After a nice couple of days on Ramsey, the first official day of spring was heralded by a screaming gale from the south east! Lisa and I spent the day tucked away working on the volunteers bungalow in readiness for our first arrivals in just over a weeks time.
Apparently we now have a Ramsey You Tube channel so as a test I've uploaded this very short video to give an idea of conditions out here today (hopefully some higher quality videos to follow if this works!)
When I heard Greg and Dewi sneaking out of the house at the crack of dawn this morning I didn't think much of it. About an hour later I got a message telling me to look at the summit of Carn Llundain (our highest peak at 136m). To commemorate a stunning Welsh victory in the 6 Nations yesterday he had decided to cart a 2 meter pole to the top of the hill and fly the flag! Given it was such a fantastic morning I followed them up with the camera!
I'm always torn between supporting the land of my mother and the land where I live, (Wales) or the land of my father where I was born (England). But I have to admit to cheering Cuthbert over yesterday for his two tries! Much to Greg's delight!
Welsh flag on top of Carn Llundain looking north to Carn Ysgubor
GM and Dewi after hoisting the flag!
After this they actually got on and did some work, finding a pair of chough nest building, the first of the season. Might be time to lose that winter beard Greg?!
Like the rest of the UK, Ramsey has experienced some pretty cold weather these last couple of days. Frost and ice, although not as common as the mainland, is still found out here through December and January but by March it is usually beginning to become a distant memory. Sub zero night time temperatures for the past 2 days are a new Ramsey record for March in the past 8 years (since year round records began) and the ponds and feeding troughs have frozen over. Snow showers, blizzard like at times in the biting north easterly gale, were a feature of yesterday.
frozen stream on Ramsey
Following our first wheatear of the year on 9th plus a couple more later than day and on the 10th, migration has largely been put on hold. Although yesterday, in the thick of the worst weather, our first migrant chiffchaff of the year appeared......in our bedroom! Having probably spent the winter in the southern Med or north Africa it was no doubt a shock to the system to turn up on frozen Ramsey! Some chiffchaffs overwinter in the UK but I am pretty confident this is a genuine migrant thanks to something I learned just a few days ago from reading the excellent Skokholm Island and Bardsey Island blogs (every day is a school day!). If you get a really good look at these birds (both Bardsey and Skokholm are ringing stations so this is easier) then you can see 'pollen horns' on some migrant birds. These are matted areas of feathers at the base of the bill caused by pollen acquired through birds feeding on insects in flowers. As the Skokholm blog says, not much in the way of flowering plants out here at the moment so a good indicator that these are probably genuine migrant birds.
After a bit of leaping around the room I managed to catch the chiffchaff and safely release it outside (not that he/she thanked me for it!)
Chiffchaff in bedroom (pollen horns just about visible in this shot)
Close up of the chiffchaff in the hand where the pollen horns are more visible
Today saw the arrival of the first wheatear of the year on Ramsey. It is the 3rd earliest record in the past 20 years, the earliest being 3rd March in 2007. This bird is probably on it's way north with our breeding birds arriving slightly later. 109 pairs nested on Ramsey last year making the island one of the (if not the) most densley populated sites in Wales for this species.
This species is one of many that have benefited from the removal of rats from the island. They have also benefited from the sterling efforts of Derek Rees and his team who restored over 8km of drystone wall between 1998-2008 thanks to an ESA funded scheme. Over 80% of our wheatears nest in these walls. Numbers have steadily increased from around 60 pairs in 1999 to a record of 115 pairs in 2010.
Male northern wheatear on Ramsey in 2012 (photo: M Hoffman)
Dr Stephen Votier and his team have been carrying out research on our RSPB reserve of Grassholm for the past 7 years. Their work has focused on foraging and migration strategies of northern gannets. Click here for a link to their latest paper looking at potential impacts of a discard ban