Thursday 26 September 2013

Ban the shooting of Greenland White-fronted Goose

One of our volunteers Aaron Davis has just started a petition trying to get the welsh assembly government to ban the shooting of Greenland white-fronted goose. Here is the link if you wish to sign and share:


Monday 23 September 2013

September delights

Many people say that Skomer is only famous for its Puffins, Bluebells and Rabbits, but we are about to prove that, although these make Skomer a unique and important place, the island has much much more to offer than just these three things.

It is September and the cold winds of autumn are blowing, colours are changing and wildlife abounds. The shear numbers of fledging shearwaters is attracting huge numbers of Ravens. When they are not feasting on the abundant carcases of dead shearwaters they play on the wind in noisy, playful groups. The acrobatics they perform are an instruction on avian capabilities and they are impressive by their shear number alone. For students of ethology (animal behaviour) this is a must see. There have been up to and perhaps over 100 on the island over the last few weeks and they are still very much in evidence.


Ravens 'playing' at the Wick

Dolphins and Porpoises are another highlight of late summer and autumn on Skomer. Porpoises can be seen most days by looking out to sea with a pair of binoculars and Common Dolphins can make a day unforgettable. On the 11th of September a boat load of visitors to Skomer were treated to the sight of up to 100 Common Dolphins as they made the crossing to the island. Some were bow riding next to the Dale Princess within a few metres of the observers.

Common Dolphins seen by passengers on the Dale Princess on their way out to Skomer on the 11th of September

The peak of the Grey Seal pupping season is in September and visitors to Skomer can see adult seals as well as their pups. Keep an eye out at the beach at Martin's Haven at the departure point on the mainland and again in North Haven as you reach the island. Please do not approach the seals too closely or indeed cause any disturbance to their otherwise peaceful lives.

Puppy friends
A weaned seal pup stretching its achy muscles

Autumn is also the time for southward bird migration. Swallows can be seen passing over the island as they head towards South Africa. Other small migrants can be found in the bushes and open ground on Skomer and islands are a particularly good place to pick up those rarities so sought after in spring and autumn. A stop in the hide at Moorey Mere could put you inches away from a migrant Goldcrest or Willow Warbler and provides great photographic opportunities.

Willow Warbler

The landscape is unsurpassed and almost breath-taking at times providing great views of the surrounding islands, an amazing overview of the mainland and a light that, in my opinion, can only be found on an island.

Todays highlights:
A big movement of Swallows was the obvious highlight with an estimated 4,000 passing throughout the day.
1 Water Rail
3 Purple Sandpipers
6 Curlews
2 Short-eared Owls
1 Skylark
1 Sand Martin
12 House Martins
130 Meadow Pipits
4 Grey Wagtails
37 Robins
1 Stonechat
1 Wheatear
1 Sedge Warbler
1 Blackcap
5 Chiffchaffs
3 Willow Warblers
4 Goldcrests
1 Spotted Flycatcher
Several Choughs
70+ Ravens
1 Chaffinch
1 Goldfinch
80 Linnets
1 Lapland Bunting
2 Reed Bunting

Insects seen today inc.:
Several Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and whites, many Small Coppers, a couple of Silver Y moths, a Speckled Wood (the second this year, these being the first since 2010), 50 7 Spot Ladybirds and a dragonfly sp..

The gateway to the island Lockley Lodge is now shut until next spring but boats will run, weather dependant, until late October. Accordingly, landing tickets are now available on the island itself rather than from Lockley Lodge. In a normal week (if there is such a thing) boats run from Martin's Haven at 10:00, 11:00 and 12:00 from Tuesday to Sunday. For the latest information see our twitter account. Overnight accommodation is also available in our hostel right up until the end of October. See the website.

Eddie Stubbings, Skomer Warden

Monday 16 September 2013

Seal Pup Rehabilitated at the Welsh Mountain Zoo Spotted on Skomer Island Eleven Years Later

The Welsh Mountain Zoo announced:

A male grey seal pup rescued and cared for by Keepers at the Seal Rescue Centre at the Welsh Mountain Zoo – National Zoo of Wales has been spotted over 125 miles away on Skomer Island, eleven years after its release.

Born in November 2001, the rescued seal spent over three months in rehabilitation after arriving at the Zoo in January 2002 as a result of becoming separated from its mother along the Colwyn Bay shoreline.      

Keepers built up his strength on a diet of liquidised fish for the first month of his stay and then taught him how to eat whole fish in preparation for his release.

On 4th April 2002, weighing roughly 40 kilos, the seal was released back into the wild from the beach in Penrhyn Bay.

Now a fully grown bull, weighing an estimated 250 kilos, the seal was recently spotted amongst a colony of seals on Skomer by Dave Boyle, a wildlife researcher on the Island.

BK-080 in North Haven (D. Boyle)  

Dave said,

“I’ve been researching grey seals on Skomer on and off since 2001. The research undertaken shows that generally the seals sighted on Skomer often come over from Cornwall. When I photographed the bull I noticed an orange tag on its flipper and after conducting a further investigation, this led me to the Welsh Mountain Zoo. They verified his identification and I’ve since been able to confirm that he’s the first North Wales seal known to have been seen on Skomer!”

Michelle Pywell, Head Keeper at the Welsh Mountain Zoo said,

“This is fantastic news! It gives us a great sense of achievement to know that our hard work pays off and also shows just how important the work we do is in assisting in the conservation of our native seals. ”

Wednesday 11 September 2013

The shear number...

...of young shearwaters which are crawling around Skomer these nights is absolutely mindboggling. Wherever you go you have shearwater chicks flapping and hopping about, trying to find a vantage point on which they can practise their wings. It is magnificent how one can get close to these wild birds and they don't seem to mind nor notice. 
Young Manx Shearwaters everywhere
Shearwater exercising its wings

Unfortunately lots of these young and inexperienced birds which have hatched and are now fledging on Skomer don't even make it as far as the sea. Some fall into muddy puddles and get stuck there, others develop Puffinosis - a mysterious deadly disease, others again venture about in broad daylight and get picked up by the ravens and the gulls. The carnage is incredible. But then again: this is nature. Every day we can watch evolution in action. The survival of the fittest is happening right here on our door step. 

Shearwater carnage...
...wherever you go

These casualties are normal and the species can cope with loosing a high proportion of young birds a year. As long as the feeding conditions out at sea and the breeding conditions on land are favourable we will be able to enjoy the Manx Shearwater in future.

One thing the species really can’t cope with are ground predators. Manx Shearwaters are perfectly adapted to life at sea. They have long stiff wings for chasing over the waves and legs like propellers set far back on their bodies. This design makes them elegant flyers and very good divers but on land they feel alien. They can’t walk properly, they can’t lift off fast, hence they can’t escape from nor defend themselves against ground predators. 

Short legs and long wings don't make it easy to take off

Luckily Skomer is rat free and lots of other islands have become rat free again e.g. Ramsey and Lundy, or are just in the process of eradicating rats (Scilly). As there is a real threat of introducing rats onto Skomer we will be even more vigilant and ask overnight visitors to only bring on sealed bags and rucksacks next year.

For further reading have a look at the Ramsey blog and watch a video of a Cory’s Shearwater getting eaten by a rat. 

Bee, Skomer Warden

Sunday 8 September 2013

End of a summer

The start of a summer might be marked by the arrival of the swallow and the end marked by the departure of dozens or hundreds of their offspring sitting on telegraph wires or roosting in reedbeds. Two days ago (6th Sept) we walked outside the house at North Haven at 08.00 to the sight of hundreds of Swallows travelling roughly E over the house. We did some timed counts and during a 2h period came up the figure of 2,500 migrating over Skomer.
Swallows are fast and hard to photograph, however the forked tail of this Swallow is obvious in this picture taken by an amateur. 
 The same day we recorded 66 Wheatears, 7 Sand Martins, 1 House Martin and a Tree Pipit.

A flush of migrant Wheatears moved through Skomer island on the 6th of Sept

On the 7th we recorded 13 Teal, a Sparrowhawk, 2 Ringed Plovers, 3 Snipe, 4 Whimbrel, 3 Curlew, a Grey Wagtail, 8 Robins, 2 Stonechats, 9 Wheatears, a Song Thrush, 3 Chiffchaff, 10 Willow Warblers, 3 Spotted Flycatchers and 60+ Ravens.

Today (8th Sept) we saw 12 Teal, a Grey Heron, a Snipe, a Yellow Wagtail, 15 Robins, 2 Wheatears, a Stonechat, 2 Blackcaps, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, and a Pied Flycatcher. The undoubted highlight of the day however, was a Corncrake. It was flushed from a path in South Stream at 18.30 and flew into bracken, never to be seen again. It was the first Skomer record since Sept 2008.

Bee and I have been doing some work with the breeding Grey Seals and we will do a blog post explaining this work soon.

Eddie Stubbings, Skomer Warden

Thursday 5 September 2013

Autumn watch

Autumn progresses and the shearwater chicks are getting ready to leave in their thousands. They climb up to prominent wind swept places to stretch their wings and can be seen in great numbers doing this at the moment. A volunteer assistant warden, Scarlet, had several on her head a couple of nights ago whilst experimenting whether they would use a human as well as a wall or rock and has the scratches on her head to prove it. Unfortunately she was the guinea pig for Iolo Williams who is on Skomer tonight filming this very phenomenon for BBC's Autumn Watch.

There are quite a few migrant birds around at the moment as things head south and begin to move around. These change from day to day and todays highlights can be found at the bottom. Here are a few pictures of things we have seen, good or bad.

Willow Warbler on the washing line
Small Tortoiseshell on Water Mint. Four species of butterfly inc. 15 Small Tortoiseshell and single Painted Lady, Grayling and Small Copper were seen on a single patch of Water Mint yesterday.
Spot the Common Blue Damselfly eyes...
Peregrine chasing Buzzard
Nice picture of a Spotted Flycatcher
Poor picture of a Pied Flycatcher, the first of the year (Pied Flycatcher that is, not bad picture)
Todays highlights inc: 4 Common Scoter, 2 Grey Herons, Juv Marsh Harrier again, a Peregrine probably oiled by a Fulmar, 1 Snipe, 3 Whimbrel, 2 Curlew, 3 Turnstone, 2 Sand Martins, 25+ Swallows through, several alba wagtails, c.20 Robins, 2 Stonechats, 4 Sedge Warblers,  Reed Warbler, 10+ Common Whitethroats, a female Blackcap, 4 Chiffchaff, 15+ Willow Warblers, 2 Goldcrests, 11 Spotted Flycatchers, 1 Pied Flycatcher, 5 Linnets and a Reed Bunting. There are less Ravens than a week ago but still 30 over South Plateau also 2 Short-eared Owls again.

On not such a good note, we noticed, what looked like, an oiled Peregrine sitting on The Neck this afternoon. He was in a very sorry state and could only just fly with difficulty. It seems most likely that Fulmars had somehow been sick on it. Fulmars are renowned for doing this on Fair Isle where I think they may have even wiped out the islands Peregrine population. If anyone knows anything about this type of incident please feel free to get in touch.

Oiled or contaminated Peregrine

Monday 2 September 2013

Youth Rangers

This weekend we were joined by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Youth Rangers. They were here to help us Wardens with our boardwalk replacement project, or should I say boardwalk demolition project.

James 'the Jay' Lasusa and Mark 'the Manx Shearwater' Bond ripping the old boardwalk to pieces.

At the start of the day on Saturday we briefed the Youth Ranger team and gave everybody a bird name to help us remember all their names. Therefore James Lasusa became James the Jay and Tom Moses became Tom the Tit. The rest of the team were:
Beth the Blue Tit
Mark the Manx Shearwater
Nicola the Nuthatch
Dylan the Duck
Gareth the Great Crested Warbler
Dan the Dodo
and Dan the Dove

The whole team including three Wildlife Trust staff: Eddie the eagle, Bee the Balearic Shearwater and Helen the Hawfinch 
We got a lot of work done and managed to remove the old boardwalk completely, ready for the new one to go in. We explained to the kids why we have boardwalks, so we hope that as well as learning some practical skills and the enjoyment of hard work, they also learned a bit about working on and managing a nature reserve.

Dan the Dove wheel barrowing tools out on to site. 

Will the wagtail clearing the path in the foreground and the rangers working behind.
Nicola the Nuthatch and Beth the Blue Tit made up signs to tell people about the works. 

Here is what Tom Moses, Discovery Ranger for the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority has to report about the trip:

PCNPA Youth Rangers – Skomer trip 31/8 – 1/9 2013

On their arrival back in Martins Haven, the Youth Rangers and Discovery Rangers sat and finished off their food to save carrying it any further and reflected on their visit.

Everyone had seriously enjoyed their trip and had been struck by Skomer’s beauty and amazing wildlife as well as the sense of remoteness, peace and tranquillity. Some of the young people found this completely new experience a bit unsettling at first; feeling isolated and thought they might get bored.
Proof that they didn't get bored (at least Dan the Dodo didn't anyway)

After a day out there however, things had changed; comments such as ‘it’s given me a new perspective on life – the isolation gave me space to think more’ and ‘I’d rather live on that little island than our busy crowded one’ showed they had begun to understand  why its such a special place.
Seeing the Manxies, both in the middle of the night and reaching into burrows to pick the chicks up, along with the hordes of rabbits and slow-worms were the real highlights. The peace and quiet and the views also scored high. Oh, and the Frisbee-ing until it got stuck on the Farm roof.... (thanks for getting it back Will!).

As well as what they saw, the Youth Rangers enjoyed helping make a meaningful difference to the island , and in a final no holds barred review chat it emerged how the experience had helped them all at a personal level in different ways- the intensity of their experience had pushed their comfort zones and resulted in realisations about themselves.

One, previously very shy, newish group member had really opened up and now felt much more part of the team. Another had realised that he could take much more responsibility for helping with all the tasks that need doing and would make more effort in future.

Perhaps the best comment, agreed with by all was ‘We’re all individuals who really only have one thing in common – being out here. We love it!’. This will probably end up being the group motto from now on.... Tom and Mark felt this had been the best Youth Ranger weekend to date for all kind of reasons- Cheers Skomer!! (We’ll be back – next weekend OK?)
The Skomer Team had a great time too and we are very grateful for all the hard work the Youth Rangers did. We love their new motto and might even use it ourselves. Come and visit again and all the best.

Ed and Bee

Skomer Wardens