With a bank holiday weekend to play with and good weather forecast, last weekend looked like the perfect opportunity to take in the sights of one of the numerous islands off the Pembrokeshire coast. There are a number to choose from offering different specialities in terms of the wildlife to be found, but in the end we plumped for Skomer given its large population of breeding Manx Shearwaters. These birds are not normally seen during daylight hours as they are either sitting in their burrows on nests all day or out feeding at sea until they return at dusk. However, given a population of some 250,000 individuals, I was hoping that someone wouldn’t have read the literature and would be out on show.
We arrived at Martin’s Haven at 8:40, well in time for the first scheduled boat at ten. Much to my surprise there were already a few people present in the queue. By 9:00 there were already enough people in the queue to fill the boat twice over, and as a result the operator decided to start the journeys early. In order to protect the fragile nature of the island, Skomer can only accommodate up to 250 people a day. If we had not arrived so early I doubt we would have managed to get on. The situation must only get worse as the Puffins begin bringing fish back to their burrows later in the year, so plan your day accordingly if you are thinking of visiting.
The trip to the island boded well for the rest of the day, with my first Whitethroat’s of the year in Martin’s Haven. Once on the boat we passed numerous Guillemots and Razorbills, and saw a couple of Gannets out at sea. The final approach to Skomer itself was simply breathtaking. A raft of Puffins numbering over one hundred were happily floating to the left of the landing, whilst the cliffs to the right of the stairs onto the island played host to several rather noisy Razorbills and Guillemots.
Once landed we were given an introductory talk telling us what we could see on the island. I love these sort of things as you can pretty much guarantee that whatever you are told you can see you wont! Not today though. First on the list we could see were Choughs (two flew just behind the rangers head as he was telling us), the normal auks that were just behind us in the sea, Short Eared Owls hunting and displaying for territory (we saw one not more than five minutes later), and a Little Owl that had taken up residence in some old stone walling (we saw it about a minute after the Short Eared Owl, sitting in a field next to the wall). There is no other word for it other than gob smacking. The sights were not to end there though. The island was covered in nesting gulls (predominantly Lesser Black Backed), Oystercatchers and Swallows, interspersed with more Whitethroats as well as Canada Geese, Pheasants, Ravens, Buzzards and Wheatear to name but a few.
The highlight for me though, as for many people no doubt, were the Puffins. Sitting by the path these amazing little creatures were leaving and entering burrows mere feet away. Photo opportunities were certainly not lacking. I love the way that these birds seemingly have not yet mastered the art of the graceful landing. A seemingly perfect approach invariably ends in a clumsy crash landing, often with the bird ending up beak first on the floor. To compound the comic image, the Puffins then stand up in such a prim and proper manner as if nothing untoward has just happened. Absolute magic.
But what about the Shearwaters I hear you say. I had one sighting that frankly I still can’t quite believe. Literally at my feet two Puffins emerged from a burrow, dragging behind them an adult Manx Shearwater. In my shock I completely forgot that I had the camera so didn’t get a picture before the bird flew off. I can only presume that the Manxy had chosen the wrong burrow to sleep in. Either that or the Puffins were just plain lost. Whatever the reason, it was one of those magic moments that I shall remember for a long time to come.
I will be posting up a collage of images from the day later on this evening, with individual images available for viewing in the main bird photography section of the site.