Last winter you might remember us blogging about a new arable plot experiment we were trying. It served three purposes (i) to enable us to grow winter feed for our sheep to eliminate the biosecurity risks of bringing food over from the mainland (i.e. rats and mice) (ii) to provide winter stubble for chough (they will feed on spilled seed during tough winters) and (iii) to provide additional habitat for foraging finches (in particular linnets which are red listed in Wales)
Step 1 in the process back in January (good line that!)
We weren't sure how thing would turn out given the stony nature of the soil and the lack of additional nutrients.The good news is things have gone better than expected! After a successful growing season which saw the weather favour us with lots of rain and warmth we started by cutting corn the traditional way and made stooks which are being used by skylarks, linnets and a host of autumn migrants. Next we started harvesting the fodder turnip crop which will act as sheep feed this winter. We will store them indoors and use it when required. In the meantime the sheep will be turned into the arable plot to browse the smaller turnips that are still growing along with the kale. This will ‘pep them up’ before the rams are introduced for a few weeks in November. After that the additional feed will help keep them in good condition through to lambing.
April: planting complete - deer and rabbit electric fence being tested (they did the job!)
June and things are coming on nicely
The wild bird mix option has been a huge hit with linnets. We had 66 pairs nesting this year (up from 46 two years ago) with up to 300 birds feeding on the ripening seed heads during September and October.
July saw the wild bird mix flowers at their peak
.....which come September attracted hundred of linnets to feed on the seed heads
Harvesting has all been by hand with volunteers and staff getting stuck into scything corn in September and Lisa and I undertaking the back breaking work of turnip picking over the past few days. It’s all been well worth it and a great way to keep fit!
With a nod to traditional methods the oats and barely were cut and stooked by hand!
Not a bad harvest considering there was no fertilizer or nutrients added to the soil. This lots should keep the sheep happy over winter and a few might even make their way into the odd stew!
Early September is the peak Manx shearwater fledging period. Following rat eradication on Ramsey in 1999 our population of this nocturnal burrow nesting seabird has increased from 850 pairs to 3,800 (in 2012). We now carry out various research projects to study the ongoing positive effects of predator removal , one of which is the ringing of fledglings, something that would not have been possible when rats were here.
For around 7-10 days before departing young birds leave the safety of the burrow at night and exercise their wings or just go for a bit of a wander. Some don’t even bother going back to their own burrow! They aren’t being fed any longer, in fact the parents will be well on their way south by this time, some may even have reached the wintering grounds off Argentina already.
It is during these night time forays that we pick them up and put a uniquely numbered metal ring on their leg and hope to see them again in the future. Each year we pick up some of these returning birds with two years old being the youngest returnees we have found – it looks like they spend their entire life up till then at sea. We then see then again in following years until they start to breed at around five or six years.
With over 50% of the world's population breeding on the islands of Skomer, Skokholm and Ramsey it should be Pembrokeshire's iconic bird but somehow the gaudy overrated puffin seems to have stolen that tag! :)
Thanks to all those who came to help this year – Becky, Kathy, Karen and Mary (the latter two from our RSPB Conservation Data Management Unit who are helping with analysis of our shearwater data and got to see their subject first hand!)
However it's not all plain sailing for our fledglings.......
Manx shearwater fledgling ringing on Ramsey 2015
Lizzie weighing birds in the cone. We use red light in the main to minimise the light impact on birds
This time of year is fraught with danger for the young shearwater about to head off to south America alone without any previous ‘instruction’ or learning. When leaving on a dark, foggy and rainy night the artificial lights of the nearby mainland can act as an unnatural attraction and confuse birds. Disorientated birds can end up grounded inland and are at risk of predation by cats and other mainland predators. Their bodies are adapted for swimming with their legs set far back, making walking a cumbersome process. This is the reason they have evolved a nocturnal presence on land on predator free islands. Without human intervention they are unlikely to find their way back to sea.
On Sunday morning I received two early morning phone calls from St Davids residents reporting they had picked up Manx shearwaters more than 2 miles inland. Had the birds been injured I would have directed the callers to the RSPCA (0300 1234 999) as the RSPB is not an animal welfare charity and we are not qualified or equipped to deal with such incidents. However these birds were simply grounded inland so I was more than happy to receive them back (they had almost certainly come from Ramsey).
One of the birds knew what it was doing and landed on the doorstep of the office of one of our local boat operators! A huge thank you to Voyages of Discovery for ferrying both birds across to us on Sunday morning, especially Scott who did a speedy 4 mile round trip to collect the second bird from the office between trips! And thank you to the member of the public who boxed his bird up and walked it to the boat office
I released them safely at dusk yesterday evening. I did so from the western side of the island and before dark so they could get out to sea and away from artificial lighting. The weather was much improved last night so any fledglings should have got away no problem (no phone calls this morning at least!)
Fortunately the weather was nice for most of early September and even though it has changed now the vast majority of birds will have fledged so we shouldn’t see too many more such incidents.
Now lets hope this change in the weather doesn't spell trouble for our seal pups......
Voyages of Discovery delivering the wayward shearwaters from St Davids - thank you!
'Shearwater delivery for Ramsey!' (don't worry we didn't slow cook them!)
Off duty sheepdog Dewi made sure they didn't escape
Together for the final journey to the west coast (that day they had been transported on foot, by car, boat and finally quad bike!)
Head that way, keep Europe on your left and bear right when you hit Africa
Next time you miss the boat to Ramsey you can always try swimming! It only takes 32 minutes!
Yesterday 5 members of the St Davids RNLI crew took on the momentous challenge of swimming from Ramsey back to the RNLI station across the notorious Ramsey Sound. The tide flows at 8-10 knots in places and even at 'slack water' there are still rip currents flowing both ways. The crew set off from the shelter of our harbour but were soon being pulled north on the end of the flooding tide. As the tide eased they manged to hold their line and landed on the lifeboat steps in a series of impressive times ranging from 32 to 42 minutes, smashing their own modest pre swim predictions!
The crew were raising money towards the new RNLI lifeboat station being built at St Justinians - if you would like to donate to the cause you can retrosepctively sponsor the team for their herculean efforts on their Just Giving page
Below is a short video of the start and a few photos