30 September, 2014

September on Skokholm

All good things have to come to an end, and I left Skokholm on a calm, crisp Monday morning boat bound for a second year of University. It's been an indescribable three months of volunteering, seabird ringing, moth-trapping, rarity-finding, star-gazing, (attempted) DIY and general good times, and I've met many great folk along the way to keep in touch with over the coming years.

After becoming accustomed to the simple life on a tiny, isolated island, I half expected 'civilisation' to be a punch in the guts. On the contrary, it's surprising how quickly one becomes re-accustomed to flushing toilets, showers and washing machines. I don't know where to start when it comes to summarising it all, so here are some photos from my last month on the island. Daily updates from throughout the seabird season can all be found on the warden's blog, and I've just popped a hell of a lot of photos from the stay up onto Flickr, so feel free to take a look at them.

Looking up at Crab Bay, where the Puffins used to be.

I guided a group of marine biologists to the bottom of some magnificent cliffs, where they then proceeded to name and survey every seaweed on every rock.
They didn't stop at seaweeds though- this is Anurida maritima, a springtail which walks on the surface of rockpools! I am easily excited.
The only beach on Skokholm- but boy is it a beach.

Home for the past three months
I'm desperately missing the 360 degree views that can be had from the top of Spy Rock. The sunsets over the Irish Sea were phenomenal.

In terms of bird action, it was hard to match the run of scarcities we enjoyed during early-September (Icterine Warbler, Ortolan Bunting, Common Rosefinch, Wryneck). Migrants continued to make landfall throughout the rest of the month, with the Swallow passage during my last week definitely ranking as one of the best experiences. Many 10,000's of birds powered straight in off the Irish Sea each day, and understandably some were a bit thirsty after their travels.

Looking West from the southern tip of the island, you could actually watch the Swallows coming in off the sea. Magnificent. 

At night, Manx Shearwater fledgelings carpeted the main path network. They were extremely clumsy, and would often find themselves in awkward places (inside buildings, on top of roofs or trees) in their search for a high point to take-off from. Inevitably, confused and ill birds would venture out during the day, making easy meals for the Great Black-backed Gulls.


Tree Pipit

Spotted Flycatcher

11 September, 2014


We've finally cashed in on the recent Wryneck influx, with a very showy individual frequenting the cliffs around Crab Bay where Puffins arrived with sand-eels only last month...


Migrants, including various Spotted Flycatchers, are scattered across the Skokholm cliffs at the moment.

The last Fulmar chick fledged back on Sunday, and only a few stragglers now frequent the cliffs.

06 September, 2014

Icterine and Ortolan

Icterine Warbler

It's amazing how quickly the bird migration mindset takes over daily island thinking as September arrives. It seems like a lifetime ago that I was looking for colour-ringed Puffins in Crab Bay, or snoozing on a cliff-top listening to the wind-blown calls of desperate Guillemots chicks. Instead, I now find myself in a weird but excited rarity-fuelled trance, waking-up extra early for the possibility that a 'yank' wader might be feeding on North Pond, or a scarce warbler skulking near one of the Heligolands. Whilst it's hard not to miss the mellow seabird months of summer (even if that did coincide with the busiest time of year for guests!), autumn brings its own sense of excitement, with endless birding possibilities (given the right weather).

The first week of September has yet to end, but things are already looking exciting on the rare bird front- I was lucky enough to find an Icterine Warbler during my morning rounds of the island back on Tuesday. Despite being half-asleep at the time, there was little mistaking the striking tones and bulky size of a Hippolais warbler, almost dwarfing the Sedge Warbler sitting next to it in the same bush, and ten minutes later all island folk were enjoying views of the little beauty as it made its way through an Elder, often coming out into the open to catch flies with several Spotted Flycatchers and a Redstart feeding nearby.

Fast-forward to yesterday and a cracking Ortolan Bunting turned up at the Farm, showing brilliantly throughout the day to all. The string of scarcities continued today, with a Common Rosefinch trapped and ringed early in the afternoon. The 'commoner' migrants have been just as exciting to watch however, with small arrivals of Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat, Stonechat, Tree Pipit, Redstart and Yellow Wagtail frequenting the cliffs and coastal paths. What a fantastic time of year!

Ortolan Bunting

Common Rosefinch

Pied Flycatcher


01 September, 2014

With Fulmars

Back at the start of July I took up the reins in the island's Fulmar breeding productivity project, a study which involved walking the North coast cliffs daily and noting the stage of progress of a pre-selected bunch of Fulmar nests.

Fast forward a month, and it's now become more of a daily emotional challenge than a productivity study, as scruffy balls of fluff gain feathers and begin to turn into pristine, ocean-bound flying machines. It's been nothing less than magical watching the adult-chick interactions of a bird I only ever previously shrugged off as an overgrown Herring Gull lookalike.

15 days old

36 days old

43 days old

53 days old- ready to go to hit the ocean

As of today, 22 chicks have already fledged, and the final six will no doubt leave in the coming week, following in the wake of the now departed Puffins and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The cliffs just won't be the same without these mellow, majestic beauties flying around my head...