Saturday 30 April 2016

A week of firsts

This last week on Skomer has really felt like the spring has kicked off. Even though the weather has been a little hit and miss, our seabirds have been busy!
Our first Razorbill egg was recorded on the Wick on the 26th. Spotting it proved a little easier for Elisa (Field Worker) as most of the Auks had deserted the cliffs that day, narrowing the search to just a few birds. Sadly, the 26th was also when we saw our first Razorbill egg predated by a Raven, as is often the case with the first eggs laid. 

 If you look really closely at the feet of the bird on the left you can see part of an egg! We recorded our first Guillemot egg on the 27th, although It was seen flying past in a Ravens beak, another casualty to the Ravens needing to feed their ever growing chicks. More eggs have been recorded since, and this photo was taken at the Wick.

Ravens are one of our earliest breeders on Skomer and were on eggs when we first checked them at the start of March. The chicks are now getting huge and starting to explore the cliff outside the nest. This chick is at the Amos and there are 3 chicks at the Wick and 3 chicks at High Cliff, not to mention the other nests dotted around the island. Fledglings wont be long...

Can you spot the bird in this picture? Manx Shearwaters can get caught out by the morning light and find the nearest dark spot to hide. This one chose a small hole in the bottom of the garden wall. 

 To make it easier here’s an overexposed photo. On the 28th the first Manx Shearwater egg was found, and it was laid by the same bird as the earliest laying bird in 2015, amazingly! We also had the first Lesser Black Backed Gull egg on the 20th and the first Great Black Backed Gull egg on the 18th.

We are noticing lots of baby Rabbits about, but not many of them are as cute as this one, which is often found in the daffodils in the Courtyard. 

 Buzzards have been attentively sitting on the nest for the last few weeks and can be seen well at Pigstone bay. Look out for the grassy clump on the diagonal band of lighter rock on the face of the cliff.
This male pied wagtail successfully bred at the farm last year and has another nest this year. Through a combination of numerous photos and photographers over two years we have finally managed to read the ring. This bird was ringed as a juvenile male on Skokholm in 2014, maybe not as far as we’d hoped it had travelled but still an interesting record!

The weather over the last week has been fairly rubbish with strong winds mainly from the north. Although we’ve had some heavy hail storms, they are sometimes followed by sunny skies and amazing rainbows. Lets hope the weather improves for May! 

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Skomer Spring Migration Special April 2016

Skomer Island had the pleasure of hosting another fantastic Spring Migration Special last weekend, led by Dave Astins. There can be no better way to convey how well this three day special went, than to allow Dave to guest-blog, which he has done below! Enjoy.  

The omens did not look good for this one.  Firstly, for various reasons the trip was earlier than ideal.  Puffins wouldn’t be settled, could be absent altogether. Same for Razorbills and Guillemots.  Manx Shearwaters would be back for sure though (something for after dark!).  Migrants?  A complete lottery, especially so early into the spring.  And 2016 has been a slow spring, at least here in deepest darkest West Wales.  And the final straw?  A weather forecast that changed more times than a catwalk model, and never looked very inspiring at best.  What could go wrong?!
The result?  Another brilliant 3 days on Skomer Island.  The usual anticipation built as the 10 participants (Richard, Susan, Alan, Philip, Janet, Peter, Julia, Leigh, Jackie & Sally) arrived and greeted each other at Martin’s Haven. Cars parked at West Hook Farm, a slight delay due to the massive high tide, bags loaded onto the Dale Princess with ruthless efficiency, and we were on our way.  A few seabirds on the way over set up us nicely, before the unloading/loading of the boat and the ferrying up the steps that marks changeover day.
Warden Bee gave us the introductory talk, and after unpacking and a nice cuppa and some cake, the first walk around the island saw us notch up some great birds including Peregrine, Chough, Hen Harrier, Raven, single Puffin, Guillemot & Razorbill, and passage migrants in the form of Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap.  Several Harbour Porpoise from Skomer Head were well received.  Highlights included 2 sightings of Short-eared Owl, which pleased 2 people more than most as they had missed them on this trip last year!
Willow Warbler – a daunting task separating Willow Warblers from
Chiffchaffs when they are not singing or calling

Day 2 was windy….very windy.  An average wind speed of 37mph, gusting to 50mph, meant most of the island’s birds had their heads down.  The group was undaunted – “take us to the most exposed spot” they cried!  So that’s what we did.  And it was fun!  Thankfully it was dry and the skies were impressive but the best bird of the trip waited until late on…a cracking Little Ringed Plover at Moory Mere was just the 7th record ever for Skomer, the 1st for 5 years, and the 1st ever in April.  Boom!
Little Ringed Plover – the first on Skomer for 5 years and only the 7th ever

Day 3 and, as predicted, the south-easterly winds delivered.  First for the group a cracking male Redstart, quickly followed by a superb male Pied Flycatcher and brief glimpse of a Water Rail.  Then a male Ring Ouzel showed to all, having eluded us earlier.  Saturday’s Hen Harrier gave some great views.  After lunch at the Farm an epic 10 minutes, not 1 but 2 male Ring Ouzels were seen, and drew in the (a) male Redstart and the (a) male Pied Flycatcher – just stunning!  And later in the afternoon the male Redstart was seen chasing…another male Redstart.  The day was capped by over 1,000 Puffins in North Haven – a brilliant end to a brilliant day.  And this was followed by a fascinating talk on Albatross conservation and the longest ‘bird log’ in history (well, in 3 days for sure).  Warden Ed was more or less delirious by the end.
Male Pied Flycatcher – a bird hatched in 2015 due to
the browner tinged primary feathers (barely visible)

Our final few hours were spent packing and enjoying a beautiful morning, Black Redstart was added to the list and the final half hour couldn’t have been better with several hundred Guillemots and Razorbills returning to the cliffs in North Haven, creating a cacophony fitting for our departure.  It really was a fitting finale and all 11 of us were beaming from ear to ear even though our mini-adventure was over…61 species and an unforgettable 72 hours later.  So glad I packed my hot water bottle (and my long johns).
Razorbill – conveniently returned to the cliffs on our final morning

The list of bird species seen during the trip can be found here: Skomer Spring Migration Special 2016 Bird List
A gallery of photos from the trip can be found here: Skomer Spring Migration Special 2016 Gallery

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Long Term Volunteer - first week

Hello! My name is Hannah, and I’m lucky enough to be one of the long term volunteers out on Skomer this season. I’ve only been here about a week so far, so everything still feels very new and novel, despite my having visited many times before! However, as my first week draws to a close, I’m beginning to feel much more settled in and accustomed to island life.

Over past years I’ve been able to come to Skomer in many different capacities - first as a day visitor with my parents, then as an overnight guest, and more recently as a short term volunteer. Each time it’s been amazing to discover more about the island, and a gap year post A-Levels seemed the perfect time to try and give something back. Luckily, having been a short term volunteer a couple of times in the past, I had a rough idea of what I was letting myself in for, so I was well prepared for the freezing weather and rationing of food supplies! That said, I’ve already polished off an entire month’s worth of biscuits in about three days, so maybe the self control still needs a little work.

Getting to know all corners of the island, this is Middle Holme seen from the Neck

Aside from eating (which me and the other long term volunteer seem to do a lot of - we’re always hungry!), we’ve begun to get stuck in with some of the jobs that need doing around the island. Luckily it hasn't been too rainy, so we’ve been able to help complete some outdoor maintenance work, such as replacing the old signs with new ones and painting the hand rails down at the landing. Other activities we have been getting involved in include giving introductory talks to the day visitors, as well as the daily puffin and seal counts (I have yet to count more than seven seals on my patch though…). These seal surveys have to be completed in the four hour window around low tide, so can often involve a mad dash up to the Garland Stone in the two hours either side - especially tough when you’re busy at the other end of the island! However, I’m beginning to get used to it now, despite the seals being rather uncooperative at times.

As the breeding season gets into full swing, we will also be helping to monitor some of the nest sites around the island. At the moment, the Choughs are pairing off and settling down, so over the last couple of days the wardens have taken us to see a few of the known breeding sites. This was amazing, if a little scary at times, as we had to clamber down a few cliffs in high winds just to get a peek at them! Luckily we were rewarded with an appearance by two of the three pairs we went to see, which was amazing given the weather conditions. I know if I were a bird I would have wanted to stay hunkered down!

Chough showing breeding behaviour

Raven's nest with two eggs
However, to our relief, today’s weather was much better, and it was even nice enough that we were able to zip over to the mainland to collect some gas bottles. This involved both driving the tractor (something I’m slowly getting used to), and driving the boat (something I'm decidedly NOT used to). Given the fact I’d never driven either before last Monday, though, I decided to count both stints as an unqualified success - especially as I managed to keep both vehicles upright! 

So far, the most important thing I've learned is that every day on Skomer Island is different. There are never two the same, and a lot of the time you can find yourself doing something you weren't expecting when you got up that morning. But that’s part of its charm - it’s never boring - and I don't think I’d want it any other way!

Fulmars are our noisy neighbours
(Long-term Volunteer)

Monday 4 April 2016

Gone a bit nutty

Do you like ginger nuts? Yes? Well so does our work party - or at least we hope they do as we made over 200 of these brown biscuits. I do admit that we didn't make so many intentionally but more out of sheer desperation. 
The reason why we had to bake such a mountain was because the recipe that Ed had written down was a bit confusing and instead of using one egg, Tanya put six into the mix. Luckily she noticed her mistake before she tried to roll the very wet dough into balls and solved the problem by adding more of the other ingredients, resulting in 200 ginger nuts and rather nutty bakers...
Quite a lot...

...and there is more to come

Today the work party was in full swing (when they weren't munching on ginger nuts) and even the wildlife was making an appearance on this lovely warm, sunny and calm day.

Oystercatchers getting ready to breed

Still a bit bare but the Bluebells are growing

Team Rabbit

Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were singing today, the Short-eared Owl was making the most of the calm weather and was out hunting in the afternoon, there were Wheatears galore, Goldfinches and Linnets flying over, Sand Martins hunting over Green Pond and the bushes were alive with Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers.

Another seal enjoying the sun on our boat

And then, in the afternoon, the Puffins arrived. We counted 3753 alone in North Haven.

And last but not least I would like to invite you to take part in this little quizz:

I found a sack of about 100 of these plastic things in the workshop and no one knows what they are. I am afraid to throw them away as we will surely need them as soon as they are gone. 

So I need your help! Please tell me (or guess) what these round plastic things are. 

The best answer will receive a price - a Ginger Biscuit!

Dave Perry thinks they are Laughing Cow cheese triangle mould

(Skomer Warden)

PS: Thanks Sonia for the lovely wildlife photos!