by Kathy James

Posts tagged “Chiffchaff

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

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Seasonal changes.

Well it’s been all change this week as I left behind me the delightful cottage at South Stack where I’ve spent the past year falling in love with each season. In my wisdom I decided to forego another season at South Stack, not because I didn’t love the place, but because I wanted to branch out a little bit. This weekend heralds the start of the summer contract for my replacement so I started my last South Stack fry-up, stopped cooking half way through to dash outside and down to the cliff tops for some Wheatears that Ken had picked up, and then dismantled my home.

After giving up my job at South Stack I was very, very happy to be offered a job with the North Wales Wildlife Trust as a Tern Warden over the summer months. However, with no overlap in accomodation I am spending a few weeks staying with a friend. I expected moving onto a housing estate to be a shock to my system after so long couped up in a cottage by myself, but I knew it was okay when I pulled up on the new driveway with a newly arrived Chiffchaff in the tree to my right. A lovely welcome, my first of the year too 🙂 I am also enjoying the number of House Sparrows and Starlings which are bursting out of bushes and dripping from telephone wires. Also, there’s a lots of Rooks around and these are not a bird I’ve ever seen at the stack. A Sunday morning highlight for me was a Jackdaw screaming at a rock outside Tesco. Maybe it was impressed by the echo?!

It was glorious weather here on Sunday and Ken and I took a walk around the Breakwater Country Park. We saw and heard lots of Greenfinches as I struggled to get to grips with spring bird calls again and we saw Goldcrests all over the place!

Later that afternoon we made it down to Treborth Botanical Gardens just outside Bangor where we were met by rather a lot of cars! A friend of mine, the zoologist from the island’s ‘Pili Palas’ had told me there was an event on, but I had not expected this – cars were parked all along the roadside backing up to the Menai Bridge and as we walked down the road we passed dozens of families clutching their new toys, instruments made from sticks and bottle top (more impressive in real life). The event was ‘Wild Science Day’ and was the finalle of Bangor University’s ‘Science Week’. There were stalls along the grass, a tree top lift, a specially made planetarium as well as exhibits filling three green houses and a ‘refreshments lab’. The atmosphere was great as kids of all ages (Ken was my honourary kid) learnt more about our wild science. I think Ken and I were most captivated by the BTO stall where they were showing bird-ringing in action. It’s always amazing to see a bird in the hand, it puts a 10g Coal Tit into perspective. Built on the success of last year, this was the second time this event had been held thanks to the organisation of Nigel Brown from Bangor University and a former Countryside Management student Tom (I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your surname).

Today I went to Cemlyn (my soon to be place of work) with a volunteer party to set up for the breeding season. We were particularly lucky with the weather as Cemlyn is famed for being windy and we had it calm and mild for most of the day. Between us (around 15 volunteers) we set out nest boxes (in the hope of attracting breeding Roseate Terns), set up the weir (to control the water level of the lagoon during breeding season) and fenced of the shingle ridge (visitors are welcome here, it’s just a fence to allow the Terns a little privacy – the views are still second to none). It was a really fun day and lovely to meet all the volunteers: for some it was their first volunteering experience and for others a regular occurance. If you are thinking about volunteering, then go for it. Your help is vital to charitable organisations and you’ll get lots out of it too. You can ‘like’ the North Wales Wildlife Trust on facebook, where there is a picture of our work party posing on the weir today https://www.facebook.com/northwaleswildlifetrust.

I am hoping to take a very exciting trip this Monday…can’t wait to let you know how it goes…

Kathy x x x