Ramsey Island 2019 – Week 7

Another week passes and the weather is starting to annoy me now. After the amazing heat and sunshine of last summer I was hoping for a repeat but my hopes appear to be being dashed at the moment. This was another mixed week for boats with several days in a row when they didn’t run. There was much rain and wind, and it really doesn’t feel like summer has arrived at all yet. My first four weeks were quite nice with some warm sunshine, when out of the wind, but the past three weeks have been really quite bad.

The survey and monitoring work continues with the completion breeding bird survey, my Manx shearwater response survey and watching the chough nests. This week saw the first chough fledge and I saw the first one of the lot; it was perched outside the cave at Briw calling to its parents while at least one more sibling was still inside. Since then chicks have fledged from five other nests with more to come, hopefully.

I also started one of my favourite tasks – scything bracken. My first task wasn’t essential to bracken control on the island, but good for us walking around – I cut a path from the Bungalow down to the sheep fields and than out around the base of the hill. I look forward to more!

I had a day off the island, the first in three weeks, to do some food shopping, including buying some crabs – my first spider crab since I was about five or six. It was lovely to see that the verge flowers down the Pembrokeshire county lanes are still in full bloom.

The highlight of the week was jumping on an evening boat trip out to the Bishops and Clerks, the string of islands off Ramsey’s west coast. The sea was quite rough but we had good views of passing Manxies and of puffins and other birds on the islands. Hopefully, more trips out to come!

Ramsey Island 2019 – Week 6

My sixth week has been quite quiet on the island with boats bringing visitors running full services on two days and only one service on another. Much of my time has been spent continuing with my Manx shearwater survey, with another two weeks or so to go, and the odd chough watch. There was some more practical work too with one of the other volunteers and I replacing an old rickety stile at the north end of the island – we found the soil doesn’t go down very far!

I also had a return to office work this week with a morning spent writing blog posts for the RSPB website and writing appraisals of the short-term volunteers. The second post I have written is about the Myrtle warbler spotted on the island last week. The photos of the bird I took are now to appear in Birdwatch Magazine and a Dutch equivalent! 

The highlight of the week for me was Thursday’s guided walk. The day was lovely, sunny and warm with very little wind – perfect for showing off the island to visitors. I really enjoyed the three hours I spent guiding the group of 16 around the southern part of Ramsey. The wildlife really helped with the little owl showing well, the chough appearing at the right points and the shearwaters calling back immediately as I played calls down their burrows.

Unfortunately, the bad weather has meant that my four housemates, Dave & Sonia and Peter & Linda, has to leave two days early on Thursday. This left the Bungalow very quiet and I had to wait until Sunday for the next short-term volunteer to arrive.

I’m hoping that the weather for the next week will be much better, as apart from Thursday, the conditions have often felt more like autumn than summer!

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.

Myrtle Warbler

On Ramsey Island today we had my first ever major rarity and everyone got rather excited about it. Today was actually my day off and I was spending the morning baking and listening to back episodes of Desert Island Discs when I got a call from Lisa, the Warden, to rush down to the farmyard with my camera.

After a bit of searching, we found the male Myrtle Warbler by the chicken coop but he soon disappeared only to reappear in the farmyard. He came within three or four metres of us as we sat against a wall and I managed to get the following photos.

This is only the third time one of these cracking little American vagrants has been found in Wales and two of those times have been in Ramsey!

We’ll have to see how many twitchers we get coming across on the boats tomorrow.

Ramsey Island 2019 – Week 4

This week we’ve had some fantastic weather with Tuesday being particularly wonderful. I woke up early to go out to take some more dawn photos and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and barely any noticeable wind. This lasted much of the day and we had a lovely sunset to finish it off. I woke yesterday morning to rain and we need some more of the wet stuff, the Island’s grass is looking very dry compared to the fields across the Sound on the mainland.

I did all my usual tasks this week including helping with the boats and doing most of the introductory talks. I also finished off the oystercatcher survey and we started another round of chough watches. Now is the time for the chough chicks to hatch and we spent an hour at each of the nine chough nest locations monitoring and recording the activity. With both adults coming and going, and wiping their bills after leaving the nests, it was clear that many of the nests had chicks within them. However, there always seem to be one or two locations where more than one visit is required to check exactly what is happening.

Later in the week, I spent two afternoon’s supporting an exhibition in St David’s of paintings of Ramsey Island by David Cowdry to mark 25 years since the RSPB bought the island. The exhibition did very well, with at least half of the paintings sold and a significant sum raised for projects on the island.

I spent my day off visiting locations further up the coast from St David’s and had walks to St David’s Head and Aber Mawr. I can see St David’s Head from my bedroom and it was great to get another angle from which to look at the island. Aber Mawr was a bit of a revelation; it has a lovely pebbley beach with a fabulous old woodland behind. The woods were full of bird song and wildflowers, and I don’t think I have ever seen so many big ferns growing in a British woodland setting. I also saw my first sand martins of the year and the beach has a colony on its sandy cliff. After the visit to Aber Mawr, I went up to Strumble Head to do a spot of sea watching. There were loads of gannets flying around the area with many making their dramatic dives into the sea. Breaching the surface constantly were groups of both porpoise and bottle-nosed dolphin. The three stops during the day were interspersed with drives down high-banked country lanes with wild flowers in numbers I haven’t seen any where else. All-in-all, I had a great day exploring the North Pembrokeshire coast.

As the week came to an end, the volunteers changed again with both Steve and Chris leaving and four new ones coming on; Peter and Linda, and Dave and Sonia. It suddenly struck me that I really am here for quite some time and that for long term volunteers the Bungalow feels different to how it does for a short term volunteer (which I usually am). Being here for three months, routines are more developed, ways of doing things more set in and, generally, the place feels even more like ‘home’; my home, rather than everyone’s. So when new people come in, this all gets a little disrupted, and one could feel a little put out, no matter how lovely and well-intentioned the other volunteers all are. So, next time I come as a short-term volunteer, I will try a little harder to be more considerate to the long-term residents, especially if is their first stay here.