Wednesday 3 January 2024

Long-Term Volunteering – Hear It From Them!

Two of our long-term volunteers from 2022 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 smiling and wearing gloves.

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 standing by the Farm.

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.

For full details on the roles and how to apply for 2024, please see our website: https://www.welshwildlife.org/volunteering-opportunities/skomer-island-long-term-volunteering

 

Monday 1 January 2024

Long-term volunteer applications for 2024 are OPEN

Long-Term Volunteers

On 1st January, applications for long-term volunteering on Skomer for 2024 go 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 have three Long-Term Volunteer positions available in 2024:

  • 2 positions Saturday 23rd March - Saturday 6th July
  • 1 position Saturday 6th July - Tuesday 1st October

We also have one Seabird Monitoring Volunteer position available in 2024:

  • 1 position Tuesday 21st May - Tuesday 25th 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!).

2023 LTVs Maddie and El prepare to run morning boats - © WTSWW

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 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 over 42,000 Puffins, 30,000 Guillemots, 10,000 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 - Skomer Voles.

A pair of razorbills © Skomer VO

Seal pup in Pigstone Bay © Skomer VO
The team complete a Manx Shearwater census in 2023 - © WTSWW

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.

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 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

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.

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.

Some of the team of 2023 at a dungarees and folk music social - © 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:
  • Free accommodation (including bills) for the duration
  • Travel expenses to and from Skomer (from within the UK)
  • Training budget - may include brushcutter, first aid course or Powerboat Level 2
  • £350 bursary for LTVs and £250 bursary for Seabird Monitoring Volunteer is also available from the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer upon completion of a report which will be included in their newsletter.

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.

Interested in applying? Apply here.

Please note that the deadline for LTV applications is 23:59 on Sunday 28th January 2024 and for Seabird Monitoring Volunteer applications the deadline is 23:59 on Tuesday 13th February. For any queries regarding long-term volunteering, please email skomer.volunteer@welshwildlife.org. 

We look forward to receiving your application. Pob lwc!

Rob, Skomer VO.








Wednesday 8 November 2023

David Saunders MBE

We are sad to report the passing of David Saunders MBE in October 2023. David moved to Pembrokeshire in 1960 and was appointed first warden of Skomer Island, when it was declared a National Nature Reserve. He worked on the Island for seven years, with his wife and two children. David’s passion for seabirds then led him to help lead Operation Seafarer (the first national seabird census of 1969–1970), which provided the first comprehensive account of the numbers and distribution of seabirds around the coasts of Britain and Ireland. He was the director of the West Wales Naturalists Trust from 1976 to 1994. The West Wales Naturalists Trust was a fore-runner of The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. Later, David was known for his writing and lectures. He spent a number of years lecturing on cruise ships and across the counties of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. He was the author of number of books focused on seabirds and bird watching. His book "Where to Watch Birds in Wales" has recently been printed in its 5th edition. He continued to be a regular contributor to a number of publications. 

Bearded man with binoculars stands in front of the sea on a sunny day. In the background is a red, blue and white tour boat.

Photo credit: SEWBReC – Mary Gillham Archive Project -  https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/698551



David was awarded the MBE in 2003 for "Services to Wildlife Conservation in Wales", and in 2014 was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Welsh Ornithological Society. David was determined to help the Wildlife Trusts in Wales to work together more effectively and he helped set up quarterly meetings at Gregynog Hall to coordinate responses to All Wales consultations from the Welsh Office and others. Each Wildlife Trust was represented by one trustee and one staff member. 

David led the campaign to save Carmel Woods from being quarried, which led to the discovery of the only Welsh Turlough [seasonal water body with specialist fauna]. The Grasslands Trust owned the site, and then Nature Resources Wales bought it when the Grasslands Trust went into administration and it is now leased by us. It is comforting to think of the fact that one of our best nature reserves in Carmarthenshire is ours because David helped to save it all those years ago. 

After leaving the West Wales Wildlife Trust, David kept in close contact with staff. Nigel Ajax-Lewis first met him in the mid 1970s through Cardiff University, and was still in contact during the pandemic, when they corresponded about the bird interest of Aberthaw for his latest book on where to watch birds. He maintained a passionate interest in Skomer and Skokholm Islands and was in regular email contact with me, and in close contact with the Friends of the Islands. David is survived by his wife Shirley, children Robert, Rachel and Catherine, grandchildren Rhys, Huw, Sian, Owen, Eve, William and Emily and great grandson Leo. The family have asked that if you wish to mark his passing, donations can be made in his memory to The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales at: https://www.welshwildlife.org/donate

Tuesday 3 October 2023

Young Birders' Week 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

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1. Liliana 


Liliana, one of the group, holding a Manxie chick.
Liliana holding a Manxie chick


A treasure trove of tremendous wildlife, a windswept landscape bejewelled with birds, which holds such a special place in my heart. Skomer Island, a place I have been lucky enough to visit on a few occasions over the years as a Pembrokeshire local myself. After staying on the island for weekly volunteering in April I couldn’t wait to get back and this years Young Birders week was the perfect opportunity. Seeing the island in September is quite a different experience to the chaos of the breeding season, but no less spectacular. Autumn migrants are starting to pass through, the weather is even more
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.

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2. Ellie

A selfie of a group of young people birding at the Farm.
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.

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3. Jenny

Jenny holding a Skomer Vole.
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!

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4. Daisy

Rob leading a guided walk at the Harold Stone.
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.

 I found out about the week on social media and thought it sounded like the perfect chance to get back to nature. I’ve loved wildlife for almost as long as I can remember, and volunteered with a few different organisations to this end, including monitoring marine mammals with the Wildlife Trust at Cardigan Bay. I studied Biology at university, hoping to one day work in conservation. Since graduating, I’ve worked in an office job for an environmental charity, but have really missed the outdoors and the connection to nature that more hands-on conservation can bring.

 I travelled from Bedfordshire to west Wales via three trains and a friend’s van, arriving at the boat to Skomer for 10am. The wildlife lost no time and as we reached the docking area on the island we saw three porpoises surfacing, including a calf, just a few metres from the boat. Gannets and fulmars were gliding above the sea and the skies were blue and sunny – and stayed that way until we left – something I’m not used to on the Welsh coast!

 The next 3 days were packed full of experiences that were just as magical, including weighing Manx shearwater chicks, night walks around the island, and vole trapping, meaning we could see and handle the endemic Skomer vole, a subspecies of bank vole. The team on the island were extremely generous with their time, letting us help set up traps, and answering any questions we had about the island and their work on it.

 Although it’s hard to narrow it down, my highlights of the week were:

 ·       Morning moth trapping – there were some beautiful moths that I’ve never seen before, including a huge Convolvulus hawk-moth.

·       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.

 A huge thank you to the staff, volunteers and researchers on Skomer as well as the other young birders for all they did in making it such a wonderful few days. And another thank you to the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales for making the week possible. It’s really inspired me to spend some more time out in nature, birdwatching and volunteering – and I’m already looking into applying to come back to Skomer to volunteer. It’s a difficult place to leave behind!

A group selfie on the steps.
The first group

A group selfie with the second group.
Our second bunch of young birders




Wednesday 19 July 2023

Island update: LTVs El and Maddie

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.

A well wrapped-up figure sitting next to a boulder and looking through binoculars at a steep cliff face.
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

Two long-term volunteers wearing caps and standing in front of Skomer's sales point
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 smiling at the camera, in the middle of a field full of wood sage
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!

Young Oystercatcher with dusky bill runs from left to right through green vegetation
Young Oystercatcher 


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! 

- Maddie 



Hand holding a young Puffin with book shelves in the background
This young Puffin ended up in the Library after wandering into an open door, blown open at night

Saturday 15 July 2023

Seabird Counts 2023 - How Did We Count Them?

 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.

Rob and Leighton fixing up the boat on the dry dock.
Rob and Leighton fixing up the boat ready for launch

Rob wearing sunglasses and a hat driving an orange boat.
Rob on his powerboat course pre-season

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 using binoculars to count seabirds from the side of the boat.
Hannah and Lisa counting Guillemots and Razorbills

The photo below shows the difference between a Guillemot and a Razorbill. Razorbills are black with a blunt thick bill with a white stripe and a long pointed tail, whereas the Guillemots are chocolate brown with a shorter tail and long thin beak.
A brown Guillemot on a cliff with a pair of darker Razorbills above it with a chick.
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.

A steep cliff face with Kittiwakes nesting.
Kittiwakes on a cliff face with chicks


Hebe and Issy counting with binoculars with the cliffs behind them.
Hebe and Issy counting Fulmars and Kittiwakes from the boat

Manx Shearwater Census

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.

A view down a steep hill with Rob, Hebe, Erin and Lotti all holding ropes.
Rob, Hebe, Erin and Lotti putting ropes to mark the Manx Shearwater area

Erin and Leighton crawling over burrows holding speakers.
Leighton and Erin checking burrows

Will lying on the ground holding a speaker in the entrance of a Manx Shearwater burrow.
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 smiling at the camera in the boat with a view of the cliffs behind her.
Hebe on our boat

Ceris, Erin, Hebe, Tani and Rob taking a selfie on the island.
The team celebrating the completion of another Manx Shearwater plot - this one took 5 hours!

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 driving the boat whilst wearing a new blue boat jacket.
Rob modelling some of the new boat clothes provided by the funding.


Heritage Fund Logo

Thursday 22 June 2023

LBB (Lesser Black-backed Gull) counts 2023 - Which is also known as – ‘Finding Rare Birds’

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

Counting LBB’s

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