Thursday, 10 January 2019

last weeks of the 2018 on Skomer

It is quite astonishing how time slows down when you are only really focused on what's happening right here, right now and when the days are longer and how it changes when you need to think/plan/organise your next steps in order to leave the island as secured, as clean and as prepared for the 2019 as possible. It is also extremely important to remember about all the things that need to be done over winter and have a decent plan made for the next year. All those include: research projects, our new projects, management plan (monitoring of seabirds, breeding birds, other wildlife, vegetation etc), infrastructure plans, budgeting, volunteers tasks/projects planning, things to buy, day visitors trips, working hours, administration, communication, any training, safety checks, report writing, any corrections, data management, emergency procedures and many more. The list is very long.
Saying that, the more you start planning and thinking ahead you notice that the time is slipping away, it disappears, and time is energy. Therefore, the key to be able to tackle all those above and to be able to enjoy the work you do is to be in the present moment. Yes, planning is important but that can be done whilst you are enjoying yourself and you may even notice that suddenly you've got it all under control because time has surprisingly slowed down again for you. Some will say, oh hey but time is always the same, can't speed it up and can't slow it down. Is it though? Ha, time is relative. I am pretty sure that our life experiences and attitude towards it can perfectly reflect how time really does ''change''.
This is how the 3 months on Skomer were like, first month almost felt like forever. There was so much to absorb and to learn that there was absolutely no time to think about what comes next or about future plans. It was difficult at times but that focus on the now is the key to happiness and fulfillment.
October seemed like a mix of the two, there were days which lasted for a veeery long time and days that felt like hours have passed.
November was like a ride on roller coaster! Days were much shorter and colder, there still were many tasks that needed to be either started for 2019 or completed before we left the island.

Both Sarah and Sarah left towards the end of October and then there were four of us. We stayed until the 23rd of November and pretty much until mid December in Pembrokeshire. We were warmly welcomed by our local and not so very local friends at their houses and we are very grateful for that.

Sarah J and Sarah K leaving Skomer (October) to be back in 2019

Bee waving us goodbye  ;-)

Arrival to mainland (November)

And now Christmas has already passed and we are into a new year, which is very exciting! We hope that 2019 is going to bring us a lot of fun, many great achievements on the island, friendships and that we will be able to continue a great work of many wardens before us.

I am trying to reflect on 2018 and all I can think of is that it is not the goal we are so badly working to achieve, it is the journey, everything we go through in order to reach the destiny. This is the important part, because the moment of achievement is only temporary. We tend to remember more from the time, whether it's difficult or not on our way to accomplishment anyway. It is so important to try and enjoy the entire process of getting there, this is happiness.

And this is what we want to wish you for 2019, to enjoy the journey and every moment you live before the final destination, whatever it is.
We are looking forward to seeing you on Skomer later this year!

and a few words from Ed and Bee:

For Bee and I, the last few weeks and months on Skomer felt like the end of a chapter, with none of the planning or mentally preparing for next season that Sylwia and Nathan have been going through and surprisingly little reflection. Like Sylwia and Nathan we were simply living in the present, monitoring the seals, helping with shutting the island down and trying to stay warm and dry. We really hope that our planning and hard work over the last six years has left the island in a good state. It feels great to have (just about) seen the completion of the new tractor shed at the Farm as well as a new water tank in the garden there. Thanks to everyone who has helped with either project, be it helping on work parties or simply helping with organising and logistics.
Skomer is a massive operation really and is only going to get bigger. Managing overnight guests, commercial operators and day trippers requires a huge amount of work and cooperation and we are proud of the way we have improved the ticketing system so that it works as well as possible. We are also very happy to have worked with Chrissie and Gary at Lockley Lodge and Dale Sailing without whome the system would never run so smoothly and professionally. The work of the Visitor Officer has also helped to manage the system for wildlife and people as well as possible.   
On top of that, the islands wildlife is the top priority and the monitoring and research work that goes on is also paramount. What a brilliant place for wildlife Skomer is.
My (wildlife) highlights over the last six years have been four harriers in a single season in 2013, counting seabirds in June, the autumn colours and finally (on my last evening on the island this year) a bumper roost of Hen Harriers (7 ringtails and an adult male). 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Crazy seals

These are two videos I took of the seals on Matthew's Wick in the last few days.

The first one is of a young bull which is has a red tag on his flipper. I saw this bull two days in a row coming onto the beach and going a bit crazy - running about, rolling around and generally annoying all other animals which were asleep on the beach. On the second day I manged to film this funny behaviour of the rogue taggie. Speaking of tags: we are still waiting to hear back from the RSPCA about the tag. Hopefully we will find out the history of this young bull.

The second video I took yesterday. There was a bull sleeping on the beach when the beach master came home and he didn't like the competition mingling with his females. It's quite obvious who is the stronger of the two...

(Skomer Seal Worker)

Friday, 2 November 2018

The seals

Seal pupping on Skomer is drawing to a close for 2018. It has been a good season for the seals with no disasterous storm events such as Ophelia which hit last October and well over 200 pups born. At least one of the storms this year corresponded with neap tides which meant the pups had somewhere to retreat to away from the crashing waves. So it seems that survival to weaning (around 3 weeks of age) will be good this year. Of course, knowing this is only possible due to the long-term monitoring that we do on Skomer. This monitoring is of vital importance if we are to understand the population dynamics of the seals and safeguard them for future generations to coexist with and enjoy.

A Grey Seal pup, less than 5 seconds old!

Each year in July or August the first pregnant cows will return to pup on one of Skomer's beaches or in one of its secluded caves. From that point onwards the seal field workers (Bee Bueche and Ed Stubbings for the last 6 years and Dave Boyle before that) will check the beaches daily and the caves around once a week. This means that we know the date of birth of each new pup to within about 24 hours, sometimes actually catching the birth itself. Grey Seal pups are born with a white coat which is shed after around three weeks and by following each pup through to the completion of moult we are able to give an overall survival rate to this stage. We can also say how many pups were born each season and, by counting the adults (including all the major haul outs), how many seals are present. These are the equivelant of the productivity and population studies that we do with the seabirds during the summer. The final piece of the puzzle is adult survival and return rates which we do by taking thousands of pictures of the seals, mostly pupping cows, and comparing them with a huge catalogue of known animals.

A Grey Seal pup after many bouts of suckling on mums fat rich milk
Pup 158 (popular on social media this year!!!) having a suckle
Pups 158 (above) and 130 nearly moulted and moulted
Many people help us with this work, from Assistant Wardens and Visitor Officers to Long-Term Volunteers, visiting researchers and even our line manager Lizzie Wilberforce. We owe a huge debt to these people as it would not be possible to make the number of visits and enter caves as regularly without their help.

 Field work involves visiting pupping beaches to check and spray pups, collect poo samples for diet analysis and skin samples for DNA analysis
A just sprayed pup
Sometimes they try and hide to avoid being sprayed...
...but obviously it doesn't always work.
One of our Long-Term Volunteers this year, Harriet Sleight, took this footage of us spraying seal pups. It shows quite nicely the process we need to go through each time we make a site visit - check spray list, spray (not as easy as it sounds), photograph, map, do this for each pup then check for poos and any dead pups to take skin samples from - quite a lot to remember.

Harriet (LTV) and Sarah K (Assistant Warden) in Matthews Wick
Harriet coming out of Matthews Wick after a successful visit

Then of course there are the bulls, which, in a rough and tumble kind of way, ensure next years crop of seal pups.

Fighting bulls attract a female's attention
Mating usually involves lots of biting and scratching!!!
Females are slowly subdued but are definitely not always willing
Once the breeding season is completely over we will write the Grey Seal Report for Natural Resources Wales who fund the work that we do on Skomer each year. The final report will be available on the trust website in the new year. See here for previous year's reports.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

still on Skomer, last 6 standing people this autumn

Here we are, 6 people remaining on Skomer including me (Sylwia) - new Warden, Nathan - new Warden, Sarah - the Assistant Warden, Sarah - the Visitors Officer, Bee and Ed - old (but still very young) Wardens ;-)
There will only be 4 of us left by the end of this month! Sarah and Sarah are leaving in just over 2 weeks time.
It is definitely different on the island without our daily visitors and volunteers' company. We are still enjoying ourselves and working hard to make sure that everything is safe, sound and secure for the next season 2019.
I have been thinking about the new blog and instead of focusing on one specific aspect I thought I would give you all an update on the things we have been doing in the last month and the amazing bird sightings we have had.

We have been experiencing the storm for 3 days now, wind gusts reaching 60 knots.
Other than
-flooded toilet,
-half of the windows leaking up in the library (North Haven),
-half of our garage door fell into pieces,
-boat almost flying down the cliff,
-the guttering that came off up in Farm
-and small damages, everything is good! So far...until we potentially find other things, hopefully not!
We have been worrying about the seals but there is nothing we can do other than hope that they have been OK! We cannot tell how the storm has affected them just yet but we will let you know as soon as we know.



The new garage up in the Farm is looking good. It is still unfinished but there isn't much left to go. Chris and his crew have been working hard on it and the Skomer team has been able to help with cladding.
2019 is going to be a lot easier with two garages. We won't have to walk down from the Farm to collect the tractor in early mornings and drive back up to pack our guests' and volunteers' belongings then drive down to park it in NHV anymore. Tractor will be parked mostly at the Farm and make everyone's daily routine a little bit easier. It will save us some time. This extra time we will gain is going to be utilized for other important tasks on the island.

testing the grounds
raw garage before cladding
Nathan contemplating
fitting some corner pieces of wood or in fact, removing it here and refitting 5 minutes later
Ed admiring his favourite hammer
garage looking good on the right side
garage looking good from the front


We are very grateful to the Friends again for putting a lot of effort into building the new tanks up at the Farm. They are now graciously waiting to be used next season. There was some water pumped into them on the final day when they completed the pump house. Some minor pipework leaks occurred but that was very well dealt with and fixed. We had Mike Sherman inputting his electrical expertise to the water tanks plan. We are looking forward to using them and having a good water supply system working great at the Farm next year. Thank you to Steven Sutcliffe for leading the project.

my favourite picture of all times, thank you all!


We have said goodbye to our last 2018 short-term volunteers and our long-term volunteers (Ellie, Harriett) just over two weeks ago. We are very grateful to you all. Skomer island and us benefit hugely from your assistance and commitment. Everything that has been achieved over the years would not have been achieved without your input. And although myself and Nathan have only been here for 6 weeks, we know what a difference volunteers make on the islands and everywhere else. We have seen it and we have experienced it. Every person who comes out here to volunteer helps in some ways. Interacting with you all teaches us valuable lessons and I am sure that we all gain something from having you here. The island gains from your passion for wildlife, which is transformed into hard work that you put into the tasks that you undertake while being here, whether it's bird watching, monitoring, maintenance or interaction with day visitors. Having you here helps us to develop, often to look at things from a different perspective and most importantly motivates us to work harder to achieve more as Wardens and simply as human beings.
We are very much looking forward to seeing all the returning volunteers and to meeting the new ones who have not yet had a chance to fall in love with Skomer island from the first sight.
Recharge your batteries over winter and come back to enjoy this place with us again next year! :)

Big male seal caption with us posing just before the very last boat of this season left with all our fantastic volunteers.

group bird watching at ivy before the OxNav researchers Martyna and Joe and our volunteers left


Me and Sarah (Visitors Officer) recently realised that our birthdays are one day after another so we decided to jointly celebrate on both the 11th and 12th of October. We won't tell you how young we turned though ;-)
It was a great excuse for the 6 of us to have dinner and to play some games together two days in a row! We laughed plenty and managed to get distracted from the storm for a little bit. Hopefully joining our birthdays will become a new tradition for when the days are shorter, colder and when the island becomes home for over 2 months to only a handful of us.


We have had some really good sightings this autumn including Grey Phalarope, Barred Warbler, Bonelli's Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Red-backed Shrike, Black Redstart, Pectoral Sandpiper, Wryneck, Firecrest, Whooper Swans, Yellow-browed Warbler and some very high counts of Swallows reaching nearly 10000 birds in one day. There was an amazing count of 10 predatory bird species made on the 28th of September. On that day we spotted Merlin, Peregrine, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Barn Owl, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Buzzard, Goshawk and Red Kite. It was a brilliant day full of great bird species.

stunning Firecrest, which also happened to be ringed

Grey Phalarope - picture of a picture, by Joe by me


Here is our very last Manx Shearwater chick, which by the way is still just over 530g heavy. We really hope that it can fly fast (quoting Martyna here ;-)) and will make its way safely to Argentina, or somewhere close at least. The guys from OxNav have worked really hard on their project and we are very happy that we can assist with their data collection now that they have gone back home. I strongly believe that this very last manxie deserves a name. We are open for suggestions:)

How about Sticky? It's been fed by the parents for so long.. I call it good parenting ;-) our lovely late chick Sticky

And just to finish off, it is getting colder and wetter out there. Autumn and winter can be somewhat demotivating so make sure you laugh and enjoy yourselves lots. Please stay warm and look after each other. Life is better when we spread love to everyone.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Shearwater Season on Skomer

Could Manx Shearwaters be the ‘National Bird of Wales’? Our neighbours on Ramsey Island have already put forward this suggestion and I am inclined to agree. 

Staggeringly around 50% of the world’s population of Manx Shearwaters breed on the islands of Skomer and Skokholm and if you add in the numbers from Ramsey and Bardsey Islands the figure is close to 60%.

Manx Shearwaters are an elusive bird only coming to land under cover of darkness to feed their chicks in underground burrows. They have evolved to live out at sea and are beautiful flyers and swimmers. However, on land they struggle to even walk and are at risk from predation by birds like Great Black-backed Gulls. Darkness is their friend, allowing them to sneak into their burrows unseen. It is a real treat for overnight visitors to Skomer to experience thousands of shearwaters coming and going once darkness falls.

They are unable to breed successfully on the UK mainland due to the predation of their eggs and chicks by rats. Therefore it is our absolute conservation priority to maintain Skomer as a rat free island.

Adult manx shearwater

We are now coming to the end of the shearwater season, most of the chicks have fledged and left the burrows they have spent their whole lives in, to embark on a massive migration to the southern hemisphere. They will spend the next couple of years out at sea off the coast of South America and in their second year will make the journey back to the UK. It will take them a few years to become breeders themselves but they undertake the migration every year to gain the experience and skills required to rear a chick. These amazing birds can live beyond 50 years of age and potentially fly the distance of ‘to the moon and back’ ten times in their lifetime…

1 week old shearwater chick

Shearwater chick starting to grow adult feathers

The start of September is when we hold a ‘shearwater special’ event on Skomer and this year it was more popular than ever. It is a two night event that includes a night time guided walk through the shearwater colony, a talk by researchers about their conservation work on the island and the ‘one off’ experience of helping researchers to weigh Manx Shearwater chicks in Skomer’s study colony. As well as that it is a chance to visit the island during a relatively quiet time of year, experiencing the peace and tranquillity of ‘island living’.

Weighing chicks in the shearwater special event 
Viewing shearwaters at night using red light to prevent disturbance

It has been a big year for Manx Shearwaters on Skomer this year. Highlights include:
  • A whole island census in June, last undertaken in 2011. Results from this are still to be determined so we will keep you updated on this as soon as we know!
  • The development of an artificial nest box colony at North Haven enabling close monitoring of the 'manxies'.
  • We had our own ‘Springwatch style’ camera installed in a manx shearwater burrow. Watching the underground goings on in the burrow was fascinating. Mating, egg laying, hatching chick and over two months later the successful fledging of  ‘burrow cam’ chick we imaginatively named Maxine…We hope to do the same next year and live footage will be streamed from Lockley Lodge. Be warned it is very addictive!

Burrow cam chick a month old

Burrow cam chick close to fledging spending most of its time preening
  • This year the WTSWW joined with the RSPB to promote a campaign advising on what to do with stranded Manx Shearwaters. Strong winds at fledging time can make it difficult for the youngsters to make it out to sea and once they get blown inland can easily get disorientated by mainland lights leaving them stranded. Over 100 birds have been rescued and returned to sea, thanks to local volunteers and Thousand Island Expeditions boat operators.
Poster campaign for stranded shearwaters

Around 100 birds were rescued and released out to sea

If you would like to see Manx Shearwaters then be sure to book in for an overnight stay on the island on next year's "shearwater special event". Bookings open on 1st October 2018 for WTSWW members and are fully open two weeks later. Please contact the booking office on 01656 724100 for more information.

Once you have seen this beautiful enigmatic seabird I’m sure you will agree that Manx Shearwaters should indeed be deemed the national bird of Wales.

Sarah Parmor  (Skomer visitor officer)

Monday, 17 September 2018

New Wardens - Sylwia and Nathan

Our Arrival


We made it! The journey to our new island began with a nervous wait for a weather window to leave our previous island, the Calf of Man, which was a sad moment . It was also filled with excitement of what lay ahead on the new island - Skomer! As it is often the case on islands at this time of year, we were at the mercy of the weather again, which is one of the many appeals of island life - being connected to the natural world and day to day weather changes. Northerly winds meant we could not sail to Skomer on our planned day, which resulted in us staying on the mainland for 3 days. This gave us a chance to see a bit of the lovely Pembrokeshire and also meet some of the people associated with Skomer. We were very generously welcomed into their home by Anna and Steve Sutcliffe, it was fantastic to hear stories from their experience as Wardens from 1986 to 1994. They showed us some picturesque places such as Marloes Sands. We were even able to assist Anna with her bat surveys. We have also had enough time to try food and cakes in some of the local places like Dale, explored the countryside on the bicycles and went bird watching (obviously!). Pembrokeshire is absolutely sensational!

The day of our arrival was very nice and warm, which made the travel easier and much more enjoyable! It was lovely to meet some of the Dale Sailing crew.

So Who Are We

Nathan Wilkie - My home town is Dover, where some of you may have passed through when getting the ferry to France. Before moving to Skomer I was on a similarly sized island called the Calf of Man. I thoroughly enjoyed my role as Estate Warden on the fantastic island. Like Skomer, the Calf is an important island for seabirds, although there are not quite as many Manx Shearwaters - the 316,000 pairs here is quite a change from approximately 400 pairs on the Calf! The estimated 400 pairs on the Calf is a conservation success story however, with the species, that was named due to the colony on this small island off the coast of the Isle of Man, now recovering following a rat eradication in the winter of 2011/12. The Calf is also an important island for migrant birds and is home to a bird observatory, I was lucky to see and ring some fantastic birds. My highlight species include: Red-footed Falcon, Melodious Warbler, Sub-alpine Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Hen Harrier, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Cuckoo, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Hooded Crow, Chough... Ok I will stop listing now!
I have also been lucky to work on the Farne Islands and Mingulay Island in the Outer Hebrides - I like islands! Like Skomer these are also spectacular islands that are very important to seabirds and Grey Seals.
I have also lead research projects on butterflies in Indonesia, Madagascar and Romania - I like rain-forests, wildflower meadows and butterflies too!
Excluding a very short term contract as an Assistant Ecological Consultant, monitoring Great Crested Newts and bats, my first paid job was protecting Little Terns, on a Northumberland beach called the Long Nanny. The UK's second rarest seabird needs protecting from a wide array of threats, such as: Badgers, Foxes, Stoats, Kestrels, Crows, human and dog disturbance and the tide. This was a very rewarding job, with a recently unheard of 45 chicks fledged - I like Little Terns!
As is often the case in this career I have also done lots of volunteering, which includes a combined 13 months of residential volunteering at RSPB Minsmere and Saltholme, which I thoroughly enjoyed and gained a lot from.
Oh and I also studied Geography at Portsmouth University.
Ok that's probably enough about me! You'll just have to come and visit Skomer if you want to find out more!

The Calf's tractor is a bit smaller than Skomer's

 This splendid Red-footed Falcon hanged around for a few days on the Calf of Man
The Farne Islands has a few birds too!
One of the many cliffs Nathan tried to not fall off while monitoring seabirds on Mingulay
Little Tern nest scrapes raised into fish boxes to protect them from the tides at the Long Nanny

Sylwia Zbijewska - I come from Poland and that is where I grew up and went to school. I moved to the UK in 2009 to initially earn some money over summer and then to go back to study journalism in a city called Wroclaw. Plans have only slightly changed and it's been 9 years since!
I studied at Manchester Metropolitan University between 2010 and 2016 where I got a foundation degree in Geography, degree in Wildlife Biology and a master's degree in Conservation Biology. During my studies, I carried out some very interesting field projects on invertebrates, butterflies, dung beetles and birds in Caer Llan, Lisbon, Bialowieza Forest, Cheshire and a lab based project on bumblebees. I have also worked full time in various non-related to my interests jobs to make a living. After completing my higher education, I was offered the Image Analyst position at aquatic environmental consultancy APEM in Stockport. I will miss the ornithology team and our daily lunch walks and Friday pub evenings.
I have been a ringer since October 2016 (South Manchester Ringing Group). However, this year I mostly ringed on the Calf of Man, where I volunteered as an assistant warden. Calf of Man has a special place in my heart. I genuinely love that island for its beauty and charm. I love its landscapes, wildlife and bird migration. COM is also the island where I met fabulous people and made some lifelong friendships!
I have also worked as a research assistant mist-netting in Danum Valley – Borneo and volunteered at one of the UG's Bird Migration Research Stations for the Operation Baltic project (Gdansk, Poland) in October 2017. 
Being close to nature is what empowers me. Being able to work, care for the natural world, share the knowledge about wildlife with others and learn from them is what brings me joy. People and nature are my source of inspiration.
''Doing what you like is freedom. Liking what you do is happiness''. 
The world is changing now and we need to use all our power to continue to protect nature, resources and live our lives respecting each other and our home Earth.

A very powerful Black Woodpecker - Operation Baltic, Bukowo
Another spectacular bird Long-eared Owl - Operation Baltic, Bukowo
Posing with an Oystercatcher on the Calf of Man

Experiencing the smelly side of ringing Eiders on the Calf of Man
Unique Bornean flora

Our First 2 Weeks on Skomer - The team has really welcomed us and made us feel at home already. We are especially grateful to Bee and Ed for staying on Skomer until the end of the season so that they can pass on as much knowledge as they can from what they have learnt during 6 years of essentially living and working here.

We have been spending time familiarising ourselves with the island and some of the tasks that are undertaken on Skomer. One of our most memorable experiences so far has to be assisting Martyna and Joe from OxNav with their research on Manx Shearwaters and their migration, which entailed following the direction the chicks fly the very first moment they fledge! It has also been great to meet some of the Weekly Volunteers who regularly volunteer on Skomer. Another highlight is the first meal we shared with the entire team at the Farm and delicious meals we have shared with Ed and Bee in the Warden's house, particularly southern German dish called Spaetzle - We like trying new things! What is more, Skomer has already spoilt us with excellent views of Bonelli's Warbler!

Sylwia assisting with Manx Shearwater chick weighing
A Short-eared Owl was a welcome addition to Ed's talk to a group of students from France
Joe's talk on his research on Manx Shearwater migration was very interesting
A very showy Bonelli's Warbler