Monday, 20 April 2015

The seabirds are back

After a simultaneous desertion a few days ago of all the welsh islands by the fussy Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills, the seabirds are back again. It is currently 4pm and there are hundreds of Puffins circling around North Haven and the cliffs were populated by 'guillies' and 'razors' this morning. So its smiles all round for the people who are staying on the island and the day boats will be running again from 10am tomorrow for those who want to come and enjoy the island for the day.

The Puffins are back

Carpets of Sea Campion on land and carpets of Auks on the sea
The Puffins were joined today by 50+ Weatears: alone on the Isthmus we saw seven in one flock.On the picture below are six of the seven. Have a go and try and spot them.

It seems that spring is finally here to stay, at least the Red Campion thinks so. The first in flower was seen today.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Start of a new season

After our record breaking Puffin count on Wednesday of 21,229, we thought that the 2015 season couldn't have gotten off to a better start but, although the Puffins (and Guillemots and Razorbills) have temporarily deserted us (usual for this time of year), it was just a false Start!

Today in North Haven a male Common Redstart was seen side by side with a female Black Redstart then latter on with a male Black Redstart. Common Redstarts usually breed in woodland or mature orchards and Black Redstarts often near human habitations. Both, of course, are on migration so seeing them side by side was a seasonal treat and a nice comparison. Unfortunately the Black Redstarts were far less obliging than the showy and very striking Common Redstart.

Male Common Redstart

Female Black Redstart
   See the Recent Sightings tab at the top of the blog for highlights of the last days and weeks.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Having a Scrap

As some of you know, Ed and I had never been on the island before we signed our contract. The first time we did go and visit was in February 2013: Sash and Lucy Tusa took us out for a recce in their RiB and we had a walk around the island and looked at the buildings. On entering the garden at the farm I remarked that 'this place needs a bit of a clean up' and now after two years of waiting my dream has finally come true.

It all began last weekend with our first group of volunteers doing a rubbish pick on South Haven beach.

Netting, beer barrel, plastic...
Cornish Sucker Fish in South Haven, photo P. Rotherfield

Snakelock Anemone in South Haven, photo R. Humphries

This beach clean was our dress rehearsal for a whole week of sanding down, scraping off, painting, decorating and cleaning. Over the course of a week, seven lovely work party members helped us to renovate the windows at North Haven. We did our very best to keep our volunteers happy and entertained and the birds did the rest: Ring Ouzles, Pied Flycatchers, Wrynecks, Hoopoes, hundreds of Willow Warblers and one Common Redstart.

Martin and Nigel on the scaffold

The work parties final task was to deliver the island from decades of accumulated rubbish.

On Sunday we were wheel barrowing and lugging tons of scrap down to the salespoint. We were working flat out till the evening and still had some more tractor runs to do the following morning before the Lady Helen arrived at 10:30.

Five more volunteers joined us from the mainland and then we spent the next five hours going up and down the steps with fridges, cookers, engines, generators, portable loos, pipe, cable, TV sets and things that escaped our imagination entirely. 

At 14:00 John Reynolds announced that the Lady Helen could not take anymore (neither could we to be honest), she sat rather deeply in the water. Luckily we had managed to take everything off except some scaffolding poles (above).


A huge thanks goes to John Reynolds from Dale Sailing for bringing the Lady Helen from Neyland to Skomer and for his patience and amazing boat handling skills whilst we were throwing washing machines on his boat.

Another thank you goes to the ferrymen Peter and Dereck for transporting our mainland helpers.

And of course we thank the work party members, our weekly volunteers (who did not know what was coming their way when they booked on), Elspeth (currently the only researcher on the island), all the staff who worked until their muscles ached and the little migrant birds that turned up to make it so memorable.

Here is a quote from Andrew, one of the vols that came over from the mainland to help with the big clean up: 'what I do remember is seeing everyone on the island getting involved and working really hard as a team, and so look forward to meeting them again.' 
(Skomer Wardens)

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The early bird

... catches the worm. However in this case it wasn't a Blackbird that was gorging on succulent Skomer earth worms (they can grow to massive dimensions, believe me, I know as I have dug over my entire garden) but a female Kestrel. She has been hanging around Skomer for the last week. Unfortunately we have not seen a male Kestrel to keep her company. She is a bit shaggy, with some feathers sticking up on her back and she might not be the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to hunting - hence feeding on earth worms. On the other hand, who can blame her when there is a gale force 7 blowing - everyone keeps a low profile in such weather.

Waiting for the sun to shine on the sun dial (Pic: Jason Moss)
Yummy earth worms (Pic: Jason Moss)

What else has happened in the last week? Ed found a roost of 18 Purple Sandpiper on the Neck which was rather exciting. We all went back yesterday to have another look and to our delight they were still there- hunkered down in between rocks.

Purple Sandpiper (Pic: Jason Moss)

 A non- wildlife highlight was the fact that we managed to get our four volunteers over despite the bad weather. All of us have been very busy scrubbing, dusting, painting and polishing to give the island the finishing touches before the visitors arrive.

No comment
Back to the wildlife highlights: At the moment we have up to 240 Grey Seals hauled out at North Haven. Every day we count them and look for tags. So far we have seen four different seals with tags, however it is very difficult to read the code on these little plastic markers. We have sent the pictures to the Cornish Seal Sanctuary as we often get rehabilitated seals from Cornwall visiting Skomer.

Bull with orange flipper tag which can only been seen...
...when he lifts his tail.
And final highlight: Mick Loughran has also made it out to Skomer (and is stuck now, he wanted to leave today) and is continuing his long-term study of the Skomer Vole. He was out every morning checking his traps - rain or shine. Today we found one Wood Mouse and three Skomer Voles which had decided to accept Mick's offer of Bed&Breakfast (the traps have straw and seeds in them).

Ed and our volunteer Tanya helping Mick check his traps

One cute vole

And what will happen next? We are hoping to get a rush of small migrant birds soon as it has been very quiet in the last week. Also we are expecting that our seabirds (Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots) will be present more regularly and for longer periods as April progresses. And last but not least, we are excited to welcome our first visitors to our amazing island. 

(Skomer Warden)

Monday, 23 March 2015

Building Work on Skomer

As some might remember from last year - our slip way was damaged by the 2013/14 winter storms. When we came back to the island in March 2014 a huge hole in our slip way greeted us. This was remedied quickly but the cause for the hole was only discovered during the repair works: The sea wall had been undercut and the wave action had "sucked out" the concrete and gravel.

Now, one year later, Chris Ward's team is back to repair our sea wall. Last week the repairs began and it was quite exciting to watch the unloading of diggers and other equipment from the landing craft.

Landing craft arriving

Human spectators


Of course we were a bit worried how the wildlife would react to so much noise and all the strange machinery but we needn't have worried ourselves. The Razorbills were watching from the cliffs and the seals were so curious they came muzzling the boat. Of course too much curiosity may be bad for the cat/seal and the work will still need to be done by the time the birds start breeding.

Razorbills watching the digger from the cliff edge


Unfortunately private landing on the beach will not be possible until the work is finished. The Dale Princess will be running from 1 April (weather permitting) so exploring Skomer will not be hindered by the building project.

For latest sightings go to Wildlife Sighting tab at the top

(Skomer Warden)

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Meet the new VO

A new year on Skomer Island and we have a new Visitor Officer, or VO. Leighton Newman joins us officially from mid April onwards and will be in charge of the hostel at the farm as well as most aspects of any visitors experience on the island. Leighton had been working as a Field Assistant for the Wildlife Trust at our head office and new visitor facility at Parc Slip. He had already been drafted in to the Skomer team to help cover the period from the beginning of March to mid April and had impressed us so much that we decided to keep him on.

The Skomer team 2015
Andy Bramwell, who made so many positive changes last year, has moved on and we wish him all the best for the future. Many of the things that Andy started last year and worked so hard to get off the ground will continue. Events to look for this spring include:

April 3rd-6th - Family Quiz Trail and Raffle (Raffle prize is an overnight stay on the island in August)

April 27th - Monday Guided Bird Walk with Dave Astins (Phone 01239 621600 or pop in to Lockley Lodge to book)

In other news, the first Puffins of the year have been seen today! The cliffs are already quite noisy with the calls of Guillemots and Razorbills and mating has been observed in both species already. The first Linnet of the spring was seen this morning and both Marsh and Hen Harriers have been seen today. There was also another cheeky seal in our boat this morning!

Cheeky seals!

Spot the Puffin

Monday, 9 March 2015

Winter leaves its mark

Four days in and all is well on Skomer Island. However, the closer we look, the more signs of wear and tear we find, giving some hint of what the winter just passed was like. Roofs ripped from research hides, mould covering walls, pipe insulation devoured by mice and bird droppings throughout the hostel interior (an upstairs window had somehow blown open), and it's clear to see that all was not quiet while we were gone. However no lasting damage, and nothing that cant be fixed/replaced/scrubbed!

 Just as we thought the island had faired well over the winter we find this at Bull Hole!

Whilst waking around the island these last few days, we have picked up a few owl pellets which had been left over the winter. Dissecting and identifying the contents has revealed some interesting findings:

One pellet contained the remains of two Bank Voles/'Skomer' Voles, one Field Vole and a Common Shrew. While the Bank/'Skomer' Vole and the Common Shrew are known to occur naturally on the island, the Field Vole is not native here, and was presumably caught on the mainland, showing that this Short-eared Owl has been passing between the island and the mainland to hunt and potentially roost.
Short-eared Owl pellet before dissection.

From left to right, Bank Vole, Field Vole, Bank Vole, Common Shrew, only two of which occur on Skomer. Note the red tips to the teeth on the Common Shrew. 

Wildlife highlights

The 6th saw a Jack Snipe flushed near South Pond, this being a classic spot on the island for this species. This area also produced 12 Common Snipe. The day also saw our first Rooks of the season fly over, while our first frog and toad spawn of the year was seen at Moorey Mere.

The 7th saw three further species added to the year list with a male Grey Wagtail on the main farm track, a pair of Shoveler on North Pond and the returning male Pied Wagtail at the Farm.

Birds of prey were the main talking point on the 8th, with two Merlin, a Sparrowhawk and a Short-eared Owl all being seen for the first time this year, while at least 14 Stonechat was a good count for the island. A Water Rail was also seen as were two mating Buzzards at Pigstone Bay.

Finally, today (9th) saw the arrival of our first Chiffchaff of the spring, sporting a crust of pollen at the base of its bill, clearly indicating that it was fresh in from warmer southern climes.

Rooks over North Haven.
One of the 14 Stonechats yesterday.