The New Year began where 2011 left off, wet and wild!
Winds of over 70 mph screeched along the coast last night and late this evening it is still blowing a Force 10. It makes life quite difficult at times; simply putting one foot in front of the other can be a huge physical effort for humans and is almost impossible for our chickens.
It really has been quite brutal over the last 24 hours and that’s not a word I often use in association with the island.
I did manage to get a few photographs today of the monstrous sea off the island’s west coast. It was breaking right over the top of many of the small islets to the south of Ramsey with the salt spray funnelling up and over the interior of the island.
By crawling on my stomach and hiding the camera under my hood I managed to hold still and dry long enough to get a few shots. The camera is now recovering on the AGA and I’m warming nicely in front of the fire.
Here’s to a cold, crisp and calm spell in the near future.
Happy New Year.
Winter is not a time we normally associate with Shearwaters in these parts. The vast majority of our Manx shearwaters spend the winter in the southern hemisphere in the sardine rich waters off Argentina, returning to Ramsey in March. However this year we have been seeing small numbers of its close cousin, the Balearic shearwater off the island in late December and early January.
The Balearic shearwater, as its names suggests, is to be found breeding on Mediterranean islands and remains in the northern hemisphere over winter.
The species distribution and movement has been part of an intense study by researchers under the banner of Seawatch SW, a project which ran from 2007-2011. The Balearic shearwater is classed as Critically Endangered with the total breeding population restricted to a few islands in the Med and estimated at between 10,000-30,000 individuals and declining
It is becoming clear that UK waters are becoming an important component of their life cycle with between 1,000 and 5,000 recorded annually in UK and Irish waters over the past 10 years. Most of these sightings occur between July and October and most are recorded off SW England. Reasonable numbers are recorded off the Welsh coast too in this period. Smaller numbers are recorded in winter, again mainly off SW England, but as we have seen over the past few weeks, there have been a small but regular number of birds off west Wales during this period. It will be interesting to see if sightings continue through January.
The same team from Oxford University who are involved with tracking our Manx shearwaters are also using the same technology on Balearics in Mallorca, along with researchers from Seawatch SW. A paper is due soon and will make fascinating reading. Click on the Seawatch SW link above for lots more info on this species.
A relative of the Manx shearwater, the Hutton's shearwater is found on the other side of the world and is endemic to NZ. It is only found breeding at 2 locations in that country. The entire world population is in the Kaikoura mountain range at a height of between 1200-1800m, totalling around 114,000 pairs.
I say '2 breeding locations' but there is now hope that a 3rd will become established. The NZ Dept of Conservation (DoC) co-ordinated a project between 2005-2008 taking chicks from the mountain colonies and moving them to a new 'purpose built' colony on the Kaikoura peninsula at sea level. The area has a 'predator proof' fence around it and all predators within the area (rats, stoats etc) were eradicated at the start. It has just been announced that the first chick has hatched at this new location. See the Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust website for more details about the project.
Don’t forget that it’s the Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend. Over half a million people will be taking part in what is the world’s biggest wildlife survey and two of them will be here on Ramsey. The island garden can be an unforgiving place in the winter. Despite the mild climate on the coast, with few frosts (only 1 so far this winter) and with snow a rarity, it is the wind and exposure that make it tough for common garden birds.
So what can we expect this weekend? The house sparrow came top of the chart last year across Wales, with an average of over five per garden. However, we are very unlikely to see one as they rarely make the crossing from the ivy-clad slopes of St Justinian to Ramsey. However, we do have both blue and great tit over-wintering with us, both in last year’s top ten. And although these colourful tits will not stay to breed in the summer the same five birds have been with us since October. In fact, they are becoming quite pushy when they want to be fed, often following Greg or myself around the farm, making a row and diving around until we oblige with suet and seed. Other winter visitors include song thrush and starling.
I would hope to get our resident blackbird, wren, robin and dunnock on the list. With the mild conditions and the odd sunny day, they have all been singing from the brambles and willow in the farmhouse valley.
We also have a stunning male bullfinch with us at the moment. Apologies for the rather shaky photo but I had to lean out of the bathroom window to get it! He has been here for over a week, so fingers crossed he will stay until Saturday. Other possibilities for the weekend include chaffinch, kestrel, stonechat, starling and goldfinch.
To step up for nature and take part, simply spend one hour over the weekend of 28-29 January, counting the birds in your garden or local park, and record the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time. Visit the Big Garden Birdwatch webpages for more information and to submit your results online.