by Kathy James

Posts tagged “RSPB South Stack

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

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A Big Thank You!!

What a week?!

It exhausted me, but ‘Anglesey Marine Week 2012 Wythnos Morol Mon’ is now over. It took two whole days off nothingness to help me recuperate (the first bank holiday I’ve not worked since goodness knows when), however it was all worth it!

The whole idea was to create a week of events to enthuse people about the sea and we definitely succeeded. It may have been my brainchild, but it could not have gone ahead without the hard work of the event organisers and volunteers which gave up their time.

I am happy with where we’re at; a marine week that Anglesey can be proud of, build upon and enjoy! There are learning points for next years event, of course, but with the basics now laid out the island can take hold of the event if it wishes and run away with imaginative ideas for inspiring people in 2013. Good luck Mon Mam Cymru!

All, but one, events were attended and I would like to thank Elgan Hearn from the Holyhead & Anglesey Mail for his part in that. I was surprised at the recognition I got from having my snorkel-clad face in the local paper!

We had the rain to thank for the poorly attended ‘Spot the Dolphin’ which was such a shame as we were perhaps on the best place on the island that day. Tucked below the lighthouse at Point Lynas we saw porpoise feeding throughout the two hours. To  my delight I spotted a mother with calf breaching the surface, with their seeming singular body and double dorsal fin. A special moment thanks to Emily and Lauren from Seawatch Foundation.

The week was kicked off at Moelfre Lifeboat Day where I was astounded by the feat of organisation by the commitee; a real triumph and  a regular date in the diaries of regular visitors and islanders alike. Emily and Lauren from the ‘Spot the Dolphin’ event held a stall in the Seawatch Centre and chatted to people about cetaceans as well as the work of the Marine Conservation Society – thank you ladies! Also, thanks to Rod, Mandy and all the other commitee members that organised Moelfre Lifeboat Day on the whole.

The weather was on our side for most of the week (unlikely as that seems!) with Sunday getting off to a drizzley start. Nonetheless, Caroline from Anglesey Wildlife Walks entertained us out on ‘the range’ (or Penrhosfeilw Common). Although we didn’t see any seals we heard about many of the medicinal uses of the plants that although beautiful can be so easily overlooked.

On Monday I headed back to Cemlyn where I had spent the summer as a tern warden for the North Wales Wildlife Trust. This time I joined in with a trust of the national variety as we ripped out an old kissing gate and replaced it with a shiny new one. Surprisingly, although the original gate was seemingly fine, it was not wide enough for our new physiques… the guys from the National Trust cheerily advised me that there we many more that needed replacing should I fancy it.

The seawatch at RSPB South Stack was rather lacking on the ol’ bird front, but that’s just the way of the world. It was a beautiful evening enjoyed by quite a crowd as we explored the heath in full bloom the last remaining chick on the sea cliffs, a chubby fulmar. This was also the first event at which we were joined by Alison who had come to North Wales specifically to join in with Anglesey Marine Week festivities.

On Tuesday, I missed out on a guided walk at Cemlyn by the Friends of Anglesey Coastal Path. Chris managed to make it though and he text me to say ” Lovely walk around Cemlyn Bay today. Nice pace, good company”, I was pleased. Chris really made the most of Anglesey Marine Week attending eight of the weeks events!

The next event was a guided walk of Newborough Warren by Graham Williams, the CCW reserves manager. We were all flabbergasted by Graham’s knowledge; he showed us the intricate relationships between the plant species, insects, mammals and birds as well as throwing in a bit of social history for good measure. When we stopped for lunch, Chris had to remind us to let Graham eat as we continued to bombard him with questions!

Whilst I was being windswept on Newborough Warren, the National Trust were at it again at Cemlyn Bay with a fully booked driftwood carving session… photos welcome guys…?!

Wednesday was a very hectic day with drama coming from Dave from Outdoor Active (the coasteering provider). Dave had very kindly agreed to collect the extra chairs needed for Glyn Davies’ talk later that evening. In the meantime however he managed to slip and stab himself in the hand with a knife! Ouch! Dave was in the capable hands of Bangor A&E department and I needed to find some chairs now that our original supplier was shut. So huge thanks to Nigel Brown of Treborth Botanical Gardens for his help in keeping us sat down for “Welsh Light” in Glyn’s gallery.

“Welsh Light” came at the end of a very busy day and was the perfect antidote. We admired Glyn’s stunning landscapes and were transported by his poetic descriptions. Glyn is a captivating speaker and I gained a brilliant understanding of his motivations which are much more complex than merely to take a pretty picture. His emotional connection with the sea, for me, summed up the importance of Anglesey Marine Week; our unspoilt world is food for the soul.

Despite having joined the Friends of Anglesey Coast Path down at Malltraeth Estuary on Thursday morning, I spent almost the entire time with Adam and Jeremy from BBC Radio Wales (sorry guys!!). The ‘friends’ diligently picked up litter and kept the coast path accessible whilst I chatted about Anglesey Marine Week and our brilliant coast for the weekly programme ‘Science Cafe’. Until Tues 4th September you can listen to the episode here – Science Cafe Seaside Special.

The weather forecast for Friday was terrible, but instead of heavy downpours I was greeted at Cemlyn by red hot sunshine and the smiley faces of Nia and Ben from the North Wales Wildlife Trust. Here we undertook everyone’s favourite seashore past-time, rockpooling! We produced a great haul! I was particularly excited to find a sandeel and felt that this was my most advanced qualification yet to work with seabirds 🙂 Hat’s off to the youngsters though as they really did us proud! Our specimen trays were full to the brim with sticklebacks, blennys, shrimp, crabs and the most gigantic prawns!

Last Saturday I was joined by my friend Anna for the weekend and she and I went along to Carol Mead’s childrens’ poetry workshop down in Llys Llewelyn, Aberffraw. The info had said for 6-11yr olds, we were all engrossed! Carol read from her award-winning book ‘Sea Things’ and we joined in, wobbling like a wibble-wobble-ish Jellyfish! It was particularly pleasing that a young chap inspired by his rockpooling with the Wildlife Trust the day before had come along to express himself through this medium. Having too much fun, we ran over time and Anna and I dashed off to join in with the last event of the week up at Porth Dafarch.

As mentioned before, Dave from Outdoor Active had managed to stab his own hand and spent Saturday having surgery in a Liverpool hospital and so was unable to jump off cliffs with us! In his place, the lovely Geraint lead us round the stunning coast left out of Porth Dafarch. Our group was diverse, aged 10-60 and with varying levels of ability and bravery. We swam, scrambled, climbed and jumped our way along the course for two hours. I was very happy scrambling around the rocks, but my legs turned to jelly (like the wibble-wobble-ish Jellyfish) when I had to jump in. I was completely put to shame by ten year old Grace who showed us all how to do it. With out a doubt she was the most fearless participant and I wish could have captured the look of disappointment on her face when we turned to head home.

So that was it. Anglesey Marine Week over.

The feedback I’ve had from everyone that’s joined in has been great and if you are, I’m definitely on for next year?!

A massive thank you to everyone that gets a mention in this post and also Laura from Ann’s Pantry, Hayley from RSPB South Stack, Ann and Angus from the Friends of Anglesey Coastal Path, Gwynfor and Bryn from the National Trust, Ken Croft & David Wright for their time volunteering at the South Stack seawatch, Jon Pinnington (North Wales Tourist Guide), Steffan Hughes from the Anglesey County Council Tourism Department, Danielle Gibas from Seawatch Foundation, Gareth Owen from Keep Wales Tidy and Rebecca O’Dowd from the Marine Conservation Society.

Thank you to everyone who made Anglesey Marine Week a success!

Kathy x


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-


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