Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Shearwater Week on Skomer!

This week is Skomer Island’s Shearwater Week - celebrating everything to do with the amazing Manx shearwaters!

As many of you may know, despite Skomer being home to the largest population of Manx shearwaters in the universe, you probably won’t see them on a day trip.  However, our overnight guests this week have been able to see the adults, the (not very graceful, yet) fledglings and have even been lucky enough to see some of the burrow inhabiting bundles of fluff!  Throughout their stay, our shearwater week guests have the opportunity to come and see some of the shearwater research taking place on Skomer, learn all about these amazing birds and their behaviour from talks given by the Oxford University researchers and explore the island that these birds call home.

Manx shearwater chicks start as big balls of fluff!

Throughout most of this year’s season the island has been home to researchers from the Oxford Navigation Group (OxNav) who have been investigating different aspects of the Manx shearwaters navigation and breeding behaviour. 

Part of the OxNav research here on Skomer includes investigating how significantly reducing the pressure of chick feeding from the parent birds will affect their productivity in next year’s breeding season.  In order to reduce the burden of having to fish for their chick as well as themselves, each pairs’ chick has been fed daily by researchers before the adults return at night.  Feeding the chicks simulates a year where resources are plentiful for the adult, meaning they maintain their condition throughout the season. The parent birds are fitted with tracking devices and by monitoring their productivity next year it is possible to assess the carry over effect of creating these conditions.

Every day twenty shearwater chicks had to be collected from their burrows, weighed and then fed some ‘sardine soup’.  Last week was the last week of the feeding as some of the chicks are pretty big now!  But they’re still being weighed daily to keep track of their progress until they fledge – and this week our guests have been able to come and help out.

Every other day our shearwater week guests have been able to come down to North Haven to see the chick weighing – even getting to help out with taking measurements, scribing and sticking their hand down a burrow to get a bird!

Sticking my arm underground to try and find...

...a shearwater chick!

Chick weighing out in the colony – this chick was starting to lose his fluff for adult feathers

Ollie Padget the PhD researcher – explaining the difference in wing colouration between an adult and a fledgling.

As well as getting to see the Manx shearwater chicks, our guests have also been lucky enough to see some flying and rafting adults out to sea through our office scope – which come nightfall were all over the paths and looking a lot less graceful scuttling around and flying into our legs!

An adult Manx shearwater having a rest on land

There are definitely more fledgling chicks starting to wander out of their burrows at night to practice using their wings now.  Soon they’ll all be flying 10,000km all the way down to the Patagonian coast in Argentina!

Alex Dodds - Long Term Volunteer

Friday, 21 August 2015

Bye-bye Kraken

After two months and 14 days we said good-bye to Kraken last Sunday.

At the end of July he finally learned to fly and promptly flew into North Haven were a seal and two Great Black-backed Gull chicks gave him quite a fright. Ed ran down to the beach and Kraken, having had enough of his freedom, came paddling over and climbed onto Ed's hand.

Kraken in North Haven (photo R. Green)

Kraken climbing voluntarily onto Ed's hand
Because of his new found ability to fly we had to errect a net over my vegetable garden so he would not fly off again. During the next two weeks he got used to being outdoors in all weathers and all night long and we are confident that his instincts would guide him well and keep him save, now that he has to look after himself.

One last cuddle

On Sunday we boarded the boat with Kraken, he was quite relaxed and seemed not to mind all the people and noise around him.

Captain Kraken

Beautiful Shoveler (photo J.A. Thomson)
Then followed a car drive all the way to Gloucester where we stayed the night with Ed's uncle. First we put Kraken in a pet carrier but he wasn't too keen on it so in the end he sat on Ed's lap for the entire journey, his beak tucked into Ed's armpit. He is the most chilled-out duck ever!

Hey...I want to get out!
That's much better!

In Gloucester Kraken resided in John's greenhouse for one night and the next morning we took him to the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve at Slimbridge

What is going on? I can't eat these flowers, they're made of plastic!

Pippa (who volunteers on Skomer) and Duane (both working for WWT at Slimbridge) greeted us in the car park and we escorted Kraken to his new home: the "Back from the Brink" enclosure. He was going to live with Cranes, some Beavers and a lot of ducks - how exciting!

Before releasing Kraken, Duane put a red cable tie onto his left leg (he cut off the excess cable tie, of course), so that he will be recognisable in future.

Ringed with a red cable tie

Finally Ed had to put Kraken down onto the grass and with bated breath we watched what would happen. First of all nothing happened, he just stretched his wings, sat down, nibbled at some grass, made Shoveler noises and looked about.

After about five minutes we tried to nudge him into the water - obviously he wasn't keen on a swim so he just lifted off and was gone.

It was great to see him fly but we were also a bit worried, will he be ok landing and where will he end up?
Where might he be?
So we went and searched for him and after an hour we spotted him in the "Tundra" enclosure - it seems he preferred Eider Ducks to the Cranes. He was splashing about and having a proper groome.

Kraken (in the middle) with his new friends

We left him to it and went for lunch. In the afternoon we found him again, asleep on an island, standing on one foot with a red cable tie and his beak tucked under his wing. Ed called his name but he did not respond, either he did not hear or he had already forgotten all about us.

Good-bye and good luck Kraken, it was a real privilege to watch you grow up.

Day 1

Day 76

Bee and Ed

P.S. A big thank you to everyone who helped look after Kraken on Skomer and to Duane, Pip and everyone at WWT Slimbridge.
For the Kraken fan club, the latest news is that he was spotted most recently, still in Tundra, on the 21st of July feeding and interacting with other ducks quite happily. Keep an eye out for him if you are visiting Slimbridge and be sure to let us know if you see him.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Island Adventure Day 10, 11 and 12

Hello and Good Bye

We were so busy that we did not get time to write sooner, so here is what happened in the last three days:

On Monday we wanted to meet Tim and Alice to look at Voles, but we could not find them. So we played Kubb with two volunteers, it was great fun. After that we went with Bee on the Neck to look for baby seals, but we didn’t see any. In the evening we drove with the boat to the mainland to pick up Anabel’s dad. He has come to take us back to Germany because we are not allowed to fly home alone. The boat trip was great fun!

"Faster Eddie, faster!"
The faster you go the wetter you get
On Tuesday we woke up early, because we wanted to see the Voles. It was our last chance because Tuesday was our last day :-(. We are sorry to leave because Skomer is so beautiful and everybody comes here to enjoy pure nature. 

This time we found Tim and we were allowed to look at Wood mice and Skomer Voles. Lots of the voles have babies at the moment so we had to be very careful and put them back quickly.

They are so cute!

At lunch time we went with Bee onto South Haven beach to pick up rubbish. There was soooo much rubbish, it was terrible. We found wellingtons, an ink cartridge and lots of plastic bottles.


...and after

Our entire haul

In the evening we had to pack our bags, cook dinner and say good bye to all the people on the island. It was great fun for us and we will come back again hopefully!

We hope you enjoyed our blog and that you will visit Skomer one day. This is our last blog as we are going to fly home on Wednesday afternoon. Thank you for reading…

We wish you a good time. Good bye 

Last boat trip back to the mainland on Wednesday at 7am

 A&A xxx

Monday, 10 August 2015

Island Adventure Day 9

Hello All

Yesterday morning we saw lots of Common Dolphins in the North Haven, they were so close that we could see their yellow sides and we spotted baby dolphins swimming next to their mums! All the people who live on the island came and wanted to look at them.

Can you spot the mum with the baby?

Here you can tell who is who

We would have loved to be on the boat

If you want to see a video that Bee took have a look here:

In the afternoon we did a Round the Island Cruise. It was very beautiful we saw Puffins and Seals…, but sadly no more Dolphins. On the boat we felt seasick, but when we were on land it was better.

Doing a ...

...Round the Island Cruise

In the evening we watched a film but we couldn’t concentrate because so many Manx Shearwaters were crushing into the house. At 11 o’clock we took our torches with red lights and walked around the house. We wanted to make sure the Shearwaters were alright.

When you want to watch Shearwaters at night you have to have a torch with a red light. Bright white light is not good for the birds, they don’t like it and it dazzles them. Then they fly into the house even more.

A&A xxx