Thursday, 7 March 2019

every day is a lesson

It's been over a week now that we have been back to the island. Strong wind doesn't seem to want to drop but that doesn't stop us from carrying out tasks outside.
The theme for the past week has mostly been electricity and problems associated with it. First it was the internet that didn't work, still is in places, then no power at all, which in the end was quite an easy fix and today we couldn't work out why the well pump wasn't pumping any water to our garden tanks. There was no power going into the pumpshed whatsoever and there was no obvious explanation why. We spent a good hour going up and down, clicking, checking the fuses, switching things on and off and basically mostly just fiddling around. We remembered having the same problem in November last year and that it wasn't working and then suddenly it was. There was still no apparent explanation as to why it didn't work in the first place but we were happy to find the pump working again and left the island thinking that all was well. Our theory was that the water in the well tank was below a certain level for the pump to be able to pump into the hill tank and continued to blindly and naively live in that theory of ours until today.
Sarah-K remembered seeing lights flashing and switches moving inside the big grey box of commands whenever the pump master switches are moved into manual, off or auto mode. She discovered that our ''there is no way I am going to pump water without electricity'' pump main switch sometimes doesn't click the way it's supposed to. It is supposed to make a sound when moved to one of the three sides and you know when it does! So to conclude, we now know that there was never a problem with the water level in what we way too easily believed. It has hopefully been a case of that specific pump switch being either incorrectly used or potentially the big grey box of command may need looking into. Fingers crossed it's the first one! The end :)


Sylwia (Skomer Warden)


ALSO

THANK YOU ALL for your amazing contributions for the new Skomer vehicle! We have had many amazing donations so far and thank you to the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer for taking the lead and organising the fund raising!

Keep the donations and comments going, we love to read them! We agree, no one should need to carry their own luggage all the way up to the Farm! ;-)

here is the link if you want to donate:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/friends-of-skokholm-and-skomer

Your Skomer team :)


we probably would have spent a few days carrying all our food and stuff up the stairs on our arrival day last September,      10 points for tractor : 0 for us :)

Guillemots and Razorbills are back by the way. We have also seen 12 Puffins out in the sea.

A raft of Razorbills and a probable odd Guillemot
Love the sounds they make
Coordinated spring dance;-)


Friday, 1 March 2019

We are back on Skomer!

WOW, time does fly!

We are back on Skomer again! Let the 2019 season beginnnnn yessss!

Our arrival to the island went very smoothly and we were even very fortunate with the lovely weather - the hottest day in winter in Britain ever recorded apparently!
So very lucky! Oh but that night, equally glorious, sky sooo full of stars, it was absolutely stunning! Just wanted to dive in and be one of those stars it was that beautiful!

Things have been pretty great since the arrival day (27th of Feb), we found things quite the way we left them in November last year, except from maybe mould, some rocks fallen on the track up from the boat shed and lots of soil flung onto the paths by rabbits digging new burrows.
There are plenty of fulmars on the cliffs, a few Manx shearwaters are back already, way over a hundred oystercatchers, some migrants flying through such as blue tits, chiffchaffs, woodcock, snipes, sand martins, song thrushes, blackbirds, goldcrest, lots of starlings.
We have even heard from Richard (Skokholm) that they have seen the very first puffin of the year in Broad Sound, which is fantastic!! It counts as theirs this time haha but we were the ones who got to the island first ha;-);-) (hugs and kisses Rich and Gi)

We are very excited to be back and are absolutely convinced that it is going to be a brilliant year, because why not?!

We are planning to work very hard to ensure that everything is just the way it should, including providing visitors with great experience, carrying out good quality species monitoring, working well with volunteers and researchers, organising awesome events and the all rest! But we are also planning to have a lot of fun, which is extremely important! What would life be without fun?!
We are hoping to make friends here, get to know people visiting, spread the love for wildlife, to encourage others to make some lifestyle changes, which will benefit the environment and most of all to really continue the great work that is being done here.
There are some exciting projects that will be carried out here this year, of which many are a continuation of what has been done here over the years, which is great! Continuous, standardised data collection is crucial when it comes to long-term monitoring/research.
There are soooo many things happening this year that I don't even know where to start!
However, this is something that you will have to find out by reading our blog, twitter, facebook and by visiting obviously and most importantly!
We would miss out all the fun by telling you all about it now;-)

To the fantastic 2019 season on Skomer then! Cheers!

Here are some pictures from the last 3 days


haha no comments needed here :)
Martins Haven beach
Leaving the mainland

Wilkie posed well when driving:)
I'm not so bad myself, what a thinker! Steve was enjoying himself too, clearly;-)
Sarah and Sarah did a fantastic job carrying our stuff up to be then loaded onto a tractor! 
Very happy helpers, thank you Anna, Steve and Mick!! You're awesome!
Steve was happy to find that the water tanks hold water, this much is currently in:)
Tractor started first try! yeyyy (doesn't usually happen) driving down to load it up with our stuff
Oh what a glorious day it was!
Tea time in between the tractor runs!

Fulmars
Nathan got me when I was very focused on eating

APPEAL

We also would like to add that Friends of Skokholm and Skomer is raising funds for the new Skomer vehicle and we are very grateful for this amazing action!
As probably most of you know Skomer island has been functioning very well (day visits, overnight guests, maintenance, boat launching and more) with a continuous usage of our island tractor. Our 17 - year old tractor has proved itself extremely useful over the years but it has also proved to be very maintenance costly and is starting to fail.
It is therefore vital that the vehicle supports our work as best as possible in order for us to be able to continue to run Skomer nature reserve and for it to remain functional.

If you want to help you can donate via the just giving page
https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/friends-of-skokholm-and-skomer

Many thanks!

a lot of luggage and no space in the tractor

overnight guests' luggage

tractor chair:)

 


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...





Bee
(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.

 

NEW GARAGE

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


WATER TANKS CONSTRUCTION

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!

OUR  VOLUNTEERS

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

BIRTHDAYS

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.



AUTUMN MIGRANTS

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

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST

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.