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Old 7th August 2008
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The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

Hi All

Well... after my thread a day or so ago where I mentioned I'd be happy to document the experience of my overnight stay on Skomer, I had pondered which might be the best way to present the information and so have decided to run a thread containing a series of shorter posts, each with some additional (and hopefully interesting) information and story of my experiences.

I hope you enjoy what I write - but please remember I'm no author, nor am I a wit! I will just try to present what I feel is an interesting experience of the 'Overnighters stay on Skomer Island', and if I arouse curiosity enough within anyone who reads it to make their own enquiries about visiting or staying on Skomer Island - then I will be a happy chappy.

I didn't get the chance to take as many shots as I would have liked - mainly due to the wet weather conditions, but I did get a few keepers... so I hope I won't let anyone down. Part one in a little while.
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Old 7th August 2008
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience... Part 1

Up at 05:30 on the dot and almost ready to get started on the 2:40 hour drive to Martins Haven, Pembrokeshire for the 10:00 boat crossing to the wonderful Skomer Island. Just a few items remaining to pack into the rucksack; several refrigerated items for my snacks, toothbrush of course, and not to forget the spare set of BLM1 batteries for my E-3 that I placed on charge earlier yesterday evening. My hearts sinks slightly as a quick look out of the bedroom window confirms, unfortunately, that in his forecast for West Wales - the weatherman got it spot on – it’s absolutely lashing down outside!

*Makes mental note to call Dale Sailing at 08:15 wherever I am en route - to check that there are in fact going to be boat journeys going across to Skomer Island today…!! Fingers crossed...!!

Still, chin up… a little rain never hurt anyone ☺

The rain continued to pour down on the journey through South Wales, and when on the M4 doing just 50mph as I was passing through Brigend, I felt the road surface become treacherously slippery with masses of surface water present (and still I see cars whizzing past me!!) I thought I’d call my mate Jacob... the Traffic Announcer on BBC Radio Wales (s’ok… the English language version) to inform him of the awful driving conditions so as to warn drivers approaching of the hazard. They read out traffic and weather reports every 15-20 minutes on Radio Wales and I soon heard a ‘Thanks to John who called in a few minutes ago, we’d like to warn you all’”… etc etc etc. However, despite my calling in and Jacob mentioning this warning, during his very next announcement just 15 mins later, Jacob informed listeners of two accidents on the M4, one on East bound and one on West bound – just through Brigend at the exact point I had advised of the treacherous driving conditions!! I sincerely hope no-one was seriously hurt, and I didn’t quite know how to feel to be honest – was a weird one that.
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Old 7th August 2008
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

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Originally Posted by theMusicMan View Post
Hi All

nor am I a wit!

You underrate yourself sir!

Anyway there is little difference between a joke and a project plan (with which I suspect you are familiar). Each has a build up, each has a critical moment and each finishes with a missed target.

See - already the similarity has been demonstrated.

In your own time then sir, no pressure, your audience is seated, waiting and the popcorn has already run out.

Nick
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience... Part 2

Good news!

I called Dale Sailing, and they advised me that the boat would indeed be running - despite the weather conditions. Apparently, it is only when the wind blows North to North East when the boats don’t sail to Skomer. In these weather conditions, the cove of Martins Haven takes the brunt of the North swell, and it then becomes dangerous to get passengers aboard the boat that takes visitors to Skomer… the Dale Princess. Here she is in all her glory - from one of my earlier trips to Skomer.

The Dale Princess, from the Jetty at Martins Haven



So, having dropped my rucksack and hide off in the loos of the Marine Wildlife Center, I drove back up to West Hook Farmhouse where I had booked overnight parking for my car (at £5.00 for the night), I walked the ½ mile back to Martins Haven and arrived at the small dock around 09:15.

It was still raining!

At last, the boat started making its way into the jetty and we all thought that we'd be on the Island within 20 mins... alas I was wrong. As the boat neared the jetty, one of the chaps shouted across to us that the warden had advised there was too much swell at the landing dock on Skomer, and so they would see what the conditions were like in 30 minutes time.

30 minutes later, the Dale Princess again made her way towards the jetty and yet again the chap shouted that though conditions were a little better, it was high tide and they felt they should wait another 30 minutes. All this time, my jeans were getting even wetter!

1 hour and 45 minutes after I arrived later I found myself boarding the Dale Princess… sailings had been postponed due to the high tide, which causes a swell where the boat moors on Skomer Island and in anything greater than a 3’ swell the cap’n won’t let passengers off. Safety first I guess!

A further 20 minutes later, with the sea a little fuller having generously received one of the passengers stomach contents during the trip (it wasn't that bad, honestly!! well not for me anyhow) we arrived on Skomer Island. On the short trip over to the island I spotted several Gannets, some Kittiwake on the cliffs, the ever present Lesser and Greater Black Backed gulls over the water, as well as a few Cormorants flying by.
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Old 7th August 2008
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

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my jeans were getting even wetter!
*Raises Eyebrow*

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Old 7th August 2008
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience... Part 3

Greeted by Dave, one of the Assistance Wardens on Skomer, and a really smashing chap by the name of Luke who was one of the volunteer wardens for the week, all my bags were taken and loaded on to the back of a tractor, and off they went on their route to the accommodation. The other visitors and myself, on the other hand, after the introductory and obligatory talk, were left to walk the ¾ mile to the farmhouse… and yes... it was still raining!

Some facts I gleaned from the talk given by the Warden:
  • Skomer has over 125,000 breeding pairs of Manx Shearwaters
  • No foxes are present on the island and so rabbits are abundant
  • Advised not to tread more than a meter from the pathways due to the tunnels
  • 99% of the Puffins have left!
Despite this, I spotted several Puffins in North Haven (where the boat lets you off) but had already been advised as mentioned by the wardens, that 99% of the islands Puffins had already left, and there were only a few remaining – those with late chicks. So, my apologies to Mr Zuiko et al… no Puffin pics this time I’m afraid!

On the walk up to the farmhouse is when it hits you… the sheer magic of Skomer Island. I love the place; who cares about the weather when you’re in a place like this? I guess there’s a slight feeling of claustrophobia that hits you as you hit the top of the island, and as you see the Dale Princess sailing back into the mist, surf and spray, knowing you’re not going to leave this place for at least 24 hrs. It’s going to get dark, very dark… there’s no sunshine at all today therefore there will be no electricity, and it will be pitch black - adding to the claustrophobia… but who cares… you’re on Skomer Island.

By the way… it was still raining!

As you approach the top of the island from the boat you venture into the mist and fog, but you can still hear the Meadow Pipits and Skylarks singing their heads off. You can still see the greater Black Backed Gulls, the Lesser Black Backed Gulls, the Kittiwakes, Ravens and Choughs all around you – it really is a wonderful place and I thoroughly recommend anyone who hasn’t been there to try to get across. Even at this time of year without its trademark Puffins, Skomer Island is magical.

Up at the accommodation we were greeted by Tansy, the Islands Visitor Liaison Officer, who showed us around, to the kitchen and toilet/showers, and of course to our rooms - which I have to say are very spacious and comfortable. £3.5M has been spent over the last 3 years on the accommodation block, a small visitor center and the warden’s accommodation – and it certainly shows. The island is now well equipped to accommodate up to around 20 people each night – though still relies on solar electricity generation with backup generator (that we discovered later in the evening the islands staff prefer not to use!).
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Last edited by theMusicMan; 7th August 2008 at 07:37 PM.
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience... Part 4

After a quick cup of tea, an introductory chat to my fellow 'overnighters', a dry off, a change of clothes into my camo gear ( to self – denim jeans are most certainly not good to wear to Skomer Island in the rain) it was time to venture out to the first place I wanted to spend some time in – an 800 yard walk to the public hide situated just off the South path that takes you from the farmhouse to ‘the Wick’ (the Wick is where there are the greatest concentration of Puffins on Skomer, during April through July).

Here's a shot of the Wick from one of my earlier trips:

The Wick


Weather update: it had stopped raining, at last. It was very misty and foggy, with only a gentle wetness in the air, and it even looked as though the clouds were thinning.

There are two public hides on Skomer, and they are both solid and very well built, they are dry, with slats that drop down or pop-up, and with plenty of space and seating for several people to sit comfortably. I arrived at the south public hide - which overlooks a small pond – in the hope of spotting some of the soon to arrive passage waders, or maybe the elusive Little Owl.

Here’s a view from the inside of the hide – collated as a pano from 3 images taken with the Sigma 50-500mm, each at 50mm.

View from inside the Moor Hide


Link to larger image


It was quite an earie experience, as the mist and fog you see in this image came and went every 20 minutes or so, but overall visibility around the hide for birds and animals itself was good.

I spent around 3 hours in the hide, during which time met a smashing chap by the name of Dave, a retired Police Officer from Kent, and who was there overnight like myself, with his wife and two children. We saw some super sights – one of the highlights was an incredibly fast fly-past by a Wood Pigeon being chased by a Peregrine Falcon. Despite having the E-3 ready with the Sigma 50-500mm lens attached, I literally had no time to even pick the camera up and point it at the chase… it happened that fast – you could even hear the ‘wooosh’ of the birds as they flew past only feet from the hide; first the Wood Pigeon followed quickly by the Peregrine… just feet from me! I gather that the Pigeon dived into a bush and the Peregrine flew over without its prey… lucky break for the Woody I guess. The Peregrine then flew back around to the front of the hide to the right of the image above, and then off over the valley to the left - out of sight not to be seen again, but it was a wonderful highlight to some time in spent this hide.
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

More later...
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience... Part 5

As to be expected, things were a little quieter in the period following the exciting Peregrine v’s Pigeon chase, but I did have some further success, as well both a ‘first’ on my list of birds… more on that LBB (little brown birds) later, AND a 'first' bird report this year for Skomer... more on that one later too ☺

I spent about 3 hours in total in this hide, and it’s where I was presented with the most opportunities for decent shots, and thus where most of my better shots were taken. The fog came and went several times, as did the rain, but at least the ever present Lesser Black Backed and Greater Black Backed gulls offered a little more consistency to the proceedings.

The Greater Black Backed Gulls are the most prolific predators on the island, and will not only feed on any carrion they find, but they will also hunt down and feed on the hapless Manx Shearwaters as these mainly over-sea based birds come in to feed their chick at night. There were dozens and dozens of Manx carcasses dotted on the paths all over the island, but apparently these are an important part of the islands eco-system and we were advised not to touch or interfere with any of them.

A grusome sight I appreciate, but nonetheless an important part of the experience.

Carcass of Manx Shearwater predated by Greater Black Backed Gulls



They don't leave much do they...?

There are of course other predatory birds on Skomer Island including Peregrine, Merlin, Little Owl, Short Eared Owl, Buzzards and this year, a hobby has also been seen… just the once though. But it is the Greater Black Backed Gulls who take the most prey. Personally… I like them, and find them extremely graceful in flight, yet totally the opposite when stationary and perched i.e. stern and abrupt. Here’s a few shots of GBBG’s that were taken from the South Moor Hide…

Greater Black Backed Gull


Honestly... I didn't Photoshop-in the red around the eye of this next Greater Black, it was exactly like this. I find them quite stunning birds, and they are massive, I mean really big.








There seemed to me to be far more Greater Black Backed Gulls than Lesser Black Backed Gulls, but I managed to get a shot of the Lesser for comparison... quite easy to identify the Lessers from the Greaters really yeah

Lesser Black Backed Gull




I am not too familiar with the juvenile markings of either these birds, and cannot easily distinguish between the two species, but grabbed a few shots of these for library purposes (I like library shots as you may have gathered!!)

Juvenile Lesser/Greater Black Backed Gull


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Old 7th August 2008
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

"The Memoirs of a MusicMan"

Sounds like you had a great time, despite the weather.

Keep the narrative coming, it's just like Hollywood: The journey; the struggle against adversity; and the guy gets the bird in the end

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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

Great shots so far John. And nice to see white and black birds so well caught, I suspect the weather helped there, but still good to see.

Difficult to pull out a favourite - I guess it is the Juvenile Black backed gull with those marvellous morning after eyes.

I tend to wear shorts in the rain, legs dry so much easier than denim.

Nick
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

Dear John,

Thanks so much for taking the time to write such an informative and interesting post about your trip. The only problem is that it has made me want to visit, time to try and persuade my wife. Still, she does have a passion for reading and whiskey, so I might just have a chance! Keep posting the pictures, I will enjoy them and it will also help the hard sell for a holiday.

Cheers

Chris

Last edited by CaptainD; 7th August 2008 at 06:24 PM.
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

No probs everyone... I am really enjoying writing it up, and Chris... if by my posting this I have made you interested in visiting Skomer, then I am a happy chappy.

Next installment within the hour...
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

Dear John,

You certainly have made me more than interested, I can feel a nights research on the great worldwide web coming on. Skomer looks like a place I could spend many happy hours watching and hopefully taking some nice shots as well.

Cheers

Chris
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Re: The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience...

The Overnighters Skomer Island Experience... Part 6

By this time I had been in the South Moor Hide for just over an hour or so, but I really wanted to try to get a glimpse of some passage waders - as we had been told by the wardens that now [August] is about the time of year when they start to make an appearance on Skomer én route to wherever they are én route to! However, looking at the weather – wet one minute foggy the next, I wasn’t confident that I’d see anything more than the Greater and Lesser Black Backed Gulls I had already seen around the pond; squawking and fighting as they vie for the best spot on which to roost.

Once again though, Skomer got the better of me and proved me so very wrong.

Some on here may have seen some of the many Wagtail shots I have taken and posted recently, well I couldn’t not post one could I...? I couldn't have a trip to Skomer without at least one Wagtail shot eh, so here goes. I only saw several Pied Wagtails, but the hide did its job very well and presented me with an opportunity to get some relative close ups of this flighty bird. As I have posted many Wagtail shots these last few months, I will keep this Skomer series to just the one… the obligatory one!

Pied Wagtail


There were three Pied Wagtails I spotted in total, and they were all there at the same time, but only this one decided to keep still long enough to make a useful pose and smile for the camera. Nice birds… I like ‘em anyway… ☺

The weather hadn’t really changed; one minute there was very little fog or mist, but the next minute it could be seen rolling over the valley as the wind picked up and brought with it drizzle in waves. Often it was down to less than what I considered was approx 30/40 yards visibility – and with this the rain pelted down intermittently too; but being safely tucked up in this wonderful waterproof hide, I was actually in Skomer heaven!

At this time, which was mid-to-late afternoon, I was still hoping for even one wader, just the one, which would have made my day. Eventually Skomer delivered and I got just that and spotted one… just the one mind you, and as it happens it also turned out to be a ‘first’ this year (2008) for Skomer Island – so this was a double whammy for me and I was delighted later that evening when, at the Bird Sighting Discussion with the Warden and the RSPB staff, I informed them I had seen (and photographed) a wonderful Green Sandpiper. He/she was a little way off for a decent shot at first, but then came a lot closer as he scurried along the waters edge looking for shrimp or larvae/insects etc. He came close enough for me to get a half decent ‘grab’ shot (but not really a ‘printer’ shot) which, with the E-3 + Sigma 50-500mm I could crop and come away with a decent enough image for my photo library. Actually, come to think of it… I may have a pop at printing this one myself on my crappy Epson printer. If it turns out OK I may send it off to Photobox for another of the wall mounted prints I have on my conservatory wall. Oh yes... I guess now is the time I should explain my conservatory.

My conservatory is my haven, my sanctuary; away from the TV, the sounds and noises of kids and a busy family life, where I can doodle at will until I am doodled-out on my synths, I can twiddle until I am all twiddled-out with the knobs in Lightroom and Photoshop, and generally hide away from all that’s going on around me. The thing is… everyone [the kids that is] knows where it is, and I can’t seem to hide in there anymore!! Hmmm... maybe there's another use for my pop-up hide eh

OK OK I know... back to the Green Sandpiper ☺

Though not a rare species, Green Sandpiper turn up on Skomer around August / September time, and wohoooo… I bagged the first reported one on Skomer for 2008. Differentiated from the Common Sandpiper in the main by being a little smaller, overall darker in plumage and having no white patches across the wings so more easy to ID in flight. Nothing spectacular to look at in all honesty, but here she is feeding along the waters edge;

Green Sandpiper


Nothing else new appeared on the water for some time, but I heard a commotion alongside the hide and opened up the viewing slats on the side of the hide to see what was going on. The side of the hide looks out onto the side of the hill leading back up the path to the farmhouse and accommodation. One can’t see the accommodation from the hide as it is well hidden in a small valley, well down from the top of the brow of the small hill that leads back to the farmhouse. So, looking out over the sedge, thistle and bracken I spotted many small LBB’s, but they were a tad too far away to accurately identify. As one does, I kept looking, and as they say, patience is a virtue, I was rewarded with some super close ups of another ‘first’ for me, the Sedge Warbler.

Literally only several feet from where my Sigma 50-500mm was perched, hanging out of the hide over the egde, two Sedge Warblers appeared scurrying around in the bushes back and forth. Only at one point did one of them see the opportunity for immortality and decided to pose in that classic Warbler photo pose… and to think, they did this just for me, how kind of them!

Here’s a selection of images.

Sedge Warbler





After I had taken the Sedge Warbler shots, I felt the hide had delivered to me all it was going to deliver at that time, vowed to come back before I left the following morning, and decided to pack up and make way back to the farmhouse for some grub.

Hmmm… grub for me was going to be two sandwiches of Coronation Chicken, a sausage roll and a raisin cake bar, all washed down with a nice cuppa. Glorious.

Weather update: the skies had actually started to clear a little and I managed to bag myself the first view of the Irish Sea since jumping off the Dale Princess several hours earlier. Not being able to see the sea, on such a small island, just goes to show how poor the weather was. Ho hum….
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