Saturday, 28 April 2018

The wonders of Skomer

Hello! My name is Dulcie, and I’m one of the Long Term Volunteers (LTV) lucky enough to call Skomer my home for the busy spring season. 

I’ve been given the responsibility of the blog this week.

Prior to becoming a Long-term Volunteer (LTV), I volunteered for 6 months in a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa, and was also involved in a local peregrine falcon project on the edge of Dartmoor with the National Trust.

I graduated from Falmouth University in 2016 with a first-class degree in BA (Hons) Marine & Natural History Photography. The course was a unique blend of photography and biology, with the purpose of combining natural history image making with conservation and the environment.

Ultimately, we explored the potential influence and impact that a camera can achieve; it’s a cliché, but “a picture is worth a thousand words” – photography can definitely be valued as a vital tool in conservation.

Skomer is positively teeming with wildlife - making it not only a precious haven for nature, but a photographer’s paradise too. The island supports an impressive diversity of subjects to capture, from spring’s stunning exhibition of bluebells to the spectacular short-eared owl that glides low above them. A steady flow of summer migrants, such as the woodchat shrike that has recently graced the island, add even more excitement and intrigue for the keen nature enthusiast. 

Guillemots at North Haven 

Razorbill taking flight

Packed tightly on precarious cliff ledges, you can experience the sensory overload of guillemots in their sheer thousands. Hidden amongst them are the razorbills, tucked away in the cliff crevices. These large colonies are particularly fascinating to watch, with their lively behaviour offering a wealth of photographic opportunities. Masters of the skies, fulmars soar above and skillfully exploit the thermal air currents. Swirling just offshore, the unmissable spectacle of gannets high-speed diving can rival any Olympic event. Without a doubt, their remarkable aerial displays present an exhilarating challenge to try and capture. 

And, of course, who could forget the puffins…?! For many, these endearing little birds are often considered the ultimate highlight of a visit to the island. Colourful in both appearance and character, puffins boast enough charisma to fill an entire SD card (or three!). 

Puffin among the campion 

The most recent count of their population indicate that the species is certainly thriving here. Alongside the Manx shearwater, another specialist seabird that inhabits Skomer, puffins heavily rely on the intricate tunnels and burrows that honeycomb the island. This fragile environment provides the optimum habitat for these internationally important nesting colonies. Burrows are exceptionally delicate and vulnerable to collapse. It is for this reason that designated paths are maintained for visitors to prevent any potential casualties. Popular areas, such as The Wick, can become overwhelmingly congested during peak season (aka ‘puffin mania’).

Throughout this period a bustling puffin colony is usually a frenzy of energetic parents busy foraging for their little ones. While puffins are incredibly photogenic and obliging subjects, it’s important to respect their space. A poorly placed tripod leg, or hastily stepping as you spin the camera round, could result in burrow damage or worse. Not to mention, any puffin forced to linger too long with a bill full of sandeels may find itself mercilessly mobbed by another greedy bird! So, it really is essential to be aware of birds and other people, including our very helpful weekly volunteers - please do say hello to them! "

A sunny morning boat introduction talk

The close proximity of the puffins and other wildlife means that a long telephoto lens isn’t necessarily required – depending on the shot you’d like to compose, a 300mm is usually more than adequate. A lighter load of equipment will enable you to explore the island more freely with less strain and, above all, the 87 steps from the boat landing will be smooth sailing (if you pardon the pun!).

Whether you’re a complete beginner, enthusiast, aspiring professional or seasoned photographer, there’s something for everyone here on Skomer. Be creative, have fun, but please remember to be responsible; no photograph is ever worth a risk to wildlife.

Taken something you’re really proud of, or want to know more about what’s going on in your image? Feel free to share to our social media pages, or ask a warden in person – we’d love to hear from you!

A stunning Skomer sunset

Dulcie (Long-term Volunteer)

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