Monday 26 September 2022

Skomer Island Young Birders’ Week 2022

Strong winds, rain, sunshine, starlit nights, and an island empty of visitors. These are all familiar signs that autumn is just around the corner here on Skomer. This year, the start of September also marked the beginning of an event the team had been working away at all year – our first ever Young Birders’ Week.

A typical autumn day. Heading back from seawatching at Garland Stone © Skomer VO
We are all too aware of the barriers to accessing Skomer. There are the 90-odd steps that must be climbed on arrival, the (occasionally choppy) boat crossing, as well as the remote location and limited public transport links. For many, there are also financial barriers to visiting this National Nature Reserve, particularly overnight. Young Birders’ Week aimed to address this obstacle, providing an opportunity for up to thirty two young people, aged 18 – 25, to visit Skomer, many for the first time, for 3-nights at a reduced rate. 

The morning of the 4th September seemed to arrive very quickly this year. To say I felt nervous would be something of an understatement. With heavy rain forecast for much of the morning, we were crossing our fingers that the weather would hold off – nothing worse than arriving on an island with a wet sleeping bag in tow! Thankfully, the rain missed us, and participants and their belongings remained dry for the first day at least.

Spotting the sunfish at Pigstone Bay © Skomer Assistant Warden

Convolvulus hawk moth. Large moth with pink stripes on the abdomen.
Convolvulus hawk moth © Skomer Assistant Warden

Over the next few days, the group explored the island, assisted with reptile and cetacean surveys, helped identify moths, and humored us by acting out Skomer charades before the final Bird Log of their stay. Wildlife highlights included our first sunfish and first convolvulus hawk moth of the year, as well as a fleeting glimpse of a knot up at Garland Stone.

Before we knew it, it was time to wave goodbye to our first cohort of young birders, with 10 more due to arrive that same morning. With only four day-visitors making the crossing to Skomer during the second part of the week, the Young Birders very much had the island to themselves.

Checking the battery-powered moth trap! © Skomer Assistant Warden

Again, walks were interspersed with sea watches, searching for the ever-secretive Skomer vole, and a mixed bag of moth traps. A power cut in the middle of the night threatened to scupper our mothing attempts. Thankfully, we’d set up an additional (recently repaired) battery-powered trap just a short walk away – saving us from breaking the news of no moths pre-7am! Wildlife highlights included black tern, bar-tailed godwit, and a sparrowhawk predating a Manx shearwater chick a mere stone’s throw away from the hostel window.

Manx shearwater fledgling up on the surface at night © Skomer VO

Of course, no overnight stay on Skomer is complete without a night walk to see the Manxies. Both groups headed out to spend time with our most numerous resident. With chicks now venturing out to the surface at night, flapping their wings, and attempting to fly, it was very much a case of dodgems for much of the night. One such walk per group marked the start of a Bird Race. Participants were split into teams, and attempting to tally the highest number of species compared to one another. The eventual winning scores reached a whopping 39 and 51 species respectively.

A group of twelve young people standing and smiling at the camera. Rather grey and drizzly day/backdrop.
Our first group of young birders on their final morning (in the drizzle!) © Skomer Assistant Warden
A group of ten young people standing and smiling at the camera. Blue skies and sunshine.
Group two getting ready to depart from North Haven © Skomer Assistant Warden

Undoubtedly, wildlife aside, the best part of Young Birders’ Week was the people the event bought together. It was an absolute privilege to meet you all.

We’d like to extend a huge thank you (diolch!) to all of those who attended Young Birders’ Week. We’d also like to thank Dale Sailing for bringing the groups over at a reduced rate in recognition of the importance of this access event.

Planning begins for 2023!

Until next time. Wela i di wedyn!

Beth, Visitor Officer

Friday 16 September 2022

Life of a Skomer LTV: July - September

Hello everyone, it’s Lira and Anna here (Jul-Sept LTVs). Our time on Skomer has flown by and with only a few weeks left we thought we’d do a little update blog about what we’ve been up to.

It’s been really enjoyable to welcome day visitors onto the island, sharing wildlife sightings during our morning talks and chatting to people at the end of their day. We’ve also assisted with the regular changeovers of hostel guests and volunteers; it’s always a good morning workout getting involved with the ‘chain’ to carry bags up to the top of the steps!

A young woman kneeling on the ground behind a bench lying on its side. Lira is holding a drill and mending the bench
Lira working on the landing bench

Meanwhile we have both been getting stuck into a range of maintenance tasks. The end of summer, once the busy seabird counting is over, is a great time to catch up with odd jobs around the island. We’ve repaired a bench at the landing (the perfect way of getting to grips with using a saw and drill), repaired and polished up signage, and have painted some rocks for footpath markers in some of the areas with lots of burrows close by. 

A landscape of a path bordered on either side by bracken in various stages of green, brown and orange, with blue skies beyond
The bracken is starting to turn a beautiful orange

We’ve also helped to clear bracken along various paths around the island. Gradually now we’re starting to see the bracken change to a more orangey brown colour – some patches of bracken had been scorched so much during the heatwaves that it turned a beautiful yellow colour, and it appeared almost rainbow-like in combination with the oranges and greens.

A small seal pup in the dark lit up by red light looking over its shoulder back at the photographer
One of the seal pups in the aptly named Seal Hole

The end of August is an exciting time of year as it’s the beginning of the Grey Seal pupping season. Before the pupping started the team managed to get down to the Wick and South Haven to clean the beaches. A lot of plastic had washed up and it was important to remove as much as we could. Now that the seals are pupping we are busy with regular seal surveys around the main island. This involves monitoring seals at major haul out areas and beaches during low tide. As we write this we have a couple of new pups around the main island and look forward to seeing how the season progresses. It's incredible to see how quickly the pups grow, with visible size changes on consecutive days (they can put on up to 2kg a day from the female’s very fatty milk!). 

Photograph from above of two women in helmets climbing down a steep rocky slope into a cave
Bee (left) and Lira (right) climbing down into Seal Hole

Image from behind of two people entering a cave. They are both wearing helmets.
Ed (left) and Anna (right) scrambling into Seal Hole

One of the highlights of our time here has been assisting with the seal surveying on The Neck, with the chance to go down into one of the caves – ‘Seal Hole’. After a scramble down the cliffs, we climbed down into the cave (guided by Bee and Ed) to see if there were any pups. The sound of the seals howling in the caves creates a chilling, but exciting atmosphere and it is really special to be able to see them in this way! Two openings to the cave mean that the adult seals can exit through the other way as we enter. Once inside we were able to assist with spray painting a coloured dot just above each pup’s tail; this means individuals can be distinguished and monitored throughout the season. It was an experience we will both remember for a long time!

Photograph of a bright orange sunset, with a strip of dark land in the foreground, then a slim strip of sea, and some clouds above with silver linings
Beautiful Skomer sunsets

In our free time we love to explore the island and its wildlife and have been enjoying some beautiful sunsets at the end of the day. Raven numbers have really increased and it’s awesome to see groups of up to 40 dancing around in the sky. You never know what you might see drop in bird-wise this time of year too; we’ve been lucky enough to see a Wryneck that hung around the farm for a couple of days, Bonelli’s Warbler, Pied Flycatcher (Anna’s first) and a Sparrowhawk take a Shearwater! 

Photograph of a young woman lying in a hammock laughing and raising one foot to show off a newly crocheted sock
Lira modelling our crochet sock and glove on the hammock!

On rainier days we’ve kept busy with lots of baking, improving our breadmaking skills, and also have some crochet projects on the go – Lira making a glove and Anna a sock (we’ve yet to complete the other half to make a pair of each!!).

Photograph of a young woman in a fenced off area next to a stone building. She is standing in the middle distance, smiling, and holding a clipboard. It is a bright sunny day and she is wearing a cap.
Anna surveying in the exclosure

We’ve been working on our personal projects too: a study on visitor experience and where people have travelled from (Lira) and a BioBlitz of the rabbit grazing exclosure (Anna). We hope to share our findings here on the blog once complete. In the meantime, thank you Skomer for such a wonderful past 2 months and we look forward to making the most of our last few weeks as LTVs.

Photograph taken from the sea of two young women sitting on the bottom step going down to the water. Both are smiling and one is dangling a foot in the water.
Anna (left) and Lira (right) enjoying a break on the landing steps