This year, we enjoyed having 25 young people staying in the hostel as part of Young Birders' Week 2023. The event was generously funded by Pembrokeshire Bird Group and the Nature Networks Fund which helped to make the event accessible for young people.
We got up to a variety of activities during their stay - from moth trapping to cetacean watching, Manxie chick weighing and quizzes it truly was a fun week for the island staff. But that's enough from me - let's give our young people a voice and hear their thoughts on the event.
Rob, Skomer VO
|Liliana holding a Manxie chick
changeable, and the Manx Shearwater chicks are beginning their nightly preparations for their extraordinary fledging to Argentina.
Having just finished my second year of Zoology at Cardiff
University, Skomer Young Birders presented a fantastic opportunity to get some
first-hand survey experience and develop my passion for birds around
like-minded young people. I attended the week last year too and feel as though
it really helped propel me further in my personal and academic life, giving me
a taste of what working outdoors in field research might be like and vastly
improving my identification skills. So I was back again this year, eager to
learn more from the staff, researchers, and other young birders.
We had the chance to conduct cetacean surveys with the Long
Term Volunteers, spotting pods of porpoise fishing around Garlan Stone, and hear
from the resident grey seal researcher who told us all about the lives of seals
while we watched newborn pups take their first swim. One evening we set up Skomer
vole traps, filling them with cozy straw bedding and lots of oat snacks, then
checked them the following morning. Getting to hold the little voles was
wonderful, they have such sweet little faces, and learning that they are
recognised as a genetic sub-species was fascinating for the evolutionary
biologist in me. Helping out with the daily Manxy chick weighing was a definite
highlight. The chicks were all in various stages of loosing their fluffy down
which was resulting in some extremely funky feather-styles, somehow making them
even cuter! I will also never forget the moth trap that we did on the second
night, I have never seen so many moths in my life! There must have been almost
300 moths, which gave everyone plenty of time to improve their ID skills as we
sorted through all the species.
The weather was unseasonably warm so daily swims were a
must, and the birds passing through over the few days were marvellous. My first
ever Hoopoe, Wryneck and Spotted flycatcher all on the same day! However, when
the final day came, and the annual bird race was upon us, the sea mist had well
and truly set in. It definitely made the race far more interesting, not being
able to see the sea from the cliffs rather ruled out spotting any seabirds and
did force everyone to rely more on sound ID, an area in which I still have a
lot to learn. I really enjoyed getting to know the other young people over the
few days and the range of interests, backgrounds and birding-skill meant
everyone had something to learn from each other.
I cannot sing the praises of Skomer Young Birders enough, I absolutely
love nature, the outdoors, and birds, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole
experience! Everyone was so friendly and willing to share their knowledge and
the organised activities provided great practical experience, while the free
time left plenty of opportunity to explore this special island. A fantastic few
days in a beautiful place with great people creating memories I will treasure…
what more could you ask for.
|Ellie, as seen in Jake's selfie of their team on the Bird Race
Having now had the chance to look through my camera at the hundreds of photos I took that week, I can officially say I ticked off 52 species, and 6 lifers in 4 days! While seeing the birds on a young birders trip was key, the people and the landscape really boosted how great this trip is to look back at. We've all kept in contact back on the mainland and are already looking for ways to get back. The staff are so enthusiastic about what they do and what they know, super inspiring. As someone aiming for this line of work it was such a good insight into fieldwork based ecological employment. Such a wel organised trip, ace activities and as much fun and laughs as their was wildlife on the island. Can't recommend this week enough no matter the level of birder you enter at, guaranteed to learn something new and look back fondly.
|Jenny holding a Skomer Vole
Up goes the ferry, down cries my belly, we’re coming round the bend, here it goes! No mysterious out-of-mist reveal but in its place a rare sighting: the sun! and with it an infrequent glow, the island in the distance standing proud like a crow. “There!” shout the crew of the Dale Princess, pointing to the rising fin popping out of the sea as its owner sinks back in. We rise and rush to one side of the boat, catching sight of a rogue juvenile razorbill afloat.
When we make it to shore, the recently crowned islanders are
weaving up the stairs, ready to start heaving as they lift our bags in conveyor
belt formation and their faces are alit with the kind of joy reserved for i-went-on-a-yoga-retreat-but-then-i-ended-up-enlightened-to-the-fact-that-pied-wagtails-are-massively-underrated.
Once we arrive there is a man with blue hair standing on a dumper and a tall
lady with short hair almost, well yes actually, jumping up and down and both
are grinning and we’re spinning our bags onto the four-wheeled yellow vehicle.
They’re telling us that this is their favourite week and we’re wondering if
they say this every week but really they do seem very excited and we’re excited
and we all plod up the path.
There is the farm and the swallows are singing, Mario karting
around the archways of the old barn with no roof. The sun is high and we can
spot a few others (meadow pipit, singing robin, is that a linnet? Oh I don’t
know) coming to join the party. After we get a low-down of the plan we make a beeline
for the path, as the grinning blue haired man (Rob is his name) is giving us a
tour of the island. We begin east side I think but it could be south, because
at this point we’ve got first-time-round jelly brains which makes us see
through frames that make island orientation utterly different from all the
times that will follow.
Rob’s leaping from path to rock, pointing high and low and
jumping to and fro explaining all the essentials he thinks we need to know. The
puffins and razorbills and guillemots were here, but now they’re not just the
shearwaters that walk weird. But here, eat this leaf it tastes like lemon and
called sorrel and this other one tormentil is a yellow four petalled flower.
You see the different gulls? The herring and greater and lesser black backs and
maybe we’ll see some kittiwakes and oh whats that sound? The chough’ty chough
choughs! Jibbering away yes jabber chatter blabber. Is that a pheasant?? What’s
hopping? I hear a hollow whaling sound! Red admiral, hello!
The visitors have gone round the bend we’ll sing a fair well
song and then splash! Wasn’t me, oop hello there you are a curious whiskered
watery mammal! Stop hiding underwater please!
Next day, we’re out
near the Neck, burrows blobbing the landscape, Sarah reaches down, until she’s
armpit level with the ground. Then a fluffy one’s in her hand, blinking and
wondering why he’s back on the scales. But she’s measuring your weight before
fledge, it’s important stuff you know and now you’ve all got special burrow
numbers, a bit random but its your very own code! Alright he thinks and settles
in, adorning his fluff to the goggle-y eyed strangers, although he’s a rare
one, his friends mostly preferring the squiggle, squirm, flap technique. Sarah
shows her expert shuffle, lightly tip tapping across the land, stepping on just
the right mound as to keep everything bound.
Their nocturnal habits were quite the intrigue, and we came
back to see what all the legendary partying around at night was about. Indeed,
we discovered they even keep the bouncy castle tradition alive, and with a big
moon in sight some say no not tonight. But others were ready, had the
Argentinian tango in mind, and off they went on their 11-day flight.
The days continued on…a snoot, the unseen coot, only choice was
the route. The mysterious incident of two voles trapped at nighttime. Whaling,
bathing seals on the shore, what more? Sunnies, full tummies and bunnies
galore. All played a part in making this a curious week: the bee and bird buffs,
the flying rocket enthusiasts, the master devil’s coach horse spotter…the convolvulus
hawk moth! There was excitement, and movement and squawking all around - and
not just from the birds. A fantastic time. Thank you to the amazing team on
|The group on a guided walk of the island with VO Rob
In the first week of September this year, I was lucky enough to take part in Skomer’s Young Birders’ Week. This is a yearly opportunity for people aged 18-25 to experience a 3-night stay on the island and see all it has to offer in the autumn, including Manx shearwater chicks, new-born seal pups and migrating birds on their way to their winter grounds.
· Watching a short-eared owl hunt over the bracken as the sun was setting on our first night on the island.
· Night walks, seeing some of the hundreds of thousands of Manx shearwaters on the island take their first flights and start their migration to Argentina (including one which fledged from the rock Sir David Attenborough sat next to on his recent documentary, Wild Isles)
· Sitting at the farmhouse, where the visitor accommodation is, watching swallows swoop around the old buildings while having breakfast.
· Walking around the whole island as part of a Bird Race on our last day, where we split into teams and tried to see as many species as possible. Despite the competitive aspect, when one team spotted a little owl sitting in a rock formation they immediately sent detailed directions to the whatsapp group so that everyone would have a chance to see it. We also saw a peregrine falcon, a spotted flycatcher, some of the island’s choughs, a pair of curlews, and then later on a snipe and dunlin resting at the North pond.
|The first group
|Our second bunch of young birders