Friday 30 October 2015

Autumn on Skomer in pictures

Autumn is a truly amazing time on Skomer and the main thing that makes it special is the wildlife. Here's a selection of pictures from the last two weeks. 

Distant Jack Snipe on North Pond, 21st October

We have had a Hen Harrier present on the island for the last two weeks and at one point we had two! A pleasure to watch

Black Redstarts have started to arrive over the last few days, this one at the farm

Sparrowhawks have been regular recently, there's no shortage of tasty passerines for them to hunt. This one with a ring

Snipe numbers have been increasing as the month goes on with a maximum count of 11 on 28th October. Just watching the Hen Harrier hunt almost guarantees a sighting of snipe as they are flushed

Reed Buntings seem to be in nearly all of the bushes at the moment with 19 and 18 our highest counts over the past two weeks (we don't have many bushes)

One very obliging Chiffchaff at Moorey Mere, still couldn't get the full bird in though, something to be said for my photography skills

Whilst carrying out Hen Harrier roost counts on 18th October we had 15 Short-eared Owls in the fields West of the Farm! 

Two Barn Owls roosted in the farmhouse on 17th October and one has been seen most days since

And to finish a couple of pictures of Seal Pups. This has been one of my highlights of the year!
It's a tough life being a seal pup

It's also a tough life having to monitor them... we have now hit 200 pups! 

Seal pub blowing bubbles in Seal Hole Cave

Leighton (Skomer Visitor Officer)

Saturday 24 October 2015

The Trials of Life

The seal season on Skomer is (I do admit) my favourite time of year. I love the autumnal feel, the brown sea of Bracken and Yorkeshire Fog glowing in the rays of the low sun, the storms that make the island and its inhabitants shudder, the migrant birds that stop over and of course the seals, their howling, even their stench and most of all their personal stories.

They are the most amazing story tellers, they tell us stories of requited and unrequited love, of abductions and adoptions, of fights against the elements and of care and devotion. You might think I am exaggerating a bit? Have a read of the following account and you will surely agree with me:

This year, for the first time (ever?) a Grey Seal female decided to pup opposite the Garland Stone. On the 2nd of September she gave birth to the 16th pup of the season. The next day Leighton found the pup and texted us about it. He wrote: "Seal pup at the Garland Stone", we answered "Leighton, there are NEVER seal pups at the Garland Stone, you must be mistaken, that is surely an immature seal" whereupon he replied indignantly: " I have a photo, I can profe it!" And so he did. There was really a seal pup on the slabs just underneath the rocky outcrop overlooking the Garland Stone.

Pup 16 on the 3rd of September, just a day old
Mum isn't far away

Once the pup was big enough we abseiled down to were it was laying and marked it with a black dot. We thought it would be very interesting to follow it's movements when it gets washed off the cliff.

9th of September: Marking the pup

However, to our surprise the pup didn't disappear but hung on in its exposed location, it and it's mum showed an amazing amount of stubbornness and endurance.

As we sprayed it we noticed that the pup had a black eye and we assumed that it had been bashed around by the waves a bit. But we were complete and utterly speachless when my friend Pia Reufsteck showed us the footage she took on the 13th of September: Our seal pup number 16 was laying on the cliff with the sea roaring underneath, the sea was lapping further and further up the cliff until finally... 

The seal pup's mum was in the water looking after her offspring, desperately trying to get the pup back up onto the cliff.

 And finally, both of them made it. 

They settled down as if nothing had happended...

"I've got you!"
...and the pup got a well deserved drink.

The picture below is the last we have of pup 16. It was taken on the 23rd of September. The pup is 20 days old, a healthy size 3 and even from a distance one can see the shed puppy fur around it. Its mum is nowhere to be seen - she has mated again and gone back out to sea to feed after more than three weeks of nuturing her pup and not eating herself. The pup is now left to its own devices.

I am sure you will agree that this pup's mum deserves an Outstanding Mothers Award. What an achievment to raise a pup in such conditions.

Aren't they fabulous, our Grey Seals?

(Skomer Warden)

Sunday 18 October 2015

Wax on, wax off

While pupping Grey Seals and bird migration often capture the imagination and gets the pulses racing in the autumn on Skomer, there are lots of other autumnal delights to enjoy. One of which is the colourful displays of grassland fungi on the island, and not least the Waxcaps. Not only are they colourful, but they are also a good indicator of unimproved, natural grassland, and are a group of species which have declined rapidly throughout the UK due to the administration of fertilisers to the soil. Well worth looking out for!

Hygrocybe punicea Crimson Waxcap

Hygrocybe punicea Crimson Waxcap


Hygrocybe ceracea Butter Waxcap

Hygrocybe chlorophana Golden Waxcap

Hygrocybe calyptriformis Pink or ballerina Waxcap
Hygrocybe calyptriformis

Hygrocybe conica Blackening Waxcap

Hygrocybe coccinea Scarlet Waxcap

Hygrocybe psittacina Parrot Waxcap 

Hygrocybe conica Blackening Waxcap

Hygrocybe pratensis Meadow Waxcap

Saturday 3 October 2015

Seals Seals Seals

It’s that time of year again; the island has switched from breeding seabirds to breeding seals.  So far we've had over 100 pups born on Skomer this season!

Here on the Pembrokeshire Coast the pupping season begins at the end of every August, a good two months or so before any little white pups appear on the East Coast of England.  Unlike the vast expanses of sand at Donna Nook or Blakeney Point, the boulder beaches, coves and caves around the island provide homes to the seal pups on Skomer.

South castle cove/cave on the Neck (photo A. Dodds)

Castle Bay on the Neck (photo A. Dodds)

The Skomer Marine Nature Reserve is host to over 200 grey seal pups during the breeding season each year.  Every day the team here check on all the different coves and beaches around the main island and the Neck to see if there are any new born pups, how the pups are developing and the general behaviour of the pups and their mums.  However, with all the seal pups being white and fluffy for a few weeks, identifying who’s who can become tricky – especially when we have beaches with over 15 pups at once!

To make it possible to distinguish who’s who in each cove, we scramble and abseil down the cliffs and mark the pups with different colour spray on dyes.

Abseiling down to South Castle cave (photo A. Dodds)

Abseiling down the Wick (photo B. Buche)

Using the different colour combinations on the pups enables us to keep track of the progress of each pup and if there are any new arrivals.  The spray used is the same spray that farmers use on flocks of sheep, so it isn't harmful to the animals.  So if you’re ever looking at seals around Skomer and see a multi-coloured pup, don’t be alarmed!

Bee spraying one of the pups (photo P. Reufsteck)

Monitoring the pups and mothers like this enables us to calculate the number of pups born on the island, their mortality rate and how many successfully survived.  Photo identification work is also carried out on Skomer, and so we can monitor if we have returning mothers, new mothers, and their behaviour during the breeding season.

Having a snooze on South Haven (photo A. Dodds)

Alex Dodds (Seal Monitoring Assistant)