Saturday 31 March 2018

Life in the flood

The 10th March was the day that I landed on Skomer (thanks to Dale Sailing) to be the new Skomer island visitor officer. I thought maybe I would have an exciting and relaxing couple of weeks settling in before the season started…exciting it was, relaxing, not so much!

As the extreme cold weather subsided, multiple burst pipes left us with major flooding in the hostel accommodation. Water poured from the ceilings and down the walls and due to an unusual configuration of pipe work in the loft it proved a challenge for us to fully cut off the water supply. Now I understand why ‘problem solving’ is an essential skill required to work on an island where we don’t have the luxuries of things…like plumbers! In the end, we used some old hosepipe, silicone and electrical tape to make a drain out of the loft into one of the bathroom showers until we could get some skilled help. It wasn’t pretty but it worked.

After this brief spell of slightly milder weather, came another big freeze… ‘Beast from the East, part 2’ or ‘The minibeast’ as Ed liked to call it. It didn’t feel very ‘mini’ to me and we were all walking around trying to work wearing anything up to 8 layers of clothing, gloves, wooly hats and scarves… and that was just indoors! It’s at times like these that you realise how tough the birds and wildlife are surviving in these extreme conditions.

Beast from the East, part 2

Couldn't get any more layers on!

As all this was happening my Visitor Officer training continued which included tractor training. Anyone who knows me will know I am of the petite variety and this is not conducive to driving tractors… but I had excellent teaching from Bee (like me, smaller than your average person) and I already feel more than comfortable plodding up and down from the Farm to North Haven on the tractor. The benefits of a slow vehicle are that it is also a good opportunity to do a spot of birdwatching!

Tractor training

Talking of which, of course Skomer is a wonderful place to see a diverse range of birds and wildlife. Even this early in the season we have had some lovely sightings. The short-eared owls are already active, we have a couple of hen harriers hunting and roosting on the island and have already had the first manxies and puffins back from their winter migration. Sarah-Kay and I spotted a manx shearwater trapped in some bracken only yesterday. They are true seabirds and are vulnerable to predation when out on land in the daytime so we tucked it away under a wooden board in our garden until it could safely leave under cover of darkness later that night.

Puffins are back at the Wick already

Sarah-Kay and I have put up some house martin nestboxes up at the farm and hopefully we may get some breeding birds in there this year. On the nestbox theme, we are currently constructing some artificial manx shearwater nestboxes. There is stiff competition for natural burrows with over 316,000 pairs breeding here and given the success of these nestboxes for our neighbours on Ramsey island we hope to get some breeding birds using them over the next few years. We will keep you posted on the shearwater nestbox colony.

Housemartin nextboxes

Sarah-Kay and I putting up nestboxes
So, we’re all set for a new season, I’m looking forward to seeing how things pan out for our wildlife this year and fingers crossed that it will be a good year.

2018 Skomer island team

Sarah Parmor
Skomer Visitor Officer

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Life in the freezer

The 1st and 2nd of March 2018 will live long in the memory for being the coldest and snowiest days we have ever experienced on Skomer. The temperature on the 1st did not get above -2 and dipped as low as -6. It felt just as cold and the wood burner was on all day. There were four hot water bottles in our bed that night. Sarah's previous post 'life in the fridge' touched upon conditions that day, the ponds were frozen and birds were visibly starting to struggle.

The next day was still very cold and it was clear the conditions were harsher than we, with our wood burners and hot water bottles, could  truly appreciate. Thousands of Redwings, Fieldfares, Lapwings and Golden Plovers passed over trying to escape the frozen conditions. At around midday it started snowing harder and kept it up into the evening. The entire island was covered in snow and in places the snow drifts were knee deep. This may not be unusual in Russia but it is here. I took my camera out and although the lens kept getting wet and the light was bad I tried to capture as much of the spectacle as possible. To hear more about how the birds fared simply check out the Recent Sightings tab at the top of this page.

It came in through our doors and windows
North Haven
Bee wearing many layers of clothing
Freezing pipes
Bee and Sarah
Now snowing hard
The Farm
Frozen ponds
The horse-course
The Wick
Toms House
Snow drifts
The Neck
The slip
So 'The Beast from the East' brought the freezing temperatures and storm Emma brought the snow and we, and Skomer's wildlife, just had to just sit it out.

Ed, Bee and Sarah

Thursday 1 March 2018

Life in the fridge

It sounds (and rather feels) like a rejected David Attenborough series doesn't it...

On Monday (26th) we launched the boat at high tide, however the tides were quite small and while the MCZ helped us by bring the boat down to the top of the beach, they couldn't drive down through the beach. This meant people power! Carl and Phil from Dale Sailing came along to help, and along with most of the MCZ team we hauled the boat on its trailer down the beach. Kate from the MCZ even lent Bee a drysuit to help get it in the water!
I rather think that Bee looks incredibly modern, while ed looks like he could be from a black and white photo of a fisherman from a hundred years ago. 

On Tuesday morning when we were up at 6 getting everything down to the beach.

All our gear, and yes, that is my bike...

We were very grateful for some more help from John Walmsley and Gary and Chrissy (who were guardians to all our possessions as we ferried loads to the island).

When we arrived with the first load, we were greeted by curious moulting seals, icicles and snow.

Note the satellite dish which normally brings internet to North Haven, currently not receiving the signal! 

Once we had persuaded Trundle the tractor to start (he was a little reluctant this year) we ferried our gear up to our respective houses and turned on the buildings "summer" systems.
This is the point at which we discover if anything has survived the winter.

Anyone who has stayed on the island will have met our "fridges" which are converted chest freezers (a device with a thermometer attached cuts off power to the cooling elements when it reaches the set temperatures, and switches back on with the temperature rises above, say, 5 degrees). When we turned on the fridges at north haven and the farm they did nothing. this is because the fridges, left open over the winter and at room temperature were at 2.5 and 1.3 degrees respectively.
Since then, at the farm, the fridge has not reached the temperature required to turn on, and in fact this morning i woke to a bleeping, which was the fridge converter alerting me that the internal temperature had gone below it's "working limit" and it is -1.
The benefits of this cold is that I was able to buy a cool box full of frozen food and 24 hours later when I got it to the freezer it was still frozen to the side of the box, and our vegetables will last a while! On the other hand, with no heating other than a fire in the living rooms, we're quickly running low on wood, and the kitchens and bedrooms are very very cold.
We are currently battling frozen pipes and the temperature is unlikely to get above 0 today, with a significant wind chill.
It's certainly interesting!

Ice on the main track makes for an adrenaline fuelled walk!

Meanwhile however we've been having the most incredible couple of days of waders on (and over) the island.
February the 28th had totals of 65 Oyster Catcher, 41 Golden Plover, 163 Lapwing, 34 Curlew, 6 Turnstone, 1 Jack Snipe, and 23 Common Snipe.
Many of the ponds are entirely frozen over but a small patch of North Pond is being kept clear by Canada Geese.
Teal, trying to stay warm
Mallards and Widgeon keeping an eye on things
Canada Geese keeping a narrow channel of water ice free.
Other highlights included Merlin and Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier hunting the over the western fields

Already today I've seen 184 Lapwing and when I spoke to Ed earlier he'd had over a hundred on a short walk, so I'm sure totals from today will be even more impressive!

For now I need to try and get feeling back to my fingers, so please excuse any spelling or grammatical mistakes. I'm currently wearing all my clothes and very, very cold.

Stay warm folks. See you soon.
Sarah (Assistant Warden)