Visiting the Isle of May off the Scottish mainland in the Firth of Forth to find Puffins, was one of the highlights of last year and one trip that I feel deserves a blog post.
Puffins have always been on my bucket list and the closest place to Edinburgh that I could find these cute birds was on the Isle of May. A protected island, run by Scottish Natural Heritage, it can be accessed from Anstruther by ferry or from North Berwick harbour, 40 mins from Edinburgh. If travelling from North Berwick the choices include a catamaran cruise to Bass Rock or a RHIB inflated boat to both Bass Rock and the Isle of May. Having tried the RHIB in Canada to see Orca Whales, I knew which mode of transport would be more exciting. There are also sperm whales and Minke off the shores of the Isle of May, and I was very hopeful for some sightings.
Seabird.org is the official website for the Scottish Seabird Centre and I booked online using their date planner. Click on the Isle of may website, then sailing times. It is important to remember that the Isle of May is a nature reserve and the number of visitors is restricted daily so advance booking make sense.
Puffins are sea birds from the Auk family and only come on land to breed. They can live up to 4o years and return to the same burrow. The season usually lasts from April till early August. When you book a boat trip it is weather dependant which can be tricky if you are planning a trip from overseas. I decided to book 4 weeks in advance and basically had my fingers crossed for good weather.
Arriving at The Seabird centre in North Berwick, I was slightly confused as the centre was closed but my sailing was due to leave at 10am. I discovered that you have to go across from the seabird centre on the same side, behind the offices to the harbour and there is another meeting point where everyone signs forms and are provided with waterproofs and life jackets. The group was quite small, 12 in total and it is very easy to chat with everyone. The guide was totally brilliant, you can see him on my video below. Very informative, funny, passionate and reassuring.
The crossing gets very cold out in the open water so make sure you have a sweater with you and proper clothes. You can change and bring a rucksack on arrival at the visitor centre. I loved the crossing, watching all the seals and puffins as we approached the island.
The trip guarantees you 2 hours on the Isle of May. Bring your own food, drink and snacks, as there are no facilities on the island except toilets. Visitors must also remove all their rubbish. There is a guided tour which I was keen to join, not having a clue where I was going. The guide also gives you tips on where is the best place to find certain birds and their habitats. For instance Puffins burrow. News to me, and if you want to watch them, sit down quietly and just observe before dragging out cameras and fancy video recorders. They will settle and allow you a greater insight into their habits.
The noise on the island is initially quite deafening but you get use to it quickly as your ears try to differentiate between the different shrieks, songs and notes. It is not easy, if like me your bird knowledge is limited to one Christmas bird spotting book and an uncle who raced pigeons! That is why the guide is so invaluable. There are over 280 species of birds recorded and up to 250,000 seabirds can nest here. The cliff tops are very dramatic and good walking shoes are essential. There is a lighthouse with accommodation that can be rented out for up to a week but I believe priority is given to bird enthusiasts and bird ringers.
The other reason I choose the RHIB crossing was that it returned via Bass Rock, a volcanic rock that is home to 150,000 gannets. I have never seen Hitchcocks famous film “The Birds” and I was fine, but a few of my fellow passengers were quite frankly, terrified!
It is the most amazing sight. Gannets, are Britains largest seabird and when you encounter them in such vast numbers, circling above your head, it is slightly unsettling. For me I was in awe of Mother Nature.
I loved my day trip and was blessed with blue skies and would love to return. Good walking shoes are essential and the RHIB crossing is not suitable for people with back problems or pregnant ladies. I paid £48 for 4 hours and it was memorable and great value for money.
I made a short video of my day, click here to view.
If taking small children I would think they would be more suited to the one hour Catamaran trip round Bass Rock or Craigleith or the Anstruther Pleasure Cruise to The Isle of May. I have also tried the ferry crossing to Incholm island which had lots of children on board.
Bring some bird books or things to amuse any children on the crossing, it can be a long day for them. Anstruther allows children aged 4-15 on the May Princess. Look up Isleofmayferry.com/ and the RHIB Crossing allows children aged 7 and upwards.
There are opportunities to land on Bass Rock, and these trips for keen bird watchers, photographers and ornithologists are popular and run from Easter to Autumn. Be warned the smell and noise are pretty over whelming.
I hope you enjoyed my day trip. If you get the chance please go.
Thanks for reading.
Useful numbers: Scottish Seabird centre Centre will be closed for refurbishment from 01 February to the start of April 2019. The contact number is +44 (0)1620 890202.
Isle of May ferry from Anstruther: firstname.lastname@example.org – 07957 585200