Skomer Island – more than just puffins – Part two
Part Two -
The farm was our base and where we called “home” for our week on Skomer and it was from here that we’d go to work and set about exploring every day.
Living with the other volunteers and sharing the jobs on the rota as well as the living space with them definitely made us more considerate of people and resources that we usually take for granted (e.g. endless supplies of food, water, gas, electricity, etc). We were privileged to see a more rustic island lifestyle when we were invited over to Skomer’s ‘sister’ island, Skokholm, for a day. (Skokholm blog to follow.)
The Farm accommodation
In the evenings after dinner we’d go for a walk to see the sunset, which was made all the more magical by the fact that we practically had the island to ourselves.
Sunset from Garland Stone
These times would present perfect photo opportunities as the thousands of resident rabbits would start to come out and hop around more obviously.
The endless blanket of red campion flowers broken up by patches of bracken and lichen-covered rocks would be beautifully lit up by the sun. One evening we decided to walk north towards Garland Stone to watch the sunset and were delighted to spot the short-eared owl out hunting .
Red campion at sunset
We loved the tranquillity of Skomer and the variety of wildlife we saw. Quite quickly we found that we were familiar with where some of our favourite birds and animals would hang out.
Little owl at the wall
We’d always see the pair of little owls on the wall near South Field for example, and we’d often see grey seals, diving gannets and porpoise when we looked out to sea at Pigstone Bay and Skomer Head. Likewise, you’d often find the warden and assistant wardens together after all the work was done beer in hand and all us volunteers catching up in a similar fashion, having a laugh in the communal kitchen.
Grey seal getting a good look at us
Aside from the friends we made, the one clear highlight to our trip was seeing the island completely transformed at night. Our days were typically spent hearing the constant “cawh” of gulls with competition from several shrieking Oystercatcher families but a few hours after sunset a new, indescribable bird call surrounded us and got louder and more frenzied as the darkness fell.
Manx shearwater night flights and calls
The call was made by the Manx shearwater, to whom Skomer is home to nearly half of the world’s population (150,000 pairs) breeding in rabbit holes. Their remarkable story really makes you appreciate all the effort their night calls encapsulate. They are known to migrate to the South Atlantic after fledging, staying there for five years before returning to breed back at the same burrow they are born in.
During the early evening we’d see thousands of them gracefully cutting through the air over the water, but come nightfall as they’d flock to the burrows to breed/ feed their chick, we’d see just how ungainly and vulnerable they are on land as they lolloped around trying to find their nest out of sight of preying gulls. (The unlucky ones can be seen as “angel wings” dotted all over the island in the daytime.)
Skipping over all the toads that come out at night on the paths and ducking out of the way of shearwaters flying above us and dropping out of verges in the darkness is a strange and kind of jumpy experience. We’d definitely advise keeping your eyes peeled for the luminescent dots of glow worms along the path edges when you first go out at night rather than as it gets darker and the shearwater’s start to take hold.
Toad out at night
We loved our time on Skomer as volunteers for the week. It was an adventure of a life-time that gave us some amazing sights and sounds to remember, not to mention meeting some fantastic people to share it all with. All in all, it really was puffin marvellous!