Wednesday 18 August 2021

Seals, sunsets, and shooting stars

Over the past few days there has been a very much autumnal feel in the air over here on Skomer. Spare blankets have been dug back out from under the beds, flasks of tea and coffee are once again becoming a common sight, and, as can be expected, the wind has been causing the usual havoc with crossings over to the island. With the forecast looking to be improving again in the next week, we may well see things change once again – here’s hoping for just a smidge more summer sunshine!

Skomer sunset © Skomer VO 

But change is ultimately inevitable. The gargling of our wonderful auks has been replaced by the rather mournful, but equally lovely, song of our Atlantic grey seals (Halichoerus grypus). A sea of purple has returned to the island - this time a carpet of heather instead of bluebells. And out on the water, sightings of common dolphin continue to rise, with a humpback whale being spotted between us and Grassholm just last week!

Singing Atlantic grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) © Skomer VO

Common dolphins off Garland Stone © Skomer Volunteer Warden

Work continues to be varied. The war (we’re only being slightly dramatic!) against rosebay willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium) continues. All four sites where the invasive plant has been found have now been cut back using brushcutters, scythes and shears. Two of these sites have now been chopped a second time, and monitoring will continue to ensure any regrowth is caught early. We’re hopeful that over the next few years our efforts to remove the species from the island will be successful.

Ceris, our Assistant Warden, brushcutting in South Valley © Skomer VO

Moving from management to monitoring, over the last few weeks we’ve been carrying out vegetation surveys. Those of you who have been over on Skomer may well have glanced at a staff member in the distance, carrying a rather long pole! This pole is a key piece of equipment for these surveys. By attaching a camera to the end, and holding the pole above our heads, we are able to photograph a 1m2 plot of vegetation, and identify changes over time. Seemingly randomly placed, it’s been lovely to explore areas of the island that we would otherwise scarcely visit to carry out these surveys.

Vegetation Plot 32 - A somewhat difficult post to find! © Skomer VO

This week we’ve begun our seal monitoring on the main section of the island. This involves walking the coastal loop, and spotting for seals at set points – you’ll be familiar with some: Garland Stone, Pigstone, and the Wick, to name a few. Monitoring also continues over on the Neck, primarily carried out by our Seal Project Officer, Bee. Bee may well be familiar to you as one half of Ed and Bee, our Wardens from 2013 – 2018; we’re excited to welcome Bee back to the Skomer Team for 2021!

Our second seal pup at Matthew's Wick © Seal Project Officer

So far a fantastic five seal pups have been spotted in remote coves around the island! Those on accessible beaches will be sprayed with a unique colour combination to allow us to monitor their growth as the season progresses (this paint is not harmful to the pups, and allows us to collect important data). With the seal season having only just really started, there will be plenty to come from these magnificent marine mammals!

Our fifth seal pup on South Haven Beach © Seal Project Officer

Seal pup well attended by Mum © Seal Project Officer

Turning from the sea to the skies, we’ve seen the beginnings of autumn migration. We’ve had good numbers of willow warbler, whitethroat, and sedge warbler, as well as the odd spotted flycatcher and, to my delight, a handful of my favourite songbirds – robins. Swallows have also been seen moving over the island, with the sky above the Farm seemingly moving with them one evening last week (we counted a minimum of 60 birds in one go). Meanwhile, on the ground, a gull chick (now dubbed Gerald) has been making friends with the island’s residents.

Whitethroat © Skomer Warden
One of our many gull chicks (not Gerald) © Skomer VO

Outside of work, we’ve celebrated birthdays, watched meteor showers, baked (more) bread, had some impromptu Welsh lessons, and continued to get better (we could hardly get worse!) at Frisbee.

Celebrating Ed's birthday with wraps, cake, and party hats © Skomer Assistant Warden

Loading up the RIB for an early morning outing © Skomer Assistant Warden

Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!

Beth, Visitor Officer

Monday 9 August 2021

Meet new LTV Rowie!

Hi everyone!

My name is Rowie and I'm lucky enough to be one of the new Long-Term Volunteers on Skomer Island for the rest of this season.

My first day giving the introductory talks to visitors

Originally from Coventry, my family had a small caravan in North Pembrokeshire where we would spend the majority of our summer holidays, half-terms and a fair few weekends dotted in between. Looking back, these frequent breaks from urban life helped me fall easily in love with nature and coastal living. This heavily influenced my decision in not only what I studied at university, but also where. During my first meeting with my careers counsellor at college, she asked if I had any idea of where I would like to study and my immediate response was: "By the sea!"


Now, I have a BSc (Hons) Zoology with Conservation from Bangor University and can confirm that being able to stop and gaze at the sea on a regular basis is certainly a natural and beautiful form of stress relief (which is especially needed after those long hours working in the library).

For my undergraduate dissertation I studied human-wildlife conflict, specifically how roads and vehicle presence affected the distribution of the Black-backed jackal population in the Dinokeng Game Reserve (South Africa). For this, I was given the opportunity to stay in my study location for six weeks to not only collect the data for my research, but help others with their data collection aswell. Here, I gained hands on experience in the various techniques used to gather the information needed (e.g. camera traps, vegetation quadrants and transects), which has been extremely useful in future field work I have been involved in.

Collecting data in the Dinokeng Game Reserve (South Africa)

Internship in Ireland

As part of my degree I underwent a six month 'Animal Care and Education' internship at Seal Rescue Ireland (the only seal rescue centre in the whole of the Republic of Ireland). A bit different to the setting and tasks I had to do in South Africa, I worked directly with the wild seals in our care and developed an understanding of how both rehabilitation centres and the charity sector operate.

Myself (right) and a colleague (left) moving a seal at its release for Seal Rescue Ireland

During my time there, I participated in and helped organise as many fundraisers as I could, including:

  • Running the crafts stall at a 'Family Fun Day' event.
  • Creating my own sea glass jewellery for sale in the gift shop.
  • Collecting donations for raffle prizes from local businesses.
Earrings I made out of sea glass that were for sale at the Seal Rescue Ireland Centre

Taking part in the annual 'Seal Dip' (along with other members of staff, we ran into the cold sea on the 1st of February and raised approximately £2,000 between us).

This internship really high lighted to me the importance of wildlife charities and since my placement finished I have volunteered at my local RSPCA charity shop and at a small rabbit sanctuary as a 'Medicine Volunteer'.

Skomer Island

My interest in the charity sector, love of nature and passion for Pembrokeshire all lead me to apply for the position of 'Long-Term Volunteer' on Skomer Island and I was successful!

Now, I am almost a fortnight into my stay and have quickly settled in to island life, however, I will probably never get used to being constantly surrounded by so much incredible wildlife.

Already, I have found my favourite spot on the island (although this could change later as I'm discovering new places on the island everyday): Skomer Head, where you can relax and it almost feels like you're at the end of the world. This is also a wonderful place to observe seals in their natural environment.

The view from Skomer Head after a lovely sunset

My accommodation for the next two and a half months is known as 'The Hut', a cute and cosy little den where I instantly felt at home. Each morning, when I open the curtains I am repeatedly struck by the picturesque view (even in the not so idyllic conditions) of the sea and mainland. I have lovely downstairs neighbours in the form of Manx Shearwaters (I refer to them as 'The Manxies'), who I haven't seen but often hear pottering about at night.

The Hut

Yesterday, I was asked about my favourite wildlife moments so far, which at first seemed impossible. However, after much deliberation I have managed to narrow down my top three:

  1. Spotting my first Skomer Island seals at the Garland Stone - being stuck in the city due to lockdown regulations for over a year made this sighting especially uplifting.
  2. Correctly identifying my first butterfly - before helping out on the butterfly transect I knew very little in regards to butterfly species and how to recognise them. However, I now have a much better eye for telling apart different species and am thinking of studying them for my personal project.
  3. Seeing a pod of approximately forty dolphins pass by North Haven - this happened on my first day working with the public (giving the introductory talks) and the group was so close that you could easily see them without binoculars.
A Small Copper butterfly that I spotted and identified

Myself after I had correctly identified a Red Admiral on my first butterfly transect

A seal haul-out at Garland Stone

After already learning so much about the wildlife here and now the island is run, I am extremely excited to see what new opportunities I encounter over the next few months and face them head on!

Thursday 5 August 2021

New LTV Ed joins the team

Hello, my name is Ed, I am one of the new long-term volunteers (LTVs) here on Skomer Island.

Ed enjoying the sunshine at North Haven

So, a bit about me: I first visited Skomer back in 2015 as a day visitor and fell in love with the place, especially as this was my first-time seeing puffins! 2 years later when I was 16, I came out for my first stint as a weekly volunteer. In that first week I gained a great deal of experience and have fond memories of weighing Manx shearwater chicks and watching my first ever storm petrels return to their nest holes in North Haven. I guess it was no surprise then that I booked to return the following year and have now ended up being a weekly volunteer on 4 occasions. However, it was last year when I came as a volunteer for 4 weeks to help with seal monitoring that I gained my first proper experience of island life, being one of only 4 people on the island. With no visitors, my time as an LTV was a bit different and I felt fortunate to be able to return this year to experience the island in a more ‘normal’ year.

I originally come from Worcestershire but for the last 3 years I have been living in Bangor where I have just finished studying zoology with conservation. During my time at university, I played an active role in the hockey team as well as being part of the ornithological society. Geographically Bangor is in a great location, and I spent much of my time either hiking in the mountains or visiting the beach. I am also a trainee bird ringer and being in Bangor has given me the opportunity to ring a range of exciting species from waders to duck to seabirds.


Me seemingly looking happy and confused towards a razorbill chick whilst seabird ringing on Bardsey

One of the main things that first brought me to the island some 6 years ago was its incredible wildlife and this is definitely a reason I keep coming back. In only a fortnight here I have been treated to a wide range of incredible wildlife, such as regular short-eared owls, common dolphins, dark-green fritillary butterflies and common lizards to name but a few. Though I have a keen interest in all aspects of natural history, birds are definitely the thing that started it all off and are still probably my main interest. During my first 2 weeks the birdlife has started to change with many of the breeding birds now beginning to leave. However, this has meant that the first autumn migrants have started to pass through which have included a knot, green sandpipers, swifts, willow warblers and a marsh harrier. This is an exciting time as birds come and go, with the excitement of not knowing what might appear next.

A juvenile cuckoo was one of the birding highlights of the first week

A couple of reed warblers have been seen passing through the island as they migrate south for winter including this rather showy one feeding in the farm garden

The first 2 weeks seem to have flown by and only by looking back have I realised how busy I have actually been. The wide range in tasks have certainly made volunteering so far extremely varied and interesting, these have included fixing a board walk, giving welcome talks, collecting gas from the mainland, clearing rosebay willowherb, gull chick ringing, scything back paths, weighing Manx shearwater chicks, and wildlife surveys.   

Whilst volunteering here on Skomer all LTVs are encouraged to run their own project which can be done on anything of their interest. I decided to do mine on moths and run regular moth traps at the farm as well as portable traps around the island to record and monitor the species present on Skomer. I started this last Sunday during the heatwave we were having and put a MV Skinner trap out in the farm garden. This is the brightest trap the Wildlife Trust has here on Skomer and turned out to be a slightly bad idea when I woke at sunrise to hundreds of moths coating the trap, floor and nearby walls! After 3 hours of trying to get my identification skills back up to scratch, I finished with a total 1954 moths of 105 species! This included a range of stunning colourful moths however the highlight has to be a first for the island in the form of a sharp-angled peacock which unfortunately flew before a photo could be obtained.

Since then, I have been running traps quite regularly around the farm, after such a big first catch I then decided to use the dimmer actinic trap (a less bright bluer bulb which has been found to be more attractive to different species). This worked well catching a more manageable 868 moths of 67 species. However, after getting my identification skills back up to scratch and maybe becoming overconfident, I then decided to reuse the brighter MV trap a few nights later resulting in an incredible 2376 moths of 95 species including a whopping 1380 Rustics/Uncertains (2 species very difficult to distinguish). 

Dark sword grass is an immigrant moth that has been recorded regularly on the island recently probably due to warm southerly winds

The unusually named and shaped shark moth was one of the recent highlights especially being my first ever!

I have continued to run moth traps when I can, and these have been extremely successful so far with an overall total of 7034 moths of 155 species identified, including 3 new species for the island as well as many species that are rare or declining across the rest of the UK. I shall continue to trap regularly throughout my stay and will update you later on how the rest of the season goes.