As some of you might know we try and get out to our Grassholm reserve each October to cut free juvenile gannets that have become entangled in plastic marine debris that accumulates in their nests. The plastic is mainly fishing related (rope, line and netting) that is floating on the surface of the sea. Gannets mistake it for seaweed and add it to their nests. Some chicks get tangled and as they grow it tightens around their legs and tether them to the nest.
After the disappointment of not being able to land last October due to prolonged adverse weather (the first time in 9 years this has happened) it was a relief to have a short window yesterday in which to make the trip out and land safely. It was actually quite a 'good' year in that the number of birds that needed cutting free was on the low side ('only' 40) - but as usual many more than this had died already. We cannot go out any earlier as our presence in the colony would cause too much disturbance and would do more harm than good. By October the only chicks that are left are those that are tangled (with the exception of few late downy chicks).
We sometimes get asked 'why do you bother?' If we didn't carry out this work it would not impact on the population as a whole as there are 40,000 pairs nesting on Grasshom. The reason we do it are a) from an animal welfare viewpoint (the birds would slowly starve to death eventually) and b) it helps raise the ongoing issue of plastic pollution in the marine environment
To help raise awareness on this front BBC Autumnwatch accompanied us yesterday to film the event. Iolo Williams was presenting but he also got stuck in and helped us cut free some birds. The piece will be aired on the show sometimes between 28th-31st October.
Once the work is finished there is a chance to look around for other birds on the island. It is always remarkable what you find out on this tiny wind swept rock, 8 miles out in the Irish Sea. Yesterday was no exception. The highlights were firecrest and tree sparrow but there were also single redwing, snipe, merlin, song thrush, turnstone, skylark, wren and dunnock plus 3 starlings and 5 rock pipits along with large numbers of lesser black back, great black back and herring gull. In addition there was a steady steam of red admiral butterflies arriving from the west (Ireland?) and powering on towards the Welsh mainland. We logged a minimum of 50 but there were probably many more. There was also 1 painted lady and a single common carder bee.
A big thank you to this year's team who helped Lisa and myself - Iolo and Mark from the BBC, Steve and Kirsten from University of Exeter and Arnold, Henry and Tim from Venture Jet. Thanks too to Tim and Beth from Venture Jet for once again negotiating the difficult landing on Grasshom and delivering us safely (and getting us home again!)
Some of the 2014 team (L-R: Arnie, Mark, Iolo, GM, LM, Steve and Kirsten)
Unfortunately we didn't get to this chick in time. The weight of plastic around it's leg is clear to see. This bird would have starved to death after being abandoned by the parents and then unable to fledge
When we headed out to start the seal count today the weather was quite acceptable. Not as windy as forecast, the showers were missing us and it was warming up. In the space of an hour all that changed and we were pelted with hail, caught up in a thunderstorm, dried off in a brisk wind and then back to pleasant sunshine! See below for some photos:
Not too bad looking east towards the mainland when we set out
Foreboding angry clouds to the west however.....
We were soon being pelted by hail the size of peas while thunder rumbled all around
A rainbow hinted that fairer weather was to follow
And sure enough it did!
Although the view to the south said it might not last long......
September and October can often bring some interesting birds when migration is in full swing. Although this year (so far!) hasn't hit the highs of 2013 when western Bonelli's warber and booted warbler were logged we have had a good run in the last week. Luckily for us our garden is quite a good spot as it offers some handy cover for birds in the form of several willow trees and various bushes (there is also a small olive tree that a previous warden planted with climate change in mind!)
A barred warbler on 29th September was only a second record for Ramsey and the first since 2001. Typically elusive Lisa managed to grab a couple of photos as it poppoed out of the willows to feed on the copious amount of blackberries that are available at the moment (a bumper crop means there are far too many for just the birds this year so we have been forced to make some pies and crumbles with them!)
Barred warber Sylvia nisoria breed in eastern Europe and Asia but some turn up in the UK every year
On 4th October we found a juvenile common rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus on the track down to the harbour. I was on the quad bike at the time but luckily I had my binoculars with me. We didn't see it yesterday but what was surely the same bird popped up in the garden today. Ironically they are typically quite 'showy' birds but this one has evaded all attempts to photograph it so far! The local robins aren't helping matters as they don't exactly roll out the red carpet for newcomers! The rosefinch is a summer visitor to eastern Europe and is meant to be wintering in India but again, like the barred warbler, some are recorded annually in the UK. This is the just the second in the past 10 years to reach Ramsey.
While looking for the rosefinch today Lisa found our 3rd good garden bird of the week - a spectacular firecrest Regulus ignicapillus. These breed in the UK but are scarce out here. It is exactly two years to the day since the last one appeared on Ramsey and you would have to go back over 10 years to find the one before that
Along with the goldcrest, the firecrest is the smallest bird in the UK at just 9cm. This one was quite happy in our garden all day feasting on a plentiful supply of insects.
So who knows what the next few days will bring. After the warm and dry September (less than 10mm of rain fell) we are into autumn proper now with force 10 winds buffeting the house last night. Gusts of 65 mph were logged at Milford Haven and 35mm of rain fell in around 4 hours. Coupled with the 32mm that fell two days ago it is shaping up to be a wet month. Today was sunny at least but a huge swell rolled around the island. With 7m tides coming up this week and more gales forecast it is unlikely we will see any boats over the coming days. However if you are hoping to visit you can ring our boat operator Thousand Islands Expeditions on 01437 721721 to check.