Tuesday 31 May 2022

May Mayhem

It’s a glorious sunny morning here on Skomer – mae’n bendigedig. Two wrens are having a sing-off across the farm courtyard, swallows are chattering as they flit in and out of the visitor centre, and Visitor Officer/ Chief Dumper Wrangler Beth is tightening the ratchet straps on the dumper for another hostel changeover.

In between finishing my second-last Breeding Bird Survey of the season and setting off to morning boats to meet oncoming visitors, time for a whistlestop update on the month that was…

The past fortnight has been dominated by seabird counts. Visitors to the island might have noticed members of the team variously perched on rocky outposts staring down scopes, or out on the boat trying to keep binoculars steady as we survey the cliffs. We’ve been joined by ever-enthusiastic seabird volunteer Becci, who as well as being a dab hand at the tiller seems to have a knack for always knowing the right moment to offer a biscuit.

Becci at the helm

Beth counting guillemots

Skomer from the sea

Leighton and Kelda 

In previous years, we’ve counted all cliff-nesting species from 1st June, completing two full counts within three weeks. A recent change in the methodology moved the start date for guillemots and razorbills to the median guillemot egg-lay date: this year, the 17th of May. We hope this will more accurately reflect the numbers of auks breeding on Skomer’s cliffs. Unfortunately, the weather was not particularly obliging to begin with, with strong winds and then thick fog scuppering many of our initial attempts. As of yesterday though, we’ve officially finished the first count (to our great relief!). Now for count 2…

Using our new Leica scope to count South Stream

A moment of triumph - first count of Bull Hole

We’ve also been finishing our final round of Breeding Bird Surveys, which allow us to map breeding activity across the island. We follow the same transects four times from April to early June – this year, a spell of good weather in March meant we also did a preliminary survey. It’ll be interesting to put all the maps together – it’s a bit like piecing together a jigsaw. Whilst sorry to farewell my transects for the year, I confess to some relief that I can leave the gull colonies undisturbed – for their sakes and my own. Their aim is improving, and I only have so many clean clothes…

Gulls with good aim!

Their increased territorial behaviour can be put down to parenthood – there are chicks everywhere on the island just now, from our now quite well-grown moorhen adolescents at Moorey Mere to brand new razorbill chicks, to the fluffy dinosaurs that are great black-backed gull chicks. Our hearts were in our mouths this week when we discovered eight unaccompanied mallard ducklings huddled together near the boat shed at North Haven. Fortunately, mama duck eventually appeared, leading her small brood out to sea. A perilous journey – but who knows? They might just make it…

Razorbill chick by Simon Davies

Lesser black-backed gull chick

Bird highlights of the month included two shrikes in two days – a smart red-backed shrike near the farm (18th May), spotted by a sharp-eyed hostel guest, and then a very obliging woodchat shrike (19th May), who settled in for a few days near the Moorey Mere hide. Warden Leighton then spotted a nightjar being mobbed by rock pipits in North Haven on the 24th. Yellow wagtails were seen on the 13th and 14th May, and pied flycatcher and whinchat on the 15th May, along with good numbers of spotted flycatchers throughout the month. We’ve had a few cuckoos coming through as well, with one calling two nights ago in North Valley – my first of the year, and always a delight.

Woodchat shrike and half of a bee

Meanwhile, Skomer’s weekly volunteers have been busy keeping the island ticking over. In addition to the usual fare of cleaning, helping with boats and walking and talking to visitors, they’ve been scything paths, whipping up shelves, spotting cetaceans and assisting with yard clearance. Many thanks to them all – we’d be quite lost without you.

For now, time to pick up the VHF radio and head to morning boats – with hopes to be able to write more soon.

-        - Ceris, Assistant Warden

A headland with pink sea thrift on it, with a background of grey seas and skies
Skomer Head turning pink with sea thrift

South Stream from above

Wednesday 4 May 2022

Spring has sprung...

It’s a time of firsts over here on the island: first chicks, first wildflowers, and the first days digging out the long-buried suncream!

Raven carrying food (in this case, a Manx shearwater) back to the nest © Skomer Volunteer Warden

Our earliest breeding birds, ravens, were already building their nests when we returned to Skomer back in March. Now, two months on, adults ferrying food back-and-forth to feed their hungry chicks has become a familiar sight, particularly across North Valley. We’ve also seen signs that some of our smaller passerines may now have chicks, with blackbirds and rock pipits having been seen carrying food in the past week. Meanwhile on Moorey Mere, a plump (the collective noun!) of moorhen chicks have been spotted trailing their parents amongst the vegetation.

Razorbills mating at the Amos © Skomer VO

On the cliffs our first guillemot (21.04.22) and razorbill (25.04.22) eggs have been laid, spotted by eagle-eyed fieldworkers Kirsty and Freya. Research also continues by Oxford Navigation Group down at North Haven, who discovered our first Manx shearwater egg of the season last Monday (25.04.22).

Chough monitoring near the Amos with our new Leica scope © Skomer VO

Monitoring work also continues with our more elusive species. Chough continue to evade us at various sites around the island. Four pairs have now been seen quivering and feeding one another, a good indicator of breeding. A further three locations are being carefully watched, after individuals were spotted carrying sticks.

Curlew calling over North Pond, one of the suspected territories for 2022 © Skomer Assistant Warden

Towards the centre of the island, our curlew (the last breeding pairs in Pembrokeshire) have been seen divebombing crows and gulls, as they defend their precious territories. Close by, skylarks have been filling the sky with their beautiful song – now noted on three consecutive breeding bird surveys. If successful, this will be, excitingly, the first time skylarks have bred on Skomer since 2017.

Sea campion at High Cliff © Skomer VO
Bluebells blossoming over North Valley Rise © Skomer VO

Closer to the ground, Skomer’s wildflowers are coming into full bloom. The south side of the island, particularly near High Cliff, has been covered in a carpet of sea campion since mid-April – quite the sight (and smell) to behold. However, to the north, what was initially a few specks of blue / purple is now becoming an expanse, with bluebells covering much of North Valley Rise.

Sunset from Garland Stone © Skomer VO
Wick sunset with puffins, after our monthly rabbit counts © Skomer VO

With the weather improving, and wildflowers blooming everywhere we look, it is very much beginning to feel like the start of summer.

Volunteers (L-R: Karen, Jean, and Aline) path widening at South Stream © Skomer VO

Archiving work in the library (L-R: Gruffydd, Lynn, and Martin) © Skomer VO

We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been over to visit us so far this season, and in particular to our Weekly Volunteers. With mixed weather, tasks have varied from painting to path widening. This spring there has also been a focus on archiving and cataloguing the many photo albums which have been collecting dust in the library. A real window into the past, it’s been wonderful to see how much (and indeed how little!) Skomer has changed over the years.

Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!

Beth, Visitor Officer