Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Trip to Middleholm

The Pembrokeshire ringing group and former Skomer Wardens Anna and Steve Sutcliffe have been monitoring and ringing the breeding Shags on Middleholm since 1985. This year Ed and I were able to join in and we had the most amazing time scrambling around the island looking for nests and ringing the chicks.

Lovely Middleholm
We found 23 nest sites and we ringed 25 chicks from 9 nests which equates to 2.78 chicks fledging per pair – a high productivity level. This is good news as the Shags have not been doing well in recent years.

Shag chicks in the nest

"Be careful, they have long beaks..."

Happy chick back in the nest
The proud parents

And a chick from last year with ring (on the left)

Bee (Skomer Warden) and Pia Reufsteck (Pictures)

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Puffin Bingo

The Wick

“42!” “27!” “34!” Apparently random numbers were being called out by overnight guests at the Wick one evening last week. But don’t worry we’ve not had to resort to cruise ship style entertainment for our guests yet on Skomer (though a poker night could be fun). 

It was early evening and fading sun was backlighting our puffins, making their feet glow orange and the sand eels in their beaks flash silver as they came into land. I was about to finish my two hour shift watching the numbered burrows at the Wick. This was part of an all day puffin feeding watch aimed at recording how many times a day adult birds were bringing food to their chicks which were safely tucked away in their burrows.

Holly our volunteer
Holly, our new long term volunteer, had started watching the burrows in the chilly half light at 5am. Several members of staff and volunteers had also taken a shift, and now Holly was returning to keep watch until dark.

If you’re not familiar with the Wick area on Skomer, it is one of the places where people and puffins are at their closest. Puffins will land on the cliff edge and during busy periods have to run the gauntlet of photographers and visitors to reach their burrow on the other side of the path. Our puffin watch results should help us shed some light on the productivity of the puffins which have to deal with the visitors, and let us decide if we’re causing any impact on the birds.

But the really great thing to me, as Visitor Officer, about puffin watch days, is that we can encourage our visitors and guests to get involved and help us out. There are 51 numbered burrows and it’s hard for one person to keep an eye on all of them, especially as some of the adult birds fly in, land and run down their hole at breakneck speed to avoid being mugged by gulls. So I always try to explain what I’m doing there, clipboard in hand, and rope everyone to help. So anytime a puffin is seen delivering freshly caught sand eels to a numbered burrow, that number is proudly shouted and duly recorded. For people just turning up to have some evening puffin-time, it does sound like a game of bingo is underway.

Watching for puffins with sand eels
Feeding rates tend to vary during the day, with mornings and early evenings being the busiest times (another reason that an overnight stay is a must-do on Skomer Island). But it all tends to quiet down around 9pm, with many puffins content to loaf around on cliff tops and engage in some social activity or burrow maintenance.

The results we collect will help shed some light on the success of the puffins at the Wick, but in the meantime our puffin watches have proved a fun and engaging way to raise awareness of our potential impact on these birds.

Andy Bramwell
Skomer Visitor Officer

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours...

We have new neighbours at North Haven: A brood of Short-eared Owls has taken a liking to my vegetable plot and its fence posts. Some mornings we now wake up to see these beautiful birds perching outside our bedroom window. What a start to a day - gettin up was never easier!

Now I have to train them to do the weeding for me

Who is watching who?

They are watching us!

7.30 am, time for a clean... puts his right wing in...
...and its left wing out...
in out, in out, shake it all about!
And off it goes
Skomer here I come!

Bee, Skomer Warden and Pia Reufsteck (Pictures)

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Volunteer Adventure and Vulture Petition

Diclofenac the Vulture killing drug is now available on EU market BAN IT NOW !

Read about the adventures of our new long-term volunteer and sign the petition to ban Diclofenac in Europe which has caused the death of thousands of vultures in Asia.

I’m Megan, the long term people engagement volunteer here on Skomer and will be for the next three months. I graduated from Aberystwyth University last year studying Countryside Management and this is my first placement. I arrived here on the 24th of June and it’s hard to believe that three weeks of my time are already over.

I have already learned so much and I have gained new skills: I now know how to drive a tractor! (with supervision at the beginning but on my own now), how to catch and identify Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks and how to handle Manx Shearwaters. A few nights ago I released one that was found walking around during the day. I've also had the chance to help the Oxford researchers with their night time work tracking immature shearwaters. They are such lovable and interesting birds it makes me feel very privileged to help conserve them.

My first encounter with a Shearwater

I have also been given the task to finish the productivity study of Guillemots and Razorbills at Bull Hole, which Catherine, the previous conservation volunteer had started. It’s a fantastic way to watch the different behaviors of the birds, (and the chicks are pretty cute too!) They are jumping at the moment so I have been watching them take the plunge.

Who is who on the Guillemot ledge?

"Come on little one, don't be scared, take the plunge"

The sunny weather has let me and the lovely short term volunteers go swimming for four nights in a row. The puffins must think we’re oddly shaped seals and come very close to us. It’s pretty magical watching them flying over you in the water. We've also made friends and swam with Shauna the seal, (her name so Andy the visitor officer tells me), and one bull which we've named SiĆ“n.

I've barely had to cook for myself since I've been here, Andy (the Wildlife Trust's Field Worker) has prepared lovely fresh bbq fish each week and I regularly get fed by the lovely researchers.

I also got to volunteer on the Marine Nature Reserve's patrol boat. I was able to get an insight into the monitoring work the MNR do and saw Gannets and Porpoises up close. It was great to see the Island from a whole new perspective, (plus the waves were pretty fun too!)

And in the evenings I go watching the sunset - it has become a ritual of mine. Once you've seen it you'll never want to miss it!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


Hello, my name is Pia, I am Biologist from Germany and I am a friend of Bee's. 17 years ago Bee and I started our careers in conservation together, volunteering on the Nature Reserve Mettnau at the Lake of Constance.

Best friends :-)
This is my second visit to Skomer, I came last year to help with the whole island count and as I enjoyed it so much I offered to come back and help some more. In my spare time I took some pictures of the Skomer bird life which I would like to share with you here.

Guillemot chicks have hatched and the adults are busy bringing in fish
It gets rather crowded on the Guillemot ledges...

...none the less some find enough space for a lunch time nap

The Razorbills also breed on the Skomer cliffs

Razorbills and Guillemots have a hard start to life: They have to jump off the cliffs before they are able to fly

The Kittiwakes however can stay in the cosy nest until they have fully grown their wings

On sunny days it gets so hot in the Kittiwake nest that the chicks and the adults have to pant

The Puffins are constantly watching out for Herring Gulls that want to steal their fish

All hard work is worth while - the Puffin chicks are growing, like this one which was ringed for scientific purposes

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The research continues

Skomer Island is one of the premier places for biological research in the UK. It also provides some unique opportunities to do some very exciting things. The Wildlife Trust continues it's monitoring of the islands seabirds and some results are given below. Research on Skomer, particularly by Oxford and Sheffield Universities, is at the forefront of conservation and research in the UK and although their tracking work has revealed a lot about the migration of Manx Shearwaters much is still to be learnt about their navigation abilities and the mechanisms that guide them around the globe. Students from Oxford University have been looking at the internal clock of birds and how they use this to 'find their way home'. This involved some displacement experiments (pictures below) and some boat trips to the Celtic Deep 20 miles to the South West of Skomer. The first trip was facilitated by Sash and Lucy Tuca, our massively helpful neighbours at Martin's Haven, the second by Dale Sailing and the third by the sailing clipper 'Ezra'.

The tiller of our supporting vessel the 'Ezra'. 

Releasing the birds is a very exciting and tense moment

We also saw lots of Common Dolphins and possibly an Ocean Sunfish

All of our breeding seabirds, including Puffins, could be seen collecting food for chicks well out to sea.
Our seabird counts are almost at an end and some general patterns have definitely formed. Guillemots appear to be up in numbers in line with the general trend over the last 30 or 40 years. Razorbills (as well as Puffins) were hit rather badly by last winters storms and numbers slightly are down on 2013. Kittiwakes are doing a little better than 2013, which was a bad year on Skomer for this species and Fulmars remain stable.

More updates on our breeding seabirds will follow in the next few weeks, including how well our Puffins have done this year.

Eddie Stubbings, Skomer warden

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Work happening on Skomer in June

It's June, it's hot and it's busy. We are definitely at our busiest in June as it is when all of our work with the breeding seabirds needs to be done. We need to try and do two complete all island counts of cliff nesting seabirds and as you can see some of the areas are big, and full of birds.

The Amos, 2,380 Guillemots etc.

The Wick, 3,284 Guillemots etc.
There is also a shearwater census in progress with teams of people out counting the number of responses to tape recordings of the males calls played down burrows in selected plots.

Chloe and Jess from Gloucester University counting responses to a tape recording of a shearwater call played down burrows in selected plots 
There is also so much more going on besides with fascinating research projects looking at the lives of shearwaters, from burrow preference to their navigation abilities.

If you visit in June, feel free to ask a member of staff about the work that is going on here.

Eddie Stubbings, Skomer Warden