Thursday, 29 May 2014

My first weeks as Long Term Volunteer on Skomer Island

Hello! I’m Catherine and I’m the long term conservation volunteer here on Skomer Island. My season began slightly later than planned so I only arrived two weeks ago, but I am already fully settled into island life and will be here until the beginning of July.

I think I should begin by talking about the blind panic I was in as I reached the boat landing with my four large plastic boxes of food. I was sure I was going to have to carry them up the steps by myself and furthermore be judged by the amount I had brought... Instead, everyone was very helpful in helping to carry the load and I was welcomed like a hero into my shared kitchen for bringing in fresh fruit and veg!

My food rations for the next month
I am sharing the kitchen with three researchers and the other long term volunteer. Everyone was very welcoming and after being shown where my study plot for the razorbills and guillemots was by one of the researchers, I was able to roam freely around the island for the afternoon. In the evening, everyone got involved in the cooking and we all ate together around the kitchen table. This is the norm and whoever gets in first makes a start on dinner. The same goes for bread (and we eat a lot of it!) Having never really made bread before, I seem to be okay at it and actually quite like spending time kneading the dough- it’s almost like a stress reliever! I did think perhaps that living on an island would be slightly like a slimming boot camp, but since I’ve been here I’ve been treated to lots of tasty treats including lemon cake, teacake and flapjacks! Yum!

From my first day here onwards, I have been spending a large proportion of my day at Bull Hole, where I sit with a telescope and survey a razorbill and guillemot colony to monitor their breeding success. I get so excited when I catch a glimpse of one of their turquoise coloured eggs that I do sometimes talk to myself (a habit I have noticed increasingly since living on an island!) Alastair was with me for the first few days to help, as looking at a cliff face through a telescope can be quite daunting. Every day it gets a little bit easier though as you start to recognise different rock shapes and get the feel for it. There is also a little hide at Bull Hole that is handy in bad weather, although my time here so far has been blessed by beautiful weather! Saying that, there was one afternoon where Alastair and I took shelter in there from a heavy thunderstorm and it was precarious to say the least!

Monitoring Razorbills and Guillemots at Bull Hole for the JNCC
Other things I have been getting involved in include giving introductory talks to day visitors and assisting the wardens with gull counts (walking through lesser black backed colonies in a line to spot nests- miraculously no one got pooed on!) I also got the opportunity to go across to Skokholm Island on the Zodiac on one of the sunniest days so far. This was immense fun as we splashed our way across the water. We were able to have fifteen minutes to quickly explore the island and I would love to go back there to spend an whole afternoon. Soon I will be starting a side project on moths, where I will be comparing the bracken vegetation with the thrift vegetation on the coastal cliffs to see what species appear where. But I will save that for a later post!
My entry into the Puffin photographic competition

My neighbours at Bull Hole: Marcy and Marvin, the Greater Black-backed Gull chicks
Skomer Island is truly a breath-taking place; the bluebells, the noisy seabird colonies, the salty air, the sunsets, the illusive seals and cetaceans that you catch a glimpse of... I feel so lucky to be spending two months on this tranquil island and can’t wait to see what else is in store! Bye for now...

Catherine Blower, Long Term Volunteer

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