Another unseasonably wet and windy day in Pembrokeshire; the perfect opportunity to crunch some numbers. Bird numbers of course!
So having spent most of the day surrounded by maps and notebooks full of bird records from this spring’s fieldwork we finally have the definitive numbers for 2015. These include all our breeding birds from dunnocks and wrens to peregrine and chough. We also made a start on the 5-yearly full seabird survey, with counts of cliff nesters like guillemots and razorbills completed this June with the tricky burrow nesting seabirds; Manx shearwater and storm petrel due in 2016.
It was a good year for wheatears, with the number of pairs nesting in our stone-walls and rabbit burrows back up to 85 pairs from a relatively low count of 59 pairs last year. Linnets were up too with 66 pairs, undoubtedly benefiting from the swaths of seeding grasses across our fields this year, a result of low rabbit numbers. Our new arable plot, planted with wild bird mix is absolutely jumping with these small finches at present.
Meadow and rock pipit numbers were remarkably similar to those recorded in 2014, just one pair different in both species.
Out on the cliffs, Guillemots were at their highest number ever with 4,403 individuals counted by land and by boat during the first three weeks in June. Our thanks go to Thousand Islands Expeditions who yet again sponsored our boat based seabird counts, providing boats, skippers and crews free of charge.
Prior to 2013 there were no records of house martins breeding on Ramsey when suddenly one lone pair started building a nest on the south side of the farmhouse. The nest kept falling down so we quickly put up an artificial box and they got two broods away that year.
In 2014 the same, or possibly a different pair, returned and once again raised two broods. In August of last year we were treated to the sight of up to 60 birds swooping around the house and clinging to the walls. House martins were passing south on migration by this stage and we assume these possible non-breeders were attracted by the sights and sounds of that years fledged young.
Things are going from strength to strength and this year we have an incredible 8 pairs nesting! 3 of the 5 boxes on the south side of the house are occupied and all 5 of the new boxes we put up on the east side. Many of these birds had attempted to build naturally but for whatever reason (wrong paint on the house?, wrong mud?!) they kept falling down. One nest fell down just as the pair were about to lay but disaster was averted when our delivery contractor Derek hurriedly took down one his empty boxes, jumped in his boat and whizzed across Ramsey Sound with it! I put it straight up and by that evening the pair were settled in as if nothing had happened!
As write this all 8 boxes contain chicks, some of which will be fledging any day now. First broods usually hang around while the adults get on with second broods so the skies around the farmhouse are going to be even noisier soon!
Nationally house martins are in trouble. The recent BTO atlas for 2007-11 shows sharp declines in parts of England and Wales. The exact cause is unclear at present, the lack of insect rich feeding grounds close to urban areas and the switch to modern PVC fascia boards are both implicated. If you have nests or nest boxes on your house then the BTO are running a monitoring scheme in 2016 - see here for details
Most pairs attempted to build naturally but none were successful
Before long they had taken up our offer of house martin des-res!
It wasn't long before there were signs of hatching success littering the lawn
All 8 pairs are busy feeding young and it won't be long before they are out of the nest and, if weather and feeding conditions allow, the adults should fit in a second brood this year
In Nov 2013 we installed the first of our Manx shearwater study nest boxes. These were inspired from a visit to New Zealand where we saw them in action with Fluttering and Hutton's shearwaters. The aim was to give ourselves a population we could easily work on for productivity and GPS tracking purposes, something not that easy to achieve on Ramsey as most of our expanding population (still recovering following rat eradication) nest in a deep network of rabbit warrens.
14 of the 23 boxes installed to date have been visited by prospecting non-breeding birds. We know this from camera trapping and from evidence of occupation e.g. guano in entrance or in box or the fact that bracken stems carefully placed at the back of the tunnel had been knocked down.
However yesterday was a very exciting day in that a pair of birds were found in a box for the first time by day. This is a classic pattern that new pairs go through i.e. visiting the colony at night, finding a burrow, finding each other, then staying in the burrow by day to pair bond. I didn't have my ringing kit with me yesterday but Lisa and I went back this evening. Not unexpectedly this pair had gone back out to sea last night but another box (which had no birds in it yesterday but signs of a rudimentary nest) had 2 birds in it this time. We lifted the lid and carefully extracted the 2 birds from box 15 and put a metal BTO ring on each.
Hopefully these pairs, plus others will return to breed in the boxes next year. Non breeding birds return to the colony from year 2 onwards and find a mate and burrow in the following years before breeding for the first time at 5 or 6 years old.
Our next full survey is due in 2016 - in 2012 we had 3,800 pairs which is up from just 850 pairs in 1999, the year before the rat eradication project took place
Ramsey is slowly being restored to the seabird island it once was.
Lisa installing a Manx shearwater nest box in Nov 2013
GM ringing today's bird - the first to be found in the new nest boxes
The first Manx shearwater to take a shine to our nest boxes