Sunday 20 September 2015

Mothin' on Skomer

As mentioned on Facebook a while back, we hosted an intrepid group of Pembrokeshire lepidopterists on the island with the sole intention of setting light traps across the island, surveying a range of habitats as seeing what we could produce. With the narrowest of weather windows imaginable, we managed to conduct a diurnal search on arrival day and deploy a total of 8 moth traps that night throughout the North and South Valleys, with fantastic results! I'll let the numbers and pictures do the talking...

  • Number of traps - 8
  • Species trapped and identified - 111
  • Total number of moths caught - 1216
And for the records...
  • 14 species never before recorded on Skomer!!! An astonishing total.
  • 1 1st since 1960's
  • 2nd records for the island
  • 2 3rd records for the island
  • and a 5th and 6th record for Pembrokeshire

Interest for all ages! Processing the traps in the sheltered picnic areas, to avoid the torrential rain!

Moths on the menu? Making good use of the dining room.

Antler Moth. Quite a common species on Skomer, but always a delight!

Orange Swift. Another dazzling species
Common Plume Moth Emmelina monodactyla. Only the 2nd Skomer record!
The beautiful Acleris holmiana. This incredibly distinctive species had only been found
on Skomer once before, trapped at North Haven in 2012. That's until we went and caught 13
of them during this event! Surely a new colonist?!
Agonopterix arenella. . One of 14 1st records for Skomer 
Agonopterix kaekeritziana. Another 1st for Skomer

Both Bullrush and Webb's Wainscots were caught, the latter species being a
nationally scarce breeding resident on Skomer
Chinese Character. A beautiful species which we don't often catch on the island
True Lovers Knot. What a name! And not a bad looking moth either.
Big thanks to Robin Taylor, Tony Lewis, Karen Meatyard, Mark and Sam Burton and all other attendees. Without your expertise and enthusiasm, the catch wouldn't have been nearly as impressive. Cant wait to do more of the same next year!

All images courtesy of Mark Burton

Sunday 13 September 2015

Volunteering on Skomer

We couldn't run Skomer Island without our amazing volunteers. Every year we get over 150 individuals of this lovely species onto the island to help run Skomer. They scub loos, dust bedrooms, survey reptiles, paint windows, clean our boat, weigh Shearwater chicks, sell postcards, record cetaceans, help people off the ferry, answer questions, contribute to bird log, help with butterfly surveys....

Basically they do so much I can't list it all. A big THANK YOU to all of our volunteers in 2015!

If you feel inspired to become one of our volunteers, have look here, we are currently recruiting volunteers for 2016.

Good luck and thanks again, see you next year!

Bee and Ed

(Skomer Wardens)

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Fairies Of The Sea

Fulmars are my favourite seabird! I guess it's because they were the first real seabird I saw in my life. I was 20 years old and going over to the island of Helgoland by ferry.

When you grow up in Britain you can't imagine not going to the coast or not seeing seabirds as a child. But I grew up in southern Germany - far away from any sea, so I had never seen an auk, tube-nose or any other real seabird before I went on that trip to Helgoland.

We were approaching the island when suddenly these brilliant white birds came sailing past. I didn't know what they were but for me they looked like the most beautiful creatures, like fairies of the sea.

Photo: D Boyle

They flew past the boat and then shot out into the boiling sea - they sped up as they descended towards the waves only to pull themselves up at the very last minute, skim the frothy wave tops and glide elegantly past the ferry once more. Some of them were just hanging there in the wind, not moving at all, dangling their legs and kicking from time to time - turning their beautiful heads to look at us.

Photo: D Milborrow

My friend told me that they were "Eissturmvögel" which translates to Ice-Storm-Birds and I thought to myself: "What an appropriate name, they really are the colour of milky glacier ice."

Nowadays I see Fulmars every day; they live right next to my house. They are our most faithful seabird, they will be on the cliffs "waiting" for us in March, when we come back after a winter on the mainland and they are still here now, in September.

Photo: D Boyle
The chicks started to fledge two weeks ago. They launched themselves undaunted by death into the air, flapped their wings frantically, glided a bit and then crashed onto the beach below with a thud. They did some somersaults and then came to rest - their tails sticking up, their wings stretched to their sides, looking astonished but unhurt.

Fulmar chick crashed on Wick beach - he needs to practise a bit more :-) Photo: A Dodds

Have a look at this video I took on the 4th of September. It is a young Fulmar on the cliff at North Haven, stretching its wings. Is it getting ready for its virgin flight?

Most Fulmar chicks have mastered the skill of flight by now and I was able to watch them fooling around and enjoying the stiff northerly breeze. Here is another little clip from the 4th of September:

Fulmars are found throughout the north Atlantic and North Sea, north of 45°N. Its boreal distribution has increased over the last 250 years to Iceland, the Faroes, Spitsbergen and suitable areas of coastline in Britain.

The estimated British population is 539,000 breeding pairs. This year we had 584 pairs breeding on Skomer, which is an increase of +5% to 2014. We are very happy that the Fulmars are doing fine on Skomer as their population in Europe is decreasing. They are now classed as endangered of extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), see  here for more info.
Breeding population size and long-term trends across Europe
Fulmars spend large amounts of time in waters over continental shelf; ranging from the Arctic pack-ice through to subarctic and temperate waters in the North East Atlantic. The species typically breeds on cliffs and rock faces, occasionally in sand dunes or on flatter ground. Its diet is variable, but includes fish, squid and zooplankton, especially amphipods and jellyfish also fish offal and carrion. In the North Sea its diet includes mainly lesser sandeels.

Major threats to Fulmars are predation from invasive mammals, such as foxes, rats, mice. Luckily we don’t have any of these on Skomer. Fulmars also suffer from oil spills and they end up as bycatch in fisheries with large numbers getting caught in longline, trawl and gillnet fisheries. The Fulmar is also susceptible to collision and displacement from offshore wind farms and by shipping lanes.

There might not be a lot we can easily do about oil spills and wind farm collisions but everyone can help the Fulmars by keeping our seas clean. Fulmars are highly susceptible to ingesting marine litter and plastics. So please hold on to your litter on windy cliff tops and don’t flush any plastic down the toilet.

Plastic from a stomach of a Fulmar

Don't forget to look out for the Fulmars when you are visiting Skomer! Photo: C Taylor
(Skomer Warden)

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Shearwater Week on Skomer!

This week is Skomer Island’s Shearwater Week - celebrating everything to do with the amazing Manx shearwaters!

As many of you may know, despite Skomer being home to the largest population of Manx shearwaters in the universe, you probably won’t see them on a day trip.  However, our overnight guests this week have been able to see the adults, the (not very graceful, yet) fledglings and have even been lucky enough to see some of the burrow inhabiting bundles of fluff!  Throughout their stay, our shearwater week guests have the opportunity to come and see some of the shearwater research taking place on Skomer, learn all about these amazing birds and their behaviour from talks given by the Oxford University researchers and explore the island that these birds call home.

Ollie Padget giving an evening talk before going out to look for shearwaters

Manx shearwater chicks start as big balls of fluff!

Throughout most of this year’s season the island has been home to researchers from the Oxford Navigation Group (OxNav) who have been investigating different aspects of the Manx shearwaters navigation and breeding behaviour. 

Part of the OxNav research on Skomer involves monitoring the weight changes in growing Manx shearwater chicks which, earlier in the season, were fed supplementary food as part of an experiment looking at how this might affect the behaviour of chicks and their parents. Chicks are being weighed daily to keep track of their progress until they fledge – and this week our guests have been able to come and help out.

Every other day our shearwater week guests have been able to come down to North Haven to see the chick weighing – even getting to help out with taking measurements, scribing and sticking their hand down a burrow to get a bird!

Sticking my arm underground to try and find...

...a shearwater chick!

Chick weighing out in the colony – this chick was starting to lose his fluff for adult feathers

Ollie Padget the PhD researcher – explaining the difference in wing colouration between an adult and a fledgling.

As well as getting to see the Manx shearwater chicks, our guests have also been lucky enough to see some flying and rafting adults out to sea through our office scope – which come nightfall were all over the paths and looking a lot less graceful scuttling around and flying into our legs!

An adult Manx shearwater having a rest on land

There are definitely more fledgling chicks starting to wander out of their burrows at night to practice using their wings now.  Soon they’ll all be flying 10,000km all the way down to the Patagonian coast in Argentina!

Alex Dodds - Long Term Volunteer