tarn Nick on the North Plateau where we saw Razorbills as close as two metres away. We visited the Heligoland Traps to see if they were working, and found a Chiffchaff and four juvenile Pied Wagtails, which allowed us our first ringing demonstration. Then finally off to the Low Light for pizza. Not a bad start to the week! 

Emma Anderson

 

SUNDAY 2 JULY 

Tern Boxes © Hannah Lemon

Another glorious day on the Isle of May. Today we took shifts in the hide near Low Light so we could record Puffin feeding rates. I arrived at 8am for my shift, and before long I spotted my first Puffin scuttling into its burrow with a mouth full of fish. It was at that point I realised the next two hours were going to be a lot of fun. I had thought the Puffin’s ‘flying brick’ type flight pattern was comical but it is nothing compared to their ridiculous penguin-like run. I’ll be honest, it’s only day two and I’ve already fallen in love with this place. I saw two Pufflings brave the outside world to stretch their wings before retreating back to the safety of their burrow. Some of the Puffins came up really close to the hide which was great as it meant I got to hear their very sweet grumbling noises. 

After my stint in the hide I went off to join the rest of the group while they were building tern huts. We’re learning so many different skills out here, I never thought when I applied for a birding course that I would be measuring, sawing and hammering wood.

After this we all headed out to do a bit of habitat restoration. We weeded out a lot of nettles in various places so we were able to put up some mist nets. That evening we managed to get a few juvenile Starlings, juvenile Pied Wagtails and a Swallow in the mist net. We’re still all a bit apprehensive about ringing but I’m sure our confidence will grow. 

Hannah Lemon 

 

MONDAY 3 JULY  

After breakfast we headed to Fluke Street to open the moth trap, which yielded two moths. It was bright and sunny while we checked the walls towards the south of the island for any Pufflings that had gotten stuck during the night on their descent to the sea. Next we got our waterproofs on in preparation for our trip to Rona. Not for inclement weather, but to protect us from the predicted shower of gull excrement we’d endure whilst searching the undergrowth and rocks for Great Black-backed Gull chicks. Any unringed chicks were fitted with metal rings alongside a coloured ring with a visible short code which allows researchers to record the movements and success of chicks, data which is used by SNH to monitor the population. 

After lunch we met with Mark to do some ‘Puffin grovelling’. This meant sticking our arms down Puffin burrows to pull out the chicks to ring them. This was very hit and miss - some burrows were full of water from the rain the previous week, some had inches of excrement which was unavoidable as your arm went into the burrow. Others had very long burrows, too long for an arm to reach the chick at the end. I was fortunate in the burrows I checked and managed to retrieve three chicks plus one adult. Mark Newell told us about the concrete Puffin boxes which had been installed on the island when burrow space had become limited one year. However during the winter there was a mass mortality resulting in a considerable reduction in the Puffin population size, meaning that the boxes were no longer necessary. No Puffin pairs had successfully bred using these boxes until this year; box AO contained a Puffling which was the first to be hatched. Lewis ringed the Puffling then we put it back into the box - what an honour!

After this we had an ‘essential skills’ session with Stuart followed by some free time. I wandered down to Altarstanes, probably my favourite part of the island and a good place to look up at the cliffs and their inhabitants.  

Later that evening we donned our coats for some Puffin netting. We had to run down to the net when a Puffin had been caught to pick up the fish they had dropped and then take the Puffin to be ringed before release. We did this until it got towards dusk, then went to the south of the island to watch Guillemot chicks jumping into the sea, or ‘fledging’. Emotions ran high whilst watching this; seeing the small, fluffy chicks jumping from such a height into the inky water below was nail-biting stuff. Thankfully all the chicks made it down alright whilst we were watching. It was very late by the time we got back to the Low Light, and quickly got into bed to make the most the time we had to sleep before the 04:30am start the following day.

Amy Hall


TUESDAY 4 JULY 

Tuesday began early, despite staying up until after 23:00 the night before watching Guillemot jumplings. Our 04:30 rise and 05:00 start were justified by the chance to help CEH members with their dietary study of Puffins. Birds were to be caught with mist-nets on their return journeys from the sea to their burrows, dropping their edible prizes in the process. Running to the birds was key not only for their welfare, but also to deter opportunistic gulls that would otherwise be onto the fish in a flash. Catching double figures of birds gave us all a chance to ring at least one adult, alongside the usual Pufflings that we rescued from beside the customary wall each morning. A novelty for that Independence Day afternoon was a tern feeding watch; in pairs, we were to monitor two randomly chosen Arctic Tern nests and the only Sandwich Tern nest with a chick, tallying up the incoming feeds for one hour. My partner drew a blank with his Arctics, but my Sandwich chick got one feed exactly halfway through our slot, so at least I had something to write!

Alexandros Adamoulas 


WEDNESDAY 5 JULY 

We started off today by visiting the moth trap down at Fluke Street - our moth ID skills are improving each day. Next we searched for Pufflings which had got lost in the nettles while trying to fledge overnight. We came across seven Pufflings this morning, I find this job very rewarding because without our help these Pufflings would not have survived. Next we helped with tern chick recording. With each chick we found, we picked it up and either read out the ring number or took it to be ringed. We were able to see tern chicks of all different ages which I found really interesting as we were able to see the age progression.

Later that day we went back and ringed the Puffin chicks we had found that morning, everyone seems to be becoming far more confident with the ringing which has been great to see. After this we headed off to ring Kittiwake chicks which was enjoyable as the chicks were very sweet and fluffy.  

Stuart then took us round to see the south end of the island where we got some really impressive views, it feels very calm round that end of the island. Later that day we set up a huge mist net so we could hopefully catch some storm petrels that night. We stayed up until 2:30am and in that time we did manage to catch a storm petrel which was very exciting!

Hannah

 

THURSDAY 6 JULY

The Storm Petrel caught on the Thursday
evening/Friday morning © Lewis Hooper

After a long late night of Storm Petrel ringing, the morning got off to a slower start with everyone falling out of bed at around 8:30am. The first activity of the day was to go through the moth box we had put out the night before. Emptying the box and identifying all the moths had become an eagerly anticipated activity most mornings, especially amongst a select few who were seemingly becoming experts as the week progressed. I personally wouldn’t have put myself down as being overly keen on moths, however, I found myself growing to love it and that morning Alison and I were the first to dive in. Key species we were growing to know included Dark Arches and The Spectacle, while the Beautiful Golden Y were present in numbers as well as some new species for the week including Burnished Brass and Large Yellow Underwings. 

Our hands-on work with the birds and any work off the main paths comes to a halt whilst visitors are on the island so as not to encourage them to wander from the paths. Instead time was put towards creating nest boxes for the terns. The tern chicks are easy prey for the larger gulls on the island and so providing the young with places to shelter reduces the predation risk massively. After already completing half the boxes earlier we soon turned the final two sheets of plywood into another 13 nest boxes. This made our 26 boxes for the week, more than last year’s young birders by one box…. not that it is a competition ! 

The weather was panning out to be a nice night for another Storm Petrel ringing session, however before this was the main event of the year, the quiz. The observatory was split into two teams and so was Fluke Street. After several rounds of tough questions, including a ‘bird’ round of course, everyone showed their strengths (and weaknesses) and the observatory came first. With some added drinks this kind of social event really encompasses the family spirit on the island. Sometimes it is not always easy living in such an enclosed environment but with everyone sharing a common interest and passion for birds and conservation at no point did I or anyone feel out of place or unwelcome. 

Last but not least was another night of Storm Petrel ringing, which although an amazing experience to be able to see these stunning, charismatic little sea birds up close, it is also very draining staying up until 3am for the second night in a row. Some did not make it all the way through the night, but everyone managed a look at the one individual we caught. With standard views of Storm Petrels being 100m off shore in stormy conditions, having one in your hand is just incredible.  

Lewis Hooper


FRIDAY 7 JULY 

Gull chick ringing © Ally Lemon

We were off to help Bex do some more gull chick ringing. This was no mean feat, a small group of larger chicks were pretty wary of us and if we got too close they would just go into a large pool of water. In the end it took us all staged at various points around the pool to get the chicks back to dry land and a few of us were army crawling (me included) and hiding in ‘ambush’ as the chicks were walked towards us. Let me tell you it is not easy staying upright when you are trying to get across slippy rocks quickly, but we did it and lying flat on my stomach strewn across the rocks, I caught the chick that needed ringed. Woo, Go Team!

We headed up to the main lighthouse to have a look at the archaeological exhibition that has been on show since May. We then had a session with the SNH team to hear about what had led them to this point in their career. It was really interesting to hear about the variety of ways in which people got involved in the conservation sector and ended up being on the Isle of May. 

Our last evening on the island, what should we do? Well of course have a ceilidh! Simon from SNH was able to provide the music and it was up to the Scot’s to remember the routines. We got there in the end and everyone seemed to enjoy ceilidh dancing as it was some of the group’s first experience of Scottish dancing. It was a great way to end a fantastic week just the tidying and cleaning to go tomorrow….

Ally 

 

SATURDAY 8 JULY 
On the last day of an active week, we had a short but eventful morning. As well as cleaning and tidying the Low Light for the next lodgers, we wrapped up our final thoughts on the week’s events in the Chatty Log. And, as a bonus activity, we investigated a Rock Pipit nest and ringed three (very cute) chicks, before setting off to Kirkhaven to say farewell. We watched the Isle of May grow smaller behind us as we set off, and released a Puffling passenger into the waves, before arriving at the last destination on the week’s journey, a (yet again) sunny Anstruther. 

Emma

 

Useful Links: 

Find out more about how the SOC tries to support and develop young ornithologists. 

VISIT OUR YOUNG BIRDERS PAGE

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Sadly, our current exhibitions coordinator, Dave Allan, retires at the end of March 2018, after thirteen years working for the Club. As well as organising year after year of first class wildlife art exhibitions, Dave is also the face of Waterston House at weekends, welcoming regular and first-time visitors with his well-known hospitality and his expert knowledge of birds and optics! Indeed, many local members and non-members will know Dave from having participated on HQ’s popular guided walks for beginners, which Dave organises and leads. He will be sorely missed by staff, volunteers and visitors alike but we all wish him a much deserved very happy retirement, which will no doubt involve even more birding!

In the meantime, of course, we are busy taking applications for a new Art Exhibitions Coordinator. 

Download vacancy details:

WORD DOCUMENT PDF FILE

Gallery image © Steve Cox

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Sadly, our current exhibitions coordinator, Dave Allan, retires at the end of March 2018, after thirteen years working for the Club. As well as organising year after year of first class wildlife art exhibitions, Dave is also the face of Waterston House at weekends, welcoming regular and first-time visitors with his well-known hospitality and his expert knowledge of birds and optics! Indeed, many local members and non-members will know Dave from having participated on HQ’s popular guided walks for beginners, which Dave organises and leads. He will be sorely missed by staff, volunteers and visitors alike but we all wish him a much deserved very happy retirement, which will no doubt involve even more birding!

In the meantime, of course, we are busy taking applications for a new Art Exhibitions Coordinator. 

Download vacancy details:

WORD DOCUMENT PDF FILE

Gallery image © Steve Cox

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With spring on the doorstep thoughts are turning to the breeding season and the chance to chart the progress of the breeding birds of Scotland. Many of you will be out monitoring your favourite species or sites, and hopefully submitting all your records to the local SOC bird recorder.

The UK Rare Breeding Birds Panel collates and reports on the status of the rarer breeding birds across the UK. A rare breeder is classified as a species with fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs in the UK. You may have seen the Panel’s annual reports in British Birds; the most recent covered 2014 was published in September 2016. The RBBP Secretary is currently (March 2017) busy processing all the data received for 2015, ready for the next report, and come the summer calls will be made to SOC recorders for their 2016 data, so if you have not sent your records for last breeding season in yet, please do it soon so that they are available to the recorders for inclusion in their annual submission.

But back to this year. Both SOC and the RBBP encourage you to submit all your records on BirdTrack and this recommendation includes records of rare breeding birds. (Note that if you feel a species or site is sensitive and you want the recorder to know that, you can flag the record as sensitive). We are not only looking for records of confirmed breeding (such as nests with young, recently fledged young or adults carrying food for young) but also records of probable breeding (pairs in breeding habitat, nest building, territorial or display behaviour) and possible breeding (singing birds or simply individuals in breeding habitat during the breeding season). Migrating birds, clearly on passage, would not be counted as breeding but with rare species remember anything can happen and a migrant may choose to stay and hold a territory (Marsh Warblers and Red-backed Shrikes have done this in recent years). So even though a pair of Garganey in April or early May are likely to be birds on passage, a single male later on at a site where a pair was present earlier might indicate possible breeding, and other records later in May or June might be sufficient to raise the level to probable breeding. The same criteria go for ‘resident’ species such as Wigeon, Shoveler and Pochard – lone males seen in late May or early June when a pair was present earlier, could well represent a breeding pair. Go back and look for a brood with the female later! To help the recorder interpret these records, you can see how important it is to give a separate count of both sexes, and of small young – BirdTrack has facilities to enter this, or if you are using the BirdTrack app on a smartphone, you can put the details in a comment.

It is also incredibly useful to recorders to understand the level of breeding evidence and to determine how many pairs are breeding, or potentially breeding, at a site, if the breeding evidence code is entered on BirdTrack – these are the same codes as used in Atlas projects so will be familiar to most of you, and in any case BirdTrack offers you a choice from drop-down menu, even on the app.

Not all of the species on the list are rare from a Scottish perspective and although many of them receive extra protection during the breeding season through Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, their presence in breeding habitat can often be monitored from a safe distance without disturbing the birds. As always, follow the Birdwatchers’ Code of Conduct and put the welfare of the birds and their nests first. There is absolutely no need to approach the birds closely to take a photograph, and anyone deliberately going close to a nest is in contravention of the law and could face prosecution.

A final comment. There are some species which, though on the RBBP list, are poorly recorded, and Scotland holds important populations of these birds. For birders in SW Scotland, any record of Willow Tit from March through to July is relevant (and can be at least assigned to birds in breeding habitat) and early spring in any wooded part of Scotland is the best time to locate displaying Goshawks. Our knowledge of the population of Goshawks is limited because most records received by the RBBP relate to nesting pairs monitored by licensed raptor workers, but any birdwatcher can help by reporting any bird seen in nesting habitat. And then there is a suite of species which are under-recorded in the breeding season. Wigeon has been mentioned but other poorly recorded water birds are Goldeneye, Red- and Black-throated Divers, waders such as Greenshank and Whimbrel, and Snow Bunting. All records of both Long- and Short-eared Owls in breeding habitat from April to July are also invaluable in assessing the total breeding population.

Diligent observers may be the first to find breeding Little Egrets or Cetti’s Warbler in Scotland!

We wish you all the best in your endeavours to track breeding birds in Scotland and the RBBP looks forward to including the results of your time in the field in our annual summaries. Mark Holling, the RBBP Secretary, would like to thank all birdwatchers and SOC recorders in Scotland for their important contributions – without your efforts the RBBP could not do its important work for the conservation of birds. If you would like to know more about the work of the RBBP, take a look at www.rbbp.org.uk, where you can find a full list of species covered by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel.

Mark Holling, RBBP Secretary

Short-eared Owl by Laurie Campbell

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With spring on the doorstep thoughts are turning to the breeding season and the chance to chart the progress of the breeding birds of Scotland. Many of you will be out monitoring your favourite species or sites, and hopefully submitting all your records to the local SOC bird recorder.

The UK Rare Breeding Birds Panel collates and reports on the status of the rarer breeding birds across the UK. A rare breeder is classified as a species with fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs in the UK. You may have seen the Panel’s annual reports in British Birds; the most recent covered 2014 was published in September 2016. The RBBP Secretary is currently (March 2017) busy processing all the data received for 2015, ready for the next report, and come the summer calls will be made to SOC recorders for their 2016 data, so if you have not sent your records for last breeding season in yet, please do it soon so that they are available to the recorders for inclusion in their annual submission.

But back to this year. Both SOC and the RBBP encourage you to submit all your records on BirdTrack and this recommendation includes records of rare breeding birds. (Note that if you feel a species or site is sensitive and you want the recorder to know that, you can flag the record as sensitive). We are not only looking for records of confirmed breeding (such as nests with young, recently fledged young or adults carrying food for young) but also records of probable breeding (pairs in breeding habitat, nest building, territorial or display behaviour) and possible breeding (singing birds or simply individuals in breeding habitat during the breeding season). Migrating birds, clearly on passage, would not be counted as breeding but with rare species remember anything can happen and a migrant may choose to stay and hold a territory (Marsh Warblers and Red-backed Shrikes have done this in recent years). So even though a pair of Garganey in April or early May are likely to be birds on passage, a single male later on at a site where a pair was present earlier might indicate possible breeding, and other records later in May or June might be sufficient to raise the level to probable breeding. The same criteria go for ‘resident’ species such as Wigeon, Shoveler and Pochard – lone males seen in late May or early June when a pair was present earlier, could well represent a breeding pair. Go back and look for a brood with the female later! To help the recorder interpret these records, you can see how important it is to give a separate count of both sexes, and of small young – BirdTrack has facilities to enter this, or if you are using the BirdTrack app on a smartphone, you can put the details in a comment.

It is also incredibly useful to recorders to understand the level of breeding evidence and to determine how many pairs are breeding, or potentially breeding, at a site, if the breeding evidence code is entered on BirdTrack – these are the same codes as used in Atlas projects so will be familiar to most of you, and in any case BirdTrack offers you a choice from drop-down menu, even on the app.

Not all of the species on the list are rare from a Scottish perspective and although many of them receive extra protection during the breeding season through Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, their presence in breeding habitat can often be monitored from a safe distance without disturbing the birds. As always, follow the Birdwatchers’ Code of Conduct and put the welfare of the birds and their nests first. There is absolutely no need to approach the birds closely to take a photograph, and anyone deliberately going close to a nest is in contravention of the law and could face prosecution.

A final comment. There are some species which, though on the RBBP list, are poorly recorded, and Scotland holds important populations of these birds. For birders in SW Scotland, any record of Willow Tit from March through to July is relevant (and can be at least assigned to birds in breeding habitat) and early spring in any wooded part of Scotland is the best time to locate displaying Goshawks. Our knowledge of the population of Goshawks is limited because most records received by the RBBP relate to nesting pairs monitored by licensed raptor workers, but any birdwatcher can help by reporting any bird seen in nesting habitat. And then there is a suite of species which are under-recorded in the breeding season. Wigeon has been mentioned but other poorly recorded water birds are Goldeneye, Red- and Black-throated Divers, waders such as Greenshank and Whimbrel, and Snow Bunting. All records of both Long- and Short-eared Owls in breeding habitat from April to July are also invaluable in assessing the total breeding population.

Diligent observers may be the first to find breeding Little Egrets or Cetti’s Warbler in Scotland!

We wish you all the best in your endeavours to track breeding birds in Scotland and the RBBP looks forward to including the results of your time in the field in our annual summaries. Mark Holling, the RBBP Secretary, would like to thank all birdwatchers and SOC recorders in Scotland for their important contributions – without your efforts the RBBP could not do its important work for the conservation of birds. If you would like to know more about the work of the RBBP, take a look at www.rbbp.org.uk, where you can find a full list of species covered by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel.

Mark Holling, RBBP Secretary

Short-eared Owl by Laurie Campbell

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Every spring/summer, Angus Murray of Birdline Scotland provides Headquarters with an often daily (or even more frequent!) update of the latest migrant birds to touch down on Scottish soil, by recording area.

The information is copied to an online table available to view on the website here , where you’ll also find details of how to submit your migrant sightings.

Now in its 14th year of running, the table is a useful tool in allowing comparisons between years and allows you to find out dates for when the first Swallow or Osprey was reported for example, and in which area. Details of particularly interesting or notable arrivals are often posted as small news pieces on the Club’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Spring migrants, 2017

Winter 2016-17 was overall fairly mild and benign in Scotland with wintering migrants reported including Manx Shearwater and Sandwich Tern both in the Firth of Forth, Whimbrel (Argyll, D&G and Fife), Common Sandpiper (Argyll), several Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroat (Highland).

Spring migration started off with some very early records with the first migrants being around two weeks earlier than normal. South/southwesterly winds on the weekend of 11th-12th March especially saw some early dates, most notably up to seven Garganey at WWT Caerlaverock (D&G). A remarkable series of House Martin reports also resulted from this between the 12th-15th with four birds seen, all on west coast islands and all being the earliest ever for their respective recording areas, Clyde Islands, Argyll, Highland and Outer Hebrides. Indeed the one on Arran (Clyde Islands) on 12th equals the previous early date for Scotland, three at Tweedbank (Borders) on 12th March 2006. The only other published mid March records of House Martin in Scotland are three different birds in Ayrshire on 15th March 1990 and one at RSPB Baron’s Haugh (Clyde) 16th March 1981. This is a species most Scottish birdwatchers wouldn’t normally expect to see until mid-late April though in recent years the first birds have been appearing earlier, in the last week of March/first week of April.

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Every spring/summer, Angus Murray of Birdline Scotland provides Headquarters with an often daily (or even more frequent!) update of the latest migrant birds to touch down on Scottish soil, by recording area.

The information is copied to an online table available to view on the website here , where you’ll also find details of how to submit your migrant sightings.

Now in its 14th year of running, the table is a useful tool in allowing comparisons between years and allows you to find out dates for when the first Swallow or Osprey was reported for example, and in which area. Details of particularly interesting or notable arrivals are often posted as small news pieces on the Club’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Spring migrants, 2017

Winter 2016-17 was overall fairly mild and benign in Scotland with wintering migrants reported including Manx Shearwater and Sandwich Tern both in the Firth of Forth, Whimbrel (Argyll, D&G and Fife), Common Sandpiper (Argyll), several Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroat (Highland).

Spring migration started off with some very early records with the first migrants being around two weeks earlier than normal. South/southwesterly winds on the weekend of 11th-12th March especially saw some early dates, most notably up to seven Garganey at WWT Caerlaverock (D&G). A remarkable series of House Martin reports also resulted from this between the 12th-15th with four birds seen, all on west coast islands and all being the earliest ever for their respective recording areas, Clyde Islands, Argyll, Highland and Outer Hebrides. Indeed the one on Arran (Clyde Islands) on 12th equals the previous early date for Scotland, three at Tweedbank (Borders) on 12th March 2006. The only other published mid March records of House Martin in Scotland are three different birds in Ayrshire on 15th March 1990 and one at RSPB Baron’s Haugh (Clyde) 16th March 1981. This is a species most Scottish birdwatchers wouldn’t normally expect to see until mid-late April though in recent years the first birds have been appearing earlier, in the last week of March/first week of April.

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Young Birders’ Training Course

Investing in the future of wild bird conservation

1 – 7 July 2017, Isle of May

It’s that time of year again when Scotland’s largest bird club, the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) and Britain’s oldest continuously accredited bird observatory, the Isle of May Bird Observatory (IoMBO) seek a further six promising young birdwatchers to take part in their Young Birders’ Training Course, a week-long funded training course, run by the SOC and the IoMBO, on the Isle of May this July.

Open to individuals aged 16–25 years, the Young Birders’ Training Course is the only course of its kind in the UK. It presents a unique opportunity for budding ornithologists’, both in its setting and teaching options. The successful applicants will gain invaluable first-hand practical experience of a wide range of bird survey skills and techniques and participants will be able to draw on the talents and knowledge of highly experienced bird ringers, researchers and surveyors.

The course itself will include a thorough introduction to the practice of recording birds and other wildlife, experience of species counts, monitoring, ringing, trapping, ageing and sexing birds, as well as opportunities to participate in activities such as visible migration watches and co-ordinated sea-watching counts. Outwith the scope of most university curricula, these skills are essential attributes for those embarking on a career or role in wildlife recording, surveying and conservation.

The Isle of May, which lies five miles off the Fife coast, nestles in the mouth of the Firth of Forth, and is a wonderful backdrop for the course. The island is one of Scotland’s National Nature Reserves, managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and protected by European and UK legislation because of its internationally and nationally important seabird and Grey Seal colonies.

The lucky participants will have the chance to find out more about the island’s rich cultural history and to sample bird observatory life, with accommodation for the duration of their stay being provided within the refurbished ‘Low Light’, a former lighthouse.

This course will not only provide a platform for participants to pursue a future in wildlife monitoring and conservation, but a network of contacts to assist the students on their journey.

The application form for the course can be downloaded from the SOC website here or obtained by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . The closing date for completed applications is 5pm, Monday 1st May 2017. Completed forms should be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or posted to: Jane Cleaver (Confidential), SOC, Waterston House, Aberlady, EH32 0PY.

Images courtesy of Harry Martin (top), Radina Atanasova (middle) and Stuart Rivers (bottom).

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Young Birders’ Training Course

Investing in the future of wild bird conservation

1 – 7 July 2017, Isle of May

It’s that time of year again when Scotland’s largest bird club, the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) and Britain’s oldest continuously accredited bird observatory, the Isle of May Bird Observatory (IoMBO) seek a further six promising young birdwatchers to take part in their Young Birders’ Training Course, a week-long funded training course, run by the SOC and the IoMBO, on the Isle of May this July.

Open to individuals aged 16–25 years, the Young Birders’ Training Course is the only course of its kind in the UK. It presents a unique opportunity for budding ornithologists’, both in its setting and teaching options. The successful applicants will gain invaluable first-hand practical experience of a wide range of bird survey skills and techniques and participants will be able to draw on the talents and knowledge of highly experienced bird ringers, researchers and surveyors.

The course itself will include a thorough introduction to the practice of recording birds and other wildlife, experience of species counts, monitoring, ringing, trapping, ageing and sexing birds, as well as opportunities to participate in activities such as visible migration watches and co-ordinated sea-watching counts. Outwith the scope of most university curricula, these skills are essential attributes for those embarking on a career or role in wildlife recording, surveying and conservation.

The Isle of May, which lies five miles off the Fife coast, nestles in the mouth of the Firth of Forth, and is a wonderful backdrop for the course. The island is one of Scotland’s National Nature Reserves, managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and protected by European and UK legislation because of its internationally and nationally important seabird and Grey Seal colonies.

The lucky participants will have the chance to find out more about the island’s rich cultural history and to sample bird observatory life, with accommodation for the duration of their stay being provided within the refurbished ‘Low Light’, a former lighthouse.

This course will not only provide a platform for participants to pursue a future in wildlife monitoring and conservation, but a network of contacts to assist the students on their journey.

The application form for the course can be downloaded from the SOC website here or obtained by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . The closing date for completed applications is 5pm, Monday 1st May 2017. Completed forms should be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or posted to: Jane Cleaver (Confidential), SOC, Waterston House, Aberlady, EH32 0PY.

Images courtesy of Harry Martin (top), Radina Atanasova (middle) and Stuart Rivers (bottom).

[jcfields] => Array ( ) )
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Young Birders’ Training Course Investing in the future of wild bird conservation 1 – 7 July 2017, Isle of

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SOC brings together like-minded individuals with a passion for birds, nature and conservation through a programme of talks, outings, conferences and via the Club’s quarterly journal, Scottish Birds.