Friday 26 October 2012

Picture highlights from the last few days - Mainly birds!

Fieldfare in good numbers today (and Ring Ouzel over the past few days) 26th. Plus constant stream of chaffinch and Redwings - Chris Taylor
Fieldfare in flight - 26th - Chris Taylot
Grey Wagtails have been frequenting Moorey Mere 25th/26th - Chris Taylor
Good numbers of Stonechat 26th Chris Taylor
Black Redstart - 24th. Dave Boyle plus that day 1300 Redwings, 50 Song Thrushes, 240 Blackbirds & 24 Fieldfares. Loads of Chaffinches too but loads missed as well, saw about 750 but only 1 Brambling.

Siberian Chiffchaff - 23rd Dave Boyle

Tree Pipit - 23rd Dave Boyle

Flurry of Yellow-browed Warblers (23rd - Dave Boyle)

Yellow-browed Warbler 24th - Dave Boyle

Chiffchaff - Chris Taylor

Ohh and some of these non-avian cuties - 24th Chris Taylor

Saturday 20 October 2012

Seabird monitoring results used in journal

A recent paper published by Plymouth University demonstrates the complexity between the interactions between different trophic levels in the marine environment - Using long term sea bird monitoring collected on Skomer. The paper is an interesting read to learn a little about plankton/fosh interactions (link at bottom) - but one that takes a while to digest.

Lauria V, Attrill MJ, Pinnegar JK, Brown A, Edwards M, et al. (2012) Influence of Climate Change and Trophic Coupling across Four Trophic Levels in the Celtic Sea. PLoS ONE 7(10): e47408. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047408

Climate change has had profound effects upon marine ecosystems, impacting across all trophic levels from plankton to apex predators. Determining the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems requires understanding the direct effects on all trophic levels as well as indirect effects mediated by trophic coupling. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of climate change on the pelagic food web in the Celtic Sea, a productive shelf region in the Northeast Atlantic. Using long-term data, we examined possible direct and indirect ‘bottom-up’ climate effects across four trophic levels: phytoplankton, zooplankton, mid-trophic level fish and seabirds. During the period 1986–2007, although there was no temporal trend in the North Atlantic Oscillation index (NAO), the decadal mean Sea Surface Temperature (SST) in the Celtic Sea increased by 0.66±0.02°C. Despite this, there was only a weak signal of climate change in the Celtic Sea food web. Changes in plankton community structure were found, however this was not related to SST or NAO. A negative relationship occurred between herring abundance (0- and 1-group) and spring SST (0-group: p = 0.02, slope = −0.305±0.125; 1-group: p = 0.04, slope = −0.410±0.193). Seabird demographics showed complex species–specific responses. There was evidence of direct effects of spring NAO (on black-legged kittiwake population growth rate: p = 0.03, slope = 0.0314±0.014) as well as indirect bottom-up effects of lagged spring SST (on razorbill breeding success: p = 0.01, slope = −0.144±0.05). Negative relationships between breeding success and population growth rate of razorbills and common guillemots may be explained by interactions between mid-trophic level fish. Our findings show that the impacts of climate change on the Celtic Sea ecosystem is not as marked as in nearby regions (e.g. the North Sea), emphasizing the need for more research at regional scales.


Tuesday 16 October 2012

The Palmate Newt

May I introduce you to my neighbour, the Palmate Newt Lissotriton helveticus. I found this little fella under a refugia behind the farm buildings. This is the only species of newt living on Skomer.

Palmate Newt, from the front. S.Harris.

Elsewhere, the Palmate Newt is found across Western Europe, with the exception of Ireland. Sadly it is rare and endangered in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg and vulnerable in Spain and Poland. Here in the UK they are widespread and common, but thought to be in decline due to habitat loss.
Palmate Newts are fairly common in Scotland, Wales and southern England, but absent from much of central England. They can be found in the Heathlands of the southwest and Moorlands and Bogs of the north. 

Palmate Newt from above. S.Harris.

This Palmate Newt was just 6cm in length but adult males can reach 8.5cm and adult females up to 10cm. The Palmate Newt is similar to the Smooth Newt, but the Smooth Newt has spotting on its throat and does not occur on Skomer! During the breeding season more differences between the two become apparent in the tail and feet.

Green Pond, Palmate Newt habitat. S.Harris.

The breeding season runs from February to May. The Palmate Newts favourite place to be is in shallow ponds on acid-rich soil but can also be found in lakes, marshes, wooded areas and farmland. Palmate Newts lay their eggs on plant leaves in ponds, the egg will then hatch two to three weeks later and then the larvae, known as an eft, metamorphose between six and nine weeks after this. The eft has external gills and grows its front legs first, unlike tadpoles. Once they have metamorphosed they leave the ponds and become terrestrial. They reach sexual maturity at two years.
Palmate Newt from the side. S.Harris.

The adult newts also become terrestrial outside of the breeding season and during this time both adults and juveniles are most active on rainy or humid nights. They hibernate under logs or stones from November to March. Palmate Newts can live for an impressive ten years.
"You can't see me!" S.Harris.

So, this little newt looks cute but feeds on invertebrates, small crustaceans, and planktonic animals including daphnia and even tadpoles! Not only this, they also have cannibalistic tendencies - not so cute after all! But what a little stunner, it is great to know they are living just out the back of the farm buildings.

Sarah Harris.
Assistant Warden.

References include;

Thursday 11 October 2012

September birding highlights.

Wryneck. D.Boyle

This month began with records of single Yellow Wagtails passing through on four different days. The now ‘local’ Marsh Harrier was seen on the 1st and 4th and the first records of Hen Harrier this autumn began with singles on the 4th and 5th. The 4th also produced an elusive Common Redstart at North Valley Crossing as well as a Barn Owl in the same location. Towards the end of the month a fresh pellet and a feather from a Barn Owl was found at Moorey Mere, perhaps indicating a longer stay.  

Lone Little Grebes were recorded on the 6th and 27th on North Pond and migrating Reed Warblers were seen on the 7th (1), 8th (2) and 13th (1). A Ringed Plover was noted on the 8th, followed by a flock of six on the 13th. 

Greenish Warbler. D.Boyle
Greenish Warbler. D.Boyle
The bird of the month, no doubt, was the GREENISH WARBLER found by Dave Boyle at North Valley Crossing on the 8th. With a little patience the bird provided good views (and an exciting bird to twitch!) and on the 12th presumably the same individual was seen again at North Valley Crossing, providing even better views than first time round. That wasn’t all to arrive on the 8th, Richard Kipling found a Wryneck that same morning at the farm, frequenting a favoured spot for this species on Skomer, behind the Assistant Wardens building! Two great birds in the same day was enough to make any local birder dizzy! Little did we know, the Wryneck would stay until the months end! 
Wryneck. D.Boyle

An Arctic Skua was seen passing North Haven on the 11th much to the delight of Monte Neate-Clegg, a Manx Shearwater researcher, who was expanding his ‘lifer’ list nicely throughout his time on the island. A Lapwing decided to take shelter and rest in the fields east of the farm on the 12th and two Dunlin flew over on the 13th. Also on the 13th a Tree Pipit and a Lapland Bunting made a fleeting visit to the island. Back to the waders, up to two Common Sandpipers were noted during the first half of the month and Common Snipe were recorded in ones and twos throughout. 

Lapland Bunting (really, it is!) D.Boyle
During a seawatch on the 14th two Sandwich Terns ploughed past in the testing winds and on the 16th a flock of 11 Whimbrel on Rye Rocks provided the highest count for this species this month. A Greenfinch was recorded on the 19th.Why is that exciting? well, it was the first of the autumn. Continuing with the finch theme, a Redpoll was also seen the same day.  

Canada Geese numbers have risen hugely in the last few weeks with flocks flying to Skomer in the mornings then returning to the mainland in the evenings. This is a noisy event it has to be said, but provides some stunning scenery as they fly, in mass, to and from the island. This month’s peak count reached 340 on the 20th. Amongst the group is a hybrid goose, thought to be a Canada Goose x Greylag type, so if you are visiting the island, see if you can spot it! A far smaller find was a Firecrest in North Valley on the 21st, followed by another sighting on the 29th at North Haven.

Canada Geese over North Haven. S.Harris

The 22nd saw large movements of hirundines consisting of 1500 Swallows, five Sand Martins and 50 House Martins. The first Merlin sighting of the autumn was on the 22nd; when this winter visitor arrives you know it’s time to dig out the hot water bottles! Robins do not breed on Skomer but are seen on the island in spring and autumn, this month numbers reached 35 on the 22nd. It is nice to hear singing Robins on Skomer again after an absence all summer. Also on the 22nd a Grasshopper Warbler was flushed from the undergrowth on The Neck during a seal survey.

Teal numbers have increased recently and North Pond is sometimes alive with ducks, in between the masses of Canada Geese! The peak count for Teal this month was 21 on the 26th. On the 27th a Pale-bellied Brent Goose was seen flying over the island and eight Water Rails recorded on the island, this was the month’s peak count of this species. Another peak count gained on the 27th was 25 Goldcrests heard in almost every bush at this time of year. Single, fly over, Golden Plover records were obtained on the 28th and 29th and were the first records of this species this autumn. A peak count of 11 Turnstone was made on the 29th, this species can often be seen feeding on the beaches amongst the Grey Seals and their pups in North Haven at this time of the year. Another peak species count for September was 16 Chough on the also on the 29th. 
Canada Geese. S.Harris

With all the excitement building around the return of winter thrushes, Skomer has had single records of Song Thrush on three days at the end of September…things can only get better! Think I will just have to stand outside at night and see if I can hear any fly over Redwings, the Manx Shearwaters certainly aren’t filling the nights with noise anymore.  

Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs have not exceeded 10 individuals in any one day this month, passing through slowly and in low numbers and lone Pied Flycatchers were recorded on five days through the month. Finally, Siskins have been noted in ones and twos on four days towards the end of September. 
Star bird; Greenish Warbler. D.Boyle

Let’s hope October brings us some more rarities and maybe just higher numbers of the common migrant species to get us thinking about what goodies might have brought with them. I have to say though, I am very happy to have seen the Greenish Warbler! 

Sarah Harris
Assistant Warden

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Skomer 10 October 2012 - Treecreeper

Treecreeper (first one in about 4 or 5 years) this morning spotted by James Roden and Sarah Harris.
Plus first Redwing yesterday and 2 Firecrests down North Valley (Dave Boyle)

 Chiffchaff (Chris Taylor)
Wheatear (Chris Taylor)

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Guillemot population - Skomer 2012

Guillemot population this year reached the dizzy heights of 22508 indivduals! The population must be reproducing enough young or recruiting birds from other colonies to match this expansion. Either way it is a sign that Guillemots want to be on Skomer. The study plots* have not quite showed the same level of expansion over the past few years which could suggest that these study plots are "full" or the whole island counts are becoming less accurate as the numbers of birds increase (e.g. having to count groups of 10 or 50 rather than individuals). Once again it shows that the population is definitely not in decline.
Guillemot population on Skomer 1963-2012 (Source Skomer Seabird Report 2012, unplub.)

Trend in UK abundance index (solid line) of common guillemot 1986-2011 with 95% confidence limits (dotted lines).Based on SMP data (Source JNCC: Guillemot Status and Trends: Accessed here

A typical Guillemot Colony on Skomer - The Wick

Productivity was 0.63 (1989 - 2012 Mean = 0.69), higher than last year but showing a downward trend. This lower productivity could be due to the fact that there are more guillemots in the study plots, some of which will be non-breeders but might be registering as "breeders" in our data. Work by other universities on the islands suggests that productivity is constant. If we are having a lower productivity this is demonstrating a "density-dependance" on Skomer whereby we might be reaching our natural peak of guillemot population - after several years of lower productivity there may well be a reduction of the population.
Guillemot productivity on Skomer 1963-2012 (Source Skomer Seabird Report 2012, unplub.)

Chris Taylor
Skomer Warden

* (study plots are smaller areas counted up to 10 times where as the whole island counts we aim to count each section of cliff two or three times only)

Monday 8 October 2012

Skomer Gets Seal of Approval by John Griffith (AM)

Minister for the Environment, John Griffiths, visited Skomer Island on Thursday 4th October to see why so many people visit this wildlife haven. Greeted by passing harbour porpoise and the newly born seal pups common at this time of year on the beaches around the island, the Minister has learnt about the important scientific research carried out by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales on the island.

Along with its sister island Skokholm, Skomer is an important location for seals and several species of seabirds, for example the islands are home to 50% of the global population of Manx shearwaters.  The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales undertake essential research into both seals and seabirds to protect these important species for future generations.

Skomer is also a major contributor to the tourist industry in Wales with 15,000 tourists visiting the island each year.

John Griffiths, Environment Minister, said: “I was pleased to be able to visit the island, especially as bad weather prevented me from doing so earlier this year. I wanted to see to see first-hand how the nature reserve is successfully managed. The Welsh Government is committed to supporting sustainable tourism and places like Skomer play an important role in the local economy.”

Chris Taylor, Skomer Warden, said: “The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales has managed Skomer for over 50 years. In this time we have developed close relationships with partners and universities from around the UK to deliver ground-breaking research on the island. Over the years, this has made a major contribution to our understanding of seabird migration patterns around the world.”

The Island is owned by the Countryside Council for Wales and managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.


Sunday 7 October 2012

Poetry - Paul Hawkes

A Poem to remind you of the seabirds......

Skomer by Paul Hawkes

sunlight shimmerings on water
bright white
limpid liquid reflections
refracting shapes
through a distorted prism
sea is an island
on the horizon
strip of land surrounding
and as perspective widens
drawing closer
island long and flat
widens again
a beautiful illusion
for there is no land
only water and light
playing randomly
but there is an island
more beautiful than the illusion
boat approaches
floating back four thousand years
golden bronze age days
teeming torrent of birds
puffins performing
puffing up cheekily close
doing their little stints
high-flying magic merlins
ravening well choughed
oystercatchers shrieking madly
swarming over the manic sheer waters
fulsome fulmars razorbilling in
the guillemot gullies of their skitty wakes
flooding the sky
the vibrancy of life
before civilisation -
Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western civilisation?
I think it would be a very good idea -
destroyed it

Saturday 6 October 2012

Skomer - 06/10/2012

Today saw a flurry of interest including Wryneck, Barred Warbler (Dave B), Ring Ouzel (Dave B) and Lapland Bunting (Dave B).

 Wryneck having a scratch (Photo by C Taylor)
 Wryneck not scratching (Chris)
 Distant Barred Warbler (Photo by  Chris T) They usually nest E Europe and winter in Arabia/E Africa - So this young one got it all a bit wrong.
Just a Dunnock - but still an interesting bird (Chris)

Other stuff:
A Red Kite came over for a couple of hours before heading back to the mainland, 
It was the first day of the autumn with a few thrushes - 8 Blackbirds & 8 Song Thrushes, and a few finches were going over as well - about 60 Chaffinches, 5 Siskins, 65 Goldfinches 1 Redpoll & 1 Greenfinch.
In the valleys there was 17 Goldcrests, 4 Chiffchaffs, 2 Blackcaps & a Willow Warbler
(Dave B from pembs bird blog- ta)

Friday 5 October 2012

Lesser Black-backed Gull Census 2012

Thanks to a hard working group of volunteers the Lesser Black Backed Gulls are surveyed each year. The results show that there are only 8643 Apparently Occupied Nests (AONs) this season (2012) - Which has followed a decline since the 1990s (20200 AONs). This may reflect a reduction in food source available from mainland sources (rubbish tips are now under stricter regulations to cover up exposed rubbish - a food source for Gulls and some rubbish tips have also employed scaring tactics to reduce "pests"). There has also been a reduction in the availability of fishing discards.
LBBG numbers on Skomer 1960-2012 (Source: Skomer Seabird Report)

Comparing this with the national trends we see that this is not a localised trend: The current UK estimate for Lesser Black-backed Gulls is 112,000 AONs It could be a case that the UK population is returning to more "normal" levels after an artificially high food availability (rubbish/fishery discards)

 Trend in UK abundance index (solid line) of lesser black-backed gull 1986-2011 with 95% confidence limits (dotted lines). Based on SMP data;
Source: JNCC "Latest Population trends"

Skomer has seen adult survival (number of adults returning year after year) reduce between 1993 and 2002 matching a decline in population - suggesting that the energy cost of reproduction is causing adults to not return to the colony. Skomer is the only location in the UK where adult survival rates are monitored so to what extent the changes in adult survival have effected the UK population as a whole is unknown. 
 Adult Survival of LBBGs on Skomer (Source: Skomer Seabird Report)

Lesser Black-backed Gulls are an interesting species and one which Skomer Island is providing a safe breeding habitat.

Thanks for all the volunteers (over all the years) who help with the Gull counts - without whom the task would be impossible. 

Chris Taylor
Skomer Warden.