A fleeting visit to the Jewel of the Forth

My Dutch friends from Shetland, Melvin and Fiona stopped in at Loch Leven this weekend on their way home after 2 months of filming and photography up north.  With the forecast looking favourable, and one more day of their stay in Scotland still to go, we took the opportunity to launch their Zodiac and set off for the Isle of May NNR, with the hope of photographing one or two of the Grey Seal pups.

Living quarters on Fluke Street, with the Stevenson lighthouse and the Beacon beyond. Although no longer in use, the Beacon is Britain's oldest lighthouse, dating back to 1635.

Living quarters on Fluke Street, with the Stevenson lighthouse and the Beacon beyond. Although no longer in use, the Beacon is Britain’s oldest lighthouse, dating back to 1635.

IMG_9088

North Horn

North Horn

The Stevenson lighthouse, built in 1816 and still in operation today.

The Stevenson lighthouse, built in 1816 and still in operation today.

It was an opportunity for them to develop more content for their ongoing project entitled ‘In de Noordzee – In the North Sea’– a project designed to engage people with the rich diversity of life that exists in our shared sea, both here and in Europe.  With the number of pups expanding by the day, there was little doubt that we’d see them, but we did have to pick our landing spot carefully, so as to avoid disturbance to the seal colony.

Vegetation needs to be a bit thicker to hide behind than this!

Vegetation needs to be a bit thicker to hide behind than this!

Blink and you'll miss me?

Blink and you’ll miss me?

Nope, still here...

Nope, still here…

This pup struggled to get comfortable on these awkward bolders along the shore

This pup struggled to get comfortable on these awkward boulders along the shore

Another young pup taking a dip on Sunday, also watched closely and occasionally shepherded back to the rocks by Mum

Another young pup taking a dip on Sunday, also watched closely and occasionally shepherded back to the rocks by Mum

Time to dry off a bit after all that unnecessary excursion.

Time to dry off a bit after all that unnecessary exertion.

Mum gives her pup a good scratch

Mum gives her pup a good scratch

...and a wee nosy too!

…and a wee nosy too!

The placenta nearby would suggest a recent birth.

The placenta nearby would suggest a recent birth.

Big stretch!

Big stretch!

Mum keeps an eye on the photographers

Mum keeps an eye on the photographers

Fiona waits patiently for the photographers!

Fiona waits patiently for the photographers!

We landed in an area away from the seal colony so as to avoid disturbance.

We landed in an area away from the seal colony so as to avoid disturbance.

Once we found a safe place to land, we made our way up to Fluke Street to meet reserve manager David Steel, who had also just welcomed to the island a group of 10 Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) scientists over to monitor the seal population over the next couple of months.  For more information from the Isle of May NNR, follow Steely’s blog, which is packed full of information and regularly updated as he goes about his day-to-day business on the island.

This Goldcrest had already been trapped and ringed, but was obviously not put off by the experience.

This Goldcrest had already been trapped and ringed, but was obviously not put off by the experience.

Still happily hopping about in the vegetation of the heligoland trap

Still happily hopping about in the vegetation of the heligoland trap

With the clocks going back, we only had time to say a quick hello, a cuppa tea, a few glimpses of some of the more visible pups around the island, a quick look in the garden (1 Redwing, 1 Blackcap, 6+ Goldcrests), then back to the boat.

On our way around the east side of the island we were joined by as many as 100 seals, all following the boat along the shoreline and keen to stick with us all the way around the island!  I also spotted a couple of Short-eared Owls from the boat, which I was particularly happy to have managed a record shot of.

A record shot of one of the 2 Short-eared Owls spotted from the boat as we departed.

A record shot of one of the 2 Short-eared Owls spotted from the boat as we departed.

The island is now closed to visitors for the winter, but the May Princess will be back in action next April, and if you’ve never been over before I can thoroughly recommend a visit.

The usual landing area at Kirkhaven has been taken over for the breeding season.

The usual landing area at Kirkhaven has been taken over for the breeding season.

A minor hiccup at the end of an otherwise super day was the lack of water in Crail harbour when we returned.  A long wait for the tide to come back in for us to get the boat out of the water led to us seeing the second half of the rugby, and Melvin and Fiona getting to sample the joys of an Anstruther Fish Bar supper!  Win win!

About Craig.Nisbet

Reserve Officer Loch Leven National Nature Reserve Scottish Natural Heritage
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