Friday, 10 March 2023

Back Home for 2023

We arrived back on our island home on 2nd March this year, a day later than 2022 only delayed by northerly winds on the 1st.

The front of a boat loading with luggage. Skomer is visible in the background.
Crossing over to Skomer on Wave Dancer - thanks Dale Sailing! © Skomer VO
The first thing to note was that the steps haven’t gotten any easier and we don’t seem to be able to pack any lighter. Having said that, within two hours we were at the top, bags and all and heading to the buildings to check for damage and get the vehicles started (first time for both!).

Two people eating biscuits surrounded by bags and boxes. The shadow of a third person can be seen.
A quick biscuit break halfway through moving boxes up the steps © Skomer Warden

Dumper truck loaded with luggage.
A fully loaded dumper ready to head up to the Farm © Skomer VO

Having spent the winter not in the UK, it’s always pleasing to hear that the weather hasn’t been too harsh and our buildings are certainly showing signs of having wintered well. The usual problems with a seized water pump seems to be the worst casualty of the winter so far – far better than arriving back to part of the roof missing at North Haven as in 2022. Internally, the buildings are also drier than usual, although they’re still cold; some things will never change.

Sunset on our first day back on Skomer © Skomer VO

Walking around on the first day it was pretty shocking how dry the island is – paths that are usually sodden and slippery were cracked and parched and there was no sign of any standing water on the main track. It looked more like a dry August than your typical March.

On our second day, the water was covered by auks; from afar resembling an oil slick with lines almost as far as you can see. Amongst the rafts in South Haven was, somewhat surprisingly, our first Puffin of the year. This is our earliest ever record beating three previous records on 6th March, most recently in 2019 and seven days earlier than the first of 2022 on the 10th March.

Our first puffin of the 2023 season, rafting with razorbills in South Haven © Skomer Warden

Over the last week we’ve been cleaning and on office work – often in front of the fire especially during the latest cold snap. On the nice afternoons we’ve been out re-widening paths, getting ready for the visitor season which is rapidly approaching.

Two people in PPE. They are giving the camera a thumbs up.
Ready to tackle the mould... © Skomer Assistant Warden

A person kneeling on a worktop painting a wall.
Painting in the Hostel © Skomer Assistant Warden
Last night (9th March) was an exciting night when we heard the first Manx shearwaters calling over North Haven. It’s been a quiet start to the year for shearwaters with the moon likely playing its part, however, last night was thick cloud and drizzle – the perfect shearwater conditions! Having been braced by the strong winds and rain yesterday morning, a warm wind blew from mid-morning which meant yesterdays temperatures fluctuated between 1˚C and 11 ˚C. Here’s hoping that the mad-March weather calms down a little and allows the passage of some migrants – a goldcrest is all we’ve had so far.

Manxies calling and wing beats in North Haven © Skomer Warden

In a weeks’ time we’ll be welcoming the first volunteers and work party of the year, so we better sign off and get things sorted for them.

Leighton, Skomer Warden.

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Long-term volunteer applications for 2023 are OPEN

Long-Term Volunteers

On the 7th of December, applications for long-term volunteering on Skomer during 2023 went live. Our long-term volunteers form an integral part of the island team. Assisting with day-to-day running of the island, and supporting the wardens, visitor officer, and field worker with visitor engagement and wildlife monitoring. Simply put – we could not run without them!

Sunset at Garland Stone © Skomer VO
We are looking for five motivated individuals, who are passionate about nature conservation in the UK and are willing and able to learn, for the following positions:

  • 2 x Long-term volunteers (Saturday 25th March – Saturday 8th July).
  • 2 x Long-term volunteers (Saturday 8th July – Saturday 30th September).
  • 1 x Seabird monitoring volunteer (Tuesday 16th May – Saturday 24th June).


What can I expect?

Public engagement

Skomer welcomes up to 250 visitors a day, and provides accommodation for 16 overnight guests. Staff and long-term volunteers work on a rota to deliver engaging welcome talks to visitors – sharing their favourite parts of the island, as well as any exciting updates (i.e. the first seal pup of the year hidden amongst boulders in South Haven, swallow chicks ready to fledge in the indoor picnic shelters, or a woodchat shrike calling at Moorey Mere!).

Long-term volunteer Rowie (2021) preparing to give a welcome talk to day visitors. Rowie is wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It is a bright, sunny day.
Long-term volunteer Rowie (2021) prepares to give a welcome talk in North Haven © Skomer Assistant Warden
Long-term volunteer Eve (2022) stood in North Haven. The Dale Queen approaches in the background. Eve is running afternoon boats.
Long-term volunteer Eve (2022) runs afternoon boats © Skomer Assistant Warden

Additionally, we host several overnight events over the course of the year. Long-term volunteers, alongside staff, help to run these events. These include our family friendly Shearwater Week, and Young Birders’ Week.

Long-term volunteers Lira and Anna (2022) identify moths with Bee and Ed, as part of Young Birders' Week © Skomer Assistant Warden

Seasonal wildlife monitoring

Skomer is internationally important for seabirds, with just under 39,000 Atlantic puffins, 31,790 guillemots, 10,192 razorbills, and almost half the world’s population of Manx shearwaters – a staggering 350,000 breeding pairs. The island is also home to an abundance of other wildlife, including breeding chough, curlew, and peregrine, Atlantic grey seals, and its own endemic sub-species of bank vole.

A pair of razorbills © Skomer VO
Seal pup in Pigstone Bay © Skomer VO

The team are responsible for monitoring, and counting, these incredible species. The latter part of May into June is a particularly important time, with our seabird counts taking place during this period. Long-term volunteers are joined by a seabird monitoring volunteer to complete our annual census of cliff nesting seabirds and Manx shearwaters. Seal monitoring takes place from August onwards, with our first pup usually being seen in the first week on the month.

A quick break mid-Manx shearwater census (L-R: Eve, long-term volunteer 2022; Kirsty, guillemot fieldworker 2022; Becci, seabird monitoring volunteer 2022; Kelda, long-term volunteer 2022) © Skomer Assistant Warden

Counting cliff nesting birds from our boat (L-R: Becca, long-term volunteer 2021; Ceris, Skomer assistant warden; Izzy, seabird monitoring volunteer 2021) © Sarah Purdon

We also monitoring our breeding birds, carry out butterfly transects, and set moth traps. 

Long-term volunteer Lira (2022) carries out a butterfly transect © Skomer Assistant Warden

There is always wildlife monitoring going on, and long-term volunteers get stuck in with every aspect! Additionally, there are nearly always opportunities to get involved with the work our researchers are carrying out – ranging from Manx shearwater chick weighing, to gull chick ringing.

Long-term volunteer Anna (2022) helps with gull chick ringing © Skomer Assistant Warden

Long-term volunteer Becca (2021) assists with Manxie chick weighing © Becca Wanless / LTV 2021

Maintenance Skills

Living away from the mainland means that when things break there isn’t always a ‘professional’ around to fix it…the quickest way is often to do it yourself! With the support of staff, long-term volunteers assist with maintenance tasks. In 2022 this included: fixing benches, building boardwalks, repairing burrows, painting, carpentry, widening paths, etc. 

Long-term volunteers Lira and Anna (2022) prepare to fix a bench in North Haven © Skomer Assistant Warden

Long-term volunteers Samanta and Becca (2021) help Leighton make a new door for one of our research hides © Skomer Assistant Warden

Training (and PPE) is provided in the use of relevant tools and equipment. Long-term volunteers are also expected to assist in the cleaning and management of visitor accommodation and facilities when required.

Personal Project

Long-term volunteers are encouraged to complete a personal project whilst on Skomer. This could encompass any topic which interests them, from moths to public engagement.

Memories

We admit we are likely biased, but Skomer is a pretty cool place to spend 3-months. Alongside learning new skills and living on a National Nature Reserve, you’ll get to meet and work with people from all walks of life.

A group of people sat in a semi-circle, smiling and laughing at the camera.
Weekly volunteers, long-term volunteers, and staff after a summer BBQ and kubb © Skomer Assistant Warden

A group of people gathered around a guitar in a courtyard. The sun is low, and there are blankets scattered around.
Farm Fest '22 © Skomer VO

How can I afford to volunteer?

We recognise that volunteering for an extended period of time can be tricky. Unfortunately, for many early career conservationists this balancing act can be too much. We’ve been working to make volunteering on Skomer more accessible, and offer the following benefits:

  • We provide free accommodation (including bills) on Skomer for the duration of your volunteering placement. Please note that accommodation will be shared from time to time. 
  • Travel expenses to and from Skomer from within the UK are also covered, including parking where required. Travel to and from the island via boat is also provided free of charge. 
  • We have a training budget for our long-term volunteers. Training provided will vary depending on the time of year, however may include a brushcutter or first aid course. Personal protective equipment (PPE) will be supplied.
  • Uniform and binoculars are provided for the duration of your time on the island.
  • Additionally long-term volunteers who successfully complete and write up their personal project will be eligible for a £250 bursary from the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer

Please note, all expenses must be claimed back through the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. We are unable to pay for travel or parking upfront.


Where are they now?

2022

Two of our long-term volunteers from 2022 have kindly answered a couple of questions for us about their experience of volunteering on Skomer. Don't just take it from us - listen to them!

Lira Valencia

Lira, in her new job at Walthamstow Wetlands, holding a very small spider!

When were you an LTV on Skomer? Hello everyone, my name is Lira and I was a long-term volunteer during the Autumn (July-October) on Skomer Island. 

Favourite memory/ies from Skomer? I initially applied to volunteer on Skomer island for the hands-on experience and to gain some practical conservation skills, however I soon learnt that Skomer had so much more to offer than I expected! The weather was absolutely stunning during these months which made exploring the island such a treat- I had countless unforgettable swims with puffins over my head and seals below my feet! For someone like me, who loves wildlife and nature, you could spend hours exploring the island and almost always finish the day admiring a spectacular sunset. With no shops on the island, one of the most valuable things I learnt was how to make a gooooood bread. And with the island being cut off from the mainland water supply, I also became so much more aware of water wastage and my bad habits around water usage. These are things I didn’t expect to learn but I am so grateful for- you won’t learn these things unless your living on an island like Skomer!

What are you up to now? With the help from the Skomer island team (they are incredibly supportive and helpful) I got my first job in the wildlife sector the week I arrived back home! I now work with the London Wildlife Trust as a Visitor Engagement and Volunteer ranger at Walthamstow Wetlands - the largest urban wetlands in Europe! Without the skills and confidence gained from my Skomer experience, and without the encouragement from the amazing staff, I wouldn’t have applied for my current job. Skomer island will always be a special place with some of my favourite memories ever! 

Anna Weir

Anna working on her personal project inside one of the exclosures on the island.

When were you an LTV on Skomer? I was a long-term volunteer on Skomer from July - October 2022.

Favourite memory/ies from Skomer? I loved spending last summer as an LTV on Skomer island. I have so many happy memories of my time there. I learnt so much about Skomer's wildlife and what it takes to run a small island nature reserve (delivering welcome talks, wildlife surveying and fixing signs and benches!). I enjoyed meeting volunteers and visitors, sharing golden summer evenings with the puffins, and climbing into caves to monitor the seals pups! However, my standout memory has to be the night spent assisting with the storm petrel ringing. Having a tiny storm petrel sat in my hand with Manx Shearwater flying over head and waves crashing in the background was certainly a magical and unforgettable experience.

What are you up to now? After leaving Skomer I have started a new conservation internship on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. Here I have been assisting with a variety of conservation projects from vegetation management in the cloud forest upon Green Mountain, tagging the Endemic Ascension Frigatebird chicks, to counting Green turtle tracks and nests on the beaches. Skomer was a great stepping stone in preparing me for this internship because, whilst I'm no longer just a 10 minute boat ride away from the mainland, many aspects of island living remain similar.

You can hear from more previous long-term volunteers as part of last year’s LTV blog.


Please note that the deadline for applications is 11.59pm on Sunday, 15th January 2023. For any queries regarding long-term volunteering, or for an informal chat, please feel free to contact Skomer visitor officer, Beth Thompson, at Skomer.VO@welshwildlife.org.

We look forward to receiving your application. Pob lwc!


Beth, Skomer VO.



Friday, 11 November 2022

Welsh Wednesday 2022

For a second year, the Skomer team have been participating in Welsh Wednesday. Introduced in 2021, this year we have expanded from "Welsh bird of the week" to "Welsh species of the week". This change has given us the chance to explore more Welsh words and introduce visitors to some of our lesser-known species.

We had great feedback on Welsh Wednesday throughout the year and wanted to provide a summary below. Diolch yn fawr to all who have taken part, for even just the week, in 2022.

In (Welsh) alphabetical order:

Aderyn-drycin y Graig

White-grey fluffy fulmar chick on a cliff edge. It is sat on grass, with rocks surrounding.
Fulmar chick nestled along a cliff edge in early July © Skomer VO

Welsh: Aderyn-drycin y Graig.

English: Fulmar.

Bod Tinwen

Hen harrier sat on the edge of North Pond © Skomer Assistant Warden

Welsh: Bod Tinwen.

English: Hen harrier.

Buwch goch gota

Close up of three ladybirds on nettles.
Ladybirds on nettles © Skomer Assistant Warden
Welsh: Buwch goch gota.

English: Ladybird.

Meaning: Small red cow.

Corhedydd y Waun

Meadow pipit sat in shadow. Bright yellow in colour.
Meadow pipit © Eve Sharples / LTV 2022
Welsh: Corhedydd y Waun.

English: Meadow pipit.

Clychau'r Gog

A single bluebell with five flowers. Background is green and blurred.
Bluebells in the spring © Skomer VO

Welsh: Clychau'r Gog.

English: Bluebell.

Meaning: Cuckoo's Bells.

Cwningen

Brown and white rabbit sat amongst bluebells.
Rabbit sat amongst the bluebells © Skomer VO
Welsh: Cwningen.

English: Rabbit.

Dolffin cyffredin

Two dolphins jumping. The sea is flat calm and showing reflections.
Common dolphins off Garland Stone © Skomer Volunteer Warden
Welsh: Dolffin cyffredin.

English: Common dolphin.

Ffesant

Male pheasant in breeding plumage against grass.
Pheasant sneaking around the back garden © Skomer VO

Welsh: Ffesant.

English: Pheasant.

Gwellt y Gamlas

Green tendrils of eelgrass emerging from below. Underwater shot.
Eelgrass in North Haven © Becci Jewell
Welsh: Gwellt y Gamlas.

English: Common eelgrass.

Gwennol

Swallow sat on a roof against a blue sky.
Swallow at the Farm © Skomer Assistant Warden
Welsh: Gwennol.

English: Swallow.

Gwylog

Black and white bird (guillemot) sat on rocks. Ocean behind.
Guillemot © Skomer Warden

Welsh: Gwylog.

English: Guillemot.

Hebog

Peregrine flying from left to right, with a full crop. Against a blue-grey sky.
Peregrine flying with a full crop © Skomer Warden
Welsh: Hebog.

English: Peregrine.

Hwyaden Lydanbig

Duckling looking at the camera furiously. Sat on calm water.
Shoveler duckling on North Pond © Skomer VO

Welsh: Hwyaden Lydanbig.

English: Shoveler.

Jac-y-Do

Close up of jackdaw. Eye is blue-grey.
Jackdaw at Bull Hole © Skomer VO

Welsh: Jac-y-Do.

English: Jackdaw.

Llygoden Sgomer

Skomer vole on the research path near North Pond © Skomer Assistant Warden

Welsh: Llygoden Sgomer.

English: Skomer vole.

Magïen

Bright green glowing light surrounded by dark.
Glow-worm © Thom Faulkner / LTV 2017
Welsh: Magïen

English: Glow-worm.

Meaning: Ember.

Mulfran Werdd

Dark, dinosaur-like bird with bright green eye.
Shag © Skomer Warden

Welsh: Mulfran Werdd.

English: Shag.

Neidr Ddefaid

At least three slow worms curled up with one another.
Slow worms basking under one of our refugia (lifted as part of monitoring work) © Skomer Volunteer Warden
Welsh: Neidr Ddefaid.

English: Slow worm.

Pedryn drycin 

Storm petrel calling in the boulder fields © Skomer Assistant Warden

Welsh: Pedryn drycin.

English: Storm petrel.

Rhegan y Dŵr

Grey and brown water rail on the ground. Surrounded by foliage.
Water rail at Moorey Mere © Skomer VO
Welsh: Rhegan y Dŵr.

English: Water rail.

Siff-saff

Chiffchaff on a branch © Skomer Assistant Warden

Welsh: Siff-saff.

English: Chiffchaff.

Telor yr Hesg

Sedge warbler perched on top of bright green bracken.
Sedge warbler perched on bracken in North Valley © Skomer VO 
Welsh: Telor yr Hesg

English: Sedge warbler.

Tingoch Ddu

Female black redstart (brown in colour with red tail) hidden amongst daffodil stems.
Female black redstart in the courtyard © Skomer VO
Welsh: Tingoch Ddu.

English: Black redstart.

Trilliw bach

Small tortoiseshell butterfly perched on a flower. Background is blurred.
Small tortoiseshell butterfly © Skomer VO
Welsh: Trilliw bach.

English: Small tortoiseshell.


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

Beth, Visitor Officer

Monday, 26 September 2022

Skomer Island Young Birders’ Week 2022

Strong winds, rain, sunshine, starlit nights, and an island empty of visitors. These are all familiar signs that autumn is just around the corner here on Skomer. This year, the start of September also marked the beginning of an event the team had been working away at all year – our first ever Young Birders’ Week.

A typical autumn day. Heading back from seawatching at Garland Stone © Skomer VO
We are all too aware of the barriers to accessing Skomer. There are the 90-odd steps that must be climbed on arrival, the (occasionally choppy) boat crossing, as well as the remote location and limited public transport links. For many, there are also financial barriers to visiting this National Nature Reserve, particularly overnight. Young Birders’ Week aimed to address this obstacle, providing an opportunity for up to thirty two young people, aged 18 – 25, to visit Skomer, many for the first time, for 3-nights at a reduced rate. 

The morning of the 4th September seemed to arrive very quickly this year. To say I felt nervous would be something of an understatement. With heavy rain forecast for much of the morning, we were crossing our fingers that the weather would hold off – nothing worse than arriving on an island with a wet sleeping bag in tow! Thankfully, the rain missed us, and participants and their belongings remained dry for the first day at least.

Spotting the sunfish at Pigstone Bay © Skomer Assistant Warden

Convolvulus hawk moth. Large moth with pink stripes on the abdomen.
Convolvulus hawk moth © Skomer Assistant Warden

Over the next few days, the group explored the island, assisted with reptile and cetacean surveys, helped identify moths, and humored us by acting out Skomer charades before the final Bird Log of their stay. Wildlife highlights included our first sunfish and first convolvulus hawk moth of the year, as well as a fleeting glimpse of a knot up at Garland Stone.

Before we knew it, it was time to wave goodbye to our first cohort of young birders, with 10 more due to arrive that same morning. With only four day-visitors making the crossing to Skomer during the second part of the week, the Young Birders very much had the island to themselves.

Checking the battery-powered moth trap! © Skomer Assistant Warden

Again, walks were interspersed with sea watches, searching for the ever-secretive Skomer vole, and a mixed bag of moth traps. A power cut in the middle of the night threatened to scupper our mothing attempts. Thankfully, we’d set up an additional (recently repaired) battery-powered trap just a short walk away – saving us from breaking the news of no moths pre-7am! Wildlife highlights included black tern, bar-tailed godwit, and a sparrowhawk predating a Manx shearwater chick a mere stone’s throw away from the hostel window.

Manx shearwater fledgling up on the surface at night © Skomer VO

Of course, no overnight stay on Skomer is complete without a night walk to see the Manxies. Both groups headed out to spend time with our most numerous resident. With chicks now venturing out to the surface at night, flapping their wings, and attempting to fly, it was very much a case of dodgems for much of the night. One such walk per group marked the start of a Bird Race. Participants were split into teams, and attempting to tally the highest number of species compared to one another. The eventual winning scores reached a whopping 39 and 51 species respectively.

A group of twelve young people standing and smiling at the camera. Rather grey and drizzly day/backdrop.
Our first group of young birders on their final morning (in the drizzle!) © Skomer Assistant Warden
A group of ten young people standing and smiling at the camera. Blue skies and sunshine.
Group two getting ready to depart from North Haven © Skomer Assistant Warden

Undoubtedly, wildlife aside, the best part of Young Birders’ Week was the people the event bought together. It was an absolute privilege to meet you all.

We’d like to extend a huge thank you (diolch!) to all of those who attended Young Birders’ Week. We’d also like to thank Dale Sailing for bringing the groups over at a reduced rate in recognition of the importance of this access event.

Planning begins for 2023!

Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!

Beth, Visitor Officer