Hi! My name's Izzy and I’m the Seabird Monitoring Volunteer for 2021. I finished my Zoology degree in 2019 and after getting overly excited about seabirds while doing cetacean research, I’m mixing it up to get excited about cetaceans while helping with seabird monitoring! I’ve come to Skomer for the mad month of June to help with the whole island seabird counts and Manx shearwater census.
Arriving on the island in late May it was my first visit to Skomer, and it leaves a lasting impression. A flyby of a short-eared owl in the first 10 minutes and then an evening swim with auks flying above our heads and puffins sat only metres away. I knew it was going to be a special month from the off.
First up on the to-do list was the small matter of the whole island seabird counts. The island’s circumference is split into 45 sections, all of which needed to be surveyed either from land or sea to count the cliff-nesting birds, specifically guillemots, razorbills, fulmars and kittiwakes. After we’ve done it once, we start over and do the whole island a second time, hoping the weather is kind enough to get it all done by the end of the 3rd week of June.
|Leighton rowing the tender|
The 1st of June came along with a whiff. The seal which uses the boat as a snooze station had really made its mark. After 10 minutes of scrubbing and a ‘fragrant’ fishy smell we were ready to load the boat up, jump onboard and head to our first section. Working in teams of 2 we count a species and then compare our numbers; hoping that they are within 10%. If not, we’d try again, often talking through sections of birds (not so beneficial with hundreds of guillemots, but very helpful for the others!). Once we’d ticked off all 4 species we’d move onto the next section. Counting conditions were often affected by winds and tides, so on the days we couldn’t count by boat, we’d do the land count sections instead. These included the mass of birds at Bull Hole, the Wick and High Cliff, some of which took 5 hours for only a small area!
|Izzy counting Wick|
|Soggy but happy|
|Becca, Samanta and Izzy|
|Becca and Izzy at North Haven|
After some long days of staring through our binoculars, we got the initial count done within the first week, just in time to start the Manx shearwater census. This yearly survey monitors the population of Manx shearwaters by playing calls down burrows and listening for a response. Most years, we monitor 18 random plots across the island to gather the general trend, then every 10 years there is a full island census. Each plot has as its centre a metal pole from which you run 17.84m ropes to create a circular plot of 100m2, checking every burrow in that area. If you visited Skomer in early June and saw us crawling around on the wet, muddy ground, this was our purpose! We can do the census in any weather, so it meant the foggy/rainy days we had in the second 2 weeks of June were put to good use getting the plots surveyed.
|The final Manxie plot!|
Although there were a few moments of worry about getting the counts done in time, very quickly it all came together and we finished off the land counts on the 19th of June. A big push on the 20th also saw the final 2 Manxie plots finished, though I do take full blame for the long day; hoping/expecting we would get them done by lunchtime meant we didn’t get back until past 6.30pm…
Though it is a cliché, this month really has been a whirlwind. Long days of seabirds, wet bums and laughs. The whole team here on Skomer really have been great to work in this intense time. Even when the weather was grim and we were soaked to the skin we were still laughing, singing ABBA, or telling awful jokes. I’m really hoping this is only a temporary goodbye to Skomer and that I can be back soon for more of the amazing wildlife and the lovely community (though I’m not overly upset to be leaving the overprotective gulls behind!)
|See a bird, click!|
- Izzy, Seabird Monitoring Volunteer