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 The gargling of our wonderful auks has been replaced by the rather mournful, but equally lovely, song of our Atlantic grey seals (Halichoerus grypus).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

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