The alarm. It wasn’t my phone and the sound was new and rude. It was 4.30am and Jason had forgotten to turn his alarm off before passing the work phone over to me. I cursed him and tried to get back to sleep, but my head was busy trying to remember the day to day jobs that needed doing. A strange but familiar sound drifted through the open window; shearwaters. I was back on Skomer, and had fallen asleep to this sound hundreds of times.
I worked on Skomer in 2014 as the Visitor Officer, and had been called by Jason, the Assistant Warden, to see if I could cover him for a week so he could undertake a scientific expedition to St Kilda to study seabirds with some old colleagues. I believe this sort of trip is called “a jolly”. I’m not sure what that means – it must be a technical term. Of course I readily agreed, and arrived in time to be handed the work phone and a job list that included cleaning out the compost loos. Thanks Jason.
I was excited to be back. Skomer in June is full of energy. Everyone and everything is busy. Visitors climb the steps wide eyed at the puffins and the seabirds, staff and volunteers are busy with surveys, and the birds themselves are busy as their eggs hatch and they begin the frantic feeding of their young.
Despite a demanding schedule that included giving introduction talks to visitors, helping on the island’s boat conduct seabird counts, assisting with the annual shearwater census, and regardless of the high number of visitors, the island was full of quiet, inspiring moments. It can be the views, coloured by bluebells and campion, or it can be the wildlife; the glare of a short-eared owl or the flash of a peregrine. I’ve had some great moments in my week on Skomer, just about enough to forgive Jason for the unexpected alarm call.
|Skomer is popular: some of our lovely visitors queuing for tickets on the mainland|
|Also a large crowd but this time not humans but 13 Shelduck ducklings|
The shearwater census has started, and I spent a good amount of time with one arm down a burrow, playing a recorded shearwater call and hoping for a response from a shearwater sitting on an egg. Although it’s a scientific survey and is completely impartial, it was always a great feeling when the shearwater called back from the safety of its burrow. And I was always amazed to stand back and think about how many shearwaters are under the survey area we’d just finished.
|Doing shearwater census|
I enjoyed my immersion back into island life. I’m always impressed by the elemental nature of island living and the necessary self-reliance that goes with it. Things can’t be thrown away, recycling must be carried off the island, gas and water are in limited supply. If something needs repairing, then repair it. Being mindful of all these things could be seen as a hardship by some, but to me it makes island life all that more special. I like to think of it as a modern frontier lifestyle, the sort of which is hard to find, and all the more rewarding when you do.
I think my favourite thing about returning to Skomer was catching up with the island team. Of course there are new faces since my season, but there seems to be a great mix of people on Skomer this year, and the wardens are really enjoying getting stuck into the busiest time of year. The birds are always the stars of the Skomer show, but the island is also a community, and this year the community is at its busy best.