Sunday, 2 May 2021

Gargling guillemots & legless lizards... An LTV's-eye view of Skomer!

Hi everyone! I’m Becca, one of the long-term volunteers (LTVs) on the island this year.

A brief introduction about myself - after realising a few years ago that I wanted to pursue a career in ecology, I studied a Masters in Biodiversity & Conservation. Following a slow first year post-graduation (the joys of living through a global historical event, eh?), I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to gain some practical experience in the field. Having previously done some research on gannets in Scotland, I’m particularly eager to work with the huge range of seabirds that are found here on Skomer!

The team has been very busy since our last blog - this week saw us welcoming visitors onto Skomer for the first time since September 2019, which has been very exciting! We’re so pleased to finally be able to share the island with the public again, and have been buzzing around getting the island’s infrastructure ready for their arrival. Between bird surveys, barge deliveries and clearing out multiple storage sheds, Samanta (my fellow LTV) and I have been getting our DIY on, making pretty the picnic benches and installing signage along the paths so that visitors can enjoy their time on the island as much as we’re enjoying ours!

With our love for the island in mind, I wanted to share with you my personal favourite places on Skomer (and in game show fashion, these are in no particular order)…

Garland Stone

A walk to the Garland Stone is the first thing we did on our introductory tour of Skomer, and is always my first thought when I fancy a pre/post-work stroll. Once you’ve passed through the sea of bluebells currently covering much of the island, you’re greeted by a spectacular view of the Garland Stone and the sea beyond it - with swallows and sand martins swirling around your head, fulmar gliding over the rocks below, and gannets soaring above the water in the distance, you really get a feel for how wild yet peaceful Skomer Island can be. Gannets are also an indication that there might be cetaceans around, so it’s a great place to catch a glimpse of harbour porpoise or common dolphins!

In the foreground, a grassy green bank, cutting away into steep cliffs. Beyond, a large rock in a blue sea.
Nothing beats the Garland Stone on a sunny afternoon! 

Bull Hole

In my opinion, this is one of the best seabird spots on the island. Home to guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and more, Bull Hole is an intense experience… the sight, sound, and (if the wind is in your favour) smell of a large seabird colony can be somewhat overwhelming! Over this past week I’ve started work on monitoring a small plot for razorbill productivity on the cliff here, and am always impressed by how many birds have managed to cram themselves into what looks like such a small space! Guillemots have what is probably the smallest breeding territory of any bird, extending by only a beak’s length around its nest.

A photograph of guillemots closely bunched together against a dark cliff face
Prime real estate - only a peck away

North Haven

As the boat pulled into land on our initial arrival, I was amazed at how much wildlife I could see before I’d even set foot on the island, and that amazement still remains! The tough walk up the landing steps is worth it for the chance to get a close-up view of the seabirds that nest there, and there are puffins everywhere you look - rafting on the water, bumbling about their burrows, and flapping inches from your head as they whoosh down the hillside. But the biggest personal highlight for me at North Haven is the seals. You can find them every morning laid out like sausages on the beach, but when they’re not being lazy, they’re being extremely curious and like to get a good look at what you’re up to (we had a sizeable audience when clearing the landslide in early April)!

A razorbill standing on a rock
A rather smart-looking razorbill posing by the landing steps

The Farm

As well as being my home whilst working on Skomer, the Farm has proven itself to be a fantastic place to spot wildlife. I’ve seen a lot of personal firsts here - slow worms, ring ouzels and whimbrels, to name but a few - and have also witnessed some fantastic bird behaviours, all from the comfort of a picnic bench with a biscuit in one hand and my binoculars in another! The sight of two short-eared owls dramatically whirling around in the air above the hostel is one I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

A woman with a large smile on her face holding a very small slow worm
I was very pleased with my first slow worm, even if it was a baby one!

I could continue this list forever (every part of the island is amazing), but will end it there for now!

Look forward to keeping you posted as the season progresses.

Becca, Long-term Volunteer

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