Tuesday 30 April 2024

Island Update: April on Skomer

Somehow, we are into May already! Take a look back at what we got up to in April with our new long-term volunteers, Huia and Mike.

Early April update - Huia

Spring is well underway and so are things out here on Skomer. Our first visitors arrived on the 29th of March to an island bustling with activity. The Auks and Fulmars are coming and going as they find their land legs after spending the winter at sea. Many of our land birds are busy collecting nest material and we have seen a host of rarities pass through on migration. The sunny days are slowly becoming more frequent and the island is starting to dry out a little as Skomer's wettest spring on record continues.

A group of volunteers and staff in front of our dumper truck.

We have made the most of the breaks in the weather to get the island ready for the busy season ahead. At the end of March we had a work party arrive along with our first weekly volunteers of the season and our new long-term volunteers. Everyone got stuck into it through mud, rain, hail and fog. The week was spent getting the farm and paths shipshape and the work party did a marvellous job replacing the boardwalk at Moorey Mere.

A new boardwalk with a hide in the background. It is a nice sunset.
The new Moorey Mere boardwalk

A member of staff on the dumper truck in North Haven with a calm sea in the background.
Hostel guests are back and so are busy morning changeovers

A pair of Razorbills in the grass.
A pair of Razorbills enjoying the sun
The birds have been very busy. We have greater numbers of Guillemot and Razorbills on the cliffs each week. The Puffins have been clearing out their burrows and taking in fresh nest material. Our Chough have been seen displaying their breeding behaviour known as quivering and we are starting to locate their nest sites. Shags and Ravens are already on their nests and as the days get longer the night time chorus of Manx Shearwaters grows ever louder.

Due to the poor weather we only managed to do one Puffin count this season giving us our 2024 total of 41,605. While this number is slightly down on last year's count we are not concerned because we weren't able to do our normal two to three counts, because they have to happen on calm sunny days.

A Puffin with nest material.
A Puffin taking nest material back to its burrow
Bluebells on the sides of the track to Garland Stone.
Bluebells along the track to the Garland Stone
It won't be long before the island is carpeted in bright colours. The bluebells are already in bloom, the bracken is starting to wake up and the thrift and red campion are beginning to add their beautiful pink shades to the landscape. Despite the ever persistent wind a few butterflies have found a calm moment to emerge bringing the promise of summer with them.
A Peacock butterfly in the workshop.
A Peacock butterfly who managed to stay out of the wind
Fog sitting in North Valley in the early morning.
Morning fog sitting low over North Valley
Mike and Huia standing in Wick Stream, looking happy.
The LTVs Huia and Mike looking for Three-lobed Water-crowfoot
Three-lobed Water-crowfoot is the rarest species of Water-crowfoot in the UK. This mud loving species of buttercup favours disturbed ground often on the edges of puddles and small streams trampled by livestock. Our LTVs set out with Assistant Warden Ceris for an annual Water-crowfoot hunt and much to our surprise we found a staggering eight plants growing in the trampled ground around the Wick Stream. A fantastic result!
Three-lobed Water-crowfoot up close with the white flowers showing well.
Three-lobed Water-crowfoot, we found it!
The Farm is hard to see in the fog.
The Farm looking very spooky in the mist
The island has spent many days this spring hidden from sight beneath a blanket of thick sea fog.
Fog in North Haven with the building emerging from the fog.
Sea fog sitting over North Haven
A silhouette of sunset over North Valley.
Watching the sunset over North Valley
Late April update - Mike
All in all it has been a very wild start to the season, with high winds making it difficult to get on and off the island and waterlogged paths making it a very muddy business moving around on the island. It's fair to say we are getting on with it and not letting a bit of rain stop us from enjoying all the wonders this little piece of Pembrokeshire has to offer. Skomer life is picking up pace now as we prepare for 'seabird season'. We have had (aside from a few bad weather days) a constant stream of visitors and volunteers, keen to explore and appreciate our wonderful island, and especially in calm weather moments Skomer has looked magical. 

We are not the only ones being kept on our toes; late April is an extremely busy time for our birds, as nest building and courting gets underway.  As I write this, we have proof of nesting from species including Ravens to Swallows, and Peregrines to Wheatears.  All 3 of our Auk species are breeding at the moment and we have seen Guillemots and Razorbill eggs which we are very excited about! 

A view down to North Haven in the sun
Two Razorbills on an egg in a rocky hole.
Our first Razorbill egg!

This amazing photo was taken by Molly, one of our researchers.  Alongside volunteers, staff and visitors we have academics and students from across the country staying with us to study and monitor our seabirds, and this time of year is busy for them too, as we now have some of our largest aggregations of seabirds on our cliffs.  Key species for research are Guillemots and Manx Shearwaters, and our teams are up at all hours of the day and night to monitor these enigmatic birds.  The 'Manxies' as we call them are streaming in in vast numbers now, and beginning to breed which is lovely to see.  

To our visitors' delight, the puffins are back in huge numbers right across the south coast of the island and are as inquisitive as ever.  We recently have had our first report of a puffin carrying sand eels too, a favourite fish dinner to serve to their chicks! 

A Puffin with its wings out on the Wick. A nice light is behind it.
A Puffin posing for the camera at sunset

Our weekly volunteers have been busy over the last few weeks cutting back vegetation in preparation for the inevitable bracken growth spurt in the coming months.  They have also started our citizen science surveys on reptiles and cetaceans which will be continued throughout the spring and summer. They have loved finding slow worms, toads, frogs and Skomer voles under our refugia and observing common dolphins and harbour porpoise from the coast.
A Skomer Vole in the bracken.
A Skomer Vole, our only endemic mammal

Two Harbour Porpoises in the sea.
Harbour Porpoise, taken by a weekly volunteer

The island is now bursting with colour, as our wildflowers are reaching their peak, Red Campion and Bluebells complementing each other perfectly in our fields. 

To conclude, April has been a month of glorious sunshine, heavy rain, mist, high wind and everything in between, and a roller coaster of wildlife moments we will never forget.  Bring on May and bring on summer!
A hillside full of bluebells at the Garland Stone.
A carpet of magnificent Bluebells near the Garland Stone

A Wren singing on a fence post.
A beautiful wren, singing its heart out