Photo credit: SEWBReC – Mary Gillham Archive Project - https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/698551
Wednesday 8 November 2023
Tuesday 3 October 2023
This year, we enjoyed having 25 young people staying in the hostel as part of Young Birders' Week 2023. The event was generously funded by Pembrokeshire Bird Group and the Nature Networks Fund which helped to make the event accessible for young people.
We got up to a variety of activities during their stay - from moth trapping to cetacean watching, Manxie chick weighing and quizzes it truly was a fun week for the island staff. But that's enough from me - let's give our young people a voice and hear their thoughts on the event.
Rob, Skomer VO
|Liliana holding a Manxie chick|
changeable, and the Manx Shearwater chicks are beginning their nightly preparations for their extraordinary fledging to Argentina.
Having just finished my second year of Zoology at Cardiff University, Skomer Young Birders presented a fantastic opportunity to get some first-hand survey experience and develop my passion for birds around like-minded young people. I attended the week last year too and feel as though it really helped propel me further in my personal and academic life, giving me a taste of what working outdoors in field research might be like and vastly improving my identification skills. So I was back again this year, eager to learn more from the staff, researchers, and other young birders.
We had the chance to conduct cetacean surveys with the Long Term Volunteers, spotting pods of porpoise fishing around Garlan Stone, and hear from the resident grey seal researcher who told us all about the lives of seals while we watched newborn pups take their first swim. One evening we set up Skomer vole traps, filling them with cozy straw bedding and lots of oat snacks, then checked them the following morning. Getting to hold the little voles was wonderful, they have such sweet little faces, and learning that they are recognised as a genetic sub-species was fascinating for the evolutionary biologist in me. Helping out with the daily Manxy chick weighing was a definite highlight. The chicks were all in various stages of loosing their fluffy down which was resulting in some extremely funky feather-styles, somehow making them even cuter! I will also never forget the moth trap that we did on the second night, I have never seen so many moths in my life! There must have been almost 300 moths, which gave everyone plenty of time to improve their ID skills as we sorted through all the species.
The weather was unseasonably warm so daily swims were a must, and the birds passing through over the few days were marvellous. My first ever Hoopoe, Wryneck and Spotted flycatcher all on the same day! However, when the final day came, and the annual bird race was upon us, the sea mist had well and truly set in. It definitely made the race far more interesting, not being able to see the sea from the cliffs rather ruled out spotting any seabirds and did force everyone to rely more on sound ID, an area in which I still have a lot to learn. I really enjoyed getting to know the other young people over the few days and the range of interests, backgrounds and birding-skill meant everyone had something to learn from each other.
I cannot sing the praises of Skomer Young Birders enough, I absolutely love nature, the outdoors, and birds, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience! Everyone was so friendly and willing to share their knowledge and the organised activities provided great practical experience, while the free time left plenty of opportunity to explore this special island. A fantastic few days in a beautiful place with great people creating memories I will treasure… what more could you ask for.------
|Ellie, as seen in Jake's selfie of their team on the Bird Race|
Having now had the chance to look through my camera at the hundreds of photos I took that week, I can officially say I ticked off 52 species, and 6 lifers in 4 days! While seeing the birds on a young birders trip was key, the people and the landscape really boosted how great this trip is to look back at. We've all kept in contact back on the mainland and are already looking for ways to get back. The staff are so enthusiastic about what they do and what they know, super inspiring. As someone aiming for this line of work it was such a good insight into fieldwork based ecological employment. Such a wel organised trip, ace activities and as much fun and laughs as their was wildlife on the island. Can't recommend this week enough no matter the level of birder you enter at, guaranteed to learn something new and look back fondly.
|Jenny holding a Skomer Vole|
Up goes the ferry, down cries my belly, we’re coming round the bend, here it goes! No mysterious out-of-mist reveal but in its place a rare sighting: the sun! and with it an infrequent glow, the island in the distance standing proud like a crow. “There!” shout the crew of the Dale Princess, pointing to the rising fin popping out of the sea as its owner sinks back in. We rise and rush to one side of the boat, catching sight of a rogue juvenile razorbill afloat.
When we make it to shore, the recently crowned islanders are weaving up the stairs, ready to start heaving as they lift our bags in conveyor belt formation and their faces are alit with the kind of joy reserved for i-went-on-a-yoga-retreat-but-then-i-ended-up-enlightened-to-the-fact-that-pied-wagtails-are-massively-underrated. Once we arrive there is a man with blue hair standing on a dumper and a tall lady with short hair almost, well yes actually, jumping up and down and both are grinning and we’re spinning our bags onto the four-wheeled yellow vehicle. They’re telling us that this is their favourite week and we’re wondering if they say this every week but really they do seem very excited and we’re excited and we all plod up the path.
There is the farm and the swallows are singing, Mario karting around the archways of the old barn with no roof. The sun is high and we can spot a few others (meadow pipit, singing robin, is that a linnet? Oh I don’t know) coming to join the party. After we get a low-down of the plan we make a beeline for the path, as the grinning blue haired man (Rob is his name) is giving us a tour of the island. We begin east side I think but it could be south, because at this point we’ve got first-time-round jelly brains which makes us see through frames that make island orientation utterly different from all the times that will follow.
Rob’s leaping from path to rock, pointing high and low and jumping to and fro explaining all the essentials he thinks we need to know. The puffins and razorbills and guillemots were here, but now they’re not just the shearwaters that walk weird. But here, eat this leaf it tastes like lemon and called sorrel and this other one tormentil is a yellow four petalled flower. You see the different gulls? The herring and greater and lesser black backs and maybe we’ll see some kittiwakes and oh whats that sound? The chough’ty chough choughs! Jibbering away yes jabber chatter blabber. Is that a pheasant?? What’s hopping? I hear a hollow whaling sound! Red admiral, hello!
The visitors have gone round the bend we’ll sing a fair well song and then splash! Wasn’t me, oop hello there you are a curious whiskered watery mammal! Stop hiding underwater please!
Next day, we’re out near the Neck, burrows blobbing the landscape, Sarah reaches down, until she’s armpit level with the ground. Then a fluffy one’s in her hand, blinking and wondering why he’s back on the scales. But she’s measuring your weight before fledge, it’s important stuff you know and now you’ve all got special burrow numbers, a bit random but its your very own code! Alright he thinks and settles in, adorning his fluff to the goggle-y eyed strangers, although he’s a rare one, his friends mostly preferring the squiggle, squirm, flap technique. Sarah shows her expert shuffle, lightly tip tapping across the land, stepping on just the right mound as to keep everything bound.
Their nocturnal habits were quite the intrigue, and we came back to see what all the legendary partying around at night was about. Indeed, we discovered they even keep the bouncy castle tradition alive, and with a big moon in sight some say no not tonight. But others were ready, had the Argentinian tango in mind, and off they went on their 11-day flight.
The days continued on…a snoot, the unseen coot, only choice was the route. The mysterious incident of two voles trapped at nighttime. Whaling, bathing seals on the shore, what more? Sunnies, full tummies and bunnies galore. All played a part in making this a curious week: the bee and bird buffs, the flying rocket enthusiasts, the master devil’s coach horse spotter…the convolvulus hawk moth! There was excitement, and movement and squawking all around - and not just from the birds. A fantastic time. Thank you to the amazing team on Skomer Island!------
|The group on a guided walk of the island with VO Rob|
In the first week of September this year, I was lucky enough to take part in Skomer’s Young Birders’ Week. This is a yearly opportunity for people aged 18-25 to experience a 3-night stay on the island and see all it has to offer in the autumn, including Manx shearwater chicks, new-born seal pups and migrating birds on their way to their winter grounds.
· Watching a short-eared owl hunt over the bracken as the sun was setting on our first night on the island.
· Night walks, seeing some of the hundreds of thousands of Manx shearwaters on the island take their first flights and start their migration to Argentina (including one which fledged from the rock Sir David Attenborough sat next to on his recent documentary, Wild Isles)
· Sitting at the farmhouse, where the visitor accommodation is, watching swallows swoop around the old buildings while having breakfast.
· Walking around the whole island as part of a Bird Race on our last day, where we split into teams and tried to see as many species as possible. Despite the competitive aspect, when one team spotted a little owl sitting in a rock formation they immediately sent detailed directions to the whatsapp group so that everyone would have a chance to see it. We also saw a peregrine falcon, a spotted flycatcher, some of the island’s choughs, a pair of curlews, and then later on a snipe and dunlin resting at the North pond.
|The first group|
|Our second bunch of young birders|
Wednesday 19 July 2023
Hi! I'm El, one of the long term volunteers on Skomer this July to September. After a day's delay due to poor weather conditions we arrived on Skomer to a warm welcome and warm weather. I've only been on Skomer a week but am already settled in and excited for what the next three months will bring.
|El spotting kittiwakes at the Wick|
I studied Ecology and Conservation Biology. After graduating in 2021 I worked in practical conservation and habitat management at an environmental education center. Eager to get a chance to get more involved with species monitoring efforts, last summer I volunteered on the Isle of Eigg. There I developed a taste for island life, and I knew I wanted to continue working in places surrounded by the sea and as many birds as possible. I spent this spring and early summer on Skokholm, Skomer's neighboring island. I got the chance to work with a range of seabirds, including great black backed gulls, Manx shearwaters, storm petrels, puffins and fulmars.
Now on Skomer, I am getting into the swing of welcoming day visitors to the island and chatting with people about Skomer's awesome wildlife. I've also been cutting back fast-growing bracken and brambles from paths and signs, and have helped check biosecurity boxes set up around the island. I have enjoyed spending my free time so far exploring the island and watching my favourite gulls, kittiwakes, with their young. The highlight of the week was getting to see an incredibly fluffy Manx shearwater chick (thanks Emma!). I'm looking forward to starting seal counts as they begin returning to Skomer to pup.
Thanks for reading!
|El and Maddie running morning boats|
Hi - my name’s Maddie, I’m 23 years old and the second new Skomer Island long-term volunteer (LTV) for July-September. During my short time on the island I’ve already started aching all over from getting stuck into the hard work, including lugging visitors’ bags and brushcutting - but I’m still not used to the sheer amount of wildlife now on doorstep!
I’ve recently graduated from Cardiff University with an integrated Master’s degree in Biological Sciences. My degree choice was definitely influenced by my lifelong passion for the natural world (especially birds!), but I wanted to do something completely different to studying over the summer, with practical conservation work. Alongside uni, I volunteered time to get involved with conservation efforts whenever possible, including wetland bird surveying, nest box monitoring, Great-crested Newt surveying, vegetation management at local wild spaces and helping to set up my university’s ornithological society. Each of these rewarding experiences have helped prepare me for this role, but there’s still been a lot to learn!
|Maddie on a morning wander|
After my initial arrival on the island and getting a chance to take in all the wildlife, I soon jumped straight into work. My tasks so far have included helping the day visitors and hostel guests on and off the island, including giving welcome talks about Skomer – these pushed me out of my comfort zone initially, but I now really enjoy sharing facts and recent sightings with the visitors. I’ve also got involved with other tasks, such as path clearance with a brushcutter, sorting out kit and contributing to bird log (a relaxed daily chat with staff and guests to record everything we’ve seen during the day).
In such a short space of time I feel like I’ve already gathered many memories that will stick with me. Three of the most exciting parts for me so far have been:
1. Stepping outside at midnight to hear the endless cacophony of thousands of nocturnal Manx Shearwaters calling out as they flew above – the sound is incredible, and quite spooky!
2. Spotting a leucistic (white) Puffin bobbing on the water among its more colourful companions
3. Seeing young birds all over the island – Oystercatchers, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a Curlew, Meadow Pipits, Guillemots and many more!
Throughout summer and as autumn draws nearer, I’m excited to join in with more conservation work – including monitoring the Atlantic Grey Seals during the pupping season in just a few weeks time. Very soon I’ll also be starting a personal research project (once I’ve finally narrowed down a study species!). Lastly, I’m really looking forward to chatting with more guests, as well as getting to spend lots more time with the friendly staff and researchers here.
Thanks for reading!
|This young Puffin ended up in the Library after wandering into an open door, blown open at night|
Saturday 15 July 2023
If you were on the island in May or June, you may have noticed our staff carrying out lots of land and boat surveys – that’s because it was seabird counting season. With the aid of some photos, we thought it would be nice to explain a little more about what the survey work entailed. Our Puffin counts were completed in March (see blog post here) so we were focusing on Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Manx Shearwaters.
Guillemots and Razorbills
Our counts for Guillemots and Razorbills started on 25th May and had to be completed by 11th June. The island is split into 45 sections of coast, each of which has to be counted twice. Every Guillemot and Razorbill in suitable breeding habitat (not sitting on the tideline and clearly on nest sites) are counted.
|Hannah and Lisa counting Guillemots and Razorbills|
|A Guillemot (bottom) and pair of Razorbills with a chick (centre)|
Fulmars and Kittiwakes
The counts for these birds start on the 1st June to time with their incubation, though the rest of the methodology is the same.
Kittiwakes are found in dense colonies. They are medium-sized gulls with black legs and wingtips, a prominent dark eye and yellow bill. Fulmars, who are members of the Albatross family despite resembling gulls, have broad stiff wings and a prominent “tube-nose” capable of spraying an oily substance at predators when threatened.
To monitor the Manx Shearwater numbers, we have a series of 100m2 circular plots around the island. As this starts on 1st June, Manx Shearwaters should be on their nests incubating during the day. As a team, we move through the plots, playing Manx Shearwater calls down every burrow we find – the Manxies will usually call back to the recording if they’re in there. By working out how many burrows in a plot are occupied, we can scale this up to get an estimate of island numbers.
|Rob, Hebe, Erin and Lotti putting ropes to mark the Manx Shearwater area|
|Leighton and Erin checking burrows|
|Will playing a Manx Shearwater call down a burrow|
From all of this data, we can calculate the populations of these five seabird species on Skomer. It tells us how our seabirds are doing and informs our conservation management for the future.
We are incredibly grateful to all our staff, researchers and weekly volunteers for their help in completing this work. We are especially thankful to Hebe, our seabird volunteer, Erin and Lotti, our long-term volunteers and Issy, our 2022 seabird volunteer, for their tireless work on boat and land surveys.
|Hebe on our boat|
Until next year, seabird counts!
This project is funded by the Nature Networks Programme. It is being delivered by the Heritage Fund, on behalf of the Welsh Government. We are very grateful, as this funded the boat repairs, boat clothes, Rob’s powerboat course and whole island seabird counts.
|Rob modelling some of the new boat clothes provided by the funding.|
Thursday 22 June 2023
A guest blog from two volunteers; Mike and Ted Wallen who count Lesser Black-backed Gulls on Skomer every year:
We are honoured once again be be asked to write a guest blog of our annual pilgrimage to Skomer to count the Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
The weather forecast looked good for the 5 days, and although the wind direction for our stay (mainly north) didn’t look brilliant for rare birds, you can never really tell, little did we know what lay ahead ………
At the end of the day, we were here to count gulls, not find rare birds …………
We were met by Leighton as we jumped off the Dale Queen with our not so light rucksacks, packed full of thousands of calories to get us through the long days ahead, and said hello to a few of the 2023 team at the top of the steps.
We walked with Leighton to the farm and talked through the gull counts ensuring our work wouldn’t impact on both the scarce breeding species and the other researchers already on the island.
After throwing our stuff out of the rucksacks and stocking up the ‘day bag’ with loads of food we were off counting…….well, after a quick check of North Valley Crossing bushes. Straight away 3 Redpoll went over, a few Swift and hirundines were pouring through West.
We started on the North coast towards the Garland Stone, incredibly almost the first gull we looked at was a hybrid Herring X LBB.
|Hybrid Herring Gull x LBB Gull by Mike|
After a few counts here we reached the coast and looked over the stunning view of the north coast and the Garland Stone- my favourite place on the planet. A few more small counts, ate lunch at the farm and then headed off into the west fields.
We were out just beyond West pond when a significant number of gulls went berserk towards the Wick, rising up to mob something…. something that was heading our way ! Unsurprisingly Ted was the first one to see it, and exclaimed (quite loudly 😊) that it was ‘massive’. I got on it and after a second or two shouted - Osprey !!
This is Ted’s favourite bird in the world, total shock took over as the bird flew towards us, the sun behind us and dazzling blue skies behind the bird. To describe the views as sensational is no understatement, we punched the air, fist bumped and hugged, well after we’d taken a few pics and the bird had passed us. A moment of magic, a memory for a life-time !!
|Osprey by Ted|
We moved on, but a day of beautiful birds wasn’t over yet, as Ted then found a full S/P Golden Plover, the sun was lower in the sky at this point, the plover looked fantastic in the late afternoon sun, in the most stunning scenery – Wow !
|Golden Plover by Ted|
So just a brief idea of what we and the island staff do to count the gulls.
The whole island is one colony of LBB’s, it is then divided into sub-colonies which stay the same each year with minor fluctuations in size/ shape, then there are fixed points to view each sub-colony from. Ted and I go to those fixed points and count how many birds are actually on nests/ nesting, these are called the eye counts.
The next day saw us continuing with the counts but obviously ‘migrant bashing’ early morning and evening.
Good birds were still to be found in between the counts, firstly a lovely S/P Black-tailed Godwit near Gorse Hill and then we watched 3 Greylag Geese Fly-in, they are rare out here. At lunch at the farm a male House Sparrow was a surprise and also a really rare bird here.
|Greylag Geese by Ted|
The counts were going well with lots of fine weather, it was the 13th the next day, would it be unlucky for us.
Sat 13th May
Dawned clear, bright and sunny, another stunning day.
As usual we started looking for rarities at North Valley crossing, but it wasn’t a visual thing that got the adrenalin pumping, but one of the most beautiful songs in the bird world- a singing Nightingale – Boom !!
How incredible to be standing in the morning sun, amongst acres of bluebells, the smells, the sounds, and then being serenaded by this beauty.
Nightingale recording by Ted (volume up)
Other good birds arrived with a Yellow Wagtail flying into North pond (later moving to Moorey Mere) and 2 Reed Warblers.
|Yellow Wagtail by Mike|
We were above High Cliff just before midday when Ted picked up a Skylark flying in from the East, another good bird, we finished a count and moved to South Plateau near the Mew Stone, having a look for the Skylark.
On looking to my left I saw a big flock of ‘black’ birds going away, I exclaimed to Ted and looked at them, seeing a flap,flap glide and their Gizz I uttered an expletive and said they were Cormorants and that I’d hoped they were something good. We both lifted our bins again and then both shouted – GLOSSY IBIS !!!!!!!! Pandamonium ensued. There were about 20, yes 20 of them. It was a mixture of looking at them, getting photos and trying to alert Leighton and the rest of the team, whilst your hands shook from the adrenaline, thank goodness we were sitting down !
We watched the flock fly along the south coast all the way to Skomer Head where they turned north and continued around the coast of this magical island. Only afterwards when we’d calmed down could we count them in our photos- there were 17 – absolutely incredible 😊
|Glossy Ibis by Ted|
Monday 15th May saw us camped out at Skomer head at 0615 for a very chilly seawatch. Well, we don’t have a whole lot of sea in Bucks, so we have to make the most of it. Despite our hands turning numb in the cold northerlies, it was actually really good for waders. In 2hrs we enjoyed flocks of 2 Turnstone, 13 Ringed Plover, 5 Dunlin, 5 Sanderling and 3 Whimbrel. We finished the gull counts by the afternoon and actually had an hour to just sit near the Mew Stone and look for migrants arriving on the South Coast, before a beautiful evenings sunset.
|Sunset by Mike|
Tuesday 16th May was our last morning before we had to leave this awesome place, the island decided to give us one more gift as Ted found a Lapwing flying around over North Valley, another new island bird for Ted.
5 Swift as we made our way East to North Haven and all too soon it was time to jump on the Dale Queen and head for the mainland.
Once again an incredible few days, with totally amazing people, brilliant birds and a few thousand gulls on what is to me, the most beautiful place on planet earth.
Mike + Ted Wallen
Friday 19 May 2023
The arrival of May has seen our seabirds starting to lay and our researchers are hard at work monitoring their productivity. But the changing season has also brought a flurry of new staff to the island.
And so, introducing Skomer Island’s WTSWW 2023 staff…
|The 2023 Team, L-R: Hannah (Fieldworker), Lotti (LTV), Erin (LTV), Leighton (Warden), Rob (Visitor Officer), Ceris (Assistant Warden) © Skomer VO|
|Leighton out on the boat © Skomer Warden|
Leighton – Warden (he/him)
Leighton is back for his third year as Warden and sixth year in total. As a previous Visitor Officer on Skomer, he knows the island inside out! He oversees all research, monitoring and visitor operations on the island.
|Ceris driving the dumper truck © Skomer Warden|
Ceris has returned to the island for her fourth season on Skomer as our Assistant Warden. She is a strong advocate for increasing diversity and inclusion on the island and is in charge of the weekly volunteer work plans, along with a range of monitoring and surveys, maintenance work and welcome talks to guests. She is learning Welsh and enjoys practising this on morning boats!
|Rob out on a breeding bird survey © Skomer AW|
Rob – Visitor Officer (he/him)
The team are excited to welcome Rob as Visitor Officer for his first season. Taking over from Beth, he has big shoes to fill – but thankfully has big feet. Rob runs our hostel, is responsible for day visitors, runs the social media and carries out a range of monitoring work. As a previous long-term volunteer, he is excited to be back to show off our birds, bats, plants and everything in between in all their glory! When not working, he is learning Welsh, enjoys playing his instruments and gives Leighton a run for his money in island cricket matches...
|Can you spot Hannah surveying? © Lotti B-H|
Hannah – Fieldworker (she/her)
joined us as Fieldworker this year. An experienced seabird researcher, Hannah
has worked on the Isle of May, Malta and the Azores. She monitors Razorbills, Guillemots,
Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Herring Gulls and Greater Black-backed Gulls for breeding
success. When she’s not looking through her scope, she’s a big fan of sea
swimming and can be found birding all over the island.
Lotti (she/her) and Erin (she/her) – Long-Term Volunteers
|Lotti and Erin, our LTVs from March to July © Skomer VO|
So there we have it, our team for 2023! If you’re over this summer, please feel free to stop us and say hello.
Hope to see you soon.
The Skomer Island Team
Monday 1 May 2023
So, how do we count the Atlantic puffin?
|Puffins massing on the Isthmus © Skomer Warden|
Often coinciding with the weather improving, counts occur on evenings where the puffins begin to mass in large numbers off the island. Once a threshold is passed, it's decided that we will be counting. This year, those fateful evenings were the 27th March and 3rd April.
|The essentials for counting puffins. View from the top of High Cliff © Skomer VO|
|Puffins swirling in South Haven © Skomer Assistant Warden|
In 2023 our final numbers came in at 42,513 puffins on the 27th March, and 42,406 puffins (a mere 107 birds fewer) on the 3rd April.
Counts end with a large hot chocolate, some much needed snacks, and a general feeling of ‘blimey’ once the maths has all been done. Shortly followed by collapsing into bed, thumb inevitably still twitching...whoever suggested counting sheep had clearly never come across puffins!
Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!
Beth, Skomer VO.