Last week I blogged about the wonderful and truly spectacular colony of Gannets on Grassholm Island, off the coast of Pembrokeshire. This small rocky outcrop plays host to ten per cent of the breeding population each summer, and as such is a vitally important part of the species continued survival.
I was invited to tag along with a group from the RSPB, John Griffiths, the Environment Minster from the Welsh Assembly and the warders from Ramsey Island to see this for ourselves, and to hand the minister a pledge to do more to protect the areas around the islands. What may surprise you is that despite the amount of protection awarded to these creatures on land, there is little protection for them and the food that they eat in sea.
Whilst out at sea we saw a few Kittiwakes gliding along the top of the sea’s surface, if you have read Gareth’s blog you will know that this species has suffered a disastrous couple of years, with numerous failed breeding attempts. This could be an indication that all is not well below the surface of the waves.
As we approached Ramsey there were plenty of seals to be seen basking on the rocks around the coastline. It is just coming into breeding time for them and soon the rocks will be adorned with white pups. I also had another “first” when a pod of common dolphins decided to shadow our boat. I have to be honest with you, I forgot I was there to photograph and just sat, jaw agape, as they leapt out of the water, not five metres from where I was seated! We were also lucky enough to see a small pod of three Risso’s Dolphins. It is the largest dolphin to visit British waters. It was quite a sight to see the large dorsal fin breaking the surface away from the boat.
Another bird we managed to get a glimpse of was the Manx Shearwater, a mysterious bird that nests on Ramsey Island. They leave their burrows at first light and spend the day fishing out on the open water, they only return under the cover of darkness with food for the chicks. They are very poor at escaping ground based predators, which is why they have adopted this survival strategy. A lot of people associate the Pembrokeshire Islands with Puffins, and we did see quite a few flying alongside the boat out in the open water, but the area should really be identified with the Manxies. Forty five per cent of the world’s population nest on four Welsh Islands. Greg Morgan, Ramsey Islands warder, played us a tape of the eerie Manx’s call, and explained how long ago sea farers would avoid the islands out of fear of what may lurk there. It is thought that is where the legend of the sirens, luring a ship onto the rocks with the ethereal song, came from. Manx’s numbers have increased dramatically on Ramsey since steps were taken to remove unnatural predators from the island. It is hoped that the Puffins may return soon too. Greg explained how only two years ago it would be unusual to see them fishing in the bay of the island, but now it is a common sight. With nesting space at such a premium on Stockholm Island, it can only be a matter of time before they naturally recolonize Ramsey. Ramsey Island has just celebrated its twentieth birthday under RSPB stewardship; it would be a fitting present if they did just that.
I had a tremendous day packed full of experiences that will live with me forever, and I would like to thank the RSPB Cymru team for allowing me to spend the day with them. The day ended with Gannets diving for fish in Saint Justinians harbour, and a cheeky seal, who clearly had found a much easier way of getting around. A perfect footnote I think you will agree.
More photographs from the trip can be found in my Flickr Set.
© Manx Shearwater - RSPB Images | Seal With Ray - Anthony Walton