Monday 28 April 2014

First two weeks of a long term volunteer

I’m Sophia and I am the long term people engagement volunteer, I arrived here on Skomer Island two weeks ago and will be here until the beginning of July . I graduated last year from Aberystwyth University where I studied Environmental Science. I am very much enjoying Skomer Island life! On arrival I was introduced to three lovely researchers who I would be sharing a kitchen with. Within ten minutes I had been offered to cook dinner with them, and from then on we cook up a big meal every night (I am yet to open a can of baked beans which is surprising as I thought I would be living off of them!), these guys have also taught me how to make bread which is an essential survival skill on Skomer. 
The rainy day lessons where successful 

On my first day I shadowed Andy the Visitor Officer to see what his job was all about; one part of this that I had to learn was tractor driving, now this is a story in itself! The weather had been stunning, sunny blue sky all week so we set aside an afternoon for the Warden, Visitor Officer and Assistant Warden to teach me. The sky started clouding over and by the time I had climbed up onto the tractor the wind was blowing and the rain was bucketing it horizontally but still we powered through, determined to get it ticked off the list!  Now I have the privilege of driving the tractor across the island first thing in the morning which is a stunning sight to wake up to. 

My first weekend on the island was Easter weekend; this day involved collecting up a treasure hunt that had been laid out for the previous week, but in order to collect the clue I had to do the hunt to find them. So fittingly I ended up doing a treasure hunt on Easter Sunday and came back to the kitchen to find everyone enjoying freshly baked hot cross buns, living a life of luxury!
The bird life here is amazing! I spotted my first short-eared owl just the other day of which I got incredibly excited about! I have taken part in the island Puffin counts too, using seagulls as markers between groups of puffins to try and make it easier! They have such character that it's hard to not get distracted. Late evening/night is when the Manx Shearwaters appear, you can barely hear yourself think over their calls, and they are just everywhere! Speaking of loud calls, I had never heard a seal before I got this volunteer position, but seals are very loud and make the most obscure sounds! That’s an experience in itself.

There are too many fantastic things I have witnessed in my first two weeks here to fit on this blog, to name a few more, the sunsets have been mesmerizing  (the one pictured was taken on my first night on Skomer)and the bluebells are starting to flower and provide beautiful purple blankets on the island. All in all I am getting into the swing of things now, doing welcome talks, tractor driving, and started painting little wooden posts to do a project on puffin disturbance too.

Sophia Jackson, Long Term Volunteer

Friday 18 April 2014

Puffin count 2014

This afternoon we conducted the first of our all island Puffin counts on Skomer. We missed a good opportunity to count them last week when large numbers were present but, even though they disappeared for a few days, we were confident that they would return and we would get another chance to get a maximum count of individuals. We aim to do as many all island counts as possible but, due to the number of counters required and effort involved, about three counts in the second half of April is realistic.

Large numbers of Puffins were evident on Skomer all day today
The island is split into seven count sectors and a team of two went off to count each area between 17.00 and 19.00. We met again at 20.30, after some dinner, and pulled our figures together. We counted a total of 18,237, almost exactly 1,000 less than the maximum count from last year. Last years maximum count was a whopping 19,280 so hopefully we will get near to this count in one of our next couple of counts. After the huge wreck of Puffins in Spain, France and Britain early this year, we hope that our Puffins won't be too badly effected, although we may not feel the effects for up to four years, when young Puffins first start breeding.

A 'silver back' Puffin

Our little seal pup is still in South Haven and there are plenty of seals hauled out at low tide in North Haven. A trip to Skomer at this time of year with maximum numbers of Puffins visible, seals and migrants passing through is a wildlife must.

Eddie Stubbings, Skomer Warden

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Seal pups and April!

Everyone knows that the Puffins should be returning to the island in spring to lay their eggs and fledge their chicks but what on earth are seal pups doing getting born in April. Those who know a bit more about British wildlife know that Grey Seals breed all around the British coastline. The pupping season proceeds in a clockwise direction around England, Wales, Scotland and then England again, with those in Cornwall pupping first, in August, and those in East Anglia last, over Christmas. Skomer's seals usually pup in October so finding a perfectly healthy seal pup hours after it had been born yesterday was a bit of a surprise. We will keep an eye on this out of season pup and see if it can survive the rigors of life outside of the seals usual pupping season.

Mother pup bonding

Mother and pup doing what they should be doing

The Puffins are more expected but are still keeping us guessing by going missing for days on end and only returning for a few hours late in the afternoon. The picture below was taken last week when there was a count of 4135 just in North Haven, so plenty. They then did a disappearing act and disappointed all of our visitors on the weekend by not being here. They are now returning in big numbers again and we will try and do an all island count in the next few days.

Puffins looking perfectly at home
Eddie Stubbings, Skomer Warden

Saturday 5 April 2014

Radio Interview

Ed mentioned in his last post the conference (Pembrokeshire's Seabird Islands: Past, Present and Future Prospects) which was held this week. Radio BBC Wales showed interest in the story and did an interview with Prof. Tim Birkhead and myself. This piece is supposed to be broadcast on BBC Wales on Sunday at 7am. I do hope it is good...

Bee, Skomer Warden

Friday 4 April 2014

Seabird appeal and conference

Yesterday a conference (Pembrokeshire's Seabird Islands: Past, Present and Future Prospects) was held at Cardiff University to highlight the importance of Pembrokeshire's seabird islands in the modern world and the significance of the research that has been going on for decades on Skomer and the other islands for decision making and scientific advancement. Iolo Williams delivered a speech to round up the other talks and reiterate the importance of the long term, continuous monitoring of our internationally important seabird populations. The conference was supported by the following organisations.

If you follow our blog you may already know about the large wreck of auks (especially Puffins) that occurred in the North West Atlantic at the start of the year and the fact that funding was cut on one of Skomers longest standing research projects into Guillemot ecology. As a result of this double whammy of bad news for our seabirds the Wildlife Trust has launched an appeal to help continue this work. Details can be found at
I'm sure our Puffins, Guillemots, Storm Petrels and other seabirds would appreciate all the hard work we put in on their behalf.

Talking of hard work, I will be running in the Brighton marathon on Sunday to raise money for the Marine Conservation Society. You can sponsor me online by going to:
Any support is very welcome.

Eddie Stubbings, Skomer Warden

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Arctic trio

Lapland Bunting
The last few days have brought this lovely trio of Arctic breeding birds to Skomer Island. All three will be heading north into the Arctic soon but are enjoying some Welsh sunshine before they do.

Iceland Gull

Great Northern Diver

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Boats running

Boats are now running to Skomer.

The Dale Princess
Today was the first day that boats ran out from Martin's Haven to Skomer Island, and what a day it was. The sun was shining, the birds were here and the feel of spring was in the air. Puffins are now returning in greater numbers and daring to come nearer to land.

If you want to come and witness Skomer as the year awakes and is arguably at it's best, boats leave Martin's Haven from 10.00 in the morning. See you here.

Eddie Stubbings, Skomer warden