The weather continued to be lovely and my eleventh week was a quiet one really. We did quite a lot of bracken and thistle scything, and did the weekly weighing of shearwater chicks in the nest boxes on the east coast of the island.
There were a couple highlights. The first was jumping on one of the evening shearwater and puffin boat trips out to the Bishops and Clarks. It’s always nice to get a trip on the boat and the evening sailings give a chance to get closer to the shearwaters which we normally only see in the daytime from a distance. The following evening, on the same trip, the boat, Gower Ranger, made front page news after she struck a submerged tree and started taking on water. Fortunately all the safety procedures went to plan and everyone returned safely to the land, with Gower Ranger now out of service awaiting repairs.
This week I also continued my new hobby of sea swimming! I had several evening and one morning swim, in my newly purchased shorty swimsuit. On Saturday we all went in after the last boat and were joined by my birthday present; a huge inflatable pink flamingo. Tethered to the beach, all six of us managed to get on it in one go! It was the funniest birthday I’ve had in a long time!
This was the first entire week of my stay when we had all scheduled boats running. The weather has been lovely and even hot at times, giving even more excuses to go swimming in the sea, either before or after our day visitors have been and gone.
The work to control the spread of bracken across the island is now well under way and we spent time scything patches in some of the sheep fields. This is quite hot work in the heat of the day but just the sort of exercise I like.
Whilst bird surveys have largely come to an end, that isn’t the end of the bird-related work or interest on the island. One of the main ongoing tasks for the next few weeks will be weighing the Manx shearwater chicks in the nest boxes. Whilst this task will continue well after I have left the island, and therefore isn’t really my task, I was there for the first weekly weighing and will hopefully pop along for the next few.
Another bird related activity this week was going to the seabird cliffs on the west coast of the island in the evening and watching the guillemot chicks fledging from the narrow ledges upon which they have been reared. They make a ‘willocking’ call as they are about to jump; their parents below encouraging them to make that first leap. They can’t fly when they go and simply fall to the water, hopefully missing the rocks on the way down. We drew a blank on the first visit but had some success on the second with quite a few plopping into the water as we watched from a distance.
Lastly, I had a day off the island on Friday and spent it walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path from St Non’s to St Justinian’s. It wasn’t the longest of walks but given the summer temperatures, it seemed long enough. I stopped for some time on the path opposite Ramsey Island, watching the harbour porpoise in the ebbing tide as it flows into St Bride’s Bay.
This was another weather interrupted week with only the full timetable of boats on three days and most disappointing of all, there were no boats on Thursday meaning my final guided tour was cancelled. This being said, we also had the first properly hot day of my stay; we didn’t get the very hot temperatures of the rest of the UK but it was enough to make life a little more lethargic. I also think for the first time the inside of the Bungalow was actually very warm, with a hot wind blowing in through the door; I haven’t been able to say that before. All this warm weather meant that I could do one of my very favourite things; sitting on the doorstep in the evening simply looking at the view. I was even accompanied by some bats which flitted above my head.
With the vast majority of survey work finished, the workload is quieter at the moment, especially when the boats don’t run. I gathered up all the marker pegs from my shearwater plots but that’s not the end of the shearwater work. The birds are now hatching their eggs and we went down to the nest boxes on the north-eastern side of the island and to check on the progress of the 11 occupied boxes. Of those, two had already hatched chicks and they were the first very small shearwater chicks I’ve seen. Over the next few weeks, someone will have the job of visiting the chicks to see how they develop. There are around 100 nest boxes dug into the sloping side of the island just above the sea and I put together and dug in a few of them, so it’s good to see them being used.
One of the major farming events on the island happened this week – the sheep shearing. I’ve seen and helped out with the shearing before but this time I had little to do. It’s quite a fascinating operation and I’m always amazed at how quickly the shearers get through the nearly 100 sheep. A few years ago when I was here for a two-week period in June, I made this short video of the shearing.
Whilst young birds have been popping up all over the island for some time, this week saw the fledging from two bird of prey nests; buzzards and peregrines. We’ve been keeping an eye on both nests as the season has progressed. We have been particularly watching the peregrines as they are a Schedule 1 species and it is illegal to disturb them on their nests. After looking at them one evening, by the following afternoon the nest was empty and the fledglings could be heard calling from the nearby cliffs. The buzzard chicks have looked ready to fledge for some time but we only found them out of the nest when we went to do some shearwater work. The local bird and rabbit populations will now be getting a lot more trouble from the birds of prey as this lot learn their trade.
My biggest surprise of the week was finally being persuaded to go for a swim in the waters around the island. I’m not afraid of swimming or water and have done quite a lot of canoeing over the years as well as a very small amount of water-skiing. However, swimming has never really appealed to me, particularly as I live in a very landlocked area, albeit with canals and rivers nearby. So, after two refusals, I couldn’t really decline a third time and took the plunge, metaphorically and actually. There are two good spots for swimming on the island, the harbour and the little bay on the other side of the track to the farmhouse. The latter was more sheltered from the waves and wind, so we went in there. To my surprise, I found I could actually swim, despite it being over 25 years since I last tried. Okay, I’m not going to swim around the island or across Ramsey Sound any time soon but it was a start and, maybe, I might even try it a bit more when I finally get home (after a bit more practice here!).