Big thanks to Jamie the farrier and Graham the vet for coming over today to treat one of our ponies. His hooves had grown too long and needed trimming. Easier said that done with a semi wild animal that is rarely handled. It took a week of gently gaining their trust to get them feeding in the race which allowed the vet to administer a mild sedative before the farrier set to work with his tools.
He looks and probably feels much better now but we will keep a closer eye than usual on them this summer. There is more grass around this year with low rabbit numbers so they don't have to move around as much to find food which means the hoof can grown faster than than it is worn down.
Today is World Migratory Bird Day. At a time when migratory birds in Europe are facing a tough time of things (see Malta issue) it is worthwhile putting some time aside to celebrate the wonders of migration by appreciating the rigours these birds go through to reach our shores.
The weather on Ramsey today was fitting for such an occasion with thousands of swallows pouring across the island. Our breeding birds have been back from Africa for several weeks but these birds were still on the move probably heading to breeding sites further north.
One of the first migrants that we log on Ramsey each year is the northern wheatear, also an African migrant. Despite having been back since 9th March there was a noticeable bout of nest building from our resident pairs today. We have between 80-100 pairs nesting most year making Ramsey one of the densest sites in Wales for this species.
Female northern wheatear ripping lichen off the stone wall for nesting material
Mr and Mrs - female (foreground) and male wheatear at thier drystone wall nest site
Yet another African migrant there were at least three spotted flycatchers on the island today, one of which had a monumental battle catching and then eating a large female broad-bodied chaser dragonfly! It reminded us of seeing GBB gulls trying to force rabbits down their necks! Needless to say the flycatcher didn’t move much for a while!
Spotted flycatcher wrestling with a huge female broad bodied chaser dragonfly
Spotted flycatcher - well fed!
The first cuckoo of the year was seen today but I’m told that it’s bad luck to see a cuckoo before you hear it! Luckily this one looked like a female so she wouldn’t have been singing anyway!
It was a busy day too for our non migratory resident species. Linnets are having a great year. The lack of rabbits means there is a plentiful supply of grass seeds and they are cashing in on this. We normally log around 40-50 pairs but could top that this year which is great news for a species that is red listed in Wales
Male linnet perched on gorse
While one species benefits from low rabbit numbers another suffers but the east coast raven pair are managing to rear 2 chicks
Raven chicks today at around 3 weeks old (the smell is something else!)
The island is starting to bloom after all the rain of late with thrift starting to carpet the west coast. Spring squill is out too and the bluebells won’t be far behind. It looks like being a spectacular foxglove year too (good news for the bees!). As ever we are open 7 days a week weather permitting so contact Thousand Islands Expeditions on 01437 721721 if you want to visit. Hurry though as before you know it the flowers will be going over, the migrants starting to head south again and seal pups will be popping out!
The scene at the south end this afternoon - thrift starting to bloom
Back in January we ploughed up 3 acres of the old arable plot on Ramsey. The plan was to plant a variety of crops to serve various conservation needs. Many of you will know that we keep sheep on the island to help us manage our grass height to a level suitable for chough to access invertebrate prey that live in the upper soils. In harsh winters we bring on additional feed for the sheep (it’s a lot easier than moving them on and off all the time!) but this brings inherent biosecurity risks. Although we have stringent quarantine measures in place there is still a chance that an unwanted rat or mouse could be accidentally transported to the island in the feed. To counter this we decided to try growing our own sheep feed and at the same time plant some additional crops that will benefit seed eating birds too.
Ploughing back in January - the area had not been ploughed for many years so it was tough going at times!
This week Derek and I set to the task of sowing 3 acres worth of kale, rape and turnips (for the sheep), a wild bird mix containing triticale, barely, raddish, quinoa, mustard and millet and a strip of barely and Pembrokeshire black oats to create some winter stubble for chough (they will readily feed on seed in tough winters).
We fitted a seed spreader (thanks to local farmer Tom Spittle for the loan) to the quad that was powered off the bike’s 12v starter battery. I went up and down (many times!) while Derek followed behind on our 60 year old Massey Ferguson tractor first chain harrowing and then rolling the soil. We were at it for 9 hours on day one and then finished the job off the following morning.
Loading the seed into the hopper
Derek on the tractor
Below is a deliberately very short video of the process in action (I appreciate that watching someone else driving up and down in straight lines is not particularly interesting!)
The next day we set about erecting two electric fences – one to keep the rabbits out and the other for the red deer! Rabbit numbers are low at the moment but we all know what they can be like when it comes to reproduction so it pays to take precautions (pity the rabbits don’t adopt that policy!) Keeping red deer out might be more of an issue but a single strand of sheep wire at waist height has worked in the past. They usually inspect any new fence before jumping it so hopefully a wet nose on an electrified fence will make them think twice!
GM, Lizzie and Antonia testing the electric fence!
With such a big area to fence it is always a challenge to make sure there are no breaks or long vegetation touching the bottom which will earth it so it was a relief to see the tester reading maximum voltage all the way round first time.
Now we just need the rain.... but preferably at night only! If this works it will provide safe, secure winter sheep feed and some valuable additional habitat in what can be a tough period for the birds that winter out here. Wish us luck!
The new arable plot as seen from the top of Carn Llundain (the brown square in the middle of the photo)