In 2014 Dr Matt Wood from University of Gloucestershire spent several night on Ramsey looking for possible new storm petrel sites. This diminutive seabird was first recorded breeding here as recently as 2008 when 5 pairs were discovered at a site on the island's rugged west coast. New nest sites have been discovered in that area in the intervening years and the population is probably in the region of 10-20 pairs altogether.
European storm petrel (photo: Dave Boyle)
Although not recorded, storm petrels may have bred on Ramsey in the dim and distant past but with the arrival of rats through shipwrecks in the 1800's their days were numbered. The successful rat eradication project in 1999 led by Wildlife Management International meant that the way was clear for them to (re)colonise. Nearby Skokholm holds the largest population of this species in Wales with around 2,000 pairs, Skomer has in the region of 300-400 pairs and the Bishops and Clerks (a string of RSPB owned islets 2-3 miles off Ramsey's west coast) hold around 150 pairs (which is possibly where the pioneering Ramsey birds came from).
Matt has been using the thermal imaging camera on Skokholm over the past couple of years and has gained some fascination footage that will help with future work to monitor this often cryptic species. On Ramsey the task was different - try and find potential new sites away from the single known colony. A visit in July saw two birds investigating a boulder scree area on the west coast but subsequent more detailed surveying didn't reveal anything further. It is likely these birds were non-breeders prospecting for the future, which is of course equally as good news. In August we found a single bird showing interest in a potential looking site on the east coast, again probably a non-breeder. We captured this using the thermal imaging camera and it is shown in the video clip below.
The bird can clearly be seen flying around the valley and, at times, investigating the habitat which is a mixture of large rock boulders towards the sea and smaller cliff crevices further up the valley. Given that this is on the east side of the island (on the opposite side to the known colony) and we have mist netted birds in this area previously, it bodes well for a the possible establishment of a second sub-colony on Ramsey in the near future. The camera operates in complete darkness using infra-red and emits no light meaning the natural behavior of the birds can be observed without any disturbance
The clip below is taken on Skokholm using the same camera and shows a very different scene! We might have only filmed one bird on Ramsey but with a bit of patience and continued rigorous biosecurity measures it is hoped that we might see scenes like this played out on here one day.....
A big thanks to Matt and all at UGlos Bioscience department for agreeing to include Ramsey in their project. There is clearly great scope for this camera and I'm sure it can be put to further good use in the coming years.
After our planned trip to Skokholm this weekend was cancelled due to the forecast, Lisa and I decided to head down to south Pembs anyway to revisit some old haunts. A night in the Lobster Pot in Marloes was followed by an 8am start for a trip over to Skokholm to pick up some guests. Thanks to Kenny from Dale Sailing for allowing us to jump aboard the Dale Princess and at least say a brief hello to Giselle and Rich. All too soon we were back on the boat and heading across to Skomer.
Approaching Skokholm from the north
Giselle, Rich and Will on Skokholm
We landed on Skomer and went for a quick walk round before a cup of tea with wardens Bee and Eddie at North Haven. It was lovely to see the old cabin we used to live in looking in such good condition!
The 'cabin' on Skomer - home to Lisa and myself in 2004 and 2005
GM with Captain Kenny on board the Dale Princess (yes that really is Kenny smiling!)
Lisa at High Cliff on Skomer with Skokholm in the background
By 12pm were were on our way back to Haverfordwest, a quick food shop then back 'up north' for the 4pm crossing to Ramsey. Three islands in one day! Not bad going!
If you want to visit Skomer or Skokholm see details on the WTSWW website here
Boats to Ramsey will be running daily to the end of October (weather permitting) and it won't be long before seal pups start being born in good numbers and become readily visible from the cliff top paths. Most years we have up to 700 pups born on Ramsey, the largest grey seal pupping site in SW Britain.
Contact Thousand Islands Expeditions on 01437 721721 for boat booking details for Ramsey.
In May of this year BSG Ecology deployed a bat detector on Ramsey (along with Skomer and Skokholm) to monitor seasonal variation in bat encounter rates and species diversity on the Pembrokeshire islands
Each week we download the data and send it across to the BSG team. They will analyse it fully later this year and produce a report on their finding in winter 2014/15. I have to admit to being slightly reticent at first that we would find any bats bar the odd pipistrelle but this soon changed when Matt and Rachel from BSG took a quick peek at some of the early data. I am now quite happy to eat my words as we have logged a minimum of 6 different species of bat on the island with the prospect of more to come!
Greater horseshoe bat, common and soprano pipistrelle, noctule, brown long-eared and one of the myotis species have all been recorded in varying numbers. The common pipistelles are nightly and the greater horseshoes are recorded most weeks. Noctules have been present sporadically since June with the others producing occasional records
There might well be more to come when analysed fully and with migration season upon us again it will be very interesting to see what else the island can turn up.
The data will also be of interest in that there is little baseline information concerning the bat fauna of the Pembrokeshire islands, so it will be good to fill a gap in our current knowledge. Ramsey is well known for it's high invertebrate populations (e.g. beetles and moths) so this is one possible reason that bats are finding the island so attractive. The pipistrelles are probably using the old barn and with bats being seen coming out of one of our sea caves earlier in the season it will be fascinating to see the final results of this work.
For more general information on bats see the excellent Bat Conservation Trust website
The BSG kit comprises an Anabat recording device which uses Analook software to produce sonograms of the bats calls. This is a typical greater horseshoe back sonogram with the call peaking at 80kHz
The noctule bat produces a very different sonogram and calls at a much lower frequency