Skomer Island Warden Tales
If you’re visiting Pembrokeshire this summer, there are few places more deserving of a visit than Skomer Island. Famous for its abundant wildlife, Skomer is a unique place that lingers long in the memory, and inspires many a return visit. Perhaps even more so than Bluestone ;D
To explain more about the island and what can be seen there, I am delighted to hand over the blog reins this week to Jo Milborrow, the Warden of Skomer.
Skomer is a National Nature Reserve managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and owned by the Countryside Council for Wales, and is one of the most important and accessible seabird breeding sites in Europe.
Skomer supports the largest breeding population of Manx Shearwaters in the world – with over 120,000 pairs nesting in the burrows which honeycomb the island.
This represents around one third of the world population. You are unlikely to see a live Shearwater if you visit by day, as birds will either be hidden underground in their burrows, or out to sea fishing, only to return in the safety of darkness. Other than the holes themselves, the only signs that you are walking through such a dense colony will be the remains of this pigeon-sized black-and-white seabird littering the paths: the victims of the predatory Great Black-backed Gulls. It is thanks to the nocturnal habits of Shearwaters that these victims are a small minority.
For a glimpse into the secret world of the Manx Shearwater, head to the Old Farm Visitor Centre where live pictures from a burrow are displayed (and at Lockley Lodge on the mainland).
Along coastal slopes Shearwaters compete for holes with another burrow nesting seabird, the characterful puffin. The island plays host to over 10,000 breeding puffins, the biggest colony in southern Britain. These charismatic birds are thankfully more obliging, and can be seen during the day between April and the end of July. Puffins are especially abundant between mid-June and mid-July, and it is during this period that they can be seen flying in with their beaks full of silvery sand-eels for hungry chicks.
If you’re visiting Skomer soon, here are some of the things you might be lucky enough to see…
Mallard, shoveler and shelduck ducklings on North Pond and Moorey Mere.
Storm petrels. Cormorant nesting on Mew Stone and first young at end of May. Moorhen chicks on North Pond and Moorey Mere. Dunlin passing through. First curlew and oystercatcher chicks. Short-eared owl parents defending their territories and the first chicks heard hissing from the depths of bushes. Gull chicks hatching. Kittiwakes collecting nest material from pond edges. Guillemot and razorbills incubating their eggs. Puffin bringing in fish for chicks by the end of the month. Cuckoo, tree pipit, reed warbler, black redstart, whinchat, spotted flycatchers, pied flycatchers and redpoll all passing through on migration. Chough feeding on the short grasslands. Raven chicks fledging.
Orange tips and blue butterflies. Cinnabar and burnet moths. Maybe a few common dolphin. Harbour porpoise seen most days around the Garland stone. Bluebells, sea campion, thrift and red campion in full bloom.
You can visit Skomer for the day on board the Dale Princess which runs from Martins Haven to the island from 10am every morning except Mondays. There is a limit to the number of people that can land on the island each day, which ensures that disturbance to the important seabird colonies is kept to a minimum, so get there early to ensure your space. You can also stay overnight on the island to experience the nightly return of the 120 000 Manx Shearwaters to their burrows, or volunteer on the island and stay for a week to help the Wardens with their work.
You can also now follow life on Skomer Island through a new blog which carries all the latest news, sightings and updates from the island.
Be island wise!
We want you to be safe and comfortable on Skomer, so…
• Please remember – always stick to the marked footpaths as these routes are designed to leave sensitive wildlife areas unharmed.
• Stay safe near water. All water can be dangerous – take particular care on cliff tops and supervise children at all times. Follow any instructions given on the ferry and on Skomer.
• Be prepared for steps. There are steep steps to climb when you land. The top of the island is fairly flat, but the paths are rough in places.
• Wear the right kit. Wear walking shoes or boots. Bring waterproofs, a warm layer, a hat and sunscreen. The island is exposed and there’s very little shelter.
• Bring food and drink. There are no refreshments on the island, except bottled water.
• Don’t bring your dog. Dogs are not allowed. They don’t get on with ground-nesting birds!