The Isle Of May

A greeting card featuring two puffins on a rock, one sitting and one standing, and text 'To A Loyal Friend'

This card ‘Loyalty’ is from our Friendship range. The two puffins are perching on a rock on the Isle of May. It’s an island that my wife Tamara and I visited in 2012. I went again in 2015 to look at and photograph puffins.

The Isle Of May is a little sliver of an island, just one-and-a-half kilometres long. It is located in the mouth of the Firth of Forth. The island is much nearer to the north side of the Firth, so it’s quite a journey to get there, setting off from Berwick on the southern shore.

Beyond the mouth of the Firth of Forth you are out into the North Sea. So there’s a real sense of being out with elemental nature when you go out to the island.

As well as thousands of breeding pairs of puffins there are also other sea birds. There are thousands upon thousands of breeding pairs of kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, and greater and lesser black-backed gulls on the island.

Dive-bombing Terns

And terns, don’t forget the terns. Do not worry, the terns will not forget you. They will hover and dive and mob you and scratch and peck at your head. Which is why it pays to wear a hat as you disembark and walk up to the headland. A tall hat, a hat with a bobble, anything to maintain distance between your vulnerable head and the diving terns.

The terns nest in the grassy area around the harbour. Once through the gauntlet you are safe from them until you return to the boat when you leave. So hang on to your hat! And keep your hands in your pockets, and don’t fend off the birds with them. Your hands will be pecked and the terns will keep on coming.

Bass Rock

The Isle of May has a perhaps more famous neighbour, Bass Rock. Where the Isle of May is low lying, Bass Rock is a slab of near vertical-sided rock rearing out of the sea. One can see thousands of gannets nesting on the cliff-sides. There are so many gannets that from a distance the rock looks white.

Sail past it and you will see hundreds of gannets diving vertically into the sea to catch fish. Splash, splash, all around the boat as the gannets enter the water.

Puffin Behaviour

The puffins are a studied contrast to that. They nest in burrows dug in the sandy soil, and when the young fledge, they fly out to sea where they will stay until the next breeding season.

When the female is in the nest, the male travels out to sea and returns each time with a mouthful of sand eels. Puffins have short wings and short tails, and buzz in to the island with wings flapping at up to 400 beats per minute. So they look like little flying tubs as they come in off the sea. And of course they have those multi-coloured beaks in the breeding season. They are sometimes known as the clowns of the sea because of their appearance. I think that is a slight on their characters, but they do look adorable.

So where does loyalty come in? Well, puffins are loyal and breed with the same mate each year. And they will re-use the same nest site each year, too.

The Isle Of May is a European Special Protection Area

Because of the seabirds that nest on the island, it is designated a European Special Protection Area. That means no one can develop the island. It also mean scientists have unrestricted access to measure the breeding success and examine the habits of the seabirds.

Furthermore, because seals bask on the island and swim in the underwater reefs around the island, it is also designated a Special Area of Conservation.

If you would like to visit the island, contact the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick, who do boat trips to the Isle of May. A trip in one of the twelve-seater RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) is quite something.

I haven’t taken a trip in a larger boat so I can’t speak for what those trips are like. But the RIBs travel so low in the water that they feel as near to a natural experience as you are likely to get. You don lifejackets and full foul-weather gear, and take it off when you get to the island.

As I said at the beginning of this article, the greeting card featured there is ‘Loyalty’ – a card from our Friendship range. Click on the image or click here for Loyalty and you will be taken directly to the page where the card is available to purchase.

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