Ramsey Island hosted its first ever ‘Bug Bioblitz’ days this week and thankfully we had some fabulous June weather to help make the events a big success. St Davids based entomologist, Sarah Beynon, joined island staff and volunteers to show 100 children, parents and teachers some of the special insects which make Ramsey their home.
The two day event was organised to coincide with the Royal Entomological Society’s National Insect Week which is celebrating all that is great about British insects. Lots of families joined us on Sunday and two school groups, one from Pembroke Dock and one from Spittal crossed to the island on Monday.
Sarah took three groups on a bug walk, spotting ants, butterflies, moths and caterpillars along the way. Highlight of the walk were the dung beetles caught overnight in some carefully positioned ‘drop traps’ baited with fresh cow dung! We learnt about dung beetle ecology and how they prevent the world from disappearing under animal droppings, recycling nutrients back into the soil and providing food for hungry birds like chough and little owl in the process.
Back at the farmhouse we had some other large beetles, but these were just visiting. Sarah’s pet Giant Madagascan Cockroaches were a great hit with the children who were able to hold these impressive animals; in fact they are some of the world’s largest cockroaches. When disturbed they can ‘hiss’ by forcing gas through their spiracles. They are currently sitting on my desk eating bananas and oranges waiting for Sarah to come back and collect them, I have to admit that I have become quite fond of them already!
Sarah’s research has shown that Ramsey is a superb habitat for dung beetles. It is the different grazing animals that make it so special, as the dung of sheep, deer, ponies and rabbits provide very varied habitats that are attractive to different species of dung beetle. One of the beetles discovered on the island; the Spring Dumbledore, Geotrupes vernalis, is Nationally Scarce but thrives in Ramsey’s southern heathland.National Insect Week happens every two years and is supported by more than 50 national partner organisations, including the RSPB, concerned about natural history and biodiversity. Island wardens would like to thank Sarah for all her hard-work and for passing on her expert knowledge, Field Teachers Tara and Martha, who came to help from our Newport Wetlands reserve and to all the fantastic children for their endless enthusiasm. We hope to meet you all again soon.
We've just finished 2 days of filming with BBC Coast. The presenter was our friend Sarah Beynon who has been carrying out research on Ramsey's dung beetle population as part of her PhD at Oxford University. The piece focused on Sarah's dung beetle research and their importance for our chough population but also looked at cliff ecology in general and included sections on our seabird populations.
Sarah did an excellent job as presenter and thanks also to the crew of Dan, Sean and James.
Sarah demonstrating some of Ramsey's finest dung beetles
Sarah and Lisa discussing seabirds on a Ramsey clifftop
In between gales, rain and fog we have all been busy counting seabirds this week. Thankfully Greg, Nia and I had some, much needed, extra help from Amy Vanstone and Sarah Money, both experienced RSPB staff, based in north Wales.
On Sunday we had a settled spell which allowed us to get out in the boat to count cliff nesting guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and shags. Despite the deceptive calm, there was still a big swell on the island’s west coast, making counting birds through binoculars a testing and stomach churning exercise. Thanks to Zamen and Martin on the Ocean Ranger for safely skippering us around the island and into our sea caves. They even managed to bag us a summer plumage black guillemot in Ramsey Sound on the way home.
The rest of the week has been spent crawling around on the ground, looking for burrows and surveying for Manx shearwaters. My carpet-layers trousers complete with in-built knee pads have definitely come in useful. The technique involves playing a recording of a male Manx shearwater to 20% of all the burrows on the island, suitable for a shearwater to lay its egg inside. That’s a whopping 3,000 burrows to be exact! If a male bird is at home, incubating its egg, it will almost always call back in order to defend the burrow from the potential intruder. In contrast, females are more relaxed and never respond.
After many hours of fieldwork and a little maths, it is possible to work out the whole island population of these fantastic birds. This survey is hugely labour intensive and so we only carry out the full island census every five years, just as well for our aching joints and our sanity!
Mid-way through the survey period, it looks like Manx shearwater numbers will be up on the last full count completed in 2007 and our cliff nesting Guillemots also appear to have increased. Watch this space for the final figures at the end of June.