by Kathy James

Archive for September, 2012

Albatross

Albatross is a mighty fine tune by one of my all time favourite bands ‘Fleetwood Mac’. In fact, how about setting the scene by opening up a new a tab and playing it as you read?! Just click here.

The reason I have chosen to call this post ‘Albatross’ has nothing to do with the instrumental though. Yesterday, Wednesday 19th September I received a call from Dave Bateson, the reserve warden up at RSPB South Stack. Having already spoken to Ken, he knew that I was (unfortunately) working down the other end of the island and would not be able to dash for a chance to see a passing Black-Browed Albatross. I don’t think you need to be in ‘birding’ circles to appreciate quite what a bird an albatross is, famed throughout the world because of their enormous wingspan, longevity, loyalty and a symbol of hope lost to sailors in the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’.

It is becoming a trend that phenomenal things are sighted from South Stack when I am down in Menai Bridge. Almost this time last year Ken watched as a pod of Orca made their way northwards past the stack. I had been living on the reserve at the time and disappointingly found myself receiving Ken’s excited call as I walked along the High Street of Menai Bridge, past the Indian take-aways, bakery and coffee shops, miles from the spectacle outside my own bedroom window. In an annoying repetition of history, I was walking in exactly the same place yesterday when I received Dave’s call about the probable Albatross.

Unfortunately, neither I nor Ken (conveniently sea-watching from exactly the right place) managed to see an Albatross, Black-Browed or otherwise. However the texts and twitter speculation soon spread (like wildfire, or perhaps the common cold).

The birding world is well-connected these days; the bird lines and alerts have evolved, are well used and form the ornithological backbone of Britain. With the advent of social media (particularly twitter) and smart phones sightings can be seen by followers all of the world in a matter of seconds. It is fascinating (and also scary) to think that an hour after this “possible Black-Browed Albatross” sighting, it had been coupled with an unconfirmed sighted of the same species from the Isle of Man the previous day and that it was stated that it was now likely that this was an individual that used to visit the Scottish Island of Sula Sgeir. Perhaps is it. Perhaps one or both of these possibles was a definite? And perhaps this Albatross is visiting the North Atlantic rock of Sula Sgeir. And perhaps this is the same individual that has been sighted there before.

Black-Browed Albatross, should after all be breeding on the other side of the world. The likelihood of multiple birds travelling up the Irish Sea is small, but there has often been speculation about the number that may be taking refuge on our remote islands. Who knows?! I certainly don’t and without politely asking Mister Albatross to explain himself I think I’m unlikely to find out.

It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that this Albatross has in fact being visiting Scotland since 1967 when an Albatross was recorded on Bass Rock amongst the Gannets. After this date there were various sightings at various Scottish locations (Gannets close at hand). Indeed, our very own Ken Croft saw his one and only Black-Browed Albatross from South Stack Reserve back in 2005. It is thought that this is the individual that was then known to reside on Sula Sgeir, but perhaps not. Perhaps we have multiple long-distance visitors that despite their grand proportions slip unnoticed to the remote islands of Scotland.

Fascinating as their story may be, I think there is an allure in the unknown. Part of me hopes that they go on avoiding our gaze, seeking solace in our still wild places.

Kathy X


Helvellyn Triathlon

My last post was all about ‘Anglesey Marine Week 2012 Wythnos Morol Mon’. The week was all about enthusing people about our surrounding sea and through the varied and interesting range of events I am happy that we succeeded. Different local businesses and charities were involved, all benefiting from extra exposure and some from monetary donations. I can now add to that by letting you know how much money we raised for the Marine Conservation Society. Anglesey Wildlife Walks contributed 50% of the ticket price of the Heathland and Seals guided walk; Glyn Davies donated 20% of the ticket price of his talk “Welsh Light”; Carol Mead had a donations box in her studio (where she is a personal trainer) and also gave up her time for free with a seaside poetry workshop where she collected £4 per child towards the cause; Laura (who runs Ann’s Pantry in Moelfre) very kindly baked some delicious madeleines and donated 20% of the price of those sold. In total these guys raised a brilliant £99 which is now winging it’s way over to the Marine Conservation Society. I was also able to add gift aid to that donation, increasing the money to £123.75. Good old gift aid!

Everyone that attended an event should have had the opportunity to enter a prize draw to win ‘A Field Guide to the Marine Fishes of Wales and Adjacent Waters’ donated by the Marine Conservation Society to celebrate the eight days of  ‘Anglesey Marine Week 2012 Wythnos Morol Mon’. Using the time honoured method of closing your eyes and delving around with your hand, the name we conjured up at random is Steve Lawson who joined us on Outdoor Active‘s exhilarating coasteering session. I hope Steve and his family enjoy this beautiful book.

Since ‘Anglesey Marine Week 2012 Wythnos Morol Mon’ I have been lucky enough to take a trip to the beautiful Lake District and, rather fortunately, during perhaps the best weather of the year so far! Get in! I had gone along to Ambleside as a spectator to the Helvellyn Triathlon where around 700 crazy people decided to swim 1 mile though the seemingly black Ullswater, cycle 38 miles on the road (including up the aptly named ‘struggle’) and run 9 miles over the 3118 feet of Helvellyn. In my book, anyone that completes that deserves an Olympic medal.

At these events being a birder really comes into it’s own; everyone struggles to make out their loved ones in the sea of lycra and rubber and I stand there smugly with my all-seeing bino-vision. Having watched the swim and the seething mass of shiny wetsuits and blue caps in the first wave I headed off up Helvellyn; the place of legends.

I don’t know why I hadn’t gone with her; but one weekend perhaps sixteen years ago my Mum went on a Helvellyn adventure. Teamed up with a climbing instructor and a bunch of kids she set out to the summit of Helvellyn via Striding Edge; the name alone conjures fearful images in my mind. On many occasions my Mum has recounted the tale of how the children skipped along the rocky ridge whilst she clung to the ground sobbing with a steep drop to her right and and certain death to her left.

The mist was rolling in over the top of Helvellyn as I approached and this gave me reason to think about approach from a different angle, missing out the infamous Striding Edge. Down where I was at that moment, the sun was baking me and I stopped to drink and asked a couple that I’d caught up with if they’d like a photo together (I figure if I do this enough times people will also randomly ask me and my friends and family on other occasions where a group photo is absolutely neccessary!). The couple turned out to be Jill and Ken who’s son Chris was competing in the triathlon. We kept the same pace and I hope they don’t mind that we chatted all the way up to the point where the paths diverged and it was either straight up the mountain or via Striding Edge (dum, dum, duuummmm!).

Retelling my Mum’s story to the pair fired Kens memories of a long forgotten trip over striding edge and from then on he was set on joining me on that rather unwelcoming, misty knife-edge.

I did my best crab impression on the very top of the ridge at times, but to be quite honest the mist had cleared and I could do nothing but admire the stunning view and think of my lovely Mum with her ‘being-at-height issues’ and enjoy the moment for her. Jill bounded on ahead despite saying she wouldn’t look down.

The worst bit for me was a scramble up some crumbling scree before we reached the safety of the summit. I like a rock you can trust.

Here is Ken and Jill at the summit:

I had a brief moment of false-joy when I was privileged to be in the lead of all the runners as two headed up the second rise of their run (White Side). These first two powered past me with unbelievable speed and were fifteen minutes ahead of their nearest competitors.

My seemingy slow descent allowed be to say “Well done” to the first 138 runners before I reached the bottom, equally sweaty and exhausted as the triatheletes embarrassingly. Ken and Jill’s son Chris came a very respectable 28th. I think everyone that took part was completely amazing though. To add insult to injury whilst those triatheletes were probably skipping over a mountain or two I was greeted my two red and swollen knees the following day. Oh dear.

Knees now fully recovered, I am back in North Wales and inviting you to join in with a beach clean I am organising at Porth Dafarch on Holy Island (Anglesey) on Monday 17th September. It will start at 3:30pm and is part of the Marine Conservation Society’s ‘Big Beachwatch Weekend’. I adopted this beach last year and had a great team of helpers turn up. Would you like to help this time? For more info please email: Kathy@naturebites.co.uk Hope you can make it!

Kathy x