Visitors!!!

For the first time in eight days, Ramsey Island had more than six people on its shores. Ever since my arrival, last Sunday, the winds have been too strong for the Gower Ranger to sail from St. Justinian on the mainland to Ramsey harbour.  Over the course of my four stays on Ramsey, that was by far the longest the island has been without visitors and I almost forgot that looking after them is the main part of the volunteers’ job.

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The boat brought two loads of visitors across today, with six on the 10:00 sailing and four on the 12:00, and they were in for a real treat.  Ramsey was at its best, with a warm sun, brilliant blue skies and a (comparatively) light wind.  I’m writing this with a slight glow about me – generated either by the Sun or the wine I’ve just been drinking (but probably both).

The volunteers again spent the day doing different tasks, in addition to helping with the boat arrivals and departures, and serving in the island’s shop.  I did a chough watch in the morning, observing the comings and goings around a nest site, and in the afternoon I did a wheatear survey, walking around the eastern part of the island noting the wheatears spotted and their behaviour.

While my favourite time of day on Ramsey is first thing in the morning, I also love the hour or so just before the visitors leave, when they are all waiting around the farmhouse for the boat to take them off at 16:00.  This is often a time to have a good chat to them and talk about what they have seen and what a great place Ramsey is – especially as a volunteer!

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The Bungalow is warm tonight, probably the warmest it’s been since I arrived, helped by the sun and the wood burning stove in the main room (and maybe a wee dram or two)

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Weather Forecasting – the Ramsey Way

The weather has a huge influence on everything that happens on Ramsey Island and all the staff and volunteers keep a close eye on the forecasts.  The internet is the usual source of weather information but when the connection fails we have to rely on the ‘Forecasting Stone’, which is usually very accurate but it does require a trip down to the farm buildings to check.

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With strong winds still blowing across the island, following yesterday’s gale, there were no visitor boats again today.  When we volunteers went down to the farmhouse this morning for today’s instructions, there was a long list of tasks to be done.  While Steve chopped kindling and then did some maintenance around the Bungalow, Nicola made some insect homes from clay pipes and heather and did some painting.  I went down to the south of the island and cleared heather which was starting to encroach on the path.

I had lunch down in the amphitheatre-like bowl of Aber Myharan, sitting amongst the bluebells on the cliff top in the bright sunshine, watching the gannets fly past above Ramsey Sound – a pretty perfect spot.

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There were some interesting patterns in the clouds in the afternoon as I finished off cutting back the heather…

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Ships in the Bay

Ramsey Island sits at the northern end of St Brides Bay, with the other Pembrokeshire islands of Skomer and Skokholm at the southern end of the bay’s large arc.  To the south of the bay lie the ports of Milford Haven and Pembroke, with a constant stream of ships entering and leaving each day.

From Ramsey, ships can usually be seen lying at anchor in St. Brides Bay waiting to go into the ports.  This morning there were four sat out in the bay including Arctic Breeze (pictured below above the Ramsey farm buildings), Bro Developer, Sten Skagen and Bro Deliverer.

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Having a bit of a liking for ships, I keep an eye on those anchored in the bay and others that pass the island with this website.

The Wilder Side of Ramsey Island

A gale hit the island today, so again there were no boats bringing visitors.  Nicola, one of my fellow volunteers, was meant to leave today (Saturday) but it could be Monday or even Tuesday until she gets the chance to get across to the ‘wrong side’ of Ramsey Sound.

We spent part of the morning finishing off putting the shop back together after redecorating it over the past couple of days; we were then given the rest of the day off – always a bonus!

I went for a run around the island; from the Bungalow, up Carn Llundain (the highest point), then down to the far south and then back up past the farmhouse and through the sheep fields.  There might be something slightly mad about running around an island in gale-force winds and rain but it was the most spectacular run I’ve ever done – it certainly beats pounding the streets at home.  The wind was so strong on the outward leg that it almost stopped me in my tracks and the force took my breath away (not helpful when running up a steep hill!).  However, just under 35 minutes to run around most of the island seems like a reasonable benchmark, which I’ll have to try beating over the course of the next week.

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After lunch, trying to warm up after sitting in the cold Bungalow for a couple of hours, I went for a walk to the north of the island and took some shots of the rough seas.  I also found another very obliging stonechat (a male this time) and took some of my ‘usual’ shots that I always take when I’m here…

My favourite view from the Bungalow…

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The male stonechat…

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Red deer stags amongst the bluebells outside my bedroom window…

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There are 13 red deer on the island, left over from when Ramsey was a deer farm.  The herd includes three stags, seven hinds and three young from last year (also hinds).  The three stags seem to like mooching around the Bungalow at the moment, while the hinds are mostly down towards the south.  I’m not quite sure about the temperaments of the deer and give them a wide berth although they seem quite docile at the moment and tend to wander off if I get close.

Mild insomnia does have its benefits…

The sunrise this morning was fantastic and not being a good sleeper at the moment enabled me to witness it.

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ImageAnother day without boats meant that we continued with painting the island’s shop in the morning and then we spent some time looking for potential breeding pairs of chough on the eastern side of the island.  I went to the very south of the island and watched a pair for about an hour; they seemed very interested in possible nest sites and chased off other chough but there were no signs that they had young – perhaps next year.

The weather looks interesting tomorrow with heavy rain and up to 50mph gusts of wind – might be a day for more inside work.

Paintbrushes, axes and shovels

With the weather still not up to allowing the boat to run, bringing visitors to Ramsey Island, we started on redecorating the island’s shop. We began by clearing all the contents out into the storeroom next door but took a photo first to ensure we put everything back in the same place.

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We completed one coat and it needs another but with the cool and damp conditions on the island, the first coat will take a night to dry.

In the afternoon, we did a range of tasks and I chopped four crates of wood for the Bungalow’s fire (managing not to crush the tendons in my hand like I have previously – not on Ramsey) and then Steve and I repaired the dam in the small pond above the farmhouse – I know those years of practice in my childhood would come in handy one day!

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As it does frequently, the weather changed from cloudy and wet to sunny and dry in the afternoon but the wind is still brisk and it looks like we won’t get boats again for a few days yet.

Volunteers’ Day Off

Volunteers on Ramsey Island have one day off a week, and today was it. I think we were all glad of it too, after having the Wardens up to the Bungalow for Dinner last night – I was certainly a little fuzzy this morning.

Unexpectedly the weather was great again although the wind was still too strong for the boats to bring visitors across and it may stay like this for the rest of the week.

I spent the middle of the day doing an hour long chough watch at the south of the island (watching for activity around a chough nest site) and then took some photos of the flowers – the example below being the best of them (I think I need to put a bit more effort in!)

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This is the first time I’ve been on Ramsey when the Spring flowers have been coming out.  Whilst I was on the island for the same two weeks last year, the late Spring of 2013 meant that most of the flowers hadn’t appeared by the time I left.  Hopefully, they will all be in full bloom before I leave.

Some of the birds on the island are very obliging when it comes to taking their photos with the female stonechat below proving the point.

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Sun, Rain, Sun…but always wind!

Today started with a stunning early morning bit of sunshine and with that kind of weather over this landscape, the the Bungalow’s washing line must be one of the most picturesque.

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I spent the morning doing a breeding bird survey around the northern half of the island, walking and making notes of the birds and their behaviour for a couple of hours in the stunning sunshine – following on from a lovely early morning sat on the doorstep of the Bungalow, this was a pretty perfect morning.

After lunch, Steve and I went across to the west of the island to finish off tending to the cairns, this time up on Carn Llundain – the tallest of Ramsey’s three hills.  As we made our way up the hill, the weather closed in and the rain lashed in from the sea, forced towards us by a strengthening wind.  Unlike many of the cairns yesterday, most up on the hill were in quite a good state of repair.  After we finished, I went to the top of the hill to look across the Island – with the cloud having rolled in, the mainland was largely obscured.

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On the way home to the Bungalow, the weather changed again turning the scene back to stunning sunshine.  I took the opportunity to take a shot of my favourite view from Ramsey – looking from the Bungalow, across the northern fields and Ramsey Sound, towards Whitesands Bay and Carn Llidi (the hill in the background).

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There’s rarely a day without wind on Ramsey, which means the weather can change by the hour, turning from sun, to rain and back to sun again – the weather is certainly never dull on the island!

Early morning sun

Sat in the doorway, dazzled by the new dawn, the cloudless blue sky brings early warmth from the sun. The strong wind of yesterday has wained but a cooling breeze still takes a little heat away.

There’s a background rumble from the sea, an undertone to the scene, but the birds have the stage laid out in fields, sea and mainland hills.

The wren plays its song from crags behind the house, while linnets chirp as they flit their way past. The wheatear chortles on the rough stone wall and the meadow pipit rises and falls above its ground. The choughs call as they dance in the breeze and the skylark claims its land from a height.

Not long until the day’s work starts; visitors today? We’ll wait and see.

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A bit of light fencing and cairn building

With a strong southerly wind, there were no boats carrying visitors to the island today, so we spent the day doing a range of tasks around the island. While my two fellow volunteers, Steve and Nicola, each did a chough survey in the morning, I helped Amy, the seasonal assistant warden, with a bit of fencing work.

A new stretch of top wire needed putting on a short section of fence just north of the farm buildings – it didn’t take long (after untangling the wire a couple of times).

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I then had to go across the island to put a ‘No Entry’ sign at the top of the cliff at Porth Lleuog. Some visitors has strayed down onto the beach yesterday and scared off the hauled out grey seals.

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A few years ago, on one of his now many volunteering visits, Steve built a number of cairns on the path around the south of the island.  The cloud and sea fog can roll quickly onto the island and the cairns help to mark out the path for visitors who might otherwise wonder off the route.  In the afternoon, Steve and I went rebuild a number of the cairns that have been knocked over by the island’s ponies and overgrown by heather.  We spent a bit of time repairing and rebuilding a few of the smaller cairns but then put the effort into constructing a new corner cairn at Mynachdy – we were pretty proud of our efforts!

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