Tuesday, 8 June 2021

June already!

From blustery May into sunny June, time flies here - we're now in the midst of the busiest time of year, where we must count all of the island's cliffnesting seabirds. It's busy, tiring and exhilarating - long days are spent on the boat, with one of us at the helm and three or four others using binoculars to scour the cliffs. Using clickers, we set to - a click per bird seen, or a click per ten on some of the busier stretches of cliffs. Two counts are done of all of the birds in each of the island's 45 sections. Two people count each species in a section, and if these two counts are within 10% of one another they are allowed. If not, we begin again.

And once we've finished all 45 sections? Well, we start again, with the entire island needing to be counted twice. When we close our eyes, we see guillemots... 

Off the water, the island’s hard-working weekly volunteers have a full programme welcoming visitors, patrolling the island and cleaning the accommodation. They keep the whole island ticking over, and we’d be quite lost without them. Over the past two months, they’ve also set to with a whole miscellany of tasks: sign-making, hide repairs, landslide clearance, painting, sanding, bench and gate construction, exclosure deconstruction, and – unenviably – boat-scrubbing. One large bull seal unfortunately seems to view the island boat as his personal lilo and toilet (!) - extra time for boat scrubbing is now being factored into each day of boat counts.




... And more scrubbing!

We’ve had a marvellous bunch of volunteers since the season began, adapting well to new ways of working under Covid restrictions and contributing humour, hard graft, Welsh lessons and cake – all very welcome! Diolch yn fawr! (Please note - applications to volunteer on Skomer in 2022 will be advertised on https://www.welshwildlife.org/ from 1st September). 

Meanwhile, the island is busy with new life. Late May saw the first herring, great and lesser black-backed gull chicks, tiny bundles of fluff guarded by loud and protective parents. They were soon followed by the first puffin chicks - the island is now teeming with puffins bearing sand eels, a sign that beneath the surface hungry pufflings are being well fed. Peeping sounds from the cliffs lead the keen-eyed observer to small fluffy guillemot and razorbill chicks, whilst today (8th June) our first downy kittiwake chick was spotted. 

Lesser black-backed gull chicks © Josie Hewitt

Fulmar with egg © Skomer Warden

Puffin with fish © Skomer Warden

Our earliest chicks, the ravens, are now fledging or have fledged, and look very smart in their fresh plumage – in stark contrast with the now rather ragged adults, which are going into moult. Two shelduck chicks (dubbed shelducklings) are defying our expectations by surviving (for now) in the midst of a gull colony, whilst North Pond boasts three broods of moorhen chicks – small pom-poms with comically oversized feet. 

Highlights of May included a gorgeous male grey-headed wagtail at Moorey Mere on the 21st – this dazzling subspecies of the yellow wagtail is rare in the UK, and was a first for a few of us. We’ve had several cuckoos passing through, including 5 in one day on the 15th, and whimbrel, dunlin, green sandpiper and common sandpiper within the past fortnight. On the 24th, a spoonbill, and an osprey (spotted by Dave of West Coast Birdwatching on one of his tours; compensation for the cold, the wet, and the wind!). And, on the 30th, a male western subalpine warbler - incredibly elusive, but well worth the brief views. Topping off the whole month, on 31st May Leighton spotted a stunning lesser grey shrike at the farm - my first ever shrike, and the island's first since 1993.

Grey-headed wagtail © Joe Wynn
Spoonbill © Kerry Fisher
Osprey © Dave Astins/ West Coast Birdwatching

We're not long into June yet, but it's been quite the start, with the lesser grey shrike being followed on the 1st June by a very smart woodchat shrike, spotted by Lisa at the farm, who on the same day had 7 great egrets overhead - a Pembrokeshire record. 

Lesser grey shrike © Dave Astins/ West Coast Birdwatching

Woodchat shrike © Josie Hewitt

You probably won't hear much from us for a few weeks, as we spend time out on boats or dotted around the island for the rest of seabird season. Wish us luck - and see you on the other side!

– Ceris, Assistant Warden

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