Manchester Buildings

It’s ages since I did a post of images from my daily walk to work across Manchester City centre from Piccadilly Station. Well, this morning I moved into my company’s new office at the First Street development on the southern side of the centre. This now gives me more opportunities to look at Manchester’s buildings, old and new, on a different route to work.

Just a few shots on my way through First Street on my first morning working in the area.

Autumnal Oaks

After a weekend mostly spent working, I went out on my bike on Sunday afternoon to pedal in the lovely late autumn sunshine. With mild temperatures and a clear blue sky, the ride really lifted my soul.

Having not been outside much in the daylight over the past couple of weeks, I hadn’t noticed that the oak leaves have turned. The Cheshire countryside is now washed with an orange made quite startling by the bright sun.

CNCV: Wybunbury Moss

Our first fire of the autumn!!! Today I was out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers again and in one of our usual haunts – Wybunbury Moss. We were working for Natural England cutting tree saplings and burning the brash.

Despite not having a fire since early spring, I managed to get today’s going first time and soon it was blazing away fed with brash, thick and thin, for over four hours. As usual, there were plenty of signs of wildlife around with a strangely coloured frog the highlight of the day plus bands of winter thrushes passing through.

We rounded the day off with some chestnuts roasted on the fire – perfect!!!

CNCV: Tegg’s Nose

I was out for another of the (usually) fortnightly tasks with Crewe and Nantwich Conservation Volunteers. It was our first outing for a month and we went a little further than usual this time; to Tegg’s Nose County Park, working for Cheshire East Council Rangers. We were tasked by Ranger Martin to clear gorse in one of the fields. First we cleared a section to widen an approach to a gateway, where the cattle usually get a bit spooked by the narrowness of the path. We then cleared a patch encroaching on the field, giving more space for some of the rare species of plant that grow on the hillside meadows.

It started off as a lovely morning but after lunch we could see the cloud coming in across the Cheshire Plain and the rain started coming down just as we finished. It was that fine rain that gets you really soaked and as Tegg’s Nose is high up on the top of the hill, the rain turned into low cloud, dropping the visibility down quite significantly.

The County Park is a lovely place, just on the edge of the Peak District National Park and good starting point for a number of good walks into the hills and valleys. It has great view into the park but also across the flat Cheshire Plain, with Jodrell Bank standing out well above green pastureland.

Next time we’re out, it will be to Wybunbury Moss, and hopefully a first fire of the autumn – sausages at the ready!

Seals pups – born into a harsh world

It has to be said that the pupping beaches of Ramsey Island aren’t places of peace and quiet where the seals live in harmony with each other. They are actually places of sex and violence, right in full view of the pups (and often the visitors too!).

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The pups arrive in a blood-stained gush straight onto the stony beaches, gasping for breath and open to the often harsh weather conditions and surging tides. They struggle towards their mothers to get their first feed of rich milk, using their weak flippers to push themselves across the hard ground. Some of the pups find themselves in amongst bolder fields while others right on the water’s edge; either blocked in by rocks or at risk of being washed away by a surging wave.

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The gulls take a keen interest in the spectacle, waiting for the afterbirth to appear, a fine meal for them, which they sometimes tug at whilst it’s still attached to the female, eliciting an irritated response. They also look out for those pups struggling into life, those too weak to survive or taken away by the sea only later to be deposited lifeless high up on the strand line. This is a time of plenty for the gulls especially when the weather turns for the worse.

Storms take their toll on the seal pups, last year was particularly hard, but even a short-lived storm in late September this year took a number from the largest beach on the Island. With a  westerly wind, the waves rolled in to Aber Mawr bay, crashing up the shingle beach and against the base of the cliffs, leaving little room for the pups to resist the sea.

It’s not only the angry seas that the pups have to look out for. The adults are a risk to them too. The females are intolerant of others, whether they be adults or pups. Much of the sound coming up the cliffs from the beaches below is from quarrelling females arguing over space and proximity to each other’s pups. The aggression increases with the arrival of the males, it’s not only pupping season but the time for mating too. The males make claims for territories on the beaches and will fight each other to keep control of their patch and to mate with the females within it. I thought that grey seals had relatively tame fights compared to the elephant seals I’ve seen in the Falklands but I saw two really going for it at Aber Mawr with plenty of blood flowing from gashes on their necks.

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The females give as good as they get too, warding off unwanted advanced from males with growling and biting, with fights breaking out at times. Even when they are in the process of mating, there’s plenty of aggression between the pairs.

However, there are times of relative quiet, with the females nursing their pups and others, whether large or small, relaxing on the shore, basking, stretched out in the sun. The only sounds being the water breaking on the beach, the gulls calling from the wing and a pup calling out towards the sea waiting for its mother to return from feeding.

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Pupping time for Grey Seals on Ramsey Island

September on Ramsey Island is right in the middle of grey seal pupping season. I have to say that, despite views to the contrary, my real wildlife interests are in mammals rather than birds, so a couple of weeks on the Island at this time of year gives me an opportunity to take a look at some of the UK’s biggest.

Ramsey is the largest pupping location in south-west Britain and around 500 to 700 born on its beaches each year between August and November. Walking around the island, the calls of the adults and pups can be heard coming up from the shoreline in most places and I could even hear them whilst I was lying in bed this morning.

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My time on Ramsey this year hasn’t just been spent looking at them for fun, I have also been helping with the ongoing monitoring work that the RSPB do. I have been helping out with two sets of work. The first involves taking photographs of the adults; the images are then uploaded onto a database which has pattern recognition software and can identify individual seals. This enables the seals to be tracked between different locations on Ramsey and much further afield.

The second monitoring task has been surveying the pupping beaches every three days. The surveys involve counting all pups, all females on the beaches, females in the water, all males and any dead pups (old or recent). The pups are also categorised according to a set of aged-related parameters:

  • Class I – new born – very loose baggy skin, wet/red umbilicus – 14kg
  • Class II – 6 to 10 days old – starting to fill out but still an obvious neck, no loose skin folds on the body
  • Class III – 11 to 15 days old – Outline rounded to barrel shaped, no wrinkles, no neck
  • Class IV – 16 to 20 days old – Patches of white natal fur moulted to reveal first-year pelage underneath
  • Class V – 21 days + – Fully moulted, independent and weaned – 45kg

It’s quite amazing just how fast the pups grow and that in just three weeks they are weaned and independent. Growing at an average rate of 1.5kg a day on the rich milk of their mothers, they soon turn from yellowy-white wrinkly bags of wet fur, through to miniatures of their parents.

Aber Mawr, just south of the Bungalow where the volunteers stay, is the largest bay on the Island and also the largest pupping beach. The first count I did there revealed 91 pups but a few days later, following a storm, there had been a drop of nine. Compared to some of the storms last year, however, the pups got off quite lightly. Storm Orphelia, in October 2017, washed away many pups with the count across the Island dropping from 120 to 31. We’ll have to wait and see what further storms come their way this year.

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More to come on the seals…

A brief sunny spell…

After what has seemed like endless days of cloud, rain and wind, yesterday afternoon turned sunny and in the shelter from the wind provided by the east coast slopes of Ramsey Island, it was momentarily summer again. I went out to take photos of seals on some of the pupping beaches – largely for scientific purposes – but I did get some nice more artistic shots of them and this scene below.

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This shot is looking north-eastwards across the Bitches (the reef of rocks stretching out from the Island’s coast), and onto the Pembrokeshire Coast. In the left-middle distance are the two RNLI Lifeboat Stations and on the left is the small peak of Carn Llidi, with St. David’s head disappearing further beyond. There aren’t many flowers left blooming on the Island but there are a few pockets of gorse and heather still out in the early autumn sun.

September on Ramsey Island

Last year I was lucky enough to have an extra week on Ramsey Island, on top of my usual fortnight. I’ve been volunteering each year for the RSPB on the Island since 2012 but before that extra week, I had never stayed in September. Having enjoyed that week, I decided that I would book my fortnight this year in September too as opposed to my usual springtime stay.

Ramsey Island in September is very different from earlier in the year. Gone are cliff-nesting seabirds and so have many of the other birds from the Island’s sheep fields and maritime heathland. All but the last few flowers have disappeared, with the final purple flushes of the heather dotted here and there. Even the bracken is falling over with the deep green turning to reds, oranges and rustiness.

I arrived on Saturday but there haven’t been any visitor boats since. Usually there are incoming boats at 10am and 12pm bringing up to 40 visitors each but the wind has been strong enough to prevent them from running, so there have only been four of us on the island for the past few days (Greg, the site manager, Alys, a student studying the seals and two of us volunteers). It looks like this will continue until at least Saturday with more wind forecast and the seas not having much chance to subside.

It’s been lashing it down with rain again today, so we spent time painting the Bungalow (where the volunteers stay) but we also went out to do the latest round of surveys of the grey seal pupping beaches – more on those in a later post.

I’ve been a little slow with my blogging of late but hope to have a few more posts before my stay is over…

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