Feb 212024

Isle of May Nature Reserve, Anstruther KY10 3XB 

Stone lighthouse on a green rocky hill with gulls in the foreground and grey skies in the background.
The Stevenson Lighthouse on the Isle of May
©Magnus Hagdorn, Wikimedia Commons

As of 1956, the Isle of May is one of Scotland’s 45 National Nature Reserves and belongs to NatureScot. The island is only accessible by boats which depart from each side of the Firth of Forth (North Berwick or Anstruther) and visitors can stay only 2.5 hours on land in order to minimize disturbance to the colony. A warden, assistant warden, volunteers and several researchers monitoring many aspects of the local wildlife live for up to 9 months a year on the island.

Profile photo of two black and white puffins with red-orange beaks and feet standing on a rock against a blue backdrop.
Two Atlantic Puffins

Notably, the island is home to the biggest Scottish puffin colony! From cliff-breeding seabirds such as guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars to cormorants, Arctic terns or sea ducks such as Eiders, the island boasts many observable species. The island is also famous for its lighthouses. One was built in 1816 by Robert Stevenson, architect of many Scottish lighthouses and grandfather of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson; the other was built in 1843 and has now converted into a bird observatory.

Six brown and white birds sitting on a rocky ledge covered in white guano.
A group of Common Guillemots
©Boaworm, Wikimedia Commons

Sources: Individual Researcher Walk; NatureScot; Isle of May National Nature Reserve’s blog

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Feb 162024

Isle of May Nature Reserve, Anstruther KY10 3XB 

White lighthouse on a rocky coastline with greens in the foreground and blue skies and sea in the background.
The Isle of May Bird Observatory
©Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1934 in one of the two lighthouses of the island, the Isle of May Bird Observatory is Scotland’s oldest bird observatory. The Isle of May was and still is a key location for the study of birds, particularly the understanding of bird migration. It is notably where the two ornithologists and founders of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, Evelyn V. Baxter and Leonora J. Rintoul, conducted fundamental work in the early 20th century to study birds’ migration. You can learn more about their findings in the 1918 publication ‘The Birds of the Isle of May: a migration study’ in the journal from the British Ornithologists’ Union. The observatory is still running today and contributes to the monitoring of birds migrating over Scotland. 


Individual Researcher Walk; Isle of May Bird Observatory; Scottish Seabird Centre; Scottish Ornithologists’ Club

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