When doing a seal round this afternoon Lisa found a splendid 1st winter Glaucous gull on Porth Lleuog. It was eating a dead shag in among 167 grey seals that were hauled out! Without checking I think it is the first Glaucous gull on Ramsey for at least 8 years
Very similar to Iceland gull it can be told by it's stockier and more 'fierce' look, a well marked bill with a defined black tip and a short primary projection. There were some herring gulls nearby but they weren't going anywhere near this character!
Given the winter we are currently having it seems a long time ago when we were experiencing one of our driest summers on record on Ramsey . That this followed our coldest spring goes to show what a year of extremes 2013 was.
July and August see us turn our hand to habitat management work. Bracken is cut and rolled, thistles are pulled (not all of them as they are very good for invertebrates) and in some years ponds are dredged to remove any build up of silt or over competitive species that clog the water surface. We support several internationally and nationally scarce plants that are associated with heathland ponds and they need shallow, open water in which to thrive.
Luckily we have volunteers and heavy machinery which take the strain!
Derek's JCB (flown over by the RAF in the 1990's) helps dredge ponds and build new scrapes. Gate sizes are judged accordingly!
Volunteers having way too much fun in muddy water!
And this is one of the reasons we do it. Pilwort (Pilularia globulifera) is an internationally scarce plant that occurs in Ramsey's ponds (one for the purists!)
July sees the start of the 'gannet season'. We head out to Grassholm 3 times over two months with Dr Steve Votier and his team from University of Exeter to help them with long term tracking studies on this species. Steve has been working on Grassholm for the past 7 years and has built up a valuable data set leading to the publication of a suite of scientific papers. Primariliy using GPS trackers birds are logged as they undertake foraging (feeding) trips at sea during the breeding season. As well as answering scientific questions this data is also useful in Marine Protected Area discussions as it gives a long term and repetitive picture of where our gannets are feeding. Steve's team also use geolocators that can stay on birds all year round (attached to a leg ring). Although not as accurate as GPS they can be used to track longer range movement and have shown us the route gannets take on their way to and from their wintering grounds - some go as far as the NW coast of Africa. In recent years Steve and his team have also been developing bird-borne camera devices for use on gannets.
Just shy of 40,000 pairs of gannets nest on Grassholm making it the 4th largest colony in the world supporting 10% of the world population
Sam Cox and Steve Votier with a calm looking gannet waiting to have a GPS device attached to it
A GPS device attached to a gannet. The device is retrieved around 2 weeks later. If any are missed they simply fall off when the gannets moult
Working on Grassholm is a rare privilege but it doesn't come without it's trials as Rocio demonstrates below! All that gannet guano equals millions of greenbottles. On a warm day the air is full of them and if you stop moving you will be 'swarmed' on!
Rocio Moreno showing great diligence in her fieldwork!
Picking out your nest in a crowded colony takes skill. A false landing and you are in for some unwanted attention from your neighbours
A sample of tracks from a group of individual birds from Grassholm. Each colour represents a different bird. The majority feed out in the Irish Sea with many also heading to north Cornwall. Some birds head north and some will go as far as the SW corner of Ireland. Foraging trips take anything from 24-72 hours. Over time this sort of work paints a clear picture as to which areas are important feeding sites for Grassholm's gannets (map reproduced courtesy of Steve Votier and University of Exeter).
Back on Ramsey and most of our cliff nesting seabirds had finished for another season. Kittiwakes are present into August however and despite having another poor year overall by mid July those that had fared better had growing chicks
The hot and dry summer might have been turning Ramsey into an arid desert but it was a good year for butterflies, in particular dark green fritillaries. Our garden was awash with them on the spear thistles heads which were also a magnet for bees, hoverflies and 5-spot burnet moths
Dark green fritillary on spear thistle in Ramsey garden
Before we had time to draw breath the first seal pup of the 'autumn' was born in mid July! It is not unusual to have one or two born around now and always on the same west coast beach called Colomennod
The first pup to be born in 2013 - the first of many! By the end of the season 656 were born on Ramsey's beaches and in caves
It's not all work on Ramsey though. Darts nights are a feature of summer and many an evening is seen off over a good beer and a game of arrows! The board was kindly donated a few years ago by MadOnDarts.co.uk and has been put to good use!
Dart board and oche with happy punters!
The 10 year painting of the farmhouse took place this summer. Derek led the job with staff and volunteers all mucking in. Thanks to all involved, it was a mammoth effort! The finished article is clear to see in the bottom photo (the good news is the paintwork has survived intact against the battering it has had this winter!)
No sooner was the farmhouse finished than we had to think about getting the 2013 ram lambs off the island before they become sexually active and start causing us headaches! As usual they weren't going far; just across the pond to Derek's farm. Moving sheep is always a bit of a mission out here but we have got a well drilled regime in place now which means it is quick and effective with minimal stress for both animal and wardens!
Dewi and Sweep drive the ram lambs down to the harbour. We load them in small batches into Derek's boat and run them across Ramsey Sound to the lifeboat station. We do it very early morning to avoid the crowds so if you ever come down in late summer for your boat trip and find the lifeboat steps covered in sheep poo, now you know why!
At the start of August our main seal pupping beach was looking serene in the glorious summer we were experiencing. By the end of the month it was covered in seal pups and at it's peak in September was home to up to 60 pups at a time. Our studies have shown that Aber Mawr had become increasingly important as a pupping site over the past 10 years, Between 1999-2000 it accounted for 25% of all pups born. By 2013 it was accounting for 45%
Aber Mawr - the most important grey seal pupping site on Ramsey
Late August saw the biggest tides of the year so we got out in the boat to marvel at the power of the Bitches. The photo below shows the 'drop' in sea level as the water cascades over the reef
Bitches in full flood on the highest tide of the year in late August 2013
By the end of the month our thoughts turn back to Manx sheatwaters. The rapid population expansion that has occurred since rat eradication (up from 850 pairs to 3,835 in 12 years) means we are very interested to know what proportion of our fledglings are returning to breed on Ramsey and at what age. We have 2 study plots on the NE coast where we ring fledglings. They come out of their burrows for up to a week (or longer in some cases) to stretch their wings and get their bearings before heading off on their maiden flight, alone, all the way to Argentina. The adults abandon them many weeks before having fed them up to almost double their own weight. They sit alone by day in their burrow slowly whittling down their fat reserves before a combination of instinct and hunger forces them to leave the colony.
It is during this period that we walk quietly among the colony and simply pick up birds that have ventured out of their burrows. A metal BTO ring is then put on their leg and they are returned to their burrow within minutes. In 2013 we started seeing previously ringed birds for the first time, all ringed 2 years previously in 2011. There are no known records of 1 year old birds coming back to land. Although we can track adults using geolocators and we know young birds head to Argentina in their first year (thanks to dead birds washed up on beaches in that country), what they do between then and returning to their natal colony in year 2 is largely educated guesswork at the moment.
Amy holding a fledgling Manx shearwater
This bird is nearing fledging. The adult feathers have developed underneath the covering of down from which it has nearly fully moulted. Next stop South America!
Late August into September sees the heathland at its best with large swathes of the island turning purple
Seal pup monitoring took up most of our time in September with visits every 3rd day to all 9 main beaches. These account for around 50% of all pups born on Ramsey which allows us to make our full island estimate. With 656 born in 2013 it was a good year, the quiet weather in September (often a stormy monthly) helped with pup survival. It will be interesting to see if this torrid winter has had any effect in 2014
Pup motioning is good for birding too as it keeps you outside all day and takes you to some of the best birding spots on the island. 2013 was a very good year for scarce migrants on Ramsey with two new records ('firsts') for Ramsey being recorded in September alone.
At the end of the first week of September Lisa found a splendid Western Bonelli's warbler at Aber Myahran. Then towards the end of the month I was lucky enough to stumble across a Booted warbler. Although mine was 'rarer' (only the 5th Welsh record) I think most people would admit that the Bonelli's was a much smarter bird to look at! Thanks to our friend Steve Votier for helping out with the Booted ID as I frantically emailed him photos to check!
Western Bonelli's warbler - first for Ramsey 8th-10th September
Booted warbler 23rd September - first for Ramsey and 5th for Wales (amazingly the 6th for Wales turned up on neighbouring Skokholm two days later!)
A female grey seal rescued from a beach in Cornwall in February 2010 was spotted on Ramsey in 2013, 3.5 years later!
This little cow had a traumatic start to life. At just 3 months old she was spotted on the beach at Perranporth, by a very worried member of the public. She had become entangled in some netting which was causing severe constriction wounds to her neck and around her fore-flippers and belly. Luckily the onlookers had the good sense to contact the National Seal Sanctuary based in Gweek. The seal was quickly located and captured by the experienced volunteers from the seal hospital.
Fortunately she was found to be in good condition. The netting was removed and she was treated for any infections caused by her open wounds. However, she was going to need a few months rehabilitation and a name was needed. She was christened ‘Bagshot’ and fitted with a blue hind-flipper tag.
In May 2010, Bagshot was successfully released back into the wild along with three other seals that had also been carefully rehabilitated at the sanctuary.In October 2013, I was completing my twice weekly survey of the busy seal pupping beaches around Ramsey and called in to check a pebbly beach nicknamed ‘The Bachelor Pad’ on Ramsey’s south-east coast. No pups are born here but it is a very popular site with Grey seals, who haul-out here to sleep and moult their coats over-winter.
It was here that I spotted a seal with a netting constriction around her front flippers, jostling for position among over 90 other animals on the beach. The light was fading but I did have my camera and long lens which meant I could get a photo or two.
When I got home I put the photos on the computer and despite the poor quality of the images the animal’s wounds were obvious. I couldn’t be sure but it did look like there might be a blue tag on the rear flipper. It was not until a couple of months later that I spotted a seal in the photographic catalogue of Grey seals collected over many years by the staff on neighbouring Skomer island. There was a cow that had been seen hauled-out there with the same wounds and a blue flipper tag. With a little help from the Cornwall Seal Group the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Bagshot was alive and well, four years old and busy visiting sites in West Wales.
What a lucky seal. To be spotted and reported by a member of the public and cared for by the seal sanctuary. And what a fitting reward for all the hard work, time and money invested in this animal by hospital staff and volunteers. Had the netting not been removed it may have proved fatal as she grew and it constricted ever tighter around her body.
So now in 2014 it’s all eyes peeled for more sightings of ‘Bagshot’ as she approaches breeding age. The big question is where will she choose to have here first pup, Cornwall, Skomer or Ramsey?