Each spring and late summer we treat our sheep to prevent a particularly nasty condition called 'fly strike'. The green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata) lay their eggs in the wool of sheep and when the maggots hatch they have a ready food source available to them. Unfortunately for the sheep this means it will be slowly eaten alive. If not treated the injury caused by the maggots will kill the sheep hence the need to keep on top of this potential problem
During peak summer we don't have to worry about flies as they will have been sheared and there is no fleece for eggs to be laid in. By late August the fleece has grown back enough to become a problem again. Two days ago we noticed one of our ewes displaying classic 'fly strike' symptoms. She had taken herself away from the flock and was looking agitated, biting at her rear end and foot stamping. We brought her in and sure enough she had maggots on her. Luckily we caught her in time, sheared the affected area and treated her to prevent the flies re laying. We kept her in the yard overnight but by the next day she was good to go back out.
This served as the trigger to treat the whole flock so today we gathered all 100 in and spent the afternoon applying a spray that in effect acts as a repellent to the flies. It lasts up to 8 weeks so should see them through the remainder of the period when flies are active.
Sheep are vital to the success of chough on Ramsey as they graze the sward to a height and density that allows them to access the soil invertebrates that make up the bulk of their diet. This work is all part and parcel of animal husbandry and maintaining the flock in peak condition.
A busy afternoon for Dewi as he saved us a lot of legwork!
Tired but happy at the end!
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