by Kathy James

Archive for April, 2012

The rest of the calm before the storm (or the end of my holiday week).

The reason I decided to holiday in Pembrokeshire with my mate Sam was because throughout my summer at RSPB South Stack many of the visitors had urged me to visit the island of Skomer and parade my way through the puffins that brazenly breed there. With just one goal in mind you’d think that was quite achievable…? Alas, I still have not been to Skomer. Except the day I visited Ramsey Island the other days were all too windy to sail (sad face). I have to say that in the absence of this nautical trip I had an amazing wildlife moment elsewhere at Manobier. Just a two minute walk from the youth hostel we were staying in brought us to the top of some rather impressive cliffs. Sat proudly atop a buttress jutting out towards the sea was a Kestrel that sat perfectly still letting us admire each and every feather. We then made our way down the concrete steps to the beach (138 steps was it Sam?). It was a magnificent little cove with a giant sea arch over to the left and a tiny ‘smugglers passage’ through the rocks to our right leading to a secluded bay inhabited solely by two relaxing Herring Gulls. Having crept though the passage and with Sam ‘playing’ on the rocks behind me, I looked out to sea to sea a dozen gannets swirling around in the air. They were soon in very close and I pointed them out to Sam as they began diving for fish; always an incredible sight as they pierce dart-like through the waves. Knowing that these two creatures are often associated I soon spotted a fin of a dolphin or porpoise protruding from the blue. I was unable to get Sam onto this lone dorsal fin and I took my binoculars back to see two familiar faces gliding just above the water. Flap, flap, gliiiiiiiiiiiiiide. Two manx shearwater – my first of the year. Back up the now 300 odd steps I stopped at the top and gazed back to the sea. Do we do this to say “farewell, until we meet again”?! Excitedly, I exclaimed “dolphins”! And a pod of perhaps fifteen dolphins surfaced travelling east to west. Despite having brought two pairs of binoculars on holiday to prevent exactly this problem I had to throw my binoculars Sam-wards as he had forgotten to bring the other pair out on this walk and I couldn’t have him missing out on seeing them altogether! Unfortunately, I was not able to identify the species further.

A quick mention of the Pembrokeshire youth hostels, a big thumbs up from us this holiday. The Manobier hostel, was a very smart set up and perfectly adequate for a self-catering stint, however we absolutely loved the hostel at St David’s where we had our own cottage in beautiful surroundings – perfect for coastal walks and surfing. Would highly recommend to large groups, or people that don’t mind sharing. High five!

I had to be in Newport by Friday as I was in the regional final of a competition to become a ‘Rainforest Reporter’, part of a Tesco and RSPB initiative called ‘Together for Trees’. The idea of the competition being to find someone to visit the rainforest and report back on the destruction/conservation work being done there. Ideal! Friday, at Newport Wetlands, entailed several tasks which were filmed and I expect to be put online – not spotted them yet. It was certainly a very challenging task and because of the spontaneity of the recordings there are many things I have since thought I should have said and things I definitely wish I hadn’t said. All in all though, as cringe-worthy as it will be to watch myself back, I think I did okay. Hhhhmmmm, maybe I should have saved this comment for after I had actually watched the tapes back…?! The winners from this regional final will go on to a national final in London where there will only be one winner. No pressure there then! I only got to meet one other competitor and that was the lovely Cat, also living in North Wales. I’m not sure what the selection process will be, but good luck to all in this and especially Cat as she appeared a deserving winner!

I spent Friday evening watching the red sun drop into the sea at the huge expanse of seascape that is Aberystwyth. En route Sam piped up “look at all those birds over there…”. He knew exactly what they were as this was his home patch. I absolutely had to pull over when I saw around sixty red kites circling like vultures around Nant Yr Arian – magic!

To finish my week off nicely my Dad visited and as well as a yummy dinner out on Saturday night, we visited the stunning Lleyn peninsula on Sunday and only and went and saw a bloomin cuckoo! It was a magical headland on an enchanting peninsula. I was particularly spellbound by a ravens feather swirling down towards me from a mid-air scuffle as a crow tried to see it off it’s patch. Elsewhere we saw our first speckled wood (butterflies) of the year.

I said goodbye to Dad and then the rest of Sunday was spent packing for my new job and new home as a tern warden. Expect far too about terns in the future as they will be my life for the next few months… you have been warned!

A very sleepy Kathy -X-

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Road trip.

My bike to work became even more enjoyable last week as Swallows and Linnets added to my ‘commuting list’. I hope I can get away with saying the swallows stopped me in my tracks as I peddled up south stack hill…? I was obviously going to make it up before I saw them! That evening on the ride home more swallows were zipping across the road in front of me. I had a big beam on my face – I had missed these guys. The volunteers accomodation at South Stack has a swallow hatch above the garage so a worthwhile place to check out on your way past. I opened the hatch nice and early in anticipation so I hope they come back this year!

Friday saw my last day of work at RSPB South Stack and I was sad to leave behind the magical place. It looks like the chough are on eggs. The pair that are the stars of cctv displayed in Ellin’s Tower and the new visitor centre were both sat on the nest when we first switched on the camera a matter of weeks back now. They had just landed with huge beak-fulls of animal hair (probably from the fields opposite the visitor centre) and it was a lovely sight to be greeted with. Since then they’re visits were sporadic, until about this time last week when ‘Mrs Mousetrap’ began spending increasingly more time tweeking the nest below. It is hoped that she is now sitting on eggs – the exciting news being that we soon be able to watch the nest-cam online, I will broadcast when it is up and running as it truly is a wonderful and special thing to see.

Friday night was home to a quiz organised as my leaving do. I love quizzes. I remember sitting by my father on the river bank while he was fishing and after I had raced the maggots and made snail caravan parks I would annoyingly plead “Ask me questions?! Ask me questons?!”. This abnormality of my mind has not left since this time. Hayley, one of the staff at RSPB South Stack, did me proud with this quiz. I loved it, thanks! Oh, and of course my team won :). Before we quizzed we had chips down by Holyhead harbour where I was twitched!! Two sandwich terns swung by to say hello to the new tern warden at Cemlyn (that’s me!) and then promptly came back with three more of their friends. I hope rare birds feel that privileged when we twitch them! My guess is that they’re not so egotistical, but there you go. It made me smile.

Another highlight of my weekend was watching a sandwich tern off Traeth Bychan, near Moelfre, diving beak-first down in to the sparkling blue sea whilst the mountains of Snowdonia and the Carneddau glistened, snow-capped, in the background. If you can picture this, I was making the noises of someone watching fireworks as I watched it plunge time and again. A magnificently elegant bird! I cannot wait to see more of them at Cemlyn soon.

Sunday and a roadtrip down to Pembrokeshire with my mate Sam. The journey down was beautiful, firstly though the mountains then the lush valleys of mid-Wales with two red kites to boot, the sun setting over the enormous expanse of sea below Aberystwyth and darkness approaching as we neared our destination of St David’s.

Monday took me over to Ramsey to visit the lovely RSPB Island Assistant, Nia. Nia did some work up at South Stack last year so we lived together for about a month and I thought I had better pop and say hello! As we rocked up at St Justinians lifeboat station the weather wasn’t looking too good and the slipmaster advised us that the weather might restrict our visit and that we should return to the mainland on the twelve o’clock shuttle. That would give us only two hours on the island and so we decided to risk the four o’clock boat being cancelled – the thought of being stuck on Ramsey wasn’t much of a deterant to be fair. As we bounded across the sound I saw Fulmars gliding around the cliffs. Seeing them from this perspective was a joy as I normally look down upon them from the tall cliffs of South Stack. I met a very interesting lady on the boat, Sarah Beynon from Oxford University, who is looking into the dung beetles that the resident Chough eat. It sounds like she may have some very interesting findings soon to be published and if you watch ‘Coast’ in the not to distant future you will be able to catch Sarah discussing the subject on there. It looks as though her work will reinforce the habitat conservation work already undertaken by organisations such as the RSPB in ‘special areas of conservation’ aimed at chough populations which is, of course, great news. As Sam and I wandered around the island we stumbled across a splendid fellow (pictured below) and wondered if this is one of the species Sarah was recording..? Sam and I had our bellies to the grass watching this guy cross the path in front of us. Stunning in his shimmery blue outfit!Ramsey Island is a very similar habitat to South Stack. As I said to Sam, it’s like South Stack crossed with the Isles of Scilly. The excitement I feel when on  Scilly, I felt as I looked back at mainland Wales from Ramsey. Real life is accessible but somewhat detached.

It only took a few hours to quite slowly tour the island and we sat for lunch watching Grey Seals frolicking in the bay below intrigued by the tourist boats  circumnavigating the island.

Behind the wardens cottage was an ideal drop-in spot for migrant birds; a fresh water pool surrounded by gorse. Here we sat for some time aquainting ourselves with varuous chiffchaffs and my first blackcap of the year.

We saw an oystercatcher mobbing a Raven near the slipway which caused me to comment and for Sam to agree that “Oystercatchers are the gentlemen and gentleladies of the bird world”. Very true I think! Dressed up to the nines in their suits with their fancy orange beaks, peacefully existing along our shorelines. I was glad to see them sticking up for themselves!

Lambing was in full-swing on the island so we didn’t see much of Nia or the other staff and volunteers. We had time for a quick catch up before the four o’clock boat sailed (the weather had gradually improved throughout the day) and we were very sad to leave behind the lovely vibe of the island. There was a real family feel to the group left there to manage things. I would recommend a visit or volunteering stint to anybody, I don’t imagine you’d be disapointed!

That evening we strolled around a dimming St David’s and the grounds of the STUNNING cathedral. The ambience exaggerated by the Rookery in full chorus in the silouetted trees.

The weather has not entirely been on our side, however we have sat amongst sea thrift having lunch, attempted to surf at Whitesands bay and had a cosy pint in the smugglers cove of Porthgain so I’d say that was pretty good so far. By Friday I have to be in Newport, so between now and then let’s hope we can squeeze in some more holiday fun!

Kathy x


From the sublime to the ridiculous!

Yes, I am talking about the weather. I’m going to hark back to just over a week ago when Ken and I spent April Fools Day in the mountains.

Over the past year I have been listing the bird species that I’ve seen, I will come back to this point in a future blog, and there is one bird that I have particularly wanted to see…a Ring Ouzel. When I was first working at RSPB South Stack (around this time last year) I remember my birder friend Neil texting me all the way from Nottingham to tell me that there had been a Ring Ouzel spotted on the reserve. I also remember getting half way along the track to said Ring Ouzel, looking at the clock on my phone and realising that I was due at the train station to pick up one of my many summer visitors (yes, I’ve noticed that I’m less popular in winter guys!!). So that was a very half-hearted attempt to see a Ring Ouzel.

A little down the line I had to trip into Snowdonia with Ken and we sent ourselves crazy searching for a ring ouzel in the environs of Cwm Idwal. I saw plenty of apparitions but we failed to connect. We were probably just being greedy though as we had spent a glorious morning in the forest at the start of the Watkin trail up Snowdon. It was a feast for the eyes and ears with redstarts and pied flycatchers zipping in and out of their nest and wood warblers alerting us to their presence but remaining hidden amongst the foliage. Either way, no ring ouzel for me.

Ring ouzels really appeal to me because of their usual habitat, up high in the mountains. I feel a spectacular romance in the mountains, whether in the valley gazing upwards, or at the summit seeing the world before me. It’s an awe inspiring place for me. I am astounded by the feat of glaciation and the rivers of water cutting jagged lines down the ravines. I think it’s an incredible place to survive in and I think I am attracted to the elusive nature of the bird.

Ken caught up with a ring ouzel just a few weeks ago as it passed through South Stack on it’s way up north. I was getting ready to meet a friend when I received Ken’s text. I was in two minds whether to be late for this rendezvous or whether to try to catch this ring ouzel. I decided that I would honour my arrangement. Two reasons: firstly, it’s polite and secondly, this romantic side of me wanted to see one in it’s proper habitat and secretly I wanted to find it myself. (I did drive off chastising myself for missing a ring ouzel).

So back to the 1st April 2012. The sun was shining and we drove down the Nant Ffrancon pass in the direction of Llyn Ogwen (and Cwm Idwal where we had previously searched for ring ouzel). Our first stop was a bubbling river, we thought we’d look for dipper. My spider-senses were tingling and i knew exactly where to look, there in the distance sat quite still on a rock was sure enough a dipper. I showed Ken and then our little dipper obligingly dipped. Ken often looks at me thinking *how on earth did you spot that?* and on this occasion I thought *this is going to be a good day!*.

We saw tits, wheatear, pipits and a reed bunting as we progressed along the road. We paused momentarily at various pull ins and Ken scanned the surroundings as I drove. We reached a farmstead and pulled in alongside some tiny lambs, very cute! And terrible with mint sauce before you say it. Ken suggested “We better have a scan for ring ouzel”. “Ken, I’ve got a ring ouzel shaped rock” I said with some urgency as I had blatantly found my quarry, but distrusted myself. A bit like the birding equivalent of your lottery numbers coming out and not quite believing what you’re seeing. As I tried to describe to Ken where I was looking and he tried to fix the scope onto the ‘rock’ it moved. Yes!! A white collar! My ring ouzel 😀 😀 Over the moon! Ken got it in the scope and we spent around fifteen minutes with good views of the bird. A high five was had.

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That day we left this winning spot, had lunch by Llyn Ogwen and then parked at Swallow falls and walked into Betws Y Coed. It was a lovely day, we saw 32 species of bird and Ken was dismayed that I spotted them all first. It’s a one-off so I can mention it 😉

Then two days later the weather had gone crazy! I admired the crashing waves as I travelled Anglesey’s north coast and arrived home to the news of a ship wreck off Llandulas – not good at all. This is the same spot as I mentioned seeing the huge flock of Common Scoter (among others) in my last entry. Luckily, all the crew were rescued. The rescue-men came home safely and it appears that the fuel can be salvaged successfully. Phew.

Snow on the mountains, but by the end of the week we were back to stunning blue skies, a warm welcome to my visiting friends as I showed them Moelfre, Cemlyn and South Stack.

Today’s downpour has completed the full weather range I think. What will tomorrow bring?!

Kathy x