Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Ta-ra for now

The last island inhabitants have now moved back to the mainland so the island and it's wildlife get a break and we look forward to seeing it again next year. As most of us will be taking a well earned break over the next three months blog posts will be less frequent. We will, however, still use the blog to advertise Long Term Volunteer positions and other things will turn up from time to time so do keep an eye out.

When we left the island, only a few days ago, the Fulmars were returning from their 'honeymoons' and Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes could be seen around the island once more. The seals were approaching the end of the pupping season and many were starting to moult. By the time the island opens again next Easter the Puffins will be back and a few spring flowers should be just showing there heads.

It has been a wonderful season on Skomer again and we would like to thank everyone who help make it so.

So thanks again and ta-ra till next season.

Nadoli Llawen

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

See Ed and Bee having a Barney

The winter is finally here, not in temperature but definitely in terms of wind and storms. Ed and I are keeping an hourly eye on windguru these days. The end of our time on Skomer is approaching fast (or is it?) and we were hoping to get off on the weekend or early next week. So far it doesn’t look good.

We are still monitoring the seals every day, the haul-out counts are increasing but the births are going down, however today we had another one born on Driftwood Bay. Its mum has chosen the best beach on Skomer: Driftwood Bay is basically a cove in South Haven facing North-West and it is completely sheltered from all wind directions. Northerlies get held off by the Isthmus, Southerlies by the Neck. If I were a seal I would definitely choose Driftwood Bay to give birth.

Newest pup with mum and a Great Black-backed Gull feasting on the afterbirth

Ed heroically finished the first stage of our new Sales Point project. Not even hurricane Barney could stop Ed drilling, sawing, measuring and swinging his level about. The new Sales Point will be able to resist even the strongest storms and we believe it will still be standing in 100 years’ time (whether the new wardens like it or not :-). In order to get the posts in we were hammering and chiselling like dwarfs for days; we had to kneel in the muck, lean headlong into a foot deep hole and pick away at the bed-rock.

Sales Point or swimming pool - that is the question. Will the concrete set in so much water?

Building the new Sales Point with the sea roaring in the background

And finally today: the finished frame
We have finished the winter preparations and are now waiting for good weather, the seals of course still keep us entertained and company like these two who were lying around on the slip. The bigger one has got hiccups :-)

And even though the strong winds are a bit annoying I was rather awed when I watched the enormous waves crashing against Skokholm in the distance – some were so large, they reached all the way to the top of the cliff. Here is a little clip of the Mew Stone getting hammered. 

(Skomer Warden)

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

No end to seals and no end to gale force winds

October was a real treat: sunny, warm and calm but it seems that November is trying to make up for it by being very uncomfortable. We have had gale force winds for nearly two weeks and if we are honest it is getting a bit on our nerves. 

Windguru hasn't got good news for us

Seal monitoring becomes a real challenge when your paper and your cheeks rattle in the wind, your bins get rained on and then splashed by sea spray, your notebook turns into papier-mâché, your eyes water from the gusts and your whole body sways as if drunk.

Don’t go too close the edge is the motto!

The seal mums also have a much harder job looking after their pups and the pup survival rate has dropped since the start of the bad weather: one day there are five pups on the beach and the next day it’s deserted. 

One of our pups has been swept all the way to Ramsey and to our delight and astonishment its mum was able to follow it. Have a read of Ramsey’s exciting blog about our adventurous pup 193.

New born pup 193 with mum on North Haven beach on the 22nd October

Last Saturday we had a four hour respite of the gale force winds and Leighton made the best of the weather window and left the island for the winter. When we woke up in the morning the sea was lead grey, the swell threw white frothing waves onto the beach and foam was flying past the house – we never ever imagined that two hours later we would be going over to Martin’s Haven in sunshine and calm seas.

Since then Ed and myself have been alone on the island… well not really alone, today we shared the island with 265 seals – the haul-outs are building as more and more immature seals and moulting seals rest on the beaches at low tide.

The seals are congregating on the sheltered beaches

And still new pups are getting born, this pup was born today on North Haven beach, it's mum was keen to get it to suckle but I think it didn't quite know what to do...

...but eventually it got the hang of it.

(Skomer Warden)

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Skomer Autumn Migration September 2015

This was the third weekend trip that we’ve run on Skomer in partnership with the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales, following a similar 2-day trip in September 2014 and a 3-day trip in April this year.

Alan, Lyn, Bob, Bill, Gill, Brian, Richard, & Rachael had the overnight ‘hostel’ accommodation to themselves, which was nice but goes to show the untapped potential of Skomer outside of the main ‘Puffin Season’.  The accommodation was clean and suited their needs, the kitchen facilities exceeded expectations, and the communal dining / lounge area was a great place to meet up for food and a social (it wasn’t even cold enough to fire up the log burner!).  We also enjoyed the nightly ‘bird log’ here, a chance to contribute our sightings to the scientific work of the island through Citizen Science.

The main aims of the trip were to improve everyone’s confidence in identifying autumn migrants, including the tricky ‘little brown (or olive) jobs’, to know where and when to look, and to hopefully see some good birds on the way – but we were at the weather’s mercy on this one!  By the end of our 2-and-a-bit days (we had to come off early due to a poor weather forecast) we had seen no less than 55 species, and got to grips with tricky species pairs including Meadow & Rock Pipits, and Chiffchaff & Willow Warbler.

The birds everyone enjoyed most were probably the Manx Shearwaters, a Firecrest and one of the resident Little Owls – always a delight.  Skomer scarcities included a Collard Dove & Blue Tits.  Everyone enjoyed the whole experience, which included Common Dolphins off the Garland Stone, Slow Worms & Common Lizards at the farm, and Toads & Frogs everywhere at night…watch where you step!

Already looking forward to coming back to Skomer in April & September 2016.

The list of bird species (55) seen during the trip can be found here

A gallery from the trip can be found here

Friday, 30 October 2015

Autumn on Skomer in pictures

Autumn is a truly amazing time on Skomer and the main thing that makes it special is the wildlife. Here's a selection of pictures from the last two weeks. 

Distant Jack Snipe on North Pond, 21st October

We have had a Hen Harrier present on the island for the last two weeks and at one point we had two! A pleasure to watch

Black Redstarts have started to arrive over the last few days, this one at the farm

Sparrowhawks have been regular recently, there's no shortage of tasty passerines for them to hunt. This one with a ring

Snipe numbers have been increasing as the month goes on with a maximum count of 11 on 28th October. Just watching the Hen Harrier hunt almost guarantees a sighting of snipe as they are flushed

Reed Buntings seem to be in nearly all of the bushes at the moment with 19 and 18 our highest counts over the past two weeks (we don't have many bushes)

One very obliging Chiffchaff at Moorey Mere, still couldn't get the full bird in though, something to be said for my photography skills

Whilst carrying out Hen Harrier roost counts on 18th October we had 15 Short-eared Owls in the fields West of the Farm! 

Two Barn Owls roosted in the farmhouse on 17th October and one has been seen most days since

And to finish a couple of pictures of Seal Pups. This has been one of my highlights of the year!
It's a tough life being a seal pup

It's also a tough life having to monitor them... we have now hit 200 pups! 

Seal pub blowing bubbles in Seal Hole Cave

Leighton (Skomer Visitor Officer)

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Trials of Life

The seal season on Skomer is (I do admit) my favourite time of year. I love the autumnal feel, the brown sea of Bracken and Yorkeshire Fog glowing in the rays of the low sun, the storms that make the island and its inhabitants shudder, the migrant birds that stop over and of course the seals, their howling, even their stench and most of all their personal stories.

They are the most amazing story tellers, they tell us stories of requited and unrequited love, of abductions and adoptions, of fights against the elements and of care and devotion. You might think I am exaggerating a bit? Have a read of the following account and you will surely agree with me:

This year, for the first time (ever?) a Grey Seal female decided to pup opposite the Garland Stone. On the 2nd of September she gave birth to the 16th pup of the season. The next day Leighton found the pup and texted us about it. He wrote: "Seal pup at the Garland Stone", we answered "Leighton, there are NEVER seal pups at the Garland Stone, you must be mistaken, that is surely an immature seal" whereupon he replied indignantly: " I have a photo, I can profe it!" And so he did. There was really a seal pup on the slabs just underneath the rocky outcrop overlooking the Garland Stone.

Pup 16 on the 3rd of September, just a day old
Mum isn't far away

Once the pup was big enough we abseiled down to were it was laying and marked it with a black dot. We thought it would be very interesting to follow it's movements when it gets washed off the cliff.

9th of September: Marking the pup

However, to our surprise the pup didn't disappear but hung on in its exposed location, it and it's mum showed an amazing amount of stubbornness and endurance.

As we sprayed it we noticed that the pup had a black eye and we assumed that it had been bashed around by the waves a bit. But we were complete and utterly speachless when my friend Pia Reufsteck showed us the footage she took on the 13th of September: Our seal pup number 16 was laying on the cliff with the sea roaring underneath, the sea was lapping further and further up the cliff until finally... 

The seal pup's mum was in the water looking after her offspring, desperately trying to get the pup back up onto the cliff.

 And finally, both of them made it. 

They settled down as if nothing had happended...

"I've got you!"
...and the pup got a well deserved drink.

This is the last picture we got of pup 16. It was taken on the 23rd of September. The pup is 20 days old, a healthy size 3 and even from a distance one can see the shed puppy fur around it. It's mum is nowhere to be seen - she has mated again and gone back out to sea to feed after more than three weeks of nuturing her pup and not eating herself. The pup is now left to its own devices.

I am sure you will agree that this pup's mum deserves an Outstanding Mothers Award. What an achievment to raise a pup in such conditions.

Aren't they fabulous, our Grey Seals?

(Skomer Warden)