Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Scotland 2019 12: Isle of May Butterflies

There might not have been many birds on the Isle of May in August, but the resident butterfly collection more than made up for this.  I don't think I have ever seen quite so many butterflies in such a small area: mainly Red Admiral, but also Painted Lady and the occasional Peacock.

The next three pictures will, hopefully, give some idea of the sheer number of butterflies on the island.  Most were on the (prolific) Ragwort; but, even on the bare ground, there were dozens of Painted Ladies.  

The shots in this set were taken with a mixture of two lenses: the Fuji 80mm f/2.8 macro, for the butterflies which were close to the path; and the Fuji 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 for those which were more distant.  I was captivated, and could have spent hours photographing these beautiful insects.

Both Harriet and I really loved the Isle of May, and definitely want to go back there.  Next time it will be earlier in the season when, hopefully, there will be lots of birds - especially puffins - in addition to the butterflies.  We might even try to stay at the Bird Observatory for a few nights, if this were possible.  Whatever else, we'll definitely be returning to Anstruther for the amazing fish & chips!

Monday, 9 December 2019

Scotland 2019 11: Isle of May

Harriet and I were both very keen to visit the Isle of May, even though - being the end of August - it was well outside the "puffin" season.  Access to the island is provided either by ferry, the May Princess, or a small inflatable boat, the Osprey.  We chose the latter as it gave us longer on the island, as well as being capable of getting closer to the shoreline in order to observe the birds and seals.  The sailing times are dictated by the tides, and this particular trip lasted from 9am to 2pm.

The crossing can be rough (see later), so everyone is provided with a full set of waterproofs.

The waterproofs weren't really needed on the outward journey, as the sea was almost completely calm.  The next three pictures show Anstruther, the ferry boat and a view across the Firth of Forth with Bass Rock in the distance.

There was a distinct sense of anticipation as we approach the Isle of May.

Osprey is capable of getting very close to the cliffs when the conditions are right, which they were on the day we visited.  Sadly, being so late in the season, the number of nesting birds was actually very small.

The Isle of May itself is a working Nature Reserve, with a small population of scientists living in the old lighthouse.

The central part of the island had a couple of small freshwater lakes and lots of wild flowers, some of which were still flowering.

The island is also home to lots of rabbits, and we saw a couple along with their burrows.

The majority of the burrows belonged to the (now departed) puffins, and the next couple of pictures give some idea of how many there are and their proximity to the path.  It must be absolutely astonishing to walk through the burrow area when they are occupied by breeding birds.  We definitely need to re-visit at a better time of year.

By 1pm it was time to catch the tide and leave the island.

Although the sea looks calm and benevolent in the picture above, we were warned that it might be "a bit choppy" on the way back to Anstruther.  The Scottish art of under-statement.  Osprey bounced along the waves, showering us with copious quantities of sea-water; and, as a result, it seemed a good idea to keep my camera within a sealed (but not very waterproof) bag.  No pictures of the return journey, in other words, but suffice it to say that both of us were soaked and frozen by the time we got back to Anstruther.  A good excuse to visit the cafĂ© in the Scottish Fisheries Museum for a rather belated (and very welcome) lunch.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Scotland 2019 10: Crail and Anstruther

Having driven around the outskirts of Edinburgh and gone over the new Queensferry Crossing, we headed along the Fife coast.  The weather wasn't great; nor, to be honest, was the scenery until we'd passed Kirkaldy and the mining towns of East Wemyss, West Wemyss and the (appropriately named) Coaltown of Wemyss.  Once into the East Neuk (literally, "corner") of Fife, everything started to improve - including the weather.  We were too early to check into our B&B in Anstruther, so headed along the coast to Crail: a picturesque fishing community overlooking the Firth of Forth.


I've decided that, when I grow up, I would like a house with a tower.  The views from the one below must be spectacular.

The Crail "lobster and crab" shack, where the seafood is cooked to order.

The East Neuk has a reputation of being somewhat isolated, and there's an old story about a man who - when asked if he had ever been abroad - said: "Na, but I ance kent a man who had been to Crail".

After Crail is was back to Anstruther for a bite to eat.  Given the location, and the town's reputation for serving the best fish & chips on the planet, we made a beeline for the Anstruther Fish Bar.  

Yet another Turkish Barber, which we had begun to realise is de rigeur in any Scottish settlement.

The Holy Grail of fish & chip shops, but time spent in the queue was repaid tenfold by the quality of the food - made better still by eating it in the evening sunshine overlooking the harbour.



Replete, we walked slowly back to the B&B having booked slots on the following day's sailing to the Isle of May.