Monday 4 March 2024

... And back again!

The winters are getting shorter. Certainly, that’s how it seems – as we returned to Skomer last Wednesday, it didn’t seem like three months since we had left.

After the usual fortnight of constantly checking the online forecast, we took advantage of the first available weather window, boarding Wavedancer at Neyland marina early on Wednesday morning. 

A moored boat loaded up with lots of bags, boxes and barrels.
Loading the Wavedancer 

Barrels, boxes and tins of beans on the deck of a boat
Everything but the kitchen sink!

We enjoyed… or endured… a rather choppy and very wet voyage to the island. Accompanied out of the haven by common dolphins, we made it around St Ann’s Head in sheeting rain and with an unpleasant degree of swell. More than one of us went green about the gills and one wayward jar of mango chutney was nearly lost overboard, but for some hasty action by those on deck! 

Two figures in waterproofs on the deck of a boat, with grey sea and grey sky in the background
A dreich journey

Two figures in waterproofs standing on deck and smiling at the camera
Leaving Neyland

Two figures in waterproofs on the deck of the boat smiling at the camera
Soggy but unfazed

Four figures in waterproofs on the deck of a boat with land in the background
Skomer in sight!

At last, the island. Breakfasts miraculously having remained where they were supposed to, we were very glad to set foot on the steps once more.

Then the boxes – the bags – the tins of paint – the guttering – the brewery kit – the books – the cartons of milk – the tarpaulins – the fuel cans – and, of course, the baked beans. Those 87 steps don’t get any easier… but, sustained by crème eggs, and with two additional helpers, we made it to the top. Back again – fulmars wheeling past, made curious by our presence, and seals popping their heads out of the water to inspect the boat. There we paused a moment as Wavedancer departed – just us four, now, and thousands of auks on the cliffs.

In the foreground a figure in red waterproofs leaning on a fence post as further down the steps two others look at a pile of boxes
Nearly there...

A tall person in a blue coat secures a dumper load of bags, boxes and a length of guttering
Rob loads the dumper

A foggy view of North Haven bay
The mainland's out there somewhere

We have become accustomed to some sort of disaster awaiting us on our return – a rockfall, missing roof tiles, broken windows or an absent satellite dish. It was therefore with an air almost of disbelief that we checked first the buildings and then the paths and cautiously pronounced that all was well. Some mould on the internal walls – to be expected – but the island has weathered the winter remarkably unscathed.

Since then, we’ve mostly been settling in, setting up the buildings, carrying out biosecurity checks, and making a start on our ever growing to-do lists.

The island has alternately been bathed in glorious sunshine and barraged by wind and rain – a tumultuous start to the season. After the wettest February on record, Skomer is sodden – the old dam at North Valley Crossing is holding back a significant amount of water, and paths have become streams in several places. Wellies are essential…

A wall between two pools of water. The right hand water level is much lower than that on the left.
North Valley Crossing

A waterlogged area of grass in the sunshine.

Despite the cold and the wet, it is beginning to feel like spring – daffodils are blooming in bright patches amongst the bracken, chough and shags are nest building, and ravens are already incubating at the Wick.

A cliff in the foreground with a distant island in the background, against bright blue sea and sky.
Guillemots on the cliffs at South Stream

A farm compound of buildings surrounded by brown bracken, set against grey sky
A classic March view

A ruined building and a courtyard in bright sunshine
A glorious Sunday

Oh, and this morning Leighton spotted our first puffin of the year! We haven’t seen or heard any Manxies yet, but it won’t be long.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be cleaning and painting the accommodation, improving the paths, carrying out monitoring of the early breeding species, putting the finishing touches to last year’s reports, and preparing to welcome our first visitors of the year on 29th March. Not long now!

It’s good to be back.

-        – Ceris, Assistant Warden

Grey skies, a grey pond, and a strip of sunlit bracken in between the two
North Pond with looming rain

A large rock in a windswept sea against bright blue skies
Garland Stone in the sunshine