Posts tagged skomer
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!
It was over a year ago that we put our names down to be volunteers on Skomer Island so when we received a call to ask if we’d like to take up two cancelled places we jumped at the chance.
Leaving the Euro 2012 sporting extravaganza behind us, two weeks after our call we set sail for a week that guaranteed some world-class British wildlife performances.
Since confirming our places, we kept an eye on the weather every day in the run up to leaving. Despite keeping everything crossed, it came as little surprise to hear that the boat wouldn’t be sailing on Saturday morning due to bad weather.
We happily ambled down to the far western point of South Wales through Saturday afternoon and sampled the delights of Marloes pub grub (where you’ll be challenged to ever find better new potatoes!) and camped that evening.
We were ready for the ‘Dale Princess’ boat to ferry us over Jack Sound from Martin’s Haven to Skomer bright and early on Sunday morning. The one mile journey took no time at all and we were welcomed by the resident gull flying alongside the boat. We knew we’d arrived as soon as we drifted into the swathes of seabirds bobbing on the water and flying overhead as we entered the picture-perfect bay.
The beauty of the island immediately felt mesmerising. Even lugging our bags of food and clothes up the (97 step) climb to the visitor checkpoint was an exhilarating experience – quite literally taking our breath away!
The beautiful cliffs of layered blacks, greys and oranges engulf you the minute you enter the bay but it’s the multitude of birds that really make you smile. From the moment you near Skomer you see the puffins – the party-piece, tuxedoed “sea parrots” that everyone knows and generally comes to Skomer to see. They are literally everywhere you look! But there’s also so much more to see…
The first thing you notice, and last thing you miss when you leave, is the cacophony of noise all the birds make. Amongst the 10,000 plus puffins, there are over 17,000 guillemots and more than 2,000 kittiwakes nesting in the cliffs around the island. As well as watching the fulmars and jackdaws dancing on the breeze over the week, we were fortunate enough to see plenty of chicks being fed, including a nesting razorbill family to auk at as soon as we hopped off the boat.
On Sunday we settled into our lodgings at The Farm and unpacked our food with our fellow volunteers then went straight to work on our daily tasks in the afternoon. One of our favourite jobs on the rota was “island patrol” where the idea was to cover as much of the 2.92 km² island as possible to check everything was as it should be (ie no litter and that visitors were keeping to paths and had answers to their questions) and to look out for what wildlife was present.
The warden’s place – shame about the noisy neighbours!
That evening we went down to the warden’s digs at North Haven for “bird log” where we had to report all wildlife seen that day. Our more experienced fellow volunteers (who were on return visits) were more clued up than we were and had a lot more types and numbers of birds to log. Though the next day we were glad to know what to look out for and where!
Below are some photos we captured during our stay…
Puffin waiting for the storm
Dancing lesser black backed gull
See more in Part Two…
It’s taken us 2 years to get to Skomer! We booked time off work to go last month but the weather was too bad in the end; didn’t want to travel 5 hours for nothing.
We travelled down last Friday afternoon and stayed in a camp-site just 5mins away from the boat – all very last min plans.
After a nightmare night in a tent I was up at 7:30 getting ready to queue for the boat.
Queued for 45 mins only to be told the boat wasn’t going due to expected high winds later in the day. I was gutted! I asked about weather for Sunday and was told the forecast was the same We tried again on Sunday morning anyway and at 8:30 we were greeted with good news – the weather was fine and boats would be going. We managed to get over on the first boat of the day.
What we managed to see on the island in 4 hours:
I managed to grab a photo of the Oystercatcher Family
Its a amazing how close you can get to the Puffins, I managed to get about 2ft from a puffin nest to get some excellent close up photos. You have to respect the Puffins space though and allow he/she pass by to go fishing for sand eels. I captured a short video so you can hear the funny noise puffins make.
After watching the Puffins for some time we ventured in land to try and see if we could get a glimpse of the owls on Skomer.
We only had to walk 5mins and I noticed this little owl on the wall.
Skomer Island is a wonderful place, we will definitely be going back again. What a lovely day, weather was amazing.
All Photos by Matt Debouge and Kirsty Forshaw