Ramsey Island 2019 – Week 3

Another week has gone by on Ramsey Island and this week the flowers have been putting on a great display. There are large swathes of both spring squill and blue bells across much of the island, particularly on the east coast and on the slopes of the highest hill, Carn Llundain. 

Since I arrived, I had been having difficulty getting out of bed, or at least in comparison to my usual time when I’m at home. However, the flowers have given me an extra incentive to get out of my pit early and venture outside. For three mornings this week, I have been up and out before 5:30am visiting various parts of the island which face east and receive each day’s first rays of sun. I’ve been quite pleased with some of the outcomes, shown in previous posts, but my favourites are below…

With the sun out, the Island really does look in its prime. 

My work this week has been focussed on my main daily task, the introductory talks for visitors arriving on the two boat each day, and on undertaking a survey of oystercatchers (oiks) around the full circumference of the Island’s coast. I can’t remember whether I have ever walked the entire coast of the island in such detail. Often later in the year, the bracken is so thick that it’s unwise to get so close to the edge of the island but with little bracken growth so far, I could get good views of most of the shoreline. Where I couldn’t see the water’s edge, I may need to hop on an around island boat trip to double check for oiks. 

In addition to the talks, I also supported Lisa, the warden, when she did a guided tour for a large group from the Friends of Pembrokeshire National Park. We spent around four hours showing the group the southern part of the Island and talking to them about the flowers, Manx Shearwaters, rat eradication, Grassholm, and many other things, including how I managed to wangle three months off work! The programme of weekly guided walks starts soon, and it may be my turn to do the tour-leading.

This week, saw the arrival of another volunteer, Steve, so we had three in total, including myself. With Steve comes the major social event of the Ramsey Island calendar, the Warden’s Dinner. He has been cooking a special meal for the wardens for many years and I’ve been lucky to have been present at a few of them. This year, I actually contributed to the cooking and did the amuse bouche (mini-pizzas and garlic breads), sun-dried tomato bread rolls to accompany the main course, the sweet (chocolate torte) and contributed some of the cheese. As ever, it was a long evening of good food, great wine and even better company!

Ramsey Island 2019 – Week 2

Now at the end of my second week on the Island, I’m now fully settled into the life and routines. It’s still sinking in that I’m here for three months and at this point in my usual stays on the island, I would already have headed home (something I’m trying very hard not to think too much about yet – the thought is already quite painful!).

The change of week brought a change in short-term volunteers, with John, an old hand on the Island, leaving and Sylvia, a first time volunteer at Ramsey, arriving. I spent some time showing her the ropes (not literally) and on her first full day she got straight into action.

This week was the usual mix of boats, bird surveys and practical tasks. We had boats for five of the seven days and we had some lovely weather to make the visitors particularly happy. We spent a couple of days redecorating one of the bedrooms in the Bungalow after it was repaired following a leaky roof over the course of the winter. I quite like painting and it kept us out of the the wind for a few hours each day.

On the wildlife front, I did the first of several breeding bird survey visits to the north-west of the island, and I’ll do some more over coming weeks. I also did a chough transect around the central and southern part of the island, noting all the chough seen feeding or flying.

I also had my first day off the island since I arrived. I normally don’t bother leaving the island when I’m only here for two weeks and usually don’t want to. However, this time, after just under two weeks, I was really looking forward to the day off, to do some shopping and, more importantly, have fish & chips in Portgain and an ice cream in St. David’s.

Time seems to be moving very quickly and I can’t believe that I’m already at the end of my second week. The routine of each day seems to make the time fly and I want to get up earlier to make more of the time here. I want to do more reading but the evenings don’t seem long enough, especially as I’m trying to do more proper cooking and I’m going for runs most days. As for the cooking, I’ve started making my own bread now and made my first batch of rolls, which turned out quite well and I’m trying to be more imaginative with my food – three months of my usual island food would get pretty boring.

My main thought from this week has been that life is so much simpler on the island without many of the normal trappings of modern urban life and being outside much of the time; conversations often focus on the weather, food, wildlife and the scenery, and particularly at present the temperature of the Bungalow at night! Yes, I do have access to the internet and a smart phone, but the day-to-day here is more basic and more in tune with the natural world. This isn’t really related to staying on a nature reserve, it is much more to do with the simpler way of living that we have here.

My favourite view…

Just as I returned to the Bungalow yesterday afternoon after our work for the day had finished, there was a spectacular sky over the north of Ramsey Island and looking out towards Whitesands Bay and Carn Llidi on the mainland. This is probably my favourite view from the island and the photo I took may be my favourite of all those I’ve taken during my stays here…

Ramsey Island 2019 – My First Week

After arriving a day late due to the weather, my first week on the island was a little short and certainly went quickly. However, as I’ve come to expect, each day has been different and never dull. 

Unusually for me, I’ve been finding it difficult to get out of bed – in my other life I get up at 5:30 each morning . We don’t have to leave the Bungalow until about 9:15 and it doesn’t take long to get ready but I’d like to get up earlier than 7:30 – that’s a full two hours later than usual for me. However, a significant reason for my reluctance to leave my snug and warm bed is that it has been freeeeeezing each morning and it’s not an immediately enticing thought to leave my bed behind. The temptation of making a nice bowl of porridge (or gruel) has each morning eventually got me out of my pit. Food has been a constant in my mind for most of the week, whether it be trying to make lunch more exciting, increasing my evening repertoire (as of today now including a decent pizza!) or just settling down at the end of the night with a slice (or two) of my fruit cake and a wee dram.

The weather has been quite variable. We have only had visitor boats on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday due to strong winds and as I write this, on Saturday evening, the winds are strong again and blowing straight into the end of the Bungalow where my room is, making it even more of an icebox. Despite the wind, today has been gloriously sunny and in shelter it has been quite warm under the strong sun and I may have caught a bit of it. This has been the case for a few of the days; when the cloud clears it could almost be summer.

I didn’t feel that my stay had really got going until I did my first introductory talk. A primary role for all volunteers on the island is to help with the visitors, assisting them on and off the boat, Gower Ranger, as she arrives at 10am and 12pm and takes the remaining visitors off at 4pm. Volunteers also run the small shop in the farmhouse selling drinks and snacks at each boat arrival and for a longer period prior to the 4pm departure. A key part of my role over the three months will be doing the introductory talks when each boat arrives. The visitors are shown into the boat shed and they get a 15 minute talk about the island, where they can walk and what they can see. I love doing them and it’s a great opportunity to promote the work of the RSPB and enthuse about the island in general and the nature it supports.

In addition to the visitor tasks, John, the other volunteer, and I have been doing a range of monitoring and practical work. Our first tasks were to do watches at eight of the nine chough nests around the island. We spent up to an hour at each, noting down the activity to see if a pair is actively using the nest – three of my four definitely appear to be being used, while the fourth was a little inconclusive. We will repeat these watches over the coming weeks and I’ll do other bird survey work to support monitoring of breeding bird populations.

The practical work was varied and fun, including:

  • My first practical use of the quad bike after my course a few weeks ago
  • Altering some path signs and reinstalling them
  • Setting some more marker stones along the visitor path 
  • Repairing the chicken shed and run (they deserved it as they lay great eggs!)
  • Tidying up around the farms buildings and cutting kindling for the Bungalow stove
  • Tidying up the back of the Bungalow and installing a new compost bin
  • Trying, and failing, to take a gate apart to salvage the wood
  • Cutting back some gorse above one of the bays

After our work for the day is finished, at about 4:30ish, the evenings are our own. I’ve been running a few times so far; I have never run anywhere as spectacular as the Island and it sure beats pounding the streets at home or going to the gym! I’ve also been out for evening walks, photographing the wildlife, and have sat in the sea-watching hide looking for the passing wildlife.

One evening, however, our work started again at 10pm as John and I headed out to the eastern side of the island of help the wardens, Greg and Lisa, to catch and ring Manx Shearwaters. We spent a couple of hours using large pond cleaning nets to catch the birds as they landed on the ground. We gathered them up carefully, trying to avoid being bitten and scratched too much, and put them into cloth bags, handing them to Greg to ring. We ringed 20 birds over the course of the evening and had a number of re-captures of previously ringed birds – quite a successful night’s work. Hopefully more of these evening tasks to come!

The Manx Shearwaters are highlight of a volunteer’s stay on the Island, even if they aren’t involved in ringing them. A night on Ramsey at this time of year is accompanied by the weird chuckling-gurgling calls of the ‘Manxies’ and I love going to bed listening to them come in to their breeding burrows all around the Bungalow – I’m fortunate that I have so many more nights to come on the Island to listen out for them.