Ramsey is one of the most important breeding locations for Atlantic Grey Seals in the Irish Sea and the Southwest of Britain. Between 600 and 750 pups are born on the island’s beaches and in our caves each year. Must pups are born in September and October although some early pups are born in August and late pups can be born up until Christmas.
We have been regularly photographing individual seals here since 2007 in order to track their behavior and movements from one year to the next. Many seals have distinctive scars on their body which allow us to recognise them more easily. Scars can be caused by environmental sources like collision with rocks or scratches from the beach and some are caused when seals fight with other seals. Sadly, many are caused by contact with marine rubbish, especially discarded fishing gear which can result in nasty wounds, usually around the neck and head.
Many well known females have returned to Ramsey to give birth already this year, here’s a couple of interesting stories:
Ramsey Cow Number 13 – Nickname - Minnie Mouse (because of scar pattern – Well I can see it even if no-one else can!)
This cow came into the little beach under the Ramsey farmhouse at 09:30 this morning to give birth to her 2014 pup, 12 days later than in 2013. She has pupped on the same little Ramsey beach called ‘Aber Felin’ since 2012, but also pupped twice on neighbouring Skomer Island in both 2008 and 2010. In fact she has been known to many island seal researchers since 2001. Her full history has been collected by successive Wildlife Trust staff and myself. I actually remember her from when I worked on Skomer in 2005 and like to think that she followed me north when I moved to Ramsey!
This photo was taken this morning and shows her pup just after it was born. The blood is just from the birthing process, you can still see the umbilical cord, still attached on the rocks.
Below is Ramsey Cow Number 13's full history. (Her Skomer number is 006). Thanks to our friends and fellow seal workers – Jim Poole, Jane Matthews, Dave Boyle for the Skomer sightings over many years and to Ed and Bee who continue this work on Skomer today.
12.RC013.AFN / LBK-006
30 Sept 2001
30 Oct 2004
28 Oct 2005
26 Nov 2006
6-19 Nov 2007
6-18 Sept 2008
Mother of pup
29/8 – 20/9 2010
Pup born 30 Aug 2010,
30 Aug 2011
Pregnant cow but not seen with pup
28 August 2012
Mother with pup
3 September 2013
Pup born 09:00 3 September
15 September 2014
Pup born @ 09:30
The calm, settled weather of late accompanied by mainly easterly winds has brought high hopes of something good turning up now that the migration season is upon us. We haven't lived up to the highs of last September yet but today saw a good variety of migrants including:
Black redstart - 1
Whinchat - 1
Garden Warber - 1
Willow warbler - 38
Chiffchaff - 3
Goldcrest - 7
Grey wagtail - 1
White wagtail - 2
Wheatear - 5
Greenland wheatear - 1
Spotted flycatcher - 4
Blackcap - 4
Meadow pipit - 50+
Swallow - 150+ south through the morning
Woodpigoen (scarce out here!) - 1
Also today, little owl (1), buzzard (5) and good numbers of chough (flock of 20+)
Seal pups are being born in increasing numbers now with great views available from the cliff tops - boats run to end of October (weather permitting), contact Thousand Islands Expeditions on 01437 721721 to book
There were 4 spotted flycatchers on the island today
Not the best light but this whinchat was around the waterings exclosure this evening
In 2014 Dr Matt Wood from University of Gloucestershire spent several night on Ramsey looking for possible new storm petrel sites. This diminutive seabird was first recorded breeding here as recently as 2008 when 5 pairs were discovered at a site on the island's rugged west coast. New nest sites have been discovered in that area in the intervening years and the population is probably in the region of 10-20 pairs altogether.
European storm petrel (photo: Dave Boyle)
Although not recorded, storm petrels may have bred on Ramsey in the dim and distant past but with the arrival of rats through shipwrecks in the 1800's their days were numbered. The successful rat eradication project in 1999 led by Wildlife Management International meant that the way was clear for them to (re)colonise. Nearby Skokholm holds the largest population of this species in Wales with around 2,000 pairs, Skomer has in the region of 300-400 pairs and the Bishops and Clerks (a string of RSPB owned islets 2-3 miles off Ramsey's west coast) hold around 150 pairs (which is possibly where the pioneering Ramsey birds came from).
Matt has been using the thermal imaging camera on Skokholm over the past couple of years and has gained some fascination footage that will help with future work to monitor this often cryptic species. On Ramsey the task was different - try and find potential new sites away from the single known colony. A visit in July saw two birds investigating a boulder scree area on the west coast but subsequent more detailed surveying didn't reveal anything further. It is likely these birds were non-breeders prospecting for the future, which is of course equally as good news. In August we found a single bird showing interest in a potential looking site on the east coast, again probably a non-breeder. We captured this using the thermal imaging camera and it is shown in the video clip below.
The bird can clearly be seen flying around the valley and, at times, investigating the habitat which is a mixture of large rock boulders towards the sea and smaller cliff crevices further up the valley. Given that this is on the east side of the island (on the opposite side to the known colony) and we have mist netted birds in this area previously, it bodes well for a the possible establishment of a second sub-colony on Ramsey in the near future. The camera operates in complete darkness using infra-red and emits no light meaning the natural behavior of the birds can be observed without any disturbance
The clip below is taken on Skokholm using the same camera and shows a very different scene! We might have only filmed one bird on Ramsey but with a bit of patience and continued rigorous biosecurity measures it is hoped that we might see scenes like this played out on here one day.....
A big thanks to Matt and all at UGlos Bioscience department for agreeing to include Ramsey in their project. There is clearly great scope for this camera and I'm sure it can be put to further good use in the coming years.