It has been a good season for chough on Ramsey. This year we had 9 territorial pairs (8 in 2013) of which 7 went on to nest build and attempt to breed. The other 2 were non-breeding pairs that were establishing a territory for the first time which is encouraging for the future.
Of the 7 breeding pairs, 2 failed at the incubation stage (one to bad weather, the other for unknown reasons but they were first time breeders so this is not unusual)
The 5 remaining pairs fledged 17 young between them (two sites fledged four young each, the other three fledged three young each)
This gave an average of 2.43 per breeding pairs (17 / 7) or 3.4 young per successful pair
This is slightly up on last year where 7 pairs fledged 14 young between them (2.0 per breeding pair).
The first of the 7 sites to start nest building did so on 9 March, the latest on 21 March.
Incubating birds were first noted on 14 April with the first chicks being fed from 2 May. The first site to fledge young did so on 9 June with the last getting young out on 15 June
Our oldest known chough on the island is a male bird ringed as a nestling in 2000. At 14 years old he once again bred successfully in 2014. Since he first started breeding aged 3 years old he has fledged an impressive 38 young! He is obviously seen as something special as his current partner actually jumped ship a couple of years ago and ‘divorced’ her partner at the time when the older bird's partner died and he suddenly became available! Divorce is not uncommon in choughs following breeding failure but the pair in question had been doing very well and were even well into nest building for that year’s attempt when the female left!
Fledging is only half the story though. The first year of a chough’s life is a difficult time and it is this ‘first year survival’ figure that is vital in terms of maintaining and ultimately increasing population levels. This spring has been encouraging with large numbers of non breeding birds (1 and 2 year olds in the main) being present on the island. They form large quarrelsome groups and prospect for future partners and nest sites whilst serving as a constant annoyance to the established breeders trying to get on with the important work of raising young!
Our non-breeding flock this spring numbered between 15 to 30 birds but on 23rd May reached an impressive 48 birds (some of these might have been our breeding birds but the vast majority were non breeders)
large chough flock over Ramsey
On Ramsey we try and maintain suitable conditions for chough throughout the year to give young birds the best chance of making it through the winter. They feed on soil invertebrates with beetle larvae and crane fly larvae being important components of their diet. By grazing livestock on the island year round we can help keep sward height to suitable levels in all seasons as well as providing an alternative feeding habitat in the form of animal dung.
Sarah Beynon from Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm here in St Davids has been studying our dung beetles on Ramsey since 2009 and tells us that the population levels found on Ramsey are higher than anywhere she has studied on the nearby mainland
You can see chough on Ramsey right through the season. Summer is a good time as the breeding groups begin to amalgamate into larger social groups, Mixed in with non-breeders this can give rise to some sizeable flocks forming (50-60 birds at times)
Young chough begging to adult
Ramsey is open to the public until 31st October – contact Thousand Islands Expeditions for boat booking details on 01437 721721 or email email@example.com
Today has seen some quite extreme weather on the island. After 17 days of no rain we had 40mm of rain in less than 24 hours! (including 10mm in an epic 20 min spell this afternoon!). That is more than we have in the whole of June most years.....
In between the monsoon like conditions we had bursts of brilliant sunshine which made for some fantastic 'sky-scapes'
To illustrate how localised the showers were I was out attempting to do a shearwater census when Dewi and I got hit by a torrential burst (the one that gave 10mm in 20 mins mentioned above). While we took a pounding I got a text from Jess in the Thousand Islands boat office, not 2 miles away, of a picture of them in glorious sunshine!
Worlds apart: While Dewi and I took the brunt of a cloudburst (top), St Davids looked this this! (bottom)
30mm in the gauge when I checked it on our way out - with another 10mm in there 20 mins later! Last June we had 40mm in the whole moth!
It's been dry for a few hours now and looks like being a glorious evening with some great clouds over the mainland. The rest of the weekend looks more settled with Sunday the best day. If you are thinking of visiting call Thousand Islands Expedition on 01437 721721 - there is an Insect Week event on the island on Sunday (29th) led by Dr Sarah Beynon from Dr Beynon's Bug Farm which I can highly recommend,. See here for further details
An early start this morning to finish off our seabird counts. And what a sparkling morning it was, calm clear and sunny, absolutely perfect conditions for counting with binoculars from a moving boat.
This year’s counts have been generously sponsored by Thousand Islands Expeditions in St David’s and it was the jet boat Ocean Ranger that picked Amy, Greg and myself up from Ramsey harbour. The aim of the exercise was to finish our counts of Fulmar and Kittiwake. Most of these cliff-nesting birds had already been counted from the island but there are a few blind spots and dramatic caves that can only be viewed by boat.
On our way around the west coast of Ramsey we checked in on our Puffin decoys and sound system and were thrilled to be greeted by a positive ‘wheel’ of 16 birds flying around underneath their plastic cousins above! Another step closer to the possible re-colonisation of Ramsey by Puffins following the successful rat eradication project back in 1999/2000?
We’re yet to finalise all the figures but Kittiwake numbers were noticeably lower than in 2013 and shags were conspicuous by their absence from all their usual nesting haunts. Many shags washed in dead during the winter storms in February and this may be the cause of decline this year.
Fulmar numbers appear normal and our study plot counts of Guillemots and Razorbills also look like being around the average. It was also great to see families of chough circling high over their cave nest sites, with all our pairs having fledged families in the last week and all getting either three or four youngsters out of the nest each. A great result.
After a quick cup of tea back at the farmhouse, the Ocean Ranger and her skippers Zamen and Martin were back out on the water. They were off to Grassholm with Amy as the RSPB guide for a group of very lucky and excited passengers, who all had a thoroughly enjoyable day, visiting the gannet colony this morning and then landing on Ramsey for the afternoon.
We are indebted to Thousand Islands Expeditions for their help this year and for providing their boats and expert crews free of charge. Not only do they assist RSPB staff here in Pembrokeshire with our research on Ramsey and out to Grassholm, but they are also sponsoring the work of our friends and colleagues in Mallorca where their financial support is funding work on critically endangered Balearic Shearwaters.