Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Smalls

This week the Island Folk got a bit of a treat, we were all taken out by the nice people at Dale Sailing for a trip to The Smalls and back.  An amazing boat ride on two RIBs that gets you out on the water, close up with thousands of seabirds and lets you take a look at the island of Grassholm as well as the rocks and lighthouse beyond.

Grassholm is quite literally covered in Gannets- their white feathers and white waste products painting a big chunk of the small island white. However, when you look at the island more closely you notice that the ground is not white at all. It is mainly orange and blue. Male birds - when looking for nest materials - will collect synthetic rope, plastic, discarded fishing nets and mono-filament fishing line as they resemble seaweed. Unfortunately this type of recycling has its drawbacks: The birds get entangeled in the rubbish and, as it does not rot, they are doomed. Read more about Grassholm and how researchers are fighting to combat an issue that affects the third largest Gannet population in the Atlantic - plastic.

Gannet flying low over the water

Shags also breed on the island and look inquisitively at any visitor with their vivid green eyes.
We were lucky to have a nice calm evening with not too many big waves, and some sunshine to boot so that we got some nice views of the local wildlife.  Apart from the birds we saw several porpoise and a common dolphin or two and the rare sight of people on Grassholm.  You are not allowed to land on this RSPB owned island, but we were passing whilst some researchers were carrying out their fieldwork on the breeding Gannet population.

The highlight for me was getting close to the Manx Shearwaters in their element.  Although you can see thousands of these birds coming into land on Skomer every night for much of the season, their clumsy manoeuvres and waddling walk make them look a bit inept at times.  It is only when you see them effortlessly gliding over the waves and outpacing our powerful boats without even beating a wing that you appreciate how amazingly adapted they are to a life on the waves.

And when we finally dragged our heels back home, Skomer was surrounded by clouds of our Puffin pals. These birds are now starting to think about leaving for winter, but before they do they gather in huge numbers on the sea, on land and in the air. These gatherings fill the sky with whirling clouds of birds, a sight that reminds you how many birds call Skomer their home too!

On land the very last Puffins chicks are being fed but most Puffins have finished their breeding business by now and it is only a matter of time when we have to say "good bye" to the last one of them - till next year.

Lewis Yates
(2013 Field Assistant)



  1. Are the puffins still there?
    Their departure, although part of the cycle of nature, will feel like a great loss.

  2. The Puffins come and go. Some days they disappear only to turn up again the next morning. At the moment there are lots on the sea in front of my kitchen window. Some are still feeding chicks and are being chased by the Herring Gulls. It will be strange once they have all gone.
    Bee, Skomer Warden

    1. Thank you.
      I've become a huge puffin fan as a result of my recent trip to idea of an utopian place to be!