Sunday 30 March 2014

Lapping it up

There seems to be so much to blog about at the moment that hopefully we'll get plenty of short snappy blogs out in the coming week/weeks. Today our first volunteers arrived, after earlier disappointments and we grow closer to being ready for opening on Tuesday.

On the wildlife front we had an impressive 'fall' of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs today and the Puffins started flooding in. Here are the highlights from todays sightings:

Great Northern Diver 1
Sparrowhawk 1
Merlin 1
Puffin 50+
Sand Martin 4
Song Thrush 3
Redwing 1
Robin 2
Reed Warbler 1
Blackcap 4
Willow Warbler 51 incl. 2-3 'Northern' type birds
Chiffchaff 27
Goldcrest 3
Chaffinch 1
Goldfinch 2
Linnet 14
Redpoll 1
Lapland Bunting 1

That's the boring list, here's some photo's and a video of the Lapland Bunting:

Male Lapland Bunting in breeding plumage

One of a few 'Northern' Willow Warblers P. t. acredula

A very early Reed Warbler

Monday 24 March 2014

Getting down to business

Well the spring moves on and the island will soon be opening up to visitors. After the stormy winter we have some work to do to have the place ready for this spring influx. The overnight accommodation needed cleaning and some paint work, the solar system needs care, footpaths need maintenance and the steps at the landing and the sales point need some repair. As well as these visitor based maintenance tasks we have our own veg patches to tend to and living quarters to make liveable.

Jason digging his veg patch at the Farm
Bee digging her garden at North Haven
Our new Visitor Officer, Andy Bramwell, is on the mainland, extremely frustrated by the weather, and awaiting a gap in the weather to get out here and help us in the last few days of March get things ready for April the 1st and the grand opening. April will also see our Field Worker in 2014, Alistair Wilson and two Long Term Volunteers, Elisa Miquel Riera and Sophia Jackson, joining us.

Wren singing with typical gusto from a stone wall near the Farm
A quick up date and taste of the activities of our breeding birds: Wrens are singing from almost all over the island, including stone walls inland and coastal cliffs. Dunnocks are also widespread and have started advertising their presence.

Dunnocks are widespread and have started singing their scratchy little songs

Ravens nest on the Neck

Ravens are well under way with their breeding cycles and Choughs have finally started nest building. The first sighting of a bird with nesting material was on the 22nd.

Chough carrying nesting material
Buzzards and Peregrines are preparing to begin nesting and hopefully April will see plenty of activity. There is a national Peregrine survey taking place in 2014 and we will be surveying sites on Skomer throughout the season.

Buzzard getting ready to begin nesting

Adult Peregrine Falcon

Our breeding seabirds were in the news over the new year after a big wreck of birds in France, Spain and Britain. See our blog posts from February New threats, More news and Interesting posts. We eagerly await their return and will be monitoring the breeding 2014 season with interest. Guillemots and Razorbills have been seen on and around the island since our return in the first week of March but on and off and they have been absent in the last few days. This is normal for this time of year and it isn't until April that they truly return to the island. The first Puffin was seen on the 18th (9 days later than 2013) and the first Manx Shearwater was heard on the 19th (15 days later than 2013). Fulmars and Kittiwakes have been present since our return.

Fulmar, one of the few seabirds back on the cliffs already
Our beloved seal population also has it's own dramas. An extremely late pup was born on Driftwood Bay on the 16th but unfortunately died and became food for Great Black-backed Gulls.

A poor late pup being eaten by Great Black-backed Gulls
We also noticed this older seal with a large amount of fishing net around it's neck and signs of injury. We don't want to depress people but we also want to raise awareness of the realities of life for our native wildlife and the issues that humans pose.

Grey Seal with a dangerous amount of fishing net around it's neck
Our Grey seals are still moulting at this time of year but can be seen playing a lot in the surf and later sleeping off their exertions.
Moulting Grey Seal

Happily asleep
More updates from a very busy Skomer Island soon.

Eddie Stubbings, Skomer Warden

Sunday 16 March 2014

A fresh start

Mark from the MNR helping with the launching and loading of our boat
After days without internet access we can at last update you on our return to the island. Continuing on from Jason's blog on the morning of our move, we loaded our worldly possessions on to the beach and were helped by Mark and Kate from the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve (MNR) to launch our boat and load it with our stuff. This didn't go without issue, after a few false starts we limped over to the island twice, only to pull our boat back out of the water for further repairs.
Heading back towards the island as the sun goes down
A weaner on the beach to welcome us. Unfortunately it may not be all that healthy
The boat moored up in idyllic conditions 
Our return was greeted by a Grey Seal weaner that refused to move and possibly shows signs of lung worm. We were also shocked to see gaping holes in our boat slip and shed.
Damage has been sustained to our boat shed and the concrete area around it
Our very first sight of the main buildings revealed a missing garage door at North Haven which shows the incredible force of the storms that raged during the winter. Incidentally the buildings at the Farm received no damage at all. 
A huge solid wood garage door had been ripped off and torn to shreds during the winter storms
Great Northern Diver in North Haven

Juvenile Hen Harrier
A few good birds have been spotted over our first few days, mostly winter visitors like three Great Northern Divers, a juvenile Hen Harrier and Glaucous Gull, but also a few summer visitors like Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and a wandering Spoonbill. Bee spotted the first Wheatear on the 14th. A Red Kite was also spotted on the 14th.

Bee spotted the first Wheatear of the year on the 14th

Juvenile Glaucous Gull

Sub-adult Spoonbill, which looks like a breeding plumaged adult from this photo but small black tips were present on the primaries in flight indicating the age of this individual. This bird had toured the islands and mainland 

Male Black Redstart

Migrant Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests (pictured) have been seen on lichen covered rocks around the coast 

More of fresh life on Skomer Island in a few days...

Eddie Stubbings, Skomer warden

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Final countdown...

Well today's the day, we're finally moving out to the island. A little later than we would have liked, but today the sea's are perfect for travel (light Beaufort 3 winds from the E/NE) and we're raring to go! We're all eager to see what state the island is in after an Autumn of severe Atlantic gales, and are expecting there to be considerable clear up and repair work needed to be done on the various island buildings over the next few weeks, but we're primed and ready for whatever we're presented with - this is an island exposed to the full force of North Atlantic weather after all, so nothing will come as a surprise!

Of course, we are also looking forward to seeing what the islands wildlife is up to. Our nesting seabirds will be returning soon, with various seabird islands around the UK reporting their first returning puffins and Manx shearwaters, while we are seeing guilemots, razorbills, fulmars and kittiwakes dotted off Martins Haven and the waters surrounding Skomer. Birds of prey and corvids are also making their presence felt, with lots of display and calling from the local choughs, ravens, peregrines and buzzards on the mainland. Furthermore, the first summer migrants are being seen in the area. Wonder what the island is hiding...

Well I better go, as there is about 10 tonnes of food and luggage to be ferried down into Martins Haven (well, maybe not quite that much!).  Skomer awaits...

Jason Moss, Skomer Assistant Warden

Thursday 6 March 2014

Intersting posts

Regular visitors to Skomer might know Professor Tim Birkhead who has been studying Guillemots on Skomer for over 40 years. If you are interested in what he thinks about these terrible seabird wreck have a look at his blog and at this newspaper article in the Independent .

Sunday 2 March 2014

More news coverage and more casualties

As reported in our last Blog a major auk wreck has occurred. Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO) coordinated a beach count on 22/23 February 2014 in south-west France and recorded the following casualties:

15541 Puffin – 14455 dead, 1086 live
6772 Guillemot – 5443 dead, 1329 live
652 Razorbill – 376 dead, 276 live
671 Auks – 671 dead, 0 live
394 Kittiwake – 392 dead, 2 live
109 Gannet – 92 dead, 17 live
45 Fulmar – 44 dead, 1 live
167 Others – 94 dead, 73 live

24,351 TOTAL – 21,567 dead, 2,784 live (live birds were taken into welfare/veterinary care).

LPO report that fishermen have reported “carpets of dead birds floating at sea”. Click here for more info.

Since then more dead birds have been found in south-west England, Hampshire, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Channel Islands and Spain. The combined total of all reported affected birds so far is more than 26,528. LPO are planning to do more counts on 1-2 and 8-9 March 2014.

Ring recoveries from France indicate that many of the affected birds were ringed in the UK. See BTO BlogSpot.

If you find a dead puffin please take a photo of it. Photographs of the birds’ head and wings are useful to determine age and moult condition and so potential impact of this storm-wreck on the breeding population. These can be sent direct to Professor Mike Harris, puffin expert at

The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales were once more on the news. On Sunday morning Jon Ironmonger's piece for BBC breakfast was broadcast. There was also a short report on BBC2 (starts 2 minutes in) and BBC4 (starts just after 3:30 minutes in).