Thursday 21 April 2011

Jasper Holmes, part 2

Another installment of Jasper Holmes. - A relection of the end of the week.

Interesting birds this week include masses of MAnx Shearwaters at night. Grasshopper warbler, and pied flycatcher have also been spotted.


Dawn is stunning and it promises to be a warm,sunny day but what on earth am I doing up at 6.30? I have been waking ever earlier but going to bed earlier as well. I am almost going to bed and getting up with the light,all very earthy.

Today we are split into two groups.TheMaggies are down at the landing stage to manhandle the first visitors off the boat whilst Jenny and I are chough spotting.This basically means sitting on rocks is the sunshine looking out to sea and is my favourite ‘job’.

We set up at the first hotspot and getting choughing.Jenny looks for porpoise and I wonder how many rabbits there are on the island. I am getting a little fixated with the black ones.I think about smuggling a few off the island and setting up ‘Skomer Zoo’ in direct competition with Anna Ryder-Richardson’s. I would have puffin displays and shearwater enclosures and rides.Oh and a porpoise tank.The chough feeding would be out as there doesn’t seem to be any on the island.

A beautiful sea mist begins to come ashore,fingers of white caress the cliffs and rocks as we make our way to other sunbathing ,err, chough, hot spots . The mist clears as quickly as it arrives and with that at last a chough! One to report tonight after four hours out in the field.Someone has to do it I suppose.

In the afternoon we head down to the landing and the Maggies ,instead of our onerous morning duties, have to stick canes in the ground to make a grid to monitor numbers of lesser black backed gulls.It is actually quite hard work and it is hot and the gulls hate it. They have picked the long cane.

The departing visitors have had a wonderful day and are full of sunny smiles.There is something very satisfying in seeing them full of the joys of Skomer.

But the evening brings a very worrying development.A short eared owl is spotted and I literally drop everything and run to see it. My worst nightmare,I have become a Twitcher.Aaaaaaaaaaaaaagh.

The Maggies return sunburnt ,exhausted and covered in gulls droppings. But there is work not over yet. They had promised to make a pudding!!

Wednesday 6 April 2011

First Manx Shearwater Experience by Jasper Green, Volunteer.

Jasper Holmes - a volunteer on the island this week has written an entry for the blog that I would like to share with you all. It is a nice insight into someone's first experiences of the Manx Shearwaters. April is one of the noisiest months for the Manxies, which only come ashore at night to avoid predation. This time of year many birds are re-establishing burrows and bonds with partners who have been out at sea since last September.

I hope you enjoy the read as much as I did.



'What the hell is a wheatear?' I wonder at the first Bird Log debriefing. These take place in the evening at Chris the warden's house.I say house but its more a palatial mansion compared to our volunteer accomodation.

He asks us what birds we have seen during the day. Unfortunately my bird knowledge is a little lacking.'Chiff chaff? Teal? Widgeon?' 'I ,err, saw a puffin and a,,,black rabbit'

I reckoned the black rabbit might have scored me some points.The group turn to me and collectively smile. ' Hen harrier in North Valley' one eagle-eyed spotter notes and I drift,sleepy from the fresh air and warm room and wonder about the famous Manx Shearwaters and the old tale that I have heard.

'The souls of shipwrecked sailors come back home'.It is said some early visitors to Skomer were turned mad by the noises and the calls.There have been unexplained shipwrecks on calm clear nights and reports of strange fluttering night shapes in the sky.

A thick nightmist had come down as we left the warmth and made our way up the path back to our cold cells.

Then the most strange of sounds seemed to come from beneath our feet,a moaning from the grass.It was unlike any sound I have heard before.

'The souls of shipwrecked sailors come home' is what they say. And it got louder and louder, a gurgling,rasping,juddering sound.I seemed to be drawn closer and closer to the grass as it groaned in despair.

Then more and more from other parts of the cliff edge,the whole area was pulsing,throbbing.

The dead were calling siren-like,wailing. This is not the comforting groan of the puffin in its burrow, it is the call of one in despair. It changes from quiet and distant to a bold proclamation.

'Help me! Help me!' then a demand' Dig me up!' But as the sirens call you would be lured to your death.

Then your torch catches ones of the birds in its beam and they appear delicate, beautiful birds that are barely able to walk on land,fragile things,their realm is to ride the ocean winds,not to drag themselves into their nesting burrows beneath our feet that give them protection from the marauding gulls. They call to their mates and give rise to one of the most extraordinary nature phenomenon on the planet.

Mind you it doesn't make the showers any hotter.




1) The mansion is also a library, office and research quarters with built in lab, kitchen and researchers!

2) The volunteers have now been cleaned with hot water (can't ALWAYS have hot water on an island, they might go soft on us!!)

3) There are lots of black rabbits this year.