The Isle of May, a small island located at the mouth of the Firth of Forth in Scotland, just 1.8km long and less than 0.5km wide. Owned by the Scottish Natural Heritage it is a hugely important seabird research island given the abundance of seabirds that land every year - puffins, razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes - to name but a few. The Isle of May is also one of the main UK breeding sites for the Grey Seal.
The Bass Rock, famously described by Sir David Attenborough as 'one of the wildlife wonders of the world' - home to a colony of 150,000 gannets that return every year, to the same mate and the same nest.
Both sites - just a 15 minute car ride and less than half on hour on a boat from my home.
I first went to the the Isle of May in June 2012. A grey overcast and drizzly day, I was surprised the trip went ahead, but definitely not disappointed. The island and its inhabitants overwhelmed me. I had never seen so many different birds, all inhabiting their own corners (or cliff face) of such a small island. All with entirely different physical appearances, characters, and behaviour.
Without a doubt my favourite bird had to be the puffin. Colourful not only because of that big orange beak of theirs, but also their characters which are superbly comical to watch. I was amazed how tolerant the puffins were of human presence, particularly given these birds live out at sea most of the year, only coming in to land to breed. May, June and July are the time to see them, after which they leave the land behind for another year.
Below is my favourite puffin shot taken in June. A hearty dinner of sand eels for it's chick which would be hidden in one of the many burrows that are found all over the island.
No sooner had I returned from the Isle of May I wanted to book another trip! Four hours on land really just wasn't enough. So I booked with the Scottish Seabird Centre for another day later in June. That is when the Great British Summer that never was put paid to my plans. 2012 has been one of the wettest summers on record in the UK, so trip after trip to the Isle of May had to be cancelled due to rough seas. I finally managed to make my way back on 28th July and, as I thought may be the case, the puffins had left for the season. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. But never fear, this time around I had the pleasure of seals for company, and that was equally lovely! As Seabird One (the high speed hovercraft) pulled in to dock, we were greeted by this lovely lady chillaxing on the rocks!
There was also a magnitude of other birds to practice some flight shots with.
Once again the time on the island passed in a flash and, before I knew it, we were kitting ourselves out in the waterproofs and hopping onto Seabird One for the fast dash home.
Seabird One = Epic Fun! Skimming the waves at high speed - forget the make-up and hair - I looked like I had been dragged through a sodding wet hedge backwards by the time I got back to North Berwick!! But I wasn't able to keep the grin off my face the whole way back - exhilarating! Oh but I've skipped a bit - the boat stopped for five minutes at the base of Bass Rock.......
It doesn't matter what you have seen or read about Bass Rock, it is hard to prepare yourself for the spectacle that it is. Sir David Attenborough got it right by referring to it as one of the wildlife wonders of the world. It couldn't possibly be anything but. 150,000 gannets with young. One rock. A stench that can be detected almost before you can see the rock. Oh and you wouldn't want to be in the vicinity without at least a hat for protection ........... ;-)
As we sat in the boat gently circling the Bass Rock, the mayhem and frantic activity of the Gannets was hard to comprehend. This other world - just a couple of miles from shore. I have booked to actually land on Bass Rock in August (need to work on desensitising my olfactory glands first) - hopefully the weather will be on my side this time.
A fabulous couple of trips - total escape from the day-to-day grind of the day job. Just 45 minutes from home, and another world entirely..............
Thank you for reading.