Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Life in the freezer

The 1st and 2nd of March 2018 will live long in the memory for being the coldest and snowiest days we have ever experienced on Skomer. The temperature on the 1st did not get above -2 and dipped as low as -6. It felt just as cold and the wood burner was on all day. There were four hot water bottles in our bed that night. Sarah's previous post 'life in the fridge' touched upon conditions that day, the ponds were frozen and birds were visibly starting to struggle.

The next day was still very cold and it was clear the conditions were harsher than we, with our wood burners and hot water bottles, could  truly appreciate. Thousands of Redwings, Fieldfares, Lapwings and Golden Plovers passed over trying to escape the frozen conditions. At around midday it started snowing harder and kept it up into the evening. The entire island was covered in snow and in places the snow drifts were knee deep. This may not be unusual in Russia but it is here. I took my camera out and although the lens kept getting wet and the light was bad I tried to capture as much of the spectacle as possible. To hear more about how the birds fared simply check out the Recent Sightings tab at the top of this page.

It came in through our doors and windows
North Haven
Bee wearing many layers of clothing
Freezing pipes
Bee and Sarah
Now snowing hard
The Farm
Frozen ponds
The horse-course
The Wick
Toms House
Snow drifts
The Neck
The slip
So 'The Beast from the East' brought the freezing temperatures and storm Emma brought the snow and we, and Skomer's wildlife, just had to just sit it out.

Ed, Bee and Sarah

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Life in the fridge

It sounds (and rather feels) like a rejected David Attenborough series doesn't it...

On Monday (26th) we launched the boat at high tide, however the tides were quite small and while the MCZ helped us by bring the boat down to the top of the beach, they couldn't drive down through the beach. This meant people power! Carl and Phil from Dale Sailing came along to help, and along with most of the MCZ team we hauled the boat on its trailer down the beach. Kate from the MCZ even lent Bee a drysuit to help get it in the water!
I rather think that Bee looks incredibly modern, while ed looks like he could be from a black and white photo of a fisherman from a hundred years ago. 

On Tuesday morning when we were up at 6 getting everything down to the beach.

All our gear, and yes, that is my bike...

We were very grateful for some more help from John Walmsley and Gary and Chrissy (who were guardians to all our possessions as we ferried loads to the island).

When we arrived with the first load, we were greeted by curious moulting seals, icicles and snow.

Note the satellite dish which normally brings internet to North Haven, currently not receiving the signal! 

Once we had persuaded Trundle the tractor to start (he was a little reluctant this year) we ferried our gear up to our respective houses and turned on the buildings "summer" systems.
This is the point at which we discover if anything has survived the winter.

Anyone who has stayed on the island will have met our "fridges" which are converted chest freezers (a device with a thermometer attached cuts off power to the cooling elements when it reaches the set temperatures, and switches back on with the temperature rises above, say, 5 degrees). When we turned on the fridges at north haven and the farm they did nothing. this is because the fridges, left open over the winter and at room temperature were at 2.5 and 1.3 degrees respectively.
Since then, at the farm, the fridge has not reached the temperature required to turn on, and in fact this morning i woke to a bleeping, which was the fridge converter alerting me that the internal temperature had gone below it's "working limit" and it is -1.
The benefits of this cold is that I was able to buy a cool box full of frozen food and 24 hours later when I got it to the freezer it was still frozen to the side of the box, and our vegetables will last a while! On the other hand, with no heating other than a fire in the living rooms, we're quickly running low on wood, and the kitchens and bedrooms are very very cold.
We are currently battling frozen pipes and the temperature is unlikely to get above 0 today, with a significant wind chill.
It's certainly interesting!

Ice on the main track makes for an adrenaline fuelled walk!

Meanwhile however we've been having the most incredible couple of days of waders on (and over) the island.
February the 28th had totals of 65 Oyster Catcher, 41 Golden Plover, 163 Lapwing, 34 Curlew, 6 Turnstone, 1 Jack Snipe, and 23 Common Snipe.
Many of the ponds are entirely frozen over but a small patch of North Pond is being kept clear by Canada Geese.
Teal, trying to stay warm
Mallards and Widgeon keeping an eye on things
Canada Geese keeping a narrow channel of water ice free.
Other highlights included Merlin and Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier hunting the over the western fields

Already today I've seen 184 Lapwing and when I spoke to Ed earlier he'd had over a hundred on a short walk, so I'm sure totals from today will be even more impressive!

For now I need to try and get feeling back to my fingers, so please excuse any spelling or grammatical mistakes. I'm currently wearing all my clothes and very, very cold.

Stay warm folks. See you soon.
Sarah (Assistant Warden)

Thursday, 22 February 2018

We're looking for a Long Term Volunteer!

We have a Long Term Volunteer position available, which runs from 1st April until 15th July 2018.
The Long Term Volunteers will become an integral part of the island team and will be involved in all aspects of the running of the National Nature Reserve. They will be welcoming guests and giving welcome talks, conducting various species surveys (including seabird monitoring and seal monitoring in the appropriate seasons), helping to keep the visitor accommodation clean, carrying out general maintenance all over the island and undertaking their own research project whilst on the island.
Our Long Term Volunteers have the opportunity to get involved with all aspects of island work including counting seabirds from the island boat. 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Notes for the new Visitor Officer

Hello all,

Hopefully this blog will give you an insight into what it’s like to be a Visitor Officer on Skomer Island, from its challenges through to some of the best and most enjoyable years of my life.

Day to day work plans can be quite variable but it usually consists of welcoming the overnight guests to the island and settling them in, making sure day visitors get onto their designated boat home, updating social media and keeping on top of office work. There’s also a big element of being self-sufficient on the island and it’s really important to be able to fix things when they inevitably do go wrong and so some of your days will be devoted to maintenance. This maintenance can be from fixing leaking toilets and blocked drains, right through to broken door handles and a struggling tractor. Every evening finishes with bird log which is an opportunity to sit down with guests, volunteers and staff and record all of your sightings for the day.

Your season starts at the end of February when you move out to the island with the Wardens and Assistant Warden, at the first available weather window. I always find it an incredibly exciting time, filled with apprehension of what damage the winter has inflicted, but more importantly what the wildlife is doing and what birds have been wintering on the island.

Your attention soon turns to the hostel and setting it up for the coming season. This is where you see your hard work in the previous autumn come into fruition and hopefully it should be a relatively straightforward job. Something will inevitably break, however, and it’s up to you and the team to fix it. It’s also time to get the fire on to dry the buildings out.

Opening day
Opening day comes around quickly and is always an exciting day to not just welcome the first guests of 2018 on to the island but also to see old faces again.
The perfect day to open in 2017
Running the hostel means that usually your guests are on the first boat of the day and you’ll give them a hand to the tractor with their luggage, give them a quick introductory talk at the landing and send them off ahead to meet you at the hostel in a short while. Once at the hostel you’ll give them a more in depth welcome talk consisting of hostel housekeeping but more importantly, wildlife sightings.
The hostel and research accommodation 

One of the most important parts of the job is to keep guests up to date with sailings and if the weather is going to affect their stay. Close contact also needs to be kept with the boatmen and Wardens regarding this.

The hostel is now full and bookings have been sold out since October and there can be up to 16 people changing over most nights. The tractor is at capacity and the baggage becomes heavier with the weight of photographers lenses.

As a team you’re trying to balance your usual workloads with high visitor numbers and also counting the seabirds, anything from Gulls through to Manx Shearwaters, your help with this will be appreciated and to me is one of the biggest perks of the job. It can mean long hours, but it is great fun and is hugely rewarding.

Out on the boat counting seabirds

Visitor numbers tend to drop off at the end of July and pressure eases as the monitoring work also slows down and attentions will soon turn to seals which can start pupping as early as the end of August.

We run a series of events in August and September, and that can mean you’re either on the beach rockpooling with families staying in the hostel, going through moth traps with visitors, or you’re taking guests out on a guided night time walk as part of Shearwater Week. It’s always important to run these events to the highest standard making sure everyone has a safe and enjoyable time.

End of the visitor season
Skomer closes to visitors at the end of September and although you’ll be sad to see visitors and researchers go, it’s an opportunity to catch up on office work, maintenance of the islands buildings and to shut the hostel down.

You spend a great deal of your time cleaning the hostel for the winter shut down and making everything storm proof. But there’s lots of fun to be had as well. One of my favourite times on Skomer, bird migration is at its peak with hundreds of birds pouring over the island on an ideal day and it’s a time to get involved with seal monitoring.

Seal pup
Your last day is normally only a vision until the weather window you need to get off the island appears.

Winter gives you a great opportunity to take all of your unused holidays and take a break from island life. You spend between three and four months on the mainland and depending on how much holiday you have left, it’s an opportunity to spend some of the time in the sunnier climes of the southern hemisphere, I spent a month in New Zealand in my first winter for example.

During the winter you will need to write your annual report, recruit Long Term Volunteers and set up and advertise events amongst other jobs. Before you know it, February has come around and you start gearing up for the coming season and you’ll be waiting for a weather window to get back to that island you’ve been thinking about all winter.

There’s flexibility within the role and you can get as involved with the wildlife monitoring and hands on conservation work as your time permits. Lots of people see it as a quiet place but it is far from it, and the constant flow of visitors, volunteers and researchers make it a really vibrant place. You are supported by a fantastic group of people, not just on the island, but also locally on the mainland and also within the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.

Skomer will always remain a special place for me, but for now, I must move on.
Leighton, now the ‘old’ Visitor Officer.

P.s if you would like to know even more, then I recommend this blog from previous Skomer Warden, Chris Taylor:

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Skomer Visitor Officer Position

The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales are looking for a Skomer Visitor Officer.
Location: Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire
Pay: £16,000. Accommodation is provided for up to nine months of the year.

Post Details:

Permanent contract, with flexible hours. Based on Skomer Island for up to nine months of the year. Summer working hours can be up to 48 per week. Accommodation and bills (apart from food) are covered whilst on the island. The applicant is expected to secure their own winter accommodation.



Main responsibilities:

To market, deliver and improve the overall visitor experience on Skomer Island, including overnight and day visitors.

Duties include:

Day-to-day coordination of the Skomer day visitors and overnight guests, including welcoming visitors to the island and being the primary point of contact on the island for queries
Maintenance and enhancement of visitor facilities such as infrastructure, interpretation, signage and social media
Developing a programme of events and conducting guided walks etc.
Marketing of Skomer as a visitor facility
Line management of Long-term volunteer(s)
To assist with other island management tasks e.g. wildlife surveys
Ensure Health and Safety Policy is complied with at all times

 For more information and application form click here

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Wing Threads - Flight to the Tundra

Our season on Skomer is now over. We have spent the autumn monitoring the Grey Seal pups and cleaning and fixing the buildings etc. But have you ever wondered what we do in winter?... After writing up some reports and preparing for the next year we get to take a holiday and, as none of us are the type to go and lay on a beach or go shopping, we usually go and do some more work to conserve wildlife somewhere else, just for a change!

Bee and I have spent two of the last three winters doing ornithological work in Australia. As you can imagine we have met some extremely interesting people along the way. Not least of these was Amellia 'Earhart' Formby, otherwise known as Millie, who in 2022 will be flying a microlight from Australia to Siberia to raise awareness of the plight of the millions of migratory birds that use the East Asian - Australasian flyway (EAAF). These little (actually one of them is the largest shorebird in the world!) 'shorebirds', or waders as we call them, face a major threat along their migration route, namely reclemation of the intertidal areas, which they use like petrol stations, on their epic journey through South East Asia and the Yellow Sea.

Millie (right) and yours truely ringing waders in Australia in 2016
This may seem a far cry from the shearwaters, Puffins, Oystercatchers and seals of Skomer but there are a few familiar species involved. The Knots, Turnstones, Bar-tailed Godwits, Greenshanks and Whimbrel are the same species that we see in Britain. Species that you may be less familiar with include Red-necked Stints, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Great Knot as well as the endangered Far Eastern Curlew (the largest shorebird in the world) and the near threatened Curlew Sandpiper. Although not a regular visitor to Australia the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper also relies on the same stop over sites in East Asia which are under so much threat.

A huge variety of shorebirds use the extremely important EAAF
This is the route that Millie will be taking in her microlight from Australia to Siberia. It roughly follows the route of the millions of waders that would usually think nothing of the 12,500km journey between their wintering and breeding grounds.

160821 Wing Threads flightpath.001.jpg

For the birds this is an annual return migration approaching (for some) 30,000km. The journey becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, when the 'petrol stations' close and they can't fuel up along the way. For the Spoon-billed Sandpiper this may well be just one last nail in the coffin and it may well drive yet more species towards extinction.

Degraded habitat around the Yellow Sea
The aim of Millies project is to collaborate with people from science, aviation, the arts and adventure to conduct a research project and produce a documentary film to raise the public profile of threats facing shorebirds, promote eco-stewardship and contribute to global scientific research. You can find out more about the project and the birds by visiting her website Wing Threads - Flight to the Tundra. You can watch some of the videos that she has already produced. You can also help financially by contributing on her crowd funding site or just follow her along the way in a few years time when she begins her journey.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Ready, steady, go...

The last week before moving off is always frantic - even if you feel like you have finished all jobs that need doing you will always find more.

We've been cleaning and tidying, packing and organising and on top of that continued to monitor the seals and did the final post-storm repairs.

The seal births have slowed down a lot - on average one pup is born every week instead of several per day as during the busiest times. We've monitored over 200 pups on Skomer this year, but for me it's still a magical moment when I find a new born pup on a beach. Some of you may have already seen our amazing seals on Countryfile in November.

One of the remaining pups, it was born on the 14th and is growing nicely

We did the final checks of our seal caves and our pups in Seal Hole and the Lantern were doing well. It was a beautiful day and the rays of sunshine streamed over the rocks at the Lantern.

Autumn on Skomer is spectacular - I think it's due to the very soft and low light which makes everything glow in warm brown, yellow and red tones; and because the sun is so low the cliffs look dramatic as they cast their long shadows.

Sunrise in November

As mentioned above we also finished the roof repairs at North Haven. After storm Ophelia we fixed the hole in the roof with plywood but now we were able to fit the proper roofing sheets. Lizzie (WTSWW Conservation Manager) succeeded in finding a supplier, which was rather difficult as this type of roofing sheet isn't produced anymore. So the ones we ordered were made in the Czech Republic by hand - just imagine that.

Work begins...
and continues...
and continues...
and finishes, just as it gets dark!

And then there was the Farm garden to tidy up. In September a work party helped us to dismantle our leaky water tank and now we had to clean, sort and store the panels ready for next year's workparty which will hopefully put the tank back together again.

Before and...

It's quite funny to be packing to move off when some of the wildlife is actually getting ready for the next breeding season. We've seen Guillemots and Razorbills back on the cliffs, the Fulmars look as if they are here to stay and if you ask the Ravens they will tell you: love is in the air!

In the last few days we have been frantically looking at windguru to find the weather window we need to move off. A while ago Friday looked good, then Friday looked bad, then Friday looked good again and if the forecast doesn't change once more we will be off on Friday - keep your fingers crossed!

Current forecast - might change again in two hours :-(

So our bags are packed and we are now waiting for the ready, steady, go!

(Skomer Warden)