Saturday, 27 June 2009

Under the Sea

We said goodbye to our friendly, hard-working group of volunteers and welcomed a new set who'll be with us for the next week. I went down to cover the morning at the Wick, which is something I very rarely get to do. It was really pleasant; not too many people about, not a massive number of puffins but those that were there were very relaxed about our presence as they loafed on the grass or ran across the path with beaks full of sand eels.

The highlight of my day was getting in the sea with full dive kit, rather than just splashing around on the surface as I've been doing the previous days. I just swam out into North Haven with the intention of watching puffins underwater. And wow, did I succeed! They're equally, if not more, curious about people in the water as on land, with the added confidence that they're really in their natural habitat. If you drift or swim out slowly toward them they'll come fairly close to investigate. Drop a little underwater and they'll come to see what's up with all these bubbles, poking their heads under the surface to check beneath them. If this isn't enough the bravest ones will swim down and check you out.

Underwater you can really appreciate why they're built like they are. They use their short wings and powerful, compact bodies to fly through the water like little penguins. They are as agile underwater, with all their quick, darting turns, as they are awkward in the air and clumsy-looking when they land. Swimming with them is definitely an experience I'd recommend to anyone. Though I'd also recommend wearing a thick wetsuit to do it, as I've spent the afternoon wearing a fleece and woolly hat to warm back up.

Puffins weren't the only marine life about today, there's a few jellyfish; Moon (pictured), Lion's Mane (only small ones, not capable of a painful sting), Compass and the blue Cynea lamarkii. I love watching jellyfish moving around underwater, they're so different to almost any other wildlife. I think it's the closest I'll ever get to seeing aliens. There were a few small nudibranchs feeding on the macro-life on the seaweed. As with the jellyfish these are spectacular creatures, so unlike anything one normally sees.

Polycera quadrilineata, I think, though would welcome corrections.

Terrestrially it really feels like summer as today there's been Meadow Brown butterflies mating and an Emperor Dragonfly. Hope everyone else has been enjoying the sun as much as we have out here.

Jerry Gillham
Skomer / Skokholm Assistant Warden.

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