Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Spring has sprung...

It’s a time of firsts over here on the island: first chicks, first wildflowers, and the first days digging out the long-buried suncream!

Raven carrying food (in this case, a Manx shearwater) back to the nest © Skomer Volunteer Warden

Our earliest breeding birds, ravens, were already building their nests when we returned to Skomer back in March. Now, two months on, adults ferrying food back-and-forth to feed their hungry chicks has become a familiar sight, particularly across North Valley. We’ve also seen signs that some of our smaller passerines may now have chicks, with blackbirds and rock pipits having been seen carrying food in the past week. Meanwhile on Moorey Mere, a plump (the collective noun!) of moorhen chicks have been spotted trailing their parents amongst the vegetation.

Razorbills mating at the Amos © Skomer VO

On the cliffs our first guillemot (21.04.22) and razorbill (25.04.22) eggs have been laid, spotted by eagle-eyed fieldworkers Kirsty and Freya. Research also continues by Oxford Navigation Group down at North Haven, who discovered our first Manx shearwater egg of the season last Monday (25.04.22).

Chough monitoring near the Amos with our new Leica scope © Skomer VO

Monitoring work also continues with our more elusive species. Chough continue to evade us at various sites around the island. Four pairs have now been seen quivering and feeding one another, a good indicator of breeding. A further three locations are being carefully watched, after individuals were spotted carrying sticks.

Curlew calling over North Pond, one of the suspected territories for 2022 © Skomer Assistant Warden

Towards the centre of the island, our curlew (the last breeding pairs in Pembrokeshire) have been seen divebombing crows and gulls, as they defend their precious territories. Close by, skylarks have been filling the sky with their beautiful song – now noted on three consecutive breeding bird surveys. If successful, this will be, excitingly, the first time skylarks have bred on Skomer since 2017.

Sea campion at High Cliff © Skomer VO
Bluebells blossoming over North Valley Rise © Skomer VO

Closer to the ground, Skomer’s wildflowers are coming into full bloom. The south side of the island, particularly near High Cliff, has been covered in a carpet of sea campion since mid-April – quite the sight (and smell) to behold. However, to the north, what was initially a few specks of blue / purple is now becoming an expanse, with bluebells covering much of North Valley Rise.

Sunset from Garland Stone © Skomer VO
Wick sunset with puffins, after our monthly rabbit counts © Skomer VO

With the weather improving, and wildflowers blooming everywhere we look, it is very much beginning to feel like the start of summer.

Volunteers (L-R: Karen, Jean, and Aline) path widening at South Stream © Skomer VO

Archiving work in the library (L-R: Gruffydd, Lynn, and Martin) © Skomer VO

We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been over to visit us so far this season, and in particular to our Weekly Volunteers. With mixed weather, tasks have varied from painting to path widening. This spring there has also been a focus on archiving and cataloguing the many photo albums which have been collecting dust in the library. A real window into the past, it’s been wonderful to see how much (and indeed how little!) Skomer has changed over the years.

Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!

Beth, Visitor Officer

Friday, 22 April 2022

Introducing Kelda, new Skomer LTV 2022

Cyfarchion Gan Sgomer!

My name is Kelda and I am one of the long-term volunteers for the spring season (March – July 2022). I am 25 years old and grew up in London, so coming to Skomer for the first time in March was quite the change!

Myself on my first Breeding Bird Survey.

I graduated from the University of Sussex in 2019 with a degree in Zoology where I had some great opportunities to travel and see some amazing wildlife along the way. I spent 8 months in Iceland on an exchange year and after seeing my first breaching humpback, pair of minke whales, and the puffins on the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar), my love for cetaceans and seabirds was born. Eventually, this grew to include all birds which ultimately led me to Skomer.

Since graduating I have largely been involved in public campaigns and community engagement work tackling plastic pollution. I came to Skomer with the aim of improving my bird identification and practical conservation skills. With help of the supportive team here, I can safely say I feel confident in distinguishing between the different calls of the birds found around the island including the blackbird, wren, meadow pipit, dunnock, curlew, oystercatcher, kittiwake and peregrine. 

Sunset on Skomer across South Field.

Upon arriving on the island on a beautiful sunny morning, we were greeted by a couple of curious seals and the first puffins slowly checking out and returning to their burrows. As an ocean lover, I was incredibly excited to see harbour porpoise at the Garland Stone, surrounded by diving gannets.

So far I have spent my evenings watching the short-eared owl swooping along North Valley just behind the farm and trying to catch a glimpse of the common dolphins occasionally seen in the surrounding waters. For the chiller evenings, I have bought along my stash of wool and have set myself the task of knitting a hat, scarf and jumper, hopefully before the start of next winter… 

Painting!

A personal highlight of mine so far has been actually seeing Manx shearwater appearing from their burrows at night, as I have only ever heard them before, and of course driving the gator! I have also enjoyed meeting and working with other volunteers, and hearing about everyone’s backgrounds and stories about Skomer.


Buff-tailed bumblebee on willow flower by Green Pond.

I am keen to get started on my personal project that will look at the different species of bees found on the island and compare this to previous records going back to the 1930s. By completing bee transects I will also look at flower preferences and see if this changes throughout the season with different flowering plant species dominating the landscape.

Looking forward to writing again soon

- Kelda

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Introducing Eve, new Skomer LTV 2022

When I first decided to take a year out of my Zoology degree at Glasgow University, I had three goals: gain more practical experience in environmentalism, live in interesting diverse models of ‘community’, and learn German. I’ve only spent 2 of my 14 weeks here on Skomer, and I can confidently say two of those goals have already been reached... no prizes for guessing which two! 

My name is Eve, I’m 21, and I’m one of the two LTVs for the first half of 2022, March-July. Unlike many of you I’m sure, this is my first time ever on Skomer, and that’s the way I like it - throwing myself in the deep end and spending 3 months here. It’s such a privilege to see the ins and outs of island life, and the changing of the seasons, as the island is covered in White Campion, to Bluebells, to Red Campion. 


Giving one of my first Welcome Talks to day visitors 


I’ve always had a fascination and love of small islands, which I trace back to my time as a child on the Scottish Isle of Iona, off Mull. Island life creates a strong sense of community, between the people, land and wildlife. I’m also an enthusiastic naturalist, which is what drew me specifically to the isle of Skomer. I’ve been interested in sea birds and moths for a handful of years now, and am interested in continuing my studies and doing a research masters on something similar. 

Me (centre) and my first Puffins on Staffa, Scotland 

These interests have led me to volunteer at some interesting places in the past: from the northern reaches of the UK in Orkney, to the southern sunny coast of Portugal, to the fellow Welsh island of Bardsey. Most of this has been with Bird Observatories, which has been a fantastic privilege to help monitor as well as ring migratory species. However, as a lover for seabirds, I am thoroughly enjoying the slightly different experience of Skomer - getting to know the breeding birds and local residents much better, and having the opportunity to enthuse visitors over Britain’s wildlife. 

Ringing adult Fulmars on North Ronaldsay, Orkney 

It must be true, what people say about island time, as although I’ve only been here for 2 weeks, I already feel pretty settled, and like I’ve been here for months. Things have slowly wound up, starting with getting the Farm ready for guests, to delivering our first Welcome Talks to day visitors. A lot of the first week consisted of practical maintenance work, which although I lack a little in experience, I certainly try to make up for in my eagerness to learn. Kelda, the other LTV, and I have been tasked to build a brand new boardwalk for near Green Pond, which I’m really enjoying as it’s a fantastic opportunity to learn on the job... and dare I say it’s a good laugh too! 

Our first week included a lot of painting in the sun! 


Working on our boardwalk 

Of course, there’s lots of monitoring work too, and I’ve already got stuck in with helping with the Breeding Bird Surveys. However, that work will only increase as the season gets underway, with my first mammoth Puffin count probably happening very soon!

One thing I’m keen to do under my own steam is mothing - although my ID skills are limited (whose isn’t with the thousands of species?!), I’m determined to get the moth trap out regularly. I’ve incorporated this into my Personal Project, which will be focusing on the rare Enteucha acetosae, or Pygmy Sorrel Moth. It has only been recorded in Pembrokesire less than 30 times, and only across 5 locations. As of yet, there remains no record of it on Skomer. It may be Britain’s smallest moth with a forewing length at 1.5mm, but I have a feeling it won’t be such a small task. As a member of the leaf-miner family, E.acetosae leaves tiny little spiral mines on its host plant, Sorrel, and discolours the leaves to an autumnal red. I will be plotting the distribution of sorrel plants across the island and, if found, identifying the prevalence/absence of E.acetosae via leaf mines. 



E.acetosae Sorrel leaf mines 

After all of that, it doesn’t leave a huge amount of time to twiddle one’s thumbs! However, when I do find moments free, I enjoy playing music in my wee hut with my guitar I’ve brought onto the island (only the essentials!), reading, and increasingly bread making! 

I think that’s all from me, but I hope to write again, and maybe meet some of you soon! 

Eve, LTV 2022

You never regret a swim!



Friday, 18 March 2022

Return to Skomer 2022

On 1st March, myself, Ceris and Beth moved back out to Skomer for the start of the 2022 season. There was, as usual, a huge amount of kit, including a months’ worth of food for three people! After dropping Skokholm off on the way, we made it to a slightly choppy North Haven and began unloading bags, aware that the afternoon was drawing in.

Just a fraction of our kit, at the top of North Haven steps © Skomer VO

One key thing to do on moving day is to check the buildings for damage from the winter storms. This year it was extra worrying, with Skomer having been in the firing line of storm Eunice. Thankfully, however, the buildings remained relatively unscathed, apart from a few lost roof tiles, a chimney cap and the internet dish at the Farm.

Things were somewhat more of a rush this year, however, as we were joined on the 4th by a team of four from Rock Engineering who will be working on Skomer for the next few weeks to secure the cliff collapse above the boat shed.

Barge delivery at North Haven Beach © Skomer Assistant Warden

Up early for a delivery of equipment, we witnessed the mass arrival of auks on to the cliffs. Starting just after sunrise, birds began swirling and rafting in North Haven, and just an hour later, the cliffs were seemingly full. Birds appeared to be occupying previously un-occupied ledges and the cliffs were seemingly bursting with both Razorbills and Guillemots.

A pair of razorbills © Skomer Assistant Warden

It seems a common theme from last year to this year, that one of the first birds we see when landing on Skomer, is a Red Kite. A previously scarce bird on Skomer, the number of records keep increasing every year.

We saw our first Puffins of the year on the 10th with 40 rafting offshore. Numbers have fluctuated since, however, 2,490 including hundreds on land in North Haven on the 15th was quite the sight.

Our first puffins, spotted off North Haven © Skomer Warden

The first truly settled warm day really jolted the breeding birds into action and stepping outside the house shortly after sunrise the song of Meadow Pipits and Wrens filled the air. Skylark, after a few blank years, are currently singing in the center of the island too.  

We have also witnessed the first Ravens nest building, with a bird making repeated trips to the beach in North Haven, scavenging washed up debris, and flying straight into Matthews Wick, the same site as 2021.

Monitoring ravens at Pigstone Bay, using our new Leica scope © Skomer VO

On the 13th we were lucky enough to witness the Northern Lights from Skomer; knowing that a ‘solar storm’ was on its way, sitting out on the cliffs under the starry sky didn’t seem like a bad prospect.

The Northern Lights from Bull Hole © Skomer Warden

We are due to have our first volunteers of the year on the 19th and there’s still lots to be done before opening on the 1st April. The next couple of weeks will involve lots of path maintenance, painting and decorating!

We look forward to seeing you all soon.

Leighton,

Skomer Warden

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Long-Term Volunteering on Skomer Island

Long-Term Volunteers

Back in December, we opened up applications for Long-Term Volunteering on Skomer Island for 2022. Our Long-Term Volunteers form an essential part of the Skomer Team, supporting with day-to-day running of the island, as well as a host of monitoring and maintenance activities. Put lightly – we couldn’t do what we do without them!

A glorious Skomer sunrise © Skomer Assistant Warden

We are looking for five motivated, passionate individuals, who are willing to listen and learn, to join the Team in 2022:

  • 2 x Long-Term Volunteers (Saturday 26th March – Saturday 9th July). 
  • x Long-Term Volunteers (Saturday 9th July – Saturday 1st October).
  • 1 x Seabird Monitoring Volunteer (Saturday 28th May – Saturday 25th June).


What to expect?

Wildlife Monitoring

Skomer Island is internationally important for seabirds, with just under 35,000 Atlantic puffins, 28,500 guillemots, 7,500 razorbills, and almost half the world’s population of Manx shearwaters – a staggering 350,000 breeding pairs! Skomer is also home to healthy population of Atlantic grey seals who pup on our beaches / coves every Autumn.

The Skomer Team are responsible for monitoring, and counting, these incredible species. June is of particular importance for this, with all of our seabird counts (with the exception of the Atlantic puffin) being carried out in this month. Seal monitoring takes place from August onwards, with our first pup usually being seen in the first week of the month.

Counting seabirds from our RIB © Sarah Kay Purdon

We also monitoring our breeding birds (everything from ravens to wrens!), carry out butterfly transects, and set moth traps.

Long-Term Volunteer (2021), Becca, on a Breeding Bird Survey © Skomer Assistant Warden

Checking moth traps © Skomer Assistant Warden

Needless to say, there is always wildlife monitoring going on, and Long-Term Volunteers get stuck in with every aspect of this! 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.

Skomer VO, Beth, weighing one of the last Manxie chicks of the 2021 season © Skomer Assistant Warden

Public Engagement

The island welcomes up to 250 visitors a day, and provides accommodation for 16 overnight guests. Staff and Long-Term Volunteers work on a roster to delivery engaging welcome talks to guests – sharing their favourite parts of the island, as well as any exciting updates there may be (i.e. the first fulmar egg of the season at North Haven, pied wagtail fledglings at the Farm, or a lesser grey shrike hiding near the Chicken Sheds!).

Long-Term Volunteer (2021), Rowie, preparing to give a welcome talk © Skomer Assistant Warden

Skomer also hosts several events over the course of the year. These vary from Guided Walks, to overnight Family events (such as Shearwater Week). Long-Term Volunteers, alongside staff, assist in the running of these events.

Day Visitors arriving by boat for the first time since 2019! © Skomer VO

Forming a chain to removed luggage from the Dale Princess © Skomer Assistant Warden

Maintenance Skills

Living on an island means that if things break, the quickest way to fix it is often to fix it yourself! With the support of staff, Long-Term Volunteers assist with maintenance activities all around the island. In 2021 this included: fixing boardwalks, producing signage, repairing / rebuilding hides, painting, etc..

Long-Term Volunteers (2021), Becca and Samanta, working to repair Bull Hole Hide with our Warden, Leighton © Skomer Assistant Warden

Skomer Warden, Leighton, and Skomer VO, Beth, fixing the cleaning cupboard roof (whilst also answering phone calls!) © Skomer Assistant Warden

These are not necessarily tasks which Long-Term Volunteers are expected to have experience in beforehand – staff are around to provide support and guidance.

Long-Term Volunteers are also expected to assist in the cleaning and management of visitor accommodation and facilities.

Skomer VO, Beth, and Long-Term Volunteers (2021), Becca and Samanta, cleaning the Hostel at the start of the season © Skomer Assistant Warden

Personal Project

Whilst on Skomer, Long-Term Volunteers are given the opportunity to carry out a personal project, which aligns with their interests. Topics have varied over the years, but have included:

Home at sunset © Skomer VO
Individuals who successfully complete their project, and produce a report, will be eligible for the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer Bursary – worth £250.

Memories that will last a lifetime

We may well be biased, but Skomer is a pretty awesome place to spend 3 months. Alongside learning new skills and living on a National Nature Reserve, you’ll also get to meet, and work with, people from all walks of life.

Potluck at the Farm © Skomer Assistant Warden

Becca, one of our Long-Term Volunteers from 2021, put it perfectly in her leaving blog: “Some of my best memories from my time on Skomer have been with the people here, whether that be the movie nights we had in the library, the big potluck dinners we held at the farm or just the general fun and laughter whilst working together. I’ve enjoyed every second of working here and have them to thank for it!”

Our first group meal out of quarantine © Skomer Assistant Warden
Seabird Fieldworker, Freya, and Skomer Assistant Warden, Ceris, trying out the hammock! © Skomer VO

Previous Long-Term Volunteers

We wouldn’t want you to simply take our word for just how awesome an opportunity Long-Term Volunteering on Skomer is! We reached out to various previous Long-Term Volunteers as part of this Blog, and were absolutely delighted that several had the time to answer a couple of questions.

A huge thank you to them – for both giving their time as Long-Term Volunteers, and for still being willing to help out all these years later!


Sarah Purdon

Sarah Purdon (top of ladder) putting up House Martin boxes at the Farm © Sarah Purdon

When were you an LTV on Skomer? I was a Long-Term Volunteer on Skomer from April-August 2015 (I went out a bit early, and left late!).

What were your highlights? My highlights were the seabird counts in June, long tiring days out on the rib with the contrasts of beautifully calm seas, the cacophony of the birds on the cliffs, the serenity of being on a boat and having a laugh with the team, and the immense task of counting all of the birds before the month is out. I will also never forget the boat trips out to Grassholm and the Celtic Deep, and the “all hands on deck” days like the big island clean up, where everyone did what they could leaving you exhausted and so fulfilled at the end of the day.

What are you up to now? After (reluctantly) leaving Skomer in 2015 I visited several times in 2016, and then returned for the full seasons 2017-2019 as Assistant Warden. I’m still working for the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales now, but now as the Mid Wales Red Squirrel Officer, so not a huge amount of seabird work, but surprisingly relevant experiences!


Hannah Andrews

© Hannah Andrews

When were you an LTV on Skomer? April-July 2016, so I was around for the seabird season! It was the summer before I started uni, so I’d never lived away from home before, but everyone made it so easy. I loved it and it was a huge confidence booster when I went away to university in the autumn.

What were your highlights? Just being able to call Skomer home for a few months was a highlight in itself, but if I had to choose - catching and helping to ring Short-Eared Owl chicks, watching Common Dolphins swim underneath our little rib on one of the first boat counts of the season, and the ‘hostel takeover’ dinner that all the staff and researchers had one weekend, when the weather was too rough for the hostel guests to make it over! I remember the sunset being pretty incredible that night too.

What are you up to now? Right now I’m working at a prehistoric museum and cave site called Creswell Crags, on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border. My degrees are in Archaeology, so it’s a really cool heritage site to be working at! I’m part of the Education team, which involves a lot of teaching and leading various tours and activities. Being a Skomer LTV was instrumental in getting me here - I would never have had the confidence to stand up and lead talks, events and school trips if I hadn’t had to do so many do morning welcome talks on the island! 


Thomas Faulkner and Dulcie Fairweather

A Pigstone Bay sunset during our volunteer week in June © Thom Faulkner 

When were you an LTV on Skomer? Thomas: April -July 2017. Dulcie: April -July 2018

What were your highlights? Thomas: The warm nights with shearwaters and storm petrel calling at north haven. The real gems were glow worms on the farm track between the farm and wardens house (counted 12 one night) and the bioluminescence in the sea at north haven while paddle boarding at night. I remember a guillemot leaving blue glowing “footprints” in the sea as it ran across the waters surface to take off, and my paddle board sparking blue when sweeping my hand across it once I made it back to the beach.

Dulcie: There were so many highlights of my time on Skomer, it’s difficult to choose. I absolutely loved watching the sun rise and fall every day. I’d often be eating dinner after a long day, look out the window and see the vivid colours of a sunset start to spread over the sea… I’d just drop my fork and run out to Garland Stone (my favourite spot) to sit and watch. Another stand out highlight was seeing a snowy owl on the island - an unusual and beautiful visitor! The crows weren’t too happy about it’s presence and it only stayed for and day, which made it even more special to have seen it.

What are you up to now? We have just bought a house together near Machynlleth. Dulcie works as a woodlands and volunteer officer at the Centre for Alternative Technology and I (Thomas) am an Assistant Ecologist with an Aberystwyth consultancy firm. We still visit and help out on Skomer every year without a miss (except 2020, of course!).


Harriet Sleight

Harriet collecting soil samples near the Farm © Harriet Sleight

When were you an LTV on Skomer? July-September 2018.

What were your highlights? My main highlights were all of the cool people who I met!

I also really enjoyed the opportunity to conduct my own research project on the island, I researched the impacts of burrowing seabirds on island soil nutrient cycling.  I found that the soil nutrient concentrations on the island were almost 10 times greater than those on the Deer Park on the mainland due to marine derived nutrients being incorporated into the island soils by the seabird colonies.  These raised nutrient concentrations affected island vegetation and particularly the growth patterns of rare plants. 

Another highlight will always be being involved with monitoring the seal populations!

What are you up to now? I’m now living in York and doing a PhD researching the sources and impacts of pharmaceuticals on the environment.


Please note that the deadline for applications is 11.59pm on Sunday, 23rd January 2022. For any queries regarding Long-Term Volunteering, or for an informal chat, please feel free to contact Skomer Visitor Officer, Beth Thompson, at Skomer.VO@welshwildlife.org.

A good luck seal! © Skomer VO

We look forward to receiving your application. Pob lwc!

Beth, Skomer VO.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Autumn on Skomer 2021

The autumn is a brilliant time of year on Skomer. It has a very different feel to what most people are used to. The majority of seabirds are inconspicuous, we haven’t seen a puffin since august for example, but the wildlife is still incredible. We closed to visitors at the end of September and have spent two months with just four of us on the island. These two months are spent on a mixture of maintenance tasks, cleaning, and office work and they sure have flown by! At the end of November, we moved back over to the mainland for winter, so we thought it would be a good time to recap some of our highlights from the last couple of months.  

Leaving Skomer at the end of November © Skomer Visitor Officer

One of the highlights of autumn is the visible migration that occurs over Skomer. On a calm day in October and November, the sky can fill with birds moving westwards in what can seem like a never-ending stream. Hundreds of skylarks and chaffinches can be seen each day along with some scarcer species, it has been a good year for brambling for example. Starlings and woodpigeons can number in their thousands, with day counts of 9,661 and 2,932 respectively. Jackdaw flocks can also increase and sometimes counts can reach over 1000; often high up, they can suddenly drop out of the sky like a stone. It can pay to watch these commoner flocks of birds too, such as when we saw a glossy ibis flying east with jackdaws in October. Also in October we had a mass movement of jays, where 101 were seen over Skomer. Jays are a rare species out here, with the most recent record in 2011, they generally only occur in ‘eruption’ years where there is a scarcity of food available.

A starling murmuration over North Valley © Skomer Warden

Each year is different, the autumn can often be unsettled but we have seen our fair share of calm and relatively warm weather, where the sun glistens against the golden bracken. We have also had some stormy periods, which can be equally beautiful but also dramatic. Waves reaching 14m at times have pummeled into the south coast and rain has lashed at the windows for days. It took until these storms in late October to replenish the ponds which had been mostly dry since the summer. It was incredible how quick the ponds filled with ducks though with mallard and teal taking advantage of the new water.

Sunrise over the Neck and North Haven © Skomer Warden

There are of course, days where the weather has meant being indoors but luckily, they have been few and far between. The showery days can lead to spectacular scenes where the light cuts through the clouds and rainbows span the width of the valley.

Rainbow over North Valley © Skomer Warden

It’s fair to say the autumn is a spectacular time to be on Skomer with an ever-changing landscape and wildlife to match. We are occasionally reminded of what the summer is like, however, when the guillemots return, albeit briefly, to their breeding ledges to stake a claim before heading back out to sea. In the first week of November we also see the return of the fulmars to the cliffs and their cackling can be heard amongst a backdrop of seals hauled out on the beaches. It’s a wonderful time of the year.

Leighton, Skomer Warden

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Fascinating Seals 2021

The 2021 grey seal pupping season is nearly at an end. The beaches, once full of cute white balls and the eerie cry of seal pups, now look rather empty and forlorn.

One cute ball of fluff © Seal Project Officer

Seal Monitoring 2021

Since August I have been monitoring our Skomer pups on a daily basis to establish how many are born, and how many survive.

Without having analysed the data yet, I would say that 2021 was a good breeding season for our seals. Usually, the bulk of pups are born at the end of September/beginning of October in weeks 38 and 39. However, this year we had an exceptionally early season - between the 6th and the 12th of September alone, 48 pups were born! These earlier-born pups probably profited from the more settled weather at the beginning of September, with only a few drowning or being washed off their beaches.

Comparing seal birds in 2020 and 2021 © Seal Project Officer

Grey Seal pups take around three weeks to moult, wean, and finally leave the island. This means that pup numbers build up from week to week. So, by the middle of September, we were monitoring up to 100 pups each day! This was very demanding on island staff and the seal project workers but thanks to a fantastic team we were just about able to keep up!

Seal Assistant Freya Blockley at the Wick  © Seal Project Officer

The Highs: Pup 133

Like every year, there are lots of stories to tell. Some with happy endings and some without. Nature is beautiful and harsh at the same time, and I feel very privileged that I can see these life and death stories unfold before me. 

For example, pup 133 was born on Matthew’s Wick on the 20th of September. At first it grew nicely, but then it was seen crawling around the beach calling and searching for its Mum. It looked as if it had been abandoned.

Pup 133 on 28/09/21, growing nicely  © Seal Project Officer

At the age of 16 days it started to moult. But unlike the other moulting pups, it was very skinny.

Pup 133, 16 days old  © Seal Project Officer

I assumed that it, sadly, wouldn’t survive. But, on the 12th of October, a female turned up on the beach. She was clearly looking for a pup, as she got into fights with other females who were guarding theirs. 

A female defending her pup  © Seal Project Officer

After some disagreements the female found pup 133, who was desperate for some attention, and the cow started to suckle it. 

The nearly moulted pup is being suckled by the adoptive mum  © Seal Project Officer

The female had probably lost her own young, and pup 133 was lucky enough to get adopted by her. The two of them were seen several times more – the last time on the 24th of October. By then, the pup was a very good size, and 34 days old! Pups usually only get suckled for roughly 20 days, so it made up for the lost feeds!

A very happy and healthy looking youngster © Seal Project Officer

And Lows: Rockfall at Matthew's Wick

A different pup on Matthew’s Wick wasn’t so lucky. Just a few days ago we had quite a large land slide, and this pup got hit by the falling rocks. 

Rock fall at Matthew's Wick © Seal Project Officer

When I spotted it lying in between the debris I first thought it was dead. But then it moved! I bet it was rather sore, but seals are tough and can survive some nasty injuries so I do believe it will recover.

Injured pup at Matthew's Wick © Seal Project Officer

A series of wonderful seal photos

And then of course there were lots of other funny and beautiful encounters during the seal pupping season – I’ll let the pictures do the talking. 

Approaching docking station....© Seal Project Officer

...docking successful © Seal Project Officer

Beautiful weaner © Seal Project Officer

A just born pup with its mum © Seal Project Officer

Two fat weaners © Seal Project Officer

A very yellow new born pup - the yellow stain comes from the amniotic fluid © Seal Project Officer

Have a good winter.

Bee