Friday, 26 March 2021

The Ace of Spades

It’s somewhat startling to realise it has been a fortnight since our last update – it’s been a busy couple of weeks, and set to get busier! Spring has sprung on Skomer. The willow trees are busy with bumblebees, curlew are calling and displaying over the central fields, and the cliffs are loud with excitable kittiwakes. We’ve even seen our first peacock butterflies, fluttering in the unaccustomed warmth of the sun; whilst up at the farm, lizards have been seen basking against a sheltered wall. 

Common lizard in the sun
The weather has been largely kind, allowing us to tackle our ever-growing list of maintenance tasks. We’ve been mending hides, boardwalks and benches; filling in holes dug by overly-industrious rabbits on public paths; oiling everything that can be oiled; and removing vegetation from the jetty steps – a task which saw one broom denuded of all its bristles, whilst another broke in two. We may need some more… 

We spent some time doing battle with the heap of rock and earth remaining on the slipway, creating enough space to allow us to get the dumper through and onto the beach – with deliveries from the mainland due, we couldn’t wait for backup. Instead, the two of us set to, each occasionally, unconvincingly, reassuring the other that the pile was getting smaller. Once finally on the beach, we experimented with the winch. Hopefully we will avoid getting the dumper stuck but, just in case, it’s of some comfort to know that there’s a way of extricating it! 

It's clear!
This week, Skomer has also been busy with contractors, coming out to work variously on the island’s electrics, plumbing, and WiFi – a combination of servicing and repairs which will hopefully stand us in good stead for the coming season. 

We’ve also had technicians from Rock Engineering out to assess and make safe the rockfall in North Haven. As they abseiled down the cliff face, removing everything loose, Leighton and I looked ruefully at the newly formed pile of earth and rock on the slipway. Spades once again at the ready…

Making safe the cliff

This looks familiar...
With Lisa, the Wildlife Trust's Head of Islands and Marine, coming out to the island with contractors, there has been an opportunity to meet and chat face to face about the coming season. The whens and hows of the island opening remain dependent upon lockdown restrictions – like many others, we await government updates whilst trying to work out what different scenarios might mean for us in practice. Challenges remain, but we’re looking forward to welcoming visitors and volunteers as soon as we’re able to.
North Haven meeting
We’ve continued our monitoring of raven and chough nesting sites and have recently confirmed four active raven nests with sightings of adults on the nest. We suspect a further two nests, noting the presence of sharp-eyed adults keeping a distance and watching us when we are nearby. Chough are more elusive still, but we’ve seen nest-building activity in three different territories. The sound of their call sees us racing to spot them, hoping to see nest material in their beaks before they disappear from sight. 

Raven's nest with eggs
On Monday, the first puffins came to land, flying in great circles of the bay before dropping down onto the slope by North Haven. Within moments, their small comical figures were everywhere we looked. Some stood bemusedly for a few seconds before taking flight once more, others set off with determined waddles to investigate their surroundings. They are always entertaining. 

Back on land...

But not for long!
Now onto the beasts, the birds, and the bees: 

Like the rest of Pembrokeshire, we’ve had our eyes peeled for the adventurous walrus who showed up on the mainland this week, scanning likely haul-out spots and speculating on how our resident grey seals might react to its presence. Alas, this might not be the year for a Skomer walrus – hopefully the lost beast will soon wend its way safely home. 

However, the sea hasn’t been short of spectacles. Last Saturday, we watched a group of around 100 common dolphins in the sea off the north-west coast of the island for about 40 minutes. A few harbour porpoises closer to shore were sadly somewhat upstaged – I’ve never seen anything like it.

New sightings for the year included a flock of common scoter seen off Skomer Head, two black-tailed godwit at Moorey Mere, a single lapwing and three shelduck at North Pond, and a collared dove at North Valley Willows. On Wednesday we were excited to see a single female-type black redstart at the farm (we remain somewhat in awe of our Skokholm neighbours spotting seven on the same day). And, finally, our first hirundines of the year! – on Tuesday Leighton saw a group of five sand martins passing through North Haven. 

And as for the bees? So far, we’ve had buff-tailed and white-tailed bumblebees and common carder bees buzzing around – we’re looking forward to more invertebrate action in the coming months. 

Time for a cuppa now, and on with the list! More when we get a chance – thanks for reading. 

– Ceris, Assistant Warden

Buff-tailed bumblebee

Lesser black-backed gulls

Leighton monitoring chough

Sunset from The Wick

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