When the May Princess left Anstruther harbour the sun was at its highest, so as we headed out into open water we were slowly baking but not daring to complain in case the rain came back. As I watched my fellow passengers slap on the sun cream, I was geographically disorientated, not quite believing I was in Scotland and not Spain.
The water was choppy but that added to the fun. I was once again having to negotiate a tumbling boat and a telephoto lens to desperately try and capture the moving seabirds in focus. Many of my attempts were 96% sapphire sky and 4% wing tip in the corners of the frame. With gritty determination, I managed to photograph a few gannets (Morus bassanus) alone and in their strings of multiple individuals. Gannets happen to be my favourite seabirds. Capable of diving at speeds of 60mph, they hit the water with incredible force in their attempts to catch fish. When I saw my first gannet on the voyage to the Isle of Arran I fell in love with their striking face stripes and lightly tinted brown heads. To me they’re the coolest bird in British seas.
Before long the Isle of May appeared on the horizon, illuminated beautifully under the intense sun. The cliffs and crag faces oozed drama with their harsh black and white, thrown into sharp relief by the light. The few buildings were dotted around and looked very out of place amongst the grass and rocky shores, just how I liked it.
Once we’d all disembarked and received a welcoming talk by a volunteer from Scottish Natural Heritage, we were allowed to explore. Visitors branched off in different directions; we decided to head up Fluke Street, past the Bath House and Main Light to the very tip of the crag. Beyond was Rona and North Ness, areas closed to the public for research. While we admired the view, we spotted a lone grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) wallowing in the shallows, snout resting on the rocks as it dozed.
The seal was accompanied by the odd gull swooping through, but otherwise the island was mainly deserted. We hadn’t timed our trip quite right as most of the seabirds had left, including the elusive puffin (Fratercula arctica) that is high on my tick list. However, aside from the beautiful gannets we still managed to see a few kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) and a lone juvenile guillemot (Uria aalge), a new bird for me.
All too soon our time on the island was at an end, and we made our way back to the boat. Just as we were leaving, a grey seal – perhaps the one we’d seen earlier – bobbed out of the water as if waving us off. We thought he’d been our only seal sighting that day, but around the corner we were treated by a large colony, splashing each other and gazing at us with huge black eyes. Cormorants basked in the sun, wings spread as if inviting a hug, and once again the gannets swept over our heads. As the Isle of May grew smaller, my nose grew redder, and when I got home I realised I’d acquired a vicious sunburn. It was worth every moment!