Tuesday, 19 October 2021

September work party


From 18th -25th September we were joined by seven volunteers to rebuild North Pond research hide. The hide has been looking worse for wear for quite some time, but we returned this year to find the hide no longer had a roof or a door that worked. Still, we persevered throughout the year still managing to see several ‘good for Skomer’ birds, including Iceland Gull, Little Grebe, Spotted Redshank and Curlew Sandpiper from the hide. The hide became particularly messy in late summer though as the gulls and jackdaws used it as a roosting spot… 

A plan was hatched and the majority of the materials for the hide were delivered in April, when the island was still closed. On first impressions it appeared enough materials had been delivered to build two hides twice the size of the previous one, it’s amazing though how quickly you use up materials when working on a project like this. Here’s a photo story of the hide construction: 

Unloading work party kit from the Dale Princess. One weeks’ worth of kit, tools and food. It was our biggest changeover of the year but many hands made light work! C. Aston 


The state of the hide before we started work. Door, roof and shutters are all missing. Various parts of the hide were found either in the pond or in the grass surrounding the pond in spring. L. Newman

Demolition in progress just an hour or two after arriving on the boat. L.Newman

Hide post-demolition. One of the most difficult things about this job was the distance to hand carry everything to and from the farm. L.Newman

Hide construction underway. Getting all six posts, for the main body of the hide, square and level was a tricky task! L. Newman

 Phil and Rob mixing concrete to secure the posts. Mixing by hand was far easier than dragging a generator and cement mixer down from the farm. P & D Blatcher

Hide starting to take shape. Horizontal cross beams are the bottoms of the hide windows. L. Newman

Tea break. Martin and Nigel instigated a regimented tea break at 10:30am every day. Breaks are important; they also happened to coincide with PopMaster on Radio 2. P & D Blatcher

Front of the hide taking shape. Thankfully, we were blessed with good weather for nearly the entire week. A rare treat in September. P & D Blatcher

Hide construction finished. Screen in place, just the painting to go. L. Newman

Phil entering the hide. P & D Blatcher 
 
 
The team from left to right: Leighton, Martin, Rob, Nigel, Phil, Will, Dorothy (cook), Steve. 
P & D Blatcher

 I wish I had more photos of the hide to start with but as normally happens with a keen work party, the hide was dismantled before lunch on the first day and before I had a chance to take many photos. 

It was an incredibly dry summer and North Pond was reduced to a small puddle by September. It was still drawing in birds though, even whist we were building the hide, with a Dunlin dropping in and multiple Grey Wagtails. Since then we’ve had a bit more rain and have recorded Teal, Shoveler and Mallard, with more to come hopefully.

I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone involved with the work party and a thank you to Mike Penny who kindly provided the architectural drawings for the hide which gave us something to aim for. The work party was, as ever, really good fun and it's amazing how much you can achieve with the hands of six brilliant volunteers and one excellent cook!  








Monday, 11 October 2021

A Summary of Welsh Wednesday 2021

This year, the Skomer Team introduced a new concept at our Sales Point: Welsh Bird of the Week. Seeing how much our visitors engaged with this initiative, the concept also went digital, being shared on our Social Media platforms, and dubbed "Welsh Wednesday".

It's been a great opportunity for the island team, as well as our visitors and followers, to engage further with the wonderful Welsh language.

Many of you have asked for a full online guide of Skomer wildlife in Welsh. While we are, as yet, unable to deliver on this (the team is made up of Welsh learners themselves!), we thought it would be nice to compile a list of birds which have been featured in the 2021 season. 

Keep an eye out for one mammal species that also featured this year!

So, in (Welsh) alphabetical order:

Aderyn Drycin Manaw

© Skomer VO / WTSWW

Welsh: Aderyn Drycin Manaw

English: Manx Shearwater

Meaning: Manx Storm Bird


Brân Goescoch

A pair of chough
© Skomer VO / WTSWW

Welsh: Brân Goescoch 

English: Chough 

Meaning: Red-legged Crow


Brongoch

Robin
© Skomer VO / WTSWW

Welsh: Brongoch

English: Robin

Meaning: Red Breast


Cigfran 

© Skomer Volunteer Warden / WTSWW

Welsh: Cigfran 

English: Raven 

Meaning: Meat-crow 


Copsyn y Môr 

© Skomer VO / WTSWW

Welsh: Copsyn y Môr 

English: Great black-backed gull 

Meaning: Sea scamp


Drilyn 

© Skomer Warden / WTSWW

Welsh: Drilyn 

English: Kittiwake 


Dryw

© Skomer Assstant Warden / WTSWW

Welsh: Dryw 

English: Wren


Gwrach yr Ellyll 

© David Tippling / 2020VISION

Welsh: Gwrach yr Ellyll 

English: Common Swift 

Meaning: The Goblin's Witch


Gwennol y Bondo

© Joe Wynn

Welsh: Gwennol y Bondo 

English: House Martin 

Meaning: Eaves' Swallow


Hugan

© Skomer Assistant Warden / WTSWW

Welsh: Hugan 

English: Gannet


Hwyaden Gladdu

© Skomer VO / WTSWW

Welsh: Hwyaden Gladdu 

English: Shelduck 

Meaning: Burial Duck 


Iâr Ddŵr 

© Skomer VO / WTSWW
Welsh: Iâr Ddŵr 

English: Moorhen 

Meaning: Water Hen 


Jac Llwyd y Baw

© Skomer VO / WTSWW

Welsh: Jac Llwyd y Baw 

English: Dunnock 

Meaning: Dirty Grey Jack 


Morlo Llwyd

© Seal Project Officer / WTSWW

Welsh: Morlo Llwyd

English: Grey Seal


Mwyalchen

© Skomer VO / WTSWW

Welsh: Mwyalchen 

English: Blackbird


Pâl 

© Skomer VO / WTSWW

Welsh: Pâl 

English: Puffin 


Pegi Big Hir 

© Skomer VO / WTSWW

Welsh: Pegi Big Hir 

English: Curlew 

Meaning: Long beaked Peggy


Poethwy

© Skomer Assistant Warden / WTSWW

Welsh: Poethwy 

English: Razorbill 

Meaning: Hot egg


Sigl-di-gwt 

© Skomer VO / WTSWW

Welsh: Sigl-di-gwt 

English: Pied wagtail 󠁧󠁢󠁷

Meaning: Shake-yer'-but


Teiliwr Llundain

© Skomer Volunteer Warden / WTSWW

Welsh: Teiliwr Llundain 

English: Goldfinch 

Meaning: Little Tailor from London


Tinwen y Garn

© Skomer VO / WTSWW

Welsh: Tinwen y Garn 

English: Wheatear 

Meaning: White-bum of the stones 


Twm Pib

© Skomer Assistant Warden / WTSWW

Welsh: Twm Pib 

English: Oystercatcher 

Meaning: Piping Tom


Tylluan Glustiog

© Skomer VO / WTSWW
Welsh: Tylluan Glustiog 

English: Short-eared Owl 


We hope you have enjoyed learning a little more Welsh with us this year. Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!

Beth, Visitor Officer

Saturday, 18 September 2021

September update from Skomer's long-term volunteers

Hi everyone it's Rowie and Ed here. You may have read our introductory blogs a few weeks ago - we are now here to give you all an update.

Birding breakfast bonanza

Rowie: Myself and Ceris went for an early bird walk to increase my bird identification skills. This is an exciting time for birdwatching on the island with many migrating birds passing through and every bush seemingly teeming with life. Around the farm we immediately saw a bright yellow Willow Warbler and then another and then another... We started heading down into North Valley to see what was at North Pond. At first glance all seemed normal - just a few Moorhen and Gulls, but then Ceris perked up when she realised there was a small wader feeding just below the hide. We first thought it was a Dunlin but it didn't seem quite right. After double-checking we then realised it must be a CURLEW SANDPIPER!! This was very exciting as neither of us had seen one before! This then caused a mini twitch as everyone came down to see it. After watching it feed actively around the pond we left it to its devices and headed back to the farm. Here we were then fortunate to stumble upon the long-staying Wryneck! This made for a very exciting morning.

The Curlew Sandpiper that spent a few hours on North Pond

Searching for seals

Rowie and Ed: An important part of our job currently on the island is to aid with the seal census; this involves checking prime areas around the island every 2-4 days for adult seals as well as pups. There is often a buzz on the ‘seal round’ in anticipation of a new pup. We are now deep in seal pupping season for Skomer with at least 92 pups across the island. If you are visiting soon definitely keep an eye out especially in North and South Haven where many pups can easily be seen from public viewing spots. Another part of our job is to try and identify individual adult seals by their distinguishable marks and scars. This can be a long process trying to match up current photos with those from previous years. However, it is extremely rewarding when you get a match and find out the history of that seal.

If you're lucky you may even get to see a pup suckling!

Busy as a bee

Living on an island means that there is always something to fix, mend or replace; this has kept us occupied over the past few weeks. Jobs recently have included building new steps at the landing, painting the cement mixer and creating new signs. As you can see, jobs vary a lot making every day different.

Ed: Alongside this we have continued to work on our individual projects; I have been continuing to run moth traps around the farm. So far I have run 43 traps mainly around the farm. This has resulted in catching an astonishing 13,583 moths of 204 species! With still a few more weeks to go until I leave I now have my targets set for 15,000 moths!
A portable moth trap, put out amongst ragwort to record the importance of this plant as a food source for nocturnal moths

Rowie: Whereas I have created a new butterfly transect in line with the UK butterfly monitoring scheme around the island. This transect takes me up to the Garland Stone and around to finish at Skomer Head. Weather permitting I follow the transect once a week recording all butterflies seen within 2.5 metres either side and 5 metres ahead of me. So far I have recorded 9 species over the course of the last 6 weeks. I plan to continue these transects in order to further our understanding of butterflies here on Skomer.

A wish upon a Manxie 

In the evening we often sit out in the courtyard having themed grouped meals. A large part of these evenings are still being taken up by frisbeeing (we now have upgraded our frisbee!) and trying not to get it on the roof! When it gets darker and the frisbee is put away, the Manx shearwaters start to arrive back from the sea and fly over the farm. When sitting down looking up these can often at first be mistaken for a shooting star! Unfortunately this is soon to become a rare event as each night sees many of our Manxies leave us. 

- Rowie and Ed, Long-Term Volunteers

Hungry Rowie getting overly happy about a shop

Ed checking biosecurity boxes on the Neck for signs of rats


Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Seals, sunsets, and shooting stars

Over the past few days there has been a very much autumnal feel in the air over here on Skomer. Spare blankets have been dug back out from under the beds, flasks of tea and coffee are once again becoming a common sight, and, as can be expected, the wind has been causing the usual havoc with crossings over to the island. With the forecast looking to be improving again in the next week, we may well see things change once again – here’s hoping for just a smidge more summer sunshine!

Skomer sunset © Skomer VO 

But change is ultimately inevitable. The gargling of our wonderful auks has been replaced by the rather mournful, but equally lovely, song of our Atlantic grey seals (Halichoerus grypus). A sea of purple has returned to the island - this time a carpet of heather instead of bluebells. And out on the water, sightings of common dolphin continue to rise, with a humpback whale being spotted between us and Grassholm just last week!

Singing Atlantic grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) © Skomer VO

Common dolphins off Garland Stone © Skomer Volunteer Warden

Work continues to be varied. The war (we’re only being slightly dramatic!) against rosebay willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium) continues. All four sites where the invasive plant has been found have now been cut back using brushcutters, scythes and shears. Two of these sites have now been chopped a second time, and monitoring will continue to ensure any regrowth is caught early. We’re hopeful that over the next few years our efforts to remove the species from the island will be successful.

Ceris, our Assistant Warden, brushcutting in South Valley © Skomer VO

Moving from management to monitoring, over the last few weeks we’ve been carrying out vegetation surveys. Those of you who have been over on Skomer may well have glanced at a staff member in the distance, carrying a rather long pole! This pole is a key piece of equipment for these surveys. By attaching a camera to the end, and holding the pole above our heads, we are able to photograph a 1m2 plot of vegetation, and identify changes over time. Seemingly randomly placed, it’s been lovely to explore areas of the island that we would otherwise scarcely visit to carry out these surveys.

Vegetation Plot 32 - A somewhat difficult post to find! © Skomer VO

This week we’ve begun our seal monitoring on the main section of the island. This involves walking the coastal loop, and spotting for seals at set points – you’ll be familiar with some: Garland Stone, Pigstone, and the Wick, to name a few. Monitoring also continues over on the Neck, primarily carried out by our Seal Project Officer, Bee. Bee may well be familiar to you as one half of Ed and Bee, our Wardens from 2013 – 2018; we’re excited to welcome Bee back to the Skomer Team for 2021!

Our second seal pup at Matthew's Wick © Seal Project Officer

So far a fantastic five seal pups have been spotted in remote coves around the island! Those on accessible beaches will be sprayed with a unique colour combination to allow us to monitor their growth as the season progresses (this paint is not harmful to the pups, and allows us to collect important data). With the seal season having only just really started, there will be plenty to come from these magnificent marine mammals!

Our fifth seal pup on South Haven Beach © Seal Project Officer

Seal pup well attended by Mum © Seal Project Officer

Turning from the sea to the skies, we’ve seen the beginnings of autumn migration. We’ve had good numbers of willow warbler, whitethroat, and sedge warbler, as well as the odd spotted flycatcher and, to my delight, a handful of my favourite songbirds – robins. Swallows have also been seen moving over the island, with the sky above the Farm seemingly moving with them one evening last week (we counted a minimum of 60 birds in one go). Meanwhile, on the ground, a gull chick (now dubbed Gerald) has been making friends with the island’s residents.

Whitethroat © Skomer Warden
One of our many gull chicks (not Gerald) © Skomer VO

Outside of work, we’ve celebrated birthdays, watched meteor showers, baked (more) bread, had some impromptu Welsh lessons, and continued to get better (we could hardly get worse!) at Frisbee.

Celebrating Ed's birthday with wraps, cake, and party hats © Skomer Assistant Warden

Loading up the RIB for an early morning outing © Skomer Assistant Warden

Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!

Beth, Visitor Officer

Monday, 9 August 2021

Meet new LTV Rowie!

Hi everyone!

My name is Rowie and I'm lucky enough to be one of the new Long-Term Volunteers on Skomer Island for the rest of this season.

My first day giving the introductory talks to visitors

Originally from Coventry, my family had a small caravan in North Pembrokeshire where we would spend the majority of our summer holidays, half-terms and a fair few weekends dotted in between. Looking back, these frequent breaks from urban life helped me fall easily in love with nature and coastal living. This heavily influenced my decision in not only what I studied at university, but also where. During my first meeting with my careers counsellor at college, she asked if I had any idea of where I would like to study and my immediate response was: "By the sea!"

University

Now, I have a BSc (Hons) Zoology with Conservation from Bangor University and can confirm that being able to stop and gaze at the sea on a regular basis is certainly a natural and beautiful form of stress relief (which is especially needed after those long hours working in the library).

For my undergraduate dissertation I studied human-wildlife conflict, specifically how roads and vehicle presence affected the distribution of the Black-backed jackal population in the Dinokeng Game Reserve (South Africa). For this, I was given the opportunity to stay in my study location for six weeks to not only collect the data for my research, but help others with their data collection aswell. Here, I gained hands on experience in the various techniques used to gather the information needed (e.g. camera traps, vegetation quadrants and transects), which has been extremely useful in future field work I have been involved in.

Collecting data in the Dinokeng Game Reserve (South Africa)

Internship in Ireland

As part of my degree I underwent a six month 'Animal Care and Education' internship at Seal Rescue Ireland (the only seal rescue centre in the whole of the Republic of Ireland). A bit different to the setting and tasks I had to do in South Africa, I worked directly with the wild seals in our care and developed an understanding of how both rehabilitation centres and the charity sector operate.

Myself (right) and a colleague (left) moving a seal at its release for Seal Rescue Ireland

During my time there, I participated in and helped organise as many fundraisers as I could, including:

  • Running the crafts stall at a 'Family Fun Day' event.
  • Creating my own sea glass jewellery for sale in the gift shop.
  • Collecting donations for raffle prizes from local businesses.
Earrings I made out of sea glass that were for sale at the Seal Rescue Ireland Centre

Taking part in the annual 'Seal Dip' (along with other members of staff, we ran into the cold sea on the 1st of February and raised approximately £2,000 between us).

This internship really high lighted to me the importance of wildlife charities and since my placement finished I have volunteered at my local RSPCA charity shop and at a small rabbit sanctuary as a 'Medicine Volunteer'.

Skomer Island

My interest in the charity sector, love of nature and passion for Pembrokeshire all lead me to apply for the position of 'Long-Term Volunteer' on Skomer Island and I was successful!

Now, I am almost a fortnight into my stay and have quickly settled in to island life, however, I will probably never get used to being constantly surrounded by so much incredible wildlife.

Already, I have found my favourite spot on the island (although this could change later as I'm discovering new places on the island everyday): Skomer Head, where you can relax and it almost feels like you're at the end of the world. This is also a wonderful place to observe seals in their natural environment.

The view from Skomer Head after a lovely sunset

My accommodation for the next two and a half months is known as 'The Hut', a cute and cosy little den where I instantly felt at home. Each morning, when I open the curtains I am repeatedly struck by the picturesque view (even in the not so idyllic conditions) of the sea and mainland. I have lovely downstairs neighbours in the form of Manx Shearwaters (I refer to them as 'The Manxies'), who I haven't seen but often hear pottering about at night.

The Hut

Yesterday, I was asked about my favourite wildlife moments so far, which at first seemed impossible. However, after much deliberation I have managed to narrow down my top three:

  1. Spotting my first Skomer Island seals at the Garland Stone - being stuck in the city due to lockdown regulations for over a year made this sighting especially uplifting.
  2. Correctly identifying my first butterfly - before helping out on the butterfly transect I knew very little in regards to butterfly species and how to recognise them. However, I now have a much better eye for telling apart different species and am thinking of studying them for my personal project.
  3. Seeing a pod of approximately forty dolphins pass by North Haven - this happened on my first day working with the public (giving the introductory talks) and the group was so close that you could easily see them without binoculars.
A Small Copper butterfly that I spotted and identified

Myself after I had correctly identified a Red Admiral on my first butterfly transect

A seal haul-out at Garland Stone

After already learning so much about the wildlife here and now the island is run, I am extremely excited to see what new opportunities I encounter over the next few months and face them head on!