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lyskonoh úzkozobý, samice / Red-necked Phalarope, female (Phalaropus lobatus)

lyskonoh úzkozobý, samice / Red-necked Phalarope, female (Phalaropus lobatus)

lyskonoh úzkozobý, samice / Red-necked Phalarope, female (Phalaropus lobatus)

lyskonoh úzkozobý, samice / Red-necked Phalarope, female (Phalaropus lobatus)

lyskonoh úzkozobý, samice / Red-necked Phalarope, female (Phalaropus lobatus)

lyskonoh úzkozobý, samice / Red-necked Phalarope, female (Phalaropus lobatus)

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Saturday, 07 June 2008 13:29

Before reading this article, please check the following link, it relates to important nature conservancy issues:

The Nature Conservancy and sustainability partner Andrew Liveris are stopping the decline of migratory bird habitats. Learn how you can help too!

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Skomer Island – watching Puffins in the western Wales

Skomermap

The Skomer Island on the southwest of Wales can be easily compared with the norwegian Runde Island, which certainly is better known to all czech bird-lovers, especially thanks to the catching reportages of Jaroslav Ciler and Ondřej Prosicky. IMG_2952PS Besides similar area and the fact, that in both cases the bird sanctuary is located off-shore on the island, both places have something more in common – most of the visitors are attracted by thousands of Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica) that can be watched and photographed from very short distance. However the real gem of the Skomer Island is not the puffin itself but Manx Shearwater, who is nesting on the island in the largest colony in the World. This report is a summary of two days that we spent on the island. Unfortunately the Skomer Island is accessible only by boat and for limited time and because the stay overnight is necessary to book well in advance, we spent altogether only 8 hours on the island during 17. – 18. May 2008. None the less, the visit was worth to do…

 

Skomer

Skomer Island with the area of 307 ha (approximately 3.5 x 2 km) and average altitude of about 60 m is the second largest island of Wales after the Anglesey Island. It is located in Pembrokeshire on the southern tip of the St Bride´s Bay and is formed mostly by Silurian volcanic rocks and less resistant sedimentary rocks, which are easily eroded enabling formation of more rough morphology of the island and especially its steep cliffs with one of the largest bird colonies in the Europe.

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The very first historical record of Skomer Island comes from 14. Century and relates closely to the rabbit catching – the rabbits were brought to the island at the end of 13. Century. Although the hunt for rabbits dropped down to zero by 1950 with the arrival of mixomatosis, the rabbit population of the island is naturally maintained mainly thank to the predators (owls, gulls or ravens) who regularly feed on rabbits.

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In spite of that, it is very obvious that how the presence of rabbits on the island for Centuries changed its face – on the restricted fenced areas one can see gross vegetation that contrasts with thin vegetation on the unprotected areas.

Skomer Island was already colonized in pre-historic times and in last centuries it was mainly used as a farmland. In 1958 the island was bought up from the private ownership by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales Society and in 1959 it became a National Nature Reserve. Today some another areas around Skomer Island are protected including the smaller island off the Skomer and so are the surrounding waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Birds on Skomer Island

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Present in largest number but on the other hand the most-difficult-to-observe bird of Skomer is Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) with over 100 000 nesting pairs on Skomer, which together with ca. 45 000 nesting pairs on neighbouring Skokholm Island represent approximately half of the world population of this species! Most of the ground burrows that spread all over the island are the nesting burrows of Manx Shearwater. During the day Manx Shearwater is out on the sea far from the island and safe from the raptors. They return to the island after the dusk and look for their nesting burrows in a hurry. The best time for experiencing and watching Manx Shearwater is the night so it is necessary to book the overnight stay in advance – in the hut of local guides there is room for 16 visitors. For the ordinary visitor the only sign of Manx Shearwater on the island are besides the numerous burrows also the remnants of their skeleton – the remains of the night dinner of Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus), who is the greatest danger for Manx Shearwaters returning from the sea. Observations showed that the nesting pairs of Manx Shearwater returns every year into the same burrow and lays one egg, which is incubated for another 51 days. After the hatching it takes another 70 days before the young birds leave their nesting burrows for their first flight – that is usually during September. Manx Shearwaters then then head for the South Atlantic to winter off the coast of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. These birds can last out more than 30 years of age.

Another mysterious bird of Skomer, which is active only after the dusk is the Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus), which only counts about 100 pairs nesting on the rocky cliffs far from the visitors restricted footpaths.

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The other common bird species present on the island aret he most favourite birds of visitors – Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) – with ca. 6 000 nesting pairs, Guillemot - Common Murre (Uria aalge) - approximately 14 000 birds, Razorbill (Alca torda) – ca. 4 000 birds, Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) – ca. 2 000 pairs, Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) – about 700 pairs and of course the Gulls in great number – besides the already mentioned Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) and Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) also Lesser Black-becked Gull (Larus fuscus) and Herring Gull (Larus argentatus). Number of other birds that can be seen on the Skomer Island encompasses the whole range of species from passerines through the waders and ravens to raptors.

 

 

 

 

The bird city Wick

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For visitors the most interesting and attractive place by far is the cliff called Wick in the southern part of Skomer Island. While its southern steep cliff is a home for thousands of Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Fulmars (from sealevel upwards), the opposite more gently inclined slope is a refuge for Atlantic Puffin. IMG_3293PS In this place the visitor’s pathway goes directly through the puffins` nesting area right next to the puffins` burrows so it is not unusual to watch puffins staggering on the pathway in front of the visitors` legs or running across the pathway heading to the burrow. Puffins are so accustomed to the presence of people here that they can be approached and photographed from les than one meter of distance. In the time of out visit in middle of May they were making ready their nests and so we unfortunately could not observe the adults bringing in their beaks small fishes from the sea.

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Besides the Wick, which is the best place for puffins watching, there are also the puffins colonies in the surrounding of North Haven inlet, which is also the starting point of each visit of Skomer. North Haven is also very good spot for making pictures of Guillemots and Razorbills who are sitting and sun-bathing just few meters from the marina wharf and from the staircase leading from the boat to the island. These birds are very hard to see closer in other parts of Skomer.

 

How to get to Skomer

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There is a regular boat commuter to Skomer between 1. April and 31. October – the boat which can load on 50 passengers is leaving from Martin`s Haven on the southern tip of Marloe`s peninsula and after about 15 minutes it arrives into the North Haven on Skomer Island. The first morning cruise is usually at 9.00 and last at 11.00 but everything depends on weather and number of visitors. It is better to be in time on spot and ask the locals about the cruises schedule and exclusions – the island is closed for public on Mondays and so is a few days in May or June during the birds counts. The boat leaves back from the island approximately at 15.00 to 16.00. The price for the commuter is 9 pounds for adult and the entrance to the island is paid separately – that is 6 pounds.

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Gannet (Morus bassanus), which can be sometimes seen from Skomer usually just passes westward onto the Grassholm – a small island inhabited by ca. 30 000 pairs of this beautiful bird. There are also cruises to Grassholm but usually after the reservation as this island is not that attractive for turists as Skomer. More information about the cruises to Grassholm can be found on www.dale-sailing.co.uk or www.grassholm.com.

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Ideal place where to start your trip to Skomer is certainly the campsite and guest house Foxdale www.foxdaleguesthouse.co.uk in Marloes, which is only 3 km away from Martin`s Haven from where every morning the boat leaves for Skomer Island. Only few hundred meters from the Foxdale campsite there is a nice cliff with small nesting colony of Fulmar; other birds can be watched on the surrounding pastures and fields.

The Skomer Island and its surrounding are worth to visit so if you happen to pass by, do not hesitate, take one day off and for sure visit this beautiful part of Wales!

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Last Updated on Thursday, 03 February 2011 08:52
 
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