Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Spring arrivals on Skomer

Many thanks to guest blogger Sash Tusa who, with great verbosity, reports:
A huge thanks to Eddie, Bee and Nia for their great hospitality on Skomer over the last two days.
We took the opportunity of the wonderful settled weather (and seas) to run a couple of errands out to Skomer and Skokholm (where a huge party of volunteers are working all hours to build and repair the jetty and buildings for the coming season). Like so many visitors to Pembrokeshire we have visited Skomer often on day trips, but have never got our act(s) together for an overnight stay; we decided to set this right.

Spring feels a bit of an on and off affair on the mainland at present (we had the best part of an inch of snow near Rhayader on Friday night, and hail in Milford Haven this afternoon!), but the weather on the Islands really IS sunnier! And the sea birds are coming back already: big rafts of Razorbills near the islands, and smaller groups out to sea, and a raft of 200+ Puffins just outside North Haven last night a real sign of things to come. And, this morning, we saw the first Puffin of the season on the Neck, just across from the landing stage, inspecting potential burrow sites. He didn't stay long, before flying back to sea, but numbers should build up daily from here. And three Manx Shearwaters heard last night shows that they are starting to return, too.
Just one of the hundreds of Puffins that are starting to gather around the island
On the Island itself there were good numbers of Razorbills, Guillemots and Kittiwakes on the cliffs this morning, but last night there were none: just pairs of Fulmars; a real reminder that, until egg-laying in a few weeks, the birds will commute on- and off-shore every few days or so. Lots of seals in North Haven, singing mournfully as they basked on the rocks.

Ashore, the Island still looks a bit winterous (lots of dead bracken etc; a single Chiffchaff the only migrant) but, underfoot, you can already see the Scarlet Campion and Bluebells starting to sprout: roll on May! Yesterday evening Moorey Mere was alive with mating Frogs and Toads: the frogs' singing (if that is what you call it) was audible from the path 25+ yards away. And the streams are all still very full after the winter rain: this morning we saw two Water Rails in South Stream. 

Crossing some (relatively) lively water around the Mew Stone

The team looking slightly more relaxed

Sash and Lucy showing how it should be done

We spent much of this morning on a voyage around the Island, so that Eddie, Bee and Nia could get used to the Skomer inflatable boat, learn some of the tricks and challenges of the sea, and spy out seabird colonies that cannot be seen easily from the land, but will need counting in May when the Whole Island Count takes place. This is also a good way to look for the Peregrines: there is clearly already a pair on the North coast near the Garland Stone. Conditions were pretty good (especially for March!), but you can get an idea of the BIG swell that we encountered as we went around the Mew Stone! By contrast both Little Sound (between Skomer and Midland Island) and Jack Sound (between Midland and the Deer Park) were flat calm: we got fantastic close views of Porpoises, and Gannets diving around them.
A beautiful day around the islands, this Razorbill was in the same waters as several diving Gannets and hunting Porpoises

Shags on Midland Isle

It is a big job opening up an Island for a season of visitors: if you have read some of the earlier posts on this Blog you will have an inkling of the work just to bring luggage, food and equipment ashore. But this gives little idea of the cleaning, sorting and maintenance work that has gone on in the last two weeks, and the behind the scenes work that takes place before the Dale Princess arrives first thing in the morning, and after the last boat leaves in the evening.

Good luck for the Season, see you all again soon!

Sash & Lucy Tusa

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