Monday, 7 February 2011

Isle of Man

It just draws you back... Na and I caught the early-morning flight from Birmingham to be with Chris & Kay for the weekend. From a drear grey English morning to a bright, sunny Manx morning, fresh with promise of walks and wildlife and a few nice meals with friends... Castletown was positively glowing in the sun when we stumbled out of the airport and down for a restorative coffee in Kay's pad. The day brightened still further with a small party of Choughs flying down past the window to forage in the deep beds of sea-washed wrack on the tideline. They are always a pleasure to watch, with their cheerful-sounding 'cheeow' call and their constant wing-flicking and self-important walk. Whilst we admired the Choughs, a couple of dapper Eiders dived for shellfish just off the breaking surf.

We headed out for a walk round into Port St Mary Bay, following the round-island coastal path across fine maritime grassland in the teeth of a fresh onshore breeze. A Stonechat perched up on a gorse-bush gave us all pause for pleasure - they've been hit hard by the cold weather over the last two winters, and this was the first any of us had seen this year. We carried on round into Port St Mary Bay, where a Little Egret pranced around one of the rockpools, amidst a flock of large gulls, a scatter of Wigeon and a pair of Gadwall - a relatively unusual bird for this part of the island.

Tired heads forced a return to the greasy spoon in Castletown, where a solid helping of bacon rolls and egg-&-chips got the cholesterol pumping once again, and we headed north to Laxey.

Choughs, bickering over who should eat that particular juicy sandhopper

Saturday saw an early start, heading north to the old gravel pits near the Point of Ayre, where Chris had a bird-monitoring transect to walk. We helped. The pis are typical worked-out gravel extraction, with a sandy, shingly ruderal look to them, and a good selection of duck lurking on the pools. The bulk were Pochard, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon and Goldeneye, but a couple of Goosander lurked in one corner, and the large flock of Greylag and farmyard geese held a single Greenland White-front and a rather less convincing Bar-headed Goose. The geese eventually decided we were more risk than they liked to run, so headed off for pastures west, leaving the duck and ourselves breathing a collective sigh of relief at the lowered noise levels. The final pool held a pleasant surprise: a small flock of Whooper Swans circling nervously on the far side, heads bobbing and tails waggling. We carefully left them in peace and finished off the transect.

A brief sea-watch at the point produced almost nothing of note, bar a couple of distant Scotsmen on the adjacent mainland (you could tell they were Scots because they were wearing kilts). A Gannet or two,  single Kittiwake and Red-throated Diver and a handful of unidentifiable auks do not a seawatch session make, so we headed back to Ramsey and another welcome cholesterol feast. We left in timely fashion, to the welcome sight of a Kingfisher on the harbour wall: we duly admired it and then headed off to the Curragh. A short quiet walk around the site paid dividends: no fewer than five Red-necked Wallabies were seen, all watching us with deep suspicion from the shelter of the woodlands.

Red-necked Wallaby through the trees. They eat Purple Moorgrass - perhaps we should be using them to maintain the south-west Culm grasslands...

Wallaby no.1. They not only look quite rabbit-like in profile, but they occupy a similar ecological niche

Red-necked Wallaby. A final goodbye.