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.