Sunday, 20 July 2014

Birds on Skokholm

Not a bad place for a bird hide!

Overlooking cliffs where guillemots and razorbills "nest" away from the prowling gulls. Unfortunately, evolution has decreed that the chicks must jump/fall/bounce down into the sea, where other perils reside. Then they float out into the Atlantic with father razorbill or both parents if a guillemot. How did their ancestors develop like this? It's a successful strategy, though, as many hundreds breed here.

Even more astonishing, though, is the life history of the Manx Shearwater. 45,000 pairs nest in burrows across the tiny island but apart from corpses you don't see them in the day. In the evening, though, rafts build up as the birds that have been out to sea all day congregate, waiting for the comparative safety of darkness.
Then, if the moon is not too bright, they fly in and somehow find the right burrow.

If they don't find it, they are at the mercy of the gulls that are waiting for them, as their short legs make it difficult to move around on land. To help them find the burrow, the mate underground screams its banshee call. Sleeping at the observatory can be difficult as they are right outside.

The wardens are, of course, continuing the ringing process that was started when Skokholm became the first observatory in 1933.

The information gradually gained from the recording process is astonishing.... Manxies have been ringed and recaptured showing they live until at least 54 years old..... they fly 5 million miles in that time, between nest sites in the western British Isles and their winter feeding grounds off the coast of Brazil and Argentina...... and the parents leave the young in their burrows, and the fledglings eventually emerge and fly off to the south Atlantic on their own. And find their way back to the same island a couple of years later. I'm staggered.

The wardens and assistants also carry out ringing programmes on nesting storm petrels, auks, lesser black-backs and great black-backs (above) with much rock climbing.
There are also Heligoland and mist net traps that are no doubt full and fascinating in the migration times, but when we were there seemed to be occupied mostly by the handful of sedge warblers nesting nearby.

Families of choughs and ravens added to the enjoyment of cliff walks.

And of course there were puffins.......

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Stay on Skokholm

"Stay on Skokholm" is not a description, but an imperative. You have to stay on Skokholm because, unlike Skomer, there are no day trips. The fishing boat leaves you on Monday morning and you're there until Friday. Or vice versa, for a weekend stay. Unless the weather prevents landing, in which case you wait....

We were fortunate to get a late cancellation with less than a week's notice so we rearranged work commitments and drove west to the far tip of Pembrokeshire for the 8.30am crossing. About 15 visitors can stay in the newly-updated accommodation which was comfortable in the dry, warm weather, and getting to know strangers who have similar interests was one of the delights of the stay.

The island is only about 1 mile long by half a mile wide and is owned by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, and administered by the Friends.  A well-stocked library and a ringing shed completes the observatory which has recently received accreditation again after a break of over three decades, and is staffed by two wardens and three volunteer assistants, who were charming, knowledgeable and good company.
Richard and Giselle write a good blog, and are assisted by temporary volunteers Will (storm petrel expert), Dean (marine biologist) and Bill (pan lister and expert in everything else). The photo below shows Bill and Dean calling into storm petrel burrows and listening for replies, presumably under the delegation of Will.
 Skokholm is famous for its large populations of Manx shearwaters, storm petrels and lesser black backed gulls, of which more later.......

and puffins of course.