Tuesday 30 August 2016

What’s lurking in the undergrowth?

I am Alice, one of this years long term volunteers, I have been on Skomer since mid-July and have really enjoyed myself so far. I have just finished my degree in conservation at Aberystwyth. I love the challenges that come with living on an island, the harsh environment and the tricky weather. It is such a privilege to be able to spend time here and immerse myself in the research, public engagement, running of the island and of course the wildlife, no two days are the same!

Since being on Skomer I have learned so much about the species that call this island their home, from the moths to the sea birds and everything in-between. I have become more and more interested in the species that are present on the island, but are not often seen, for example the bats, common lizards and of course the Skomer vole.

My personal project is looking at the populations of the charismatic Skomer vole on the island. Last year I was lucky enough to be able to come to the island with Dr Tim Healing, who did his PhD on the Skomer vole, for 10 days to help him carry out a census on the vole populations. This year I have taken on the project myself, following Tim’s methodology, carrying out 5 nights of mark and recapture on two separate sites, one with high density and a lower density site.

The Skomer vole is a sub species of bank vole that is endemic to Skomer, it is one of four small mammals on the island, including the wood mouse, common shrew and the pygmy shrew. It was thought that the bank vole was introduced to the island by accident possibly by a boat, and they have been on the island for so long that they have become genetically different to the mainland bank vole, creating a new subspecies. The Skomer vole is larger and has slightly different behaviour to the mainland bank vole; they are not used to having any ground predators and so are quite tame. They are only used to aerial predators and so stay still when they feel threatened. During my time trapping them, I have gotten to know certain animals very well. Last year, ‘Endless’ was my favourite (a juvenile male with no tail) and this year it is an adult female (number 918) that I watched foraging around the bracken in the evening, I have caught her almost every night.

The likely hood of seeing the Skomer vole is normally quite slim but if you are lucky, you could catch a glance on one running across the path. A little easier to spot during your visit are the common lizards. On sunny days they warm themselves on the board walk outside the hide at Moorey Mere. The common lizards are ectotherm (they can't generate heat themselves unlike mammals) and so need to warm their blood up by basking in the sun in order to hunt for small insects. Look out for the blue coloured juveniles and the extremely small immature animals.

When darkness falls on the island and the Manx shearwaters start to fly in be sure to look around your feet for the frogs and toads that come out and hunt insects, slugs and worms. Also look out for bats flying above your head, there have been nine different bat species recorded. Pipistrelles are most commonly seen, often flying around the old farm buildings at dusk.

When you are next on Skomer, keep one eye in the sky and one on the ground and let us know what you have seen!

Alice Brooke, Long Term Volunteer

Monday 22 August 2016

The Secret Life of Skomer’s Sea Shores

Hi, my name is Cerren and I am one of the Long Term Volunteers here on Skomer for the second half of the season. I had never been to Skomer before, but so far I have enjoyed every second! Each day has been so different and enjoyable.

Skomer is home to an impressive array of wildlife, and most people associate the island with its large colonies of seabirds, however, little attention is given to the shore life of Skomer. As I am currently reading Marine Biology with Oceanography at university, I have a keen interest in marine life and decided to go rockpooling in the intertidal zone along the beaches of Skomer. The intertidal zone, the area between the high and low tide, is one of the harshest environments for animals to survive in because of the changing environmental conditions. The animals living there have to cope with the stresses of changing salinity as it rains, the temperature as the sun heats the rockpools, long periods out of water as the tide recedes, and the mechanical strength of the waves. As a result, the fauna living in the intertidal zone have undergone some fascinating adaptations!

Cornish lumpsucker (Photo: P. Reufsteck)

Even though North Haven beach seems like a simple pile of rocks and boulders- it is teeming with life! Under the first rock I turned over, I found three shore clingfish also known as Cornish lumpsuckers. These fish have remarkable adaptations for example their pelvic fins have fused together to form suckers which help them to remain stuck to the rocks on exposed shores. They are also covered in a layer of mucous which allows them to remain hydrated during periods out of water. Some other species that I found included the broad-clawed porcelain crab which has flattened hairy claws to catch small particles in the water, sea mats which look like tiny bubble-wrap on top of kelp but they are actually a colony of individual bryozoans and by-the-wind sailors which are free-floating hydrozoans from the same phylum as jellyfish (the cnidarians). Like the jellyfish, by-the wind sailors also have stinging cells called nematocysts which they use to stun their prey.

By-the-wind sailor (Photo: J. Milborrow)

Normally, the public don’t have access to the beaches on Skomer to minimise disturbance to wildlife, but on Wednesday, I held a seashore spectacular family day activity. It was a very successful day with a great turn out of people. Around 15 children and their parents joined me for a two hour session of rock pooling on North Haven beach. The children loved finding the variety of invertebrates and vertebrates along the shore. Some of the species that were found included compass jellyfish, by-the wind sailors, keelworms, barnacles, limpets, topshells, dog whelk, anemones, shannies, blennies and common shore crab. Their favourite animals by far were the crabs therefore we all decided to have a competition to find the largest crab on the beach (the winner found a 5cm common shore crab).

Edible crab (Photo: C. Richards)

Next time you go to a rocky shore, check under the rocks to see what fascinating creatures you can find, but remember to place the rocks back gently where you found them!

(Long Term Volunteer)

Monday 15 August 2016

Celtic Deep trip

We try and take a few trips out each year to see some wildlife and give our volunteers a bit of a treat. On the evening of Saturday 13th of August we took a trip out to the Celtic Deep, which lies around 25 miles SW of Skomer, to look for seabirds (especially storm petrels) and cetaceans. As you can see we were successful. We saw over 40 Storm Petrels, plenty of Common Dolphins, as well as two Great Skuas and a Sooty Shearwater, and everyone involved had a wonderful time. What an amazing area we live in!

European Storm Petrel
Playful Common Dolphins

Thursday 4 August 2016