Friday, 21 April 2017

Skomer Spring Special 2017 Report

A guest blog this week from West Coast Birdwatching who ran our Spring Migration Special birdwatching weekend a short while ago. Another fantastic three days on the island! 

The first West Coast Birdwatching trip of 2017 saw Dave Astins & Toby Phelps take a group of 10 to Skomer Island, leading a ‘spring migration special’ on behalf of the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales.  This was the 3rd spring in a row for this particular trip, and half of the participants had previously attended the autumn version – 2 in 2015 & 3 in 2016.  Repeat participants are always a good sign!
The 3-day trip started with the usual work of getting all our stuff from the mainland to Skomer, and all the way to our accommodation in the centre of the island at the farm.  Thankfully the tractor was working!

The 3 days that followed consisted mainly of sunshine (some rain to bring the migrants in might have helped), northerly winds (south-easterlies on the first day), plenty of tea & biscuits, lots of walking, chatting and learning how to identify all the birds we saw.  Everyone saw some new species.  We were lucky that the auks (Puffins, Guillemots & Razorbills) were on the island for the first 2 days, as by day 3 they had totally deserted!

Migrant highlights included a male Ring Ouzel, a Black Redstart, up to 3 Merlin, Grasshopper Warber, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap Chiffchaffs & Willow Warblers. Hirundines were on the move, with Sand Martins outnumbering Swallows, and just a handful of House Martins.  The numbers fluctuated from day to day, highlighting the difference the wind makes.  We also saw very few Manx Shearwaters after dark, due to skies being so clear, presenting danger to them coming ashore in such moonlit conditions – Great Black-backed Gulls hunt well at night in these conditions!

Skomer’s Short-eared Owls put on a show with up to 3 day-flying during our visit, and we finally caught up with a Little Owl on the 2nd day.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

My first weeks on Skomer

Name: Thomas Faulkner
Hometown: Aberystwyth
Hobbies: Paddle boarding
Spirit animal: Sloth
Favourite Bird: Manx Shearwater      
My name is Thomas Faulkner, one of the new Long Term Volunteers that have the privilege of living on Skomer for the next 3 months. I am an Ecology graduate from Aberystwyth University and have a long history of volunteering in conservation. I have been heavily involved with the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust Dyfi Osprey Project and also the Vincent Wildlife Trust Pine Marten reintroduction project. This interest in wildlife and volunteering led to me become a weekly volunteer last September during Shearwater week where I had the amazing opportunity to help weigh chicks. As soon as you spend any time on Skomer you quickly realise why it is the UK’s favourite nature reserve and after my weeks visit I knew I would be back!
Me and Ruby, the Long Term Volunteers for this half of the season  
I arrived on Skomer on the 1st of April and will be helping out wherever needed but you may bump into me welcoming day visitors and conducting surveys around the island. I will also be helping with the general running and maintenance of Skomer.
Learning to drive the tractor
As part of my stay I will also be conducting a personal project. My project is going to focus on the vegetation of Skomer and trying to repeat a survey first carried out 38 years ago. I will be trying to find around 200 small yellow markers buried in bracken that indicate a vegetation plot. Not an easy job. I will also be monitoring nesting activity of the Greater Black Backed Gulls, the largest predator on the island, mapping territory and nests while noting numbers of birds and behaviours as well.

Having just completed my first two weeks or so on Skomer Island, all I can say is it is living up to and exceeding all expectations. This week there have been so many species I have seen for the first time. On my second day the Puffins were starting to arrive in numbers and were showing courting and territorial behaviours in North Haven, while a pod of 30 Common Dolphin investigated the Dale Princess. And on the farm the Short eared Owl had an almost constant presence, searching for the endemic Skomer vole. Experiences like this are becoming an everyday occurrence. I am really looking forward to having new experiences like these in the three months I am here, and I really look forward to welcoming you onto the island.

Thom (Long Term Volunteer)

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Opening day!

We’re now open! And as B said in our previous blog, time has certainly flown. Just a week ago we were a little worried about whether the island would be ready in time, and to be honest, I was still a little worried on Friday afternoon. Things fell into place though and with a last little bit of adjustment we were ready to welcome the first visitors of 2017! 
An almost wind still morning meant the ponds had incredible reflections in them
 Thankfully the weather gods blessed us with a fantastic start to the season and we opened for day visitors and overnight guests on Saturday, as scheduled.

There was quite a bit of luggage that came over on the first boat which included four weekly volunteers, two overnight guests and two new Long Term Volunteers, Thom and Ruby (introductory blogs to come).  It certainly tested the early season fitness going up and down the steps multiple times. 

The first visitors of the year were treated to a fantastic day on Skomer. It was the first calm and sunny day in quite a while which meant the Short-eared Owls were making the most of the ideal hunting conditions, two of which were gliding over North Valley for most of the day, delighting visitors, staff and volunteers alike.

A spectacle which we weren't quite expecting was also the sheer numbers of Puffins that came back to Skomer in the evening. We could see numbers building throughout the day and around 4pm we had over 2,000 in North Haven alone, but they kept building and by 7pm there were an amazing 7,300 Puffins in North Haven. We usually do our whole island Puffin counts in mid-April but if these numbers continue like this we may end up doing them early. To see a video of this, head to our Facebook page. 

Sunrise on Sunday morning, another beautiful day
Saturday was one of those idyllic days on Skomer where the weather was fantastic, the wildlife was on top form and visitors left with huge smiles on their faces. And Sunday hasn’t been bad either, with excellent weather, migrants passing though (Sand Martins, Swallows and Willow Warblers mainly) and a pod of 30 Common Dolphins spotted off North Haven. For us this is an incredibly early sighting and we wouldn’t be expecting to see dolphins off Skomer until the summer!

That’s me done for now, but with the weather forecast to be similar for most of next week, we hope to see more friendly faces on Skomer soon and await more wildlife spectacles!

Leighton (Visitor Officer) 

P.S. To keep up to date with Skomer why not follow us on social media:

Facebook - Skomer Island
Twitter - @Skomer_island
Instagram - Skomer Island 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

9 days and counting

The time has flown: only 9 days to opening. Slowly but surely we are getting a little bit nervous... Are we going to have everything ready? Are all signs up, the rope at the Wick in place, the landing steps scrubbed and algae free...?

As you can imagine we have been very busy since we got over on the 6th. We haven't really had any time off. Last Saturday Sarah and Leighton tried very hard to dodge work when they came down to North Haven library to watch a film- unfortunately I had the brilliant idea to get them to mend bird ringing nets whilst watching - which they did expertly.

The weather has been a bit of a challenge this March, it has been windy, cold and very wet - everything is muddy and we are really hankering for some sunshine. Yesterday we heard an enormous bang (not the firing range for once) and shortly after the heavens opened. It haled so hard that even the seals on the beach raced into the water in confusion.

Photo: S. Purdon

An hour later the sun came out, melted the hale and transformed a rather bleak looking Skomer into the colorful and radiating island so many visitors love.

The skies at this time of year are ever changing and shift hand in hand with the weather. Great photo opportunities!

On sunny days the cliffs of Skomer are full of Guillemots and Razorbills and the faithful Fulmars have been at their breeding sites since last November.

We now regularly get large rafts of Puffins sitting offshore and we have had the odd brave bird land on Skomer. We are waiting eagerly for the evening when they decide to land en masse to reclaim their burrows. Other wildlife which keeps us company are the Ravens, which are incubating eggs already and Chough, which are in the process of building nests.

Raven keeping an eye on its territory

Migrants also keep us entertained especially the stunning looking male Wheatears which are moving through.

Hope to see you soon

(Skomer Warden)

Saturday, 11 March 2017

We Made It!

After the weather windows forecast continually deteriorating and disappearing, last Sunday we saw a possible chance and took it! We scrambled to do our last fresh food shop, and first thing on Monday 6th we moved all our food and worldly possessions onto Martin’s Haven beach.

It wasn’t an ideal day for it, with rain all through the morning making everything wet from above, before we’d even got it in the boat. But, as soggy as we and everything was, we were happy to be heading out.
BFFs; Leighton and Ed

Spot the warden

It was a little splashy at times

The first trip up to the farm was a welcome site under a dramatic sky.
We are pleased to report no major damage to the buildings, so we are busy cleaning, and getting ready for volunteers and guests.

The area to the left of the house which was bare and vegetation-less all of 2016 has grown up over the winter.

Wildlife highlights

Seals, hauled out on North Haven beach
We have good numbers of seals, some of whom have been extremely curious as to what we're up to, following us in the boat, and daring each other to come closest to us up the beach. (so far, they have restrained from hijacking our boat as in previous years.)

Short eared owls, multiple hen harriers (all females) and kestrels have all been hunting around the farm almost every day, and on the cliffs the ravens are already nesting. The fulmars have been as reliably present as ever, and the auks and kittiwakes have been back on the cliffs the last few days. There have been a few puffins hanging around the island, and we spotted a few manxies out to sea. On the ponds we've had good numbers of snipe, and unusually for us we've had three wigeon and a couple of teal, and a black redstart yesterday in North Haven.

It's lovely to be back, and we're all looking forward to seeing you all this year!

Sarah (Assistant Warden)

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Zugstau - the interuption of migration due to bad weather

Usually we get a calm spell at the start of March in which to make our move out to the island. Not so this spring. Since storm Doris the weather just hasn't been calm enough for us to launch the boat, load it on the beach, make several trips back and forth and off load again on the island.

Zugstau is the German word used to describe the build up of migrants (usually birds) waiting for better weather in which to continue their migration and describes our situation perfectly. Hopefully we will get out to the island next week. However, at the moment, the forecast does not look good. So it looks like we need to watch and wait. 

A fresh breeze and brooding clouds

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Job oppertunities on Skomer

We are looking for a seasonal Assistant Warden and Fieldworker for the 2017 season. More details and application forms can be found here.

Seabird monitoring

Doing welcome talks