Saturday, 22 October 2016

What are they up to?

I am sure some of you might wonder what we get up to when the island is shut to visitors. Well we have cleaned all the buildings, scrubbed all the ovens, moved all benches and anything that can be blown off by a storm under cover, taken all the bedding to North Haven to store in our dry library and...

... done lots of footpath maintenance and widening and...

...painted our brand new bird hides which the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer built for us and... the moment we are working on replacing the ply wood on our sales point with recycled plastic to  make it last the next 100 years.

And we have got more planned for next year: We are going to paint our boat shed, which should also last for a very long time!

Celtic Sustainables have very kindly donated high quality, environmentally friendly paint for our boat shed. To be honest before looking into this I never new that there are such big differences in paint but the one we were given sounds absolutely amazing.

This is what Celtic Sustainables says about the paint:

Silicate mineral paints are a fantastic alternative to conventional masonry paints; they are tough, long lasting and highly breathable whilst being environmentally friendly. There are a few manufacturers of these paints such as Earthborn and Keim.

These paints are especially suited for use over mineral based substrates; they become chemically bonded to the substrate when applied which makes them especially tough and long lasting. The high breathability of these paints makes them especially suited for use on older properties making them a great alternative to conventional methods such as limewash.

Extreme climactic conditions such as the exposed coastal conditions that Skomer endures year round are a challenging proposition for any exterior masonry paint, which is why Keim Royalan was a suggested solution for the boathouse on Skomer Island as it is specifically formulated for use where climates are particularly extreme, this paint should last well over a decade even with the harsh conditions whilst being an environmentally friendly product.

I was amazed to hear that the restaurant Wei├čer Adler in Stein am Rhein (Schwitzerland), close to were I grew up, received its coat of mineral paint in 1891 and hasn't been painted since. I do admit that our boat shed isn't quite as grand but none the less we will give you an update once we have painted the shed next spring. And do look at our blog again in spring 2117 to hear how the paint has done over time.

(Skomer Warden)

PS: A massive thank you goes out to Celtic Sustainables for their support!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

What will week 41 bring?

So far this season 156 seal pups have been born on Skomer, which is four less than the same time last year. The final number of course will depend on how the end of the season turns out. Maybe we have already reached the peak?

Week 39 (26/9-3/10) was very productive this year with 34 births. In 2013 we had 37 births in week 39 but in the following two years we found no more than 19 new born pups during the same period.

Seal pup births per week in 2015

If the pattern of the last two years continues we will reach our maximum number of births this week (week 41). We were lucky enough to witness a seal pup getting born this morning: after noticing a large, pregnant female on North Haven beach last night. We were expecting to see a new pup on the beach this morning. However at 07.00h the cow was still in the same spot and no new born pup in sight.

Then at 08.30h Alice, our Long-term Volunteer, came down to the office and she noticed this female lifting her lower body up and straining. So we all rushed outside to brace the cold northerly winds to watch with bated breath the female give birth to a soggy looking pup. Luckily (for her and for us watching with cold fingers) it only took her 15 minutes to give birth.

At 10.30h when Alice and I came back from checking the caves for seals the female was still with her pup and she was encouraging it to drink, she was stroking its head with her flipper and finally it managed to find the teat and suckle- probably its first drink

(Skomer Warden)

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Cold-blooded inhabitants of Skomer

From April-September we have short term volunteers on the island, as well as helping out with the day to day running of the island and visitor engagement, they also carry out some important surveys while on the island, including our reptile surveys.

We have two reptile transects on the island: the Farm and the coast transect. They both consist of around 20 refugia which heat up during the day and attract the cold blooded inhabitants of the island. The normally illusive Slow Worms Anguis fragilis are the most common visitors to these refugia. Common Toad, Skomer Vole and Common Lizards are also often seen.

The numbers of Slow Worms found can depend on weather conditions and time of year, our peak numbers were found in July and August with a peak total of 144 individuals in our farm transect (11/08/2016), and a peak of 25 individuals in our outer island transect (24/08/2016). All of the data collected is collated and then sent off to the Reptile and Amphibian Conservation Trust.

Slow Worms are neither worms nor snakes but belong to the lizard family, through evolution they have lost their legs, making them look surprisingly like snakes. They also have a very interesting evolutionary trait, similar to our common lizards, the Slow Worm can drop its tail when threatened to create a diversion in the hope that the predator will go for its tail and not the body, they then regrow their tail which happens slowly. Like all other reptiles, Slow Worms are ectotherm and need to find warm places to bask (warm their blood) to be able to get the energy to hunt, this is where our refugia come in. They provide the perfect basking habitat.. Slow worms mainly eat slugs, worms and other insects, which are plentiful on Skomer!

Slow Worms (photo by Pia Reufsteck)

Toads are much more frequently seen on Skomer than frogs, if you have stayed the night here you will know that when night descends the toads come out hunting for worms and slugs. There are often counts of over 100 individual toads between the Farm and North Haven, while frog numbers on the island are much smaller and harder to count, only a handful are seen along the same route.

Toad (photo by Pia Reufsteck)

Thanks to all of our lovely volunteers who took part in this year’s reptile surveys!

Alice Brooke (Long Term Volunteer)

Thursday, 22 September 2016

New hides for Skomer

This week the Friends of Skomerand Skokholm have been working hard to rebuild the hides at North Pond and Moorey Mere. The work party group split into two teams (4 at Moorey Mere and 2 at North Pond). 

So far some friendly competition has developed between the two groups: to see who can finish the hide first! Four days in and the North Pond team is in the lead with only the windows to make (estimated half a day of work left), and the Moorey Mere team is just slightly behind with the windows, floor and benches to finish (estimated 2 days of work left).

Moorey Mere hide

By Friday, the hides should be finished and ready for public use again. So come along to spot the migrant birds in our lovely new hides before the island shuts for the season! Hopefully all their hard work will pay off and the hides will still be standing strong after the winter winds and for lots of years to come!     

North Pond hide

Many thanks go out to Howard, John, Rob, Ronan, Peter and Steve for making the hides, to the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer in general for donating the hides and the volunteers for hauling all the wood up the dreaded steps from the landing!  

If you would like to support the work we do on Skomer why not become a member of the Friends. For more information click here.

(Long-term Volunteer)

And many thanks more go to our lovely Long-term Volunteers Alice and Cerren who did the cooking for the work party! Well done girls!

(Skomer Warden)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Island's daughter

The Seals

Leave her alone,
She is the Island's daughter.
Sleek heads, dark heads
Are risen from the water:
Leaver her the company
Her songs have brought her.

The old grey music doctors
Of the ocean,
Their holy, happy eyes
Shining devotion,
Applaud and blow
In foam and soft commotion.

It is her hour.
The Island's only daughter.
The dark, sleek heads
Are risen from the water:
Leave her the company
Her songs have brought her.

L.A.G. Strong

It's no secret that I adore the Grey Seals that spend at least part of their lives in Skomer's waters. The pupping season has begun and since beginning of August 51 seal pups have been born.

When Grey Seal pups are born they wear a white coat which they moult into the adult pelage after three weeks. They look very cute when they are lying quite helplessly on the beaches waiting to be fed. At birth they weigh between 12 and 20kg but they soon turn from an elongated looking creature into a balloon shaped one and then weigh 60 or more kilograms. They feed on very rich milk with a fat content of up to 60% (butter has a fat content of 80%) and gain nearly two kilograms of weight per day. 

The males are massive, their skin is covered in scars, the flesh around their necks lies in folds and they look truly scary. When they fight with each other, for the right to mate with the females on the beach, they grunt and bite often drawing blood, churn up the water and make pebbles fly.

The females are beautiful sleek animals with dark shiny eyes and smooth skin. Their fur can show the most amazing patterns and they are caring and gentle with their pups. However they become fearsome warriors when their offspring is in danger.

(Skomer Warden)

Friday, 9 September 2016

Puffinus puffinus – Manx Shearwater Week

Every year, guests come to Skomer to take part in the ‘Shearwater experience’ and learn more about these incredible birds and their extraordinary lives out at sea, on the largest colony of Manx Shearwaters in the world. An amazing 316,000 pairs breed on Skomer, with the birds returning in early March and staying until late September. 

It all starts on the first night with a talk from the Oxford University researchers, from the Oxford Navigation Group, on the life history of Shearwaters, the historical research on these amazing navigators and also the current research being carried out by the team from Oxford.

With the help of a volunteer from the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer we then head out on a night time walk to witness the Shearwater chicks out of their burrows, practicing their wingbeats and maybe, if you’re lucky, taking their very first flight. Red lights are best for the Shearwaters and as a bonus it doesn’t hinder your night vision so if it is a clear night, the stars can be incredible too! 

As part of Shearwater Week, guests are also invited to weigh chicks with the researchers on the second day of their stay. There’s around 60 chicks to weigh and you can get as involved as you like, from carrying, weighing or even giving it a go at getting the chicks out of the burrows.

This chick still has quite a lot of down left around the neck and belly, which some people like to see as the Shearwaters trousers. 

It’s difficult to make out, but this chick weighs 455g. Adults weigh between 400-450g and chicks can weigh up to 550-600g at their heaviest! Chicks will then lose the excess weight in the build up to fledging. 

Shearwater Week guests lined up on the research colony at North Haven, ready to weigh chicks.

It’s amazing to think that some of the chicks that fledged during the first few days of Shearwater Week are now probably most of their way to their wintering grounds off the east coast of South America, 10,000km away. How do they navigate? I hear you ask. You'll have to attend next years Shearwater Week to find out. 

A special thanks to all of the guests that attended Shearwater Week, the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer and Oxford Navigation Group, especially Ollie Padget, Sarah Bond, Amaia Mendinueta and Tim Guilford. For more information on the research being carried out on Skomer Island by Oxford Navigation Group please see: 

Bookings for next year’s Shearwater Week will open on 3rd October for members of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, and 17th October for non-members. Shearwater Week will run from 22nd August until 30th August in 2017, again as a two night stay. Contact: or 01656 724100 to book.