Wednesday, 9 December 2015

"The island took my heart"

I genuinely can't remember a week I have ever enjoyed as much as this. I have dreamed about this place for at least 5 years and applied the last three years I think and missed the deadline every time. I finally got a place this time.

I stayed in a little village called Marloes, the day before as I was sailing early the next morning. Marloes was lush and I went for a walk to nearby Marloes sands, as it was a nice afternoon and I knew I could see Skomer from there. 

I took this great book that a dear friend got me as a present before coming away, it a fictional thriller set in a bee hive I can't recommend it highly enough or the gift of giving a book, as it really if the gift that keeps on giving! The Bees by Laline Paull.

I had a paddle and sat on the rocks and read a few chapters. I head back to find some dinner and a few pints at the Lobsterpot. I had vegan drunken mushroom pie, sauteed potatoes, peas, salad and a pint of rockhopper penguin, banging! I sat in the beer garden til late reading and drinking.

I stayed at the Albion B&B super kitsch and lush. 

I was up at the crack of dawn for cereal, toast and coffee and a frog march down to the landing with all my gear for a week. Two nice fellows who were off for a morning dip picked me up as they felt sorry for me walking with all my kit.

I was first to the landing and went straight down to wait for the boat. I was soon joined by other volunteers who were going out for the week also and some overnight guests for the hostel. There were seals in the water already.

The boat sailed at 9 sharp, after loading the gear on-board felt a bit sea sick having not used my "Sea legs" (RIP Blackbeard) for a while. Loved the no smoking sign which said "No Puffin" with a picture of a Puffin smoking a pipe! 

The crossing was really quick, painless and incredible views of the coastline, puffins in the water as well.

Obligatory Boat selfie

We walked up to the farm complex at the centre of the island where we would be staying. We got straight to unpacking and making beds I bought some particularly fetching bedding just for the occasion.

The accommodation is basic, but awesome, the setting is unreal! we have a briefing with Jason the assistant warden about the remainder of the day and how the duties work for the rest of the week.

Myself and my buddy Joe are on Patrol so we get to have a good mosey around the island and then we are on visitor engagement at the Wick with a scope on the cliff.

The views of Puffins, Fulmar and Kittwake, from the cliff were insane puffins literally came and landed right in front of you, they also did some impressive fly-bys too.

That evening and pretty much every evening we sat around after dinner as a group playing cards, playing Taboo, Jenga, Scrabble and the post it note name on the head game.

I was amazed by how close the Puffins will actually come in order to get back to their burrows.

Juvenile peregrine taken through the scope with my IPhone from the Wick.

Fellow Volunteers Joe, Charlie and Will at the trig point.

Exploring the island at dusk with the lads.

All the work on the island is still done manually, which I found not only massively improved my well-being, but I also lost 4 inches off my waist. Here's me being the not so grim reaper scything the paths by hand.

The Castaway Beard is really starting to take shape now!

One evening I got to help the research students living on the island to weigh and feed the Manx Shearwater chicks. This guy was my favorite, despite being the smallest he was super feisty, earning him the nickname Biting Sh*t, which I thought was awesome. 

Reptile survey counting slow worms.

Counting cetaceans from Skomer head at dusk with the group, mostly porpoise. Saw our first Short eared Owl at dusk on the walk back, on our last night on the island, after looking all week unsuccessfully.

The Manx Shearwater at night is one of the most unforgettable wildlife experiences of my entire life. The sound they make as they come in for the night is blood curdling and really eerie, you sit on the bench at the landing in complete darkness, and the birds start flying in to land all around you in their hundreds. They are really beautiful, but very very clumsy.

Skomer vole survey, these are endemic to the island and are not found anywhere else in the world.

Panoramic view from the island, it's so beautiful here.

Common Toad are literally everywhere at night on the island

We swam at the landing point on our last day, after finishing our last shift all together. There were Seals swimming in the water so amazing, the next day a pod of 200+ dolphins passed right through where we were swimming.

This is my favourite Puffin shot from my visit, I tried all week to get the classic shot with the sand eels in the beak.

Jason managed to get a Convolvolous Hawk Moth which he was kind enough to bring to show us, we also got to see what other species he had caught I was particularly amazed by the Sexton beetle.

One of my other fave shots of a Raven flying past scavenging.

I truly can't recommend Residential volunteering enough for improving personal well-being, or just visiting this truly wondrous island for the day or an overnight stay at the hostel, but be warned you like me my lose your heart to an island too. 

I'm already booked to go back next year!


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Some albums I really, really liked this year...

AOTY - 2015

Here are some of the albums I particularly enjoyed this year, in no particular order apart from Number 1. I have also seen over half my faves live this year which is pretty awesome!

Personal Best - Arnos Vale

Strand of Oaks - Heal 

The Decemberists - What a terrible world, what a beautiful world

Father John Misty - I love you Honey Bear

Rocky Votolato – Hospital Handshakes

Laura Marling - Short Movie

Great Lake Swimmers – A Forest of Arms

Prawn/Moving Mountains - Split

Ryan Adams - 1989

William Elliott Whitmore - Radium Death

...but My Album of the year is...

The Charlatans – Modern Nature

To comeback with this positive, uplifting album and a change of direction, after what they have been through as a band is completely incredible! Their self titled album was the first vinyl I ever bought with my own money and I get to see them in Cardiff tomorrow for the first time in about 18 years! I cant wait!

Friday, 10 July 2015

Bird Songs

Tomorrow I start another adventure I'm off to Northern Ireland to live in a small cottage by a big Lough, for two weeks working at a nature reserve.

I've never been to Ireland so I am pretty excited, I also love getting away from it all, that feeling of escapism that can only be found through solitude and isolation. Just some good books, some good whiskey and some beautiful scenery for company.

I hope if there is internet anywhere nearby to keep an account of my trip here, if not I will write a journal an stick it all here afterwards.

I'm making a playlist of songs relating to birds if anyone has any suggestions please comment below:

Gregory Porter - Skylark
Fleetwood Mac - Albatross
Small Brown Bike - Kingfisher
William Elliott Whitmore - Song of the Blackbird
Dolly Parton - Little Sparrow
Laura Marling - I was an Eagle
They might be giants - Birdhouse in your soul
Knapsack - Hummingbirds
The Paperbacks - An episode of Sparrows
Sun Kill Moon - This bird has a broken wing
Down - Stone the crow
Helen Chambers - Little Black Birds
Bars of Gold - Do You Like birds?
Great Lake Swimmers - A Bird Flew Inside the house

I'm sat at a train station in Northern Ireland called Moira, it's farm country it's got that lush smell when it's just rained too. 

I already feel good about this trip despite the rain, I'm waiting for a lift from a girl who is busy medicating a sick konik pony, it was 28 degrees when I left Cardiff. 

Arrived at the cottage after doing big shop. The cottage is amazing and I've got the place to myself tomorrow, as its a national holiday here. We got stuck behind a marching band for like 20 mins on the way back, which I didn't mind at all I'm so intrigued by a the whole thing, but not even many Irish people I've met seem to get it, unless you are proper into it I guess? They looked and sounded amazing anyway grey Blazers, purple trousers, lambegs, drums, pipes and batons. The whole thing is like some strange Wes Anderson movie though, arches with pics of the queen and prince Phillip, flags everywhere. I went for a little walk to the reserve late on, got to meet the gorgeous konik pony troop, saw hooded crow a first for me and common tern another first. The place is proper lush. 

When I find my heaven...

Enjoying a lush day off to start a working holiday due to the bank holiday parades here. I walked up to the reserve for a good look around after breakfast. 

There a small looped walk around a lush meadow, through some woods with a small pond, finally saw my first tree sparrow in the wooded area! Cool bug hotels and a nice little pond,where I managed to see an Eft not sure which species. 

Walked the whole reserve headed down to the hide, loads of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies at least two or three I have not seen before and need to check. 

At the hide, loads of common tern and chicks, loads of black-headed gulls and chicks, great created grebe, little grebe, shoveler, coot, moorhen, mute swans, tufted duck with 9 chicks. 

On the way back I saw the biggest dragonfly I have ever seen must have been over 6" lovely coppery wings again not sure if species need to check. 

Also saw swallow chicks in the nest on the rafters of one of the shelters, which was really cool being able to see into the nest.

Headed back to cottage feeling rejuvenated for cold pizza and beer for lunch. 

Time to reflect...

I headed back out after lunch saw my first sedge warbler.

Headed to the pub to celebrate a successful first day, right on the shore of lough neagh it would have been rude to not have a Guinness really. When in Rome and all that... 

Saw a girl fall in trying to get on a makeshift raft from the boat race, had a right good belly laugh. 

The lough is absolutely stunning, the people on the other hand, I don't think I have ever felt less welcome anywhere in the world. 

Ah well, I've had a class day 35 species and four new ticks. Work starts tomorrow look out. 

First day on shift today went to fix the water supply to some cattle troughs on the reserve, ball cock needed replacing on one and investigation as to why another was leaking. Then got my first valuable experience of bird surveying, counting the birds on the lough, using the scope, whilst the warden recorded what I counted. 

Got to see this tiny fluff ball two week old tern chick. 

Laura says we can take the boat out on the lough later in the week to get a better idea of the tern and gull chick numbers as the reeds are too high to tell. Needless to say I am pretty excited about counting chicks from a boat on a lough 😍. 

All the emotions today start the day with a full perimeter predator fence check of the lapwing and surrounding farmers fields. We noticed quite a few signs of a breach, foliage damage and quite a bit of excrement likely fox. Then a definite kill site most likely fully grown lapwing, yet no holes in the fence so they must be climbing and the electric isn't stopping them. 

Continued check searched hare field for rare orchid Irish lady's tresses, no record.  Saw some awesome peacock butterfly caterpillars though that looked all glittery like they were going out on the town. 

Conducted a butterfly transect of the site with crinan, walking a set route recording all sightings within a five metre box. Good numbers of meadow brown, ringlet, small tortoiseshell and green veined.

Returned to the high ground above lapwing field to get a better idea if any remaining chicks had survived predation. We finally found one fledgling and one chick with super attentive parents protecting them from three hungry herons. We felt a small sigh of relief. 

Here is there lapwing chick through the scope with my phone not great pic. 

Just as we were feeling up again there was to be another crushing blow. After filling the feeders and helping the girls medicate the sick konik. We were leaving only to see a magpie leave the shelter with one of the four swallow chicks, when we looked in the shelter there was a severed head, a wing, some entrails, feet and loads of feathers. All four chicks that were days from fledging gone. 

Nature is brutal sometimes bro...

Today myself and Owen a local a level student who is a bit of a bee expect undertook a bee transect of the site. It started slowly as it was probably a bit early and a bit cold. However, it soon picked up and I learned to id common carder and buff-tailed which turned out to be the two most recorded on the site. We also saw white-tailed, garden bumblebee and a single honeybee. Owen later saw a red-tailed early bumblebee.

It was work party Wednesday so the rest of the day was spent working in teams doing practical tasks around the site. I lopped brambles and nettles from the footpaths, boardwalks and platforms. Then we repaired the konik pony fence as the post had severed off due to the boggy ground. 

We then visited Campbell's dairy farm on the far side of the reserve as a badger had breached the predator fence. We repaired the hole with wire and cable ties, filled the hole back in with boulders to discourage further digging. 

Saw an awesome garden tiger moth too. 

This morning whist patching a hole in the predator fence with wire and cable ties, I grabbed the electric fence, needless to say I won't be doing that again in a hurry. 

I also got to undertake the tree sparrow and passerine survey at the three feeding stations, counting all visiting birds in a set times 10 minutes. 

In the afternoon we got to visit WOW Belfast - Windows on Wildlife. A reserve in the industrial harbour centre of Belfast. Amazing reserve, tern and gull rafts still with loads of small chicks on them. Also saw black-tailed godwits biggest flocks I've seen, Dunlin, redshank, mute swan, moorhen, coot, mallard, oystercatcher, common sandpiper a first for me. The hides were made from old shipping containers and even have quiet key coded rooms for keen photographers. 

The day ended after medicating the sick konik with an even better view of the garden tiger. 

I'am very very sad to hear that the weakerthans have called it a day, I am drinking a Chilean red with a penguin on the label and singing " Yes a penguin taught me French back in Antarctica!"

Also sad to be missing portishead in Cardiff tonight. 

Today they let me loose on the site with a petrol fly mow. I mowed all the pathways to remove tussocks of grass which were becoming a bit of a trip hazard. 

Me and Laura visited the farmland on the far side of the reserve to repair the leaking cattle trough. Only to find the farmer had bought the bits and done it himself. We did a full fence check whilst there though signs of badger breach, lush views of kestrel family too. 

Me and robin had to refill the bug hotel as everything had fallen or been pulled out, we used the staple gun and some fine mesh on the back to hopefully stop everything falling out again. I also had to retrieve some small signs from the pond with with a pole, that somebody had decided to throw you get arseholes even here sadly. 

My friends josh and joy visited the site so I took them for the tour. Josh took this awesome photo of me. 

We are staying on joys dads Christmas tree farm for the night near ballynure, we went for a little walk before dinner and finally got my froglet pic I think you can tell this made me day!

Yesterday I got to complete an almost life long dream, I have wanted to visit Giants causeway since first hearing the story in primary school. 

We headed down out along the coastal road literally some of the most stunning coastline I have ever seen. 

We stopped for a Maud's ice cream in ballycastle I had peanut butter tdf bro. 

We arrived at the causeway and it didn't disappoint so amazing, saw seals in the water, gannets overhead and fulmar nesting on the cliffs another first for me. 

We clambered over most of the causeway, took some choice photos, headed back up the cliff path just before the rain for chippy tea at port rush looking out the sea in the rain. 

Amazing day 

Highs and lows again today, very miserable weather got soaked completing the predator fence check, but did manage to flush and see my first snipe, managed to flush three or four in the end actually. I think that takes me to 130 club bro! Victory was short lived when I found my first Irish leveret, sadly it had been I think killed by a bird of prey given that only the head, some organs and the meat from the legs had been eaten and it looked to have been pecked from the bones. 

Got to meet the older wilder konik troop the one with an awesome Afro that looks like Tina turner but I keep failing to get a pic. 

Also did full wildfowl count from the hide, tree sparrow and passerine count at the feeding stations. 

And we got to set up a camera trap in the badger set which I look forward to checking in the morning. 

Checked the hill with scope for remaining lapwing chicks no sign but adult birds still guarding the same patch so possible. 

Helped medicate the laminintic konik, which seems to be improving which is good news, always good to end on good news. 

Medicated the sick konik first thing and retrieved the badger set camera trap. I stripped and cleaned all bird feeders with warm soapy water. We then cleaned the fleet car inside using the Hoover and outside using the pressure washer. 

Refilled all feeders, whilst at the shed I met stumpy a take little robin who will come to your hand for a meal worm if you are at the shed. 

We reviewed the camera trap footage at lunch to find awesome shots of the Badgers a roaring success! 

I can't upload video from the app so will add in here later. 

We cleaned the community room ready for a meeting tomorrow and took part in deciding where the new site signage should go. 

We set the camera trap back and the set and medicated the pony, hoping to get Cubs tonight fingers crossed. 

The day ended with this awesomeness. 

But the last word belongs to stumpy 

One of the hardest days work I think I have ever done but I feel absolutely amazing. Spent the morning of work party Wednesday clearing azolla an invasive weed species from one of the drainage ditches on the farmland surrounding the site. A beam and two ropes were used to gather the azolla then it is fished out into the banks to die off using nets. Tiring but rewarding work. In the afternoon we completed a full fence check of the site about a five mile walk across heavy terrain after the mornings work in the heat just about done me in, got dropped at the pub for a reward Guinness or two on the jetty by the lough. 

One for the fans 

I can't remember looking or feeling better after a day's work sweaty and dirty having a few pints. Well being fully restored. 

Today we were invited up to lough beg to take part in an introductory day to phase 1 habitat surveying and nvc plant surveying. It was probably the nerdiest thing I have ever done but was absolutely amazing. The cause was taken by Matthew RSPB ecologist for Northern Ireland, who is basically a walking encyclopaedia on habitats and plants. We were introduced to how phase 1 habitat surveying works and then walked a transect of the site from the last phase 1 survey. Matthew pointed out some key species to the location such as Irish lady's tresses a rare orchid found in only a few sites not yet in full flower but still amazing. 

Matthew explained using the flora key to id species and we all got to have a go which was cool. Some of the other highlights creeping Jenny, narrow marsh reed, penny royal again only found on very few sites. I also found and correctly id'd my first marsh orchid which I was pretty chuffed with. 

We also saw great white egret which is always awesome. The day ended with Matthew finding chaff weed, so tiny you have to lie on your belly with an eyeglass to see the tiny fruit and flowers. 

Finally me and Crinan set up moth trap which I look forward to checking in the morning. One day left though : (

Spent most of my last day carefully removing moths from the moth trap into specimen jars and trying to id them using a book. Id'd over 40 species and well over a 100 individuals. Highlights included: elephant hawk moth

Ruby tiger

Mother of pearl 

Swallow tail moth 

Plain golden Y

We also got poplar hawk, early thorn, peach blossom, dark arches, grey arches and many more. 

Again pretty nerdy but also awesome. Fly mowed the paths again in the afternoon and spent my last hour on the reserve lopping brambles and nettles from the pathways ahead of tomorrow's big butterfly count. 

Awesome adventure best two weeks, well being fully restored. 

In the hide on my last night with my last Guinness, a fitting end...