Ramsey Island 2019 – Week 5

I am now well into my sixth week of my stay on Ramsey Island and I’ve only just got round to writing this post about the fifth. As usual it was a mixture of routine and new things to do with more chough nest watches, wheatear surveys and practical tasks. We missed boats for three days in a row and also didn’t have both boats on other days due to the tides. However, there were three very notable things for me this past week…

Firstly, I’ve been given my own ongoing task for the next three weeks in the form of a Manx shearwater response rate survey. Since the island became rat-free in the winter of the Millennium, shearwater numbers have made a significant recovery. In 1999, there were around 800 pairs and this grew to nearly 4,800 pairs by the last full island count in 2016, and there is likely to have been further significant growth since. The next full count is programmed for the spring/summer of 2020 and my response rate survey is the start of the preparations for next year.

Initial survey work is being undertaken on two plots of shearwater burrows, one in the north-east of the island and the other on the western side. The work involves visiting pre-identified active burrows in which the birds nest every other day over three weeks and noting how often a response is received to a recording of dueting shearwaters. This initial work partly replicates the full survey, but on a smaller scale, and provides a basis for generating a total island figure for shearwaters with an understanding of how often a response is received from an active burrow. 

So I’ll have my arm down forty or so burrows every other day until late June – a little odd but good fun!

Secondly, I led my first guided walk around the island; the one of five that will be held while I’m on the island. I have assisted guided walks on previous stays on the island, acting as a back marker, but this was the first time I was front and centre leading one. The group of 12 (up to 16 can attend) arrived at 9:30 and I led them first up to the farmhouse and then around the south of the island telling the visitors about the rat eradication programme, little owls, porpoise, chough, Grassholm and its gannets, grey seals, and, of course, Manx shearwaters. I really enjoyed leading the walk despite ‘presenting’ for over three hours, I love telling people about the island and its wildlife. The walk was made all the more fun by having one young boy attending who was very enthusiastic and knew so much about the wildlife. He even took part in my attempts to get shearwaters to reply to playing their calls down the burrows – fortunately we did get a response, eventually. 

The last really notable event of the week was the finding of a Myrtle warbler around the farm buildings by a visitor. This was a vagrant from North America blown across the Atlantic by strong westerly winds, possibly last autumn. First spotted around lunch time on my day off, I rushed down to see this rarity and grabbed my camera to take some photos. We spent most of the afternoon watching the bird and it even came within four or five metres, and I got some good photos. Social media went a bit mad and the boat booking office started to get enquiries within minutes. The following morning we had more than 20 people come on the island just to ‘twitch’ the bird; some coming from as far as north Manchester, Oxford and London. Unfortunately, despite it being seen just before the first boat arrived, it didn’t make an appearance for the twitchers and they went home having ‘dipped’ (the term of not seeing a bird when twitching for it) this bird. My photos from the previous day are set to appear in Bird Watch Magazine as part of an article written about the event by Lisa (the Warden) and we have even raised some money for the island by being paid for both the article and the photos. 

As the images in a previous post show (one repeated above), the Myrtle warbler is a lovely little thing and when looked at closely is a distinctive bird with quite complicated patterning. This was only third record of one in Wales with the two previous sightings being on Skomer and Ramsey.

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