Wednesday, 18 April 2012

What it is like to volunteer on Skomer by Sandra Young

Guest blogger and volunteer Sandra Young reflects on her weeks' volunteering on Skomer

Allen making some repairs to Bull Hole Research Hide
Anyone can do it. What does it entail​​​? We arrived last Saturday and was our best weather day even though it was rainy and cold. It is now Wednesday and so long as you keep adding layers of clothing it's OK. But it does mean that you walk around like a robot inhibited by layers. The invigorating wind has meant less sighting of birds but we have seen some birds that you rarely see on the mainland for example the short-eared owl and the water rail. It's nesting time and there are lots of birds displaying or have mouths full of nesting material. Some have already had chicks. Raven chicks perched on a large rock were being fed constantly by parent for almost an hour. Each time the parent approached the nest 3 heads would appear squawking in anticipation. The puffins pad and scurry along the ground, bob out of their burrows, decide that it is far too cold and go back under ground for comfort. Tube nosed fulmars line the cliffs near the top. A few guillemots further down and at the bottom the kittiwakes quark their high pitched gaggle. All over the island rabbits abound sometimes being chased by gulls – the most prolific species on the island. However, it is the Manx Shearwaters that steel the show for me. More than 120,000 pairs come to the island each year and their presence is profound. Only visible at night these creatures are soft, warm when held and clumsy on land but their noise is eerily comforting as you realise that you are indeed in the minority. It's a humbling and privilege to realise the trust they expend the guardians of their summer home. There was little visible moonlight but the stars, especially Venus guided us up the hill whereupon we advised some visitors to keep their torch lights off or low so as not to disturb the Manxies.

Geoff sharing his pictures.
Day time starts with observations at the hides. Even though you may see the same birds day after day there is always something to attract attention. Our jobs are varied from cleaning guest accommodation to repairing rabbit enclosures, fencing and beach cleaning. Working as a team is the key ingredient despite age difference, experiences, abilities or sex. Six of us share a kitchen but sleep two per room. The kitchen routine can be the most challenging but at the same time the most entertaining as each person brings his or her life's experience or lack of to the fore. As this is the warmest room in the complex, unless of course you go to bed, everyone congregates in this small space. This year's mixed bag of people has provided laughter, information exchanging and so on. Bird song and information extricated from an ipod was the most sought after device. A whole array of wild life stuff could be accessed at the press of a button. Another get-together included dining with the full-time Island staff. A four course meal starting with vegetable curry with potatoes and rice followed by pizza and then melon with fruit and last of all bread and butter pudding just before bird log.

Tea is always essential to happy volunteering
Bird Log regularly occurs around 8.30 when Day visitors, volunteers and Island staff relate birds and wildlife they have seen and observed that day. This means that you meet other people with different skills and life's experiences. Everyone's contribution is valued no matter how unrealistic or realistic the sighting. It always surprises me how I can be in the same place and the same time as some people and not see the same bird but very often it is because experienced birders know what and where to expect to see a specific bird. They are also, understandably, better at identifying them. What is most relevant is the care and the consideration afforded to the birds. Feet are carefully placed when walking off the beaten track in order to avoid trampling over someone's home. Even though Manx Shearwater carcases litter the island the loss is compensated by their sheer numbers. Greater Blacked-backed are the chief predators but the male Peregrine Falcon will take the weakest puffin.

What a perfect place to be! 

Back of the volunteer accommodation.
Volunteering always brings together a mixture of people


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