Sunday, 3 November 2019

update and the last month of the season 2019

Here we are again, very much into the last month of this season. Autumn has been in the air for a while now. Grey Seal breeding season with the total number of pups that reached 227 so far is slowly coming to an end. Their breeding season is now slowing down and so are we. The sea has been ruthless this autumn and that has massively affected our monitoring of the seals, often preventing us from accessing many of the caves and beaches.
Skomer's landscape has changed again and much of the vegetation looks dark chestnut now. We absolutely love the graciousness of the island in autumn, it almost feels as if a very confident, elegant and yet wild lady was promenading through the entire place putting us all in awe.

Isn't the colour stunning?
The island is yet again being battered this time by strong southwesterlies and occasional northerlies. Earlier on southeasterly has brought us good numbers of thrushes recently with a good count of Fieldfare, which correlated with the BTO's recently published migration predictions.

It's been very warm and humid or very cold, gusty and rainy, the latter one all the time for the past few days. Both combinations are fun! Wild, wild Skomer!

Everyone has worked really hard this year, much has been done and achieved including some of the larger jobs that were completed this year.

Both septic tanks were fixed, the Weekly Volunteers’ and staff roof was replaced. We also painted our Skomer Visitor Centre, increased the capacity of our Moorey Mere pond, we had our Skomer vehicle replaced and got an additional one to carry smaller loads. Thanks to TFOSAS (also known as the Friends). You can read about that in our earlier blogs. We also did the beach clean 3 times! 

There is a list of significant jobs that we would like to carry out (or to start) next year such as the lime-pointing of the hostel, farm sewage pipes replacament, rebuilding some of the bird hides and a few more so as usual we will be organizing a work party to get started and hopefully we will be able to achieve as much as this year or more! Much of those major tasks was done with the assistance of this year’s spring work party volunteers, also by Chris Ward and his team and the Friends, which we talked about in some of the blogs earlier in the season, to whom we are very grateful. 

We had some reinforcements from those two siblings (below) who happen to represent 50% of the Burton family. Always great fun to have them here especially when they are doing something good for the island :) Mark promised to bring his guitar again, this time we'll sing and dance! Maybe... :)
Each week 6 different weekly volunteers arrive to the island in April - September. Skomer functions extremely well having those brilliant volunteers doing many of the jobs we simply wouldn't have the time for or the skills as a matter of fact! But most of all and yes this is going to be repeated a hundreth time (because it's true!) we want to thank them because they share the passion for the island, they want to make a difference, they want to support the team and they truly are amazing at engaging with the day visitors and making our time on Skomer more fun! The island simply wouldn't function as well without them, thanks guys! That master workbench and the steps were brilliantly made by the weekly volunteers!

Also, part of team Skomer 2019 were the Long-term Volunteers (LTVs); Alice Cousens and Clare Alley for the first half of the season, Issy Key and Rob Knot for the second half and Gemma Haggar the Seabird Long-term Volunteer. Gemma is actually currently enjoying life and doing a similarly excellent job monitoring seals on our previous island the Calf of Man. After Skomer Alice got a job at RSPB Conwy, Clare continues her undergraduate studies, Rob will soon be off to RSPB Forsinard Flow for some residential volunteering and Issy’s Instagram (@climate_science) has continued to take the world by storm. We’re very proud and pleased for all of them! Sarah(-Kay) Purdon Skomer’s Assistant Warden 2017 - 2019 has started her new job just over a month ago, still with the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, as Red Squirrel Project Officer. Alexa Piggott this year's Fieldworker who is about to start a new job a Technical Assistant (European Red List) at BirdLife International for the next 5 months, which is also amazing!

We wish them all the best and thank them for all that they have done for the island and the people associated with it. It's wonderful to see them being so successful! Great work team!

Team WTSWW Skomer first part of the season (Gemma missing)
Still first part of the season, with Gemma, without Alexa


Team Skomer in the second part of the season - Sarah-Kay missing

Summer boat adventure! Look at that heavenly calm sea! What a day it was! Thank you Dale Sailing!
Manx Shearwaters during our boat trip
We saw some spectacles outside or close to Skomer and those included thousands of rafting Manx Shearwaters, lots of Puffins, thousands of Gannets on or near Grassholm, Common Dolphins, Storm Petrels. 
Calm sea, great seabirds and a stunning sunset watched from the boat were the perfect combination to finish our busy day.

It was a pretty awesome trip and a great way to gather most Skomer team members (including the OxNav group, JNCC Gloucestershire fieldworker(s):) to have some fun together. It is not an easy task to get this many of us in one place in the middle of the season, trust me! Everyone worked very hard as usual and everyone deserved a little treat.
We also happened, to you know, accidentally appear on our neighbouring island, recognise this lad? :)
Small bits of history - quoting Chris Perrins here :) 4 wardens and Mike Alexander (ex Skomer warden!) on the original Dream Island
Steve Sutcliffe and a bunch of helpers land on Middleholm every year and this season we were lucky to be a part of the team.

This year's Guillemot ringing project team. Photo credit to Tim Birkhead (and his camera's self-timer)

This is only a glimpse of all the many things that have happened this season on Skomer or sometimes outside Skomer too ;) Much of it has already been mentioned in our earlier blogs, which you're welcome to read. It's been great fun!

Currently we spend a fair amount of time monitoring seals but we also are basically packing 'the island' up into the boxes, bags and cupboards to keep everything fresh, prevent it from going mouldy(!) and to have it ready for the next season.

You wouldn't believe the volume of the island's precious possessions we can fit into this library! Much of the fieldwork gear, ropes, climbing equipment, boxes, bedding (photo) and what not. This happens to be the driest place on the island and one of the very few no mice zones here! We won't post any more photos for obvious reasons...can only imagine...;):)

This photo contains 60% of all the bedding placed in the library :)

Our amazing team members have departed and it's just been the two of us here since mid October. It's shocking how quickly one year has passed and how quiet the island has become again! After a buzzing season full of extremely busy days and a cracking record of 20,173 day visitors we are having a little bit of quiet time to gather thoughts, write reports, examine and assess what needs to be done here in 2020, for birding and to sit at the fire place of course!

This is what one of the many blustery days with the most beautiful light at Amos looked like. Difficult to bird, to watch seals or to do anything really in these conditions but brilliant to experience the magnificence of the rough sea around the island. This is pretty much what it has been like throughout September and October with a few lovely days of perfectly calm spells in between allowing to yet again enjoy the scenery without the need to cover up and stand back to the wind direction (when possible :))

Skomer is a wonderful place to watch the seasons change. And nature is the only force to shape and colour this beautiful island.

One of those dazzling days when all you want to do is to explore the island, sunbathe, bird, photograph, drop the autumn layers, well you get the idea! In short to enjoy yourself on this sublime island. It is especially important to leave the house on days like that when 75% of the autumnal time (because of the unfavourable weather) is spent indoors. This is to recharge the batteries, absorb some vitamin D, breathe some fresh air, and because no one wants to sit inside when you have the views like this! It is recommended to do the same wherever you are :) nature calls!

Here is a short rap piece, hopefully embracing what it's been like.

'Island life in a nutshell'

Cliffs, gale, storm, crashing sea
Don't put your feet on the burrows incidentally
Puffins, shearwaters, rabbits all part of the theme
Look away if you see a great black-backed gull having its tasty meal
Circle of life and natural selection we explain and want the education to grow
People often sob they don't like that kind of show
Remotness, connecion to nature
Feeds the soul, the body, the mind of the earthly creature
What an adventure!
Mystery catacean?
What on earth are you talking about?
Articulate, gesticulate, one word only, you're out of TIME they shout!
Island games are the best
What I'm trying to address
Is that the team time is always blessed
We laugh, we brainstorm, we argue, we love
But how else will you know that you evolve
Look at your mirrors
They are all you need to be nearer
To get closer
You need that kind of exposure
To find the true self
Develop, discover, explore, this is the real wealth
Focus on that calm sea again
What can you see? Do you think you're sane?
Perfect sunrise, clear sky, fulmars gliding
What else do you need?
Just binoculars and a notebook
You can continue to feel amazed and you'll never exceed
By all means enjoy but have you understood?
No one ever disagreed
Life are those precious moments
Put all those island different components
Jointly, together
You'll only want to go further and further
Oh and those carpets of bluebells
Need a word with 2 syllables
Frog, toad, seal, moth
That's not right, it's starting to sound like froth
Will finish my story
Don't need the glory
You live in a paradise, it's the dream island they say
I cannot disagree, I'm in haven everyday

Thanks for reading :)


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