A visit to Skomer - Studying Wildlife Management
Why Study Wildlife Management? Frances studied wildlife management with ACS Distance Education and has kindly shared many of her experiences with us. Share her joy of working with wildlife.
The following text is an extract from a newsletter written by:
ACS Distance Education
Please note any opinions expressed in the document are solely those of the author and are therefore independent from ACS Distance Education, its employees or affiliates.
"So there I was on a night bus – again. Once I win Lotto I won’t be doing those any more, but in the meantime… ah well, they make for endless nightmare travel stories!
Once again it was a 9 hour bus ride back to London but to start with I had to get to Aberdeen – which meant 2 hours on a bus from Banff after the emotional goodbye in Gardenstown. I had several hours to kill before my 7pm bus and was lucky enough to make contact with a friend in Aberdeen. On the bus and hoping I’d have a seat to stretch out on – but no such luck, as by the time we pulled out of Glasgow every seat was full. To add insult to a sleepless night, the bus broke down before we got to Birmingham – no Connor to blame this time! Those of us who had connections to make were allowed on the first bus that pulled in but I was still an hour late into Victoria station, which meant I missed my connection after all. And then, the replacement was late!
More than 24 hours after I started my journey from Gardenstown I arrived in Bristol. It was 2pm before I finally got to my destination – after spending at least 30 minutes wandering around the city centre asking people where the hell the right local bus stop was likely to be!
The next day I headed off to the village of Lamphey in West Wales, from where I would be hopping across to Skomer. A long, wet drive – hmm, I must have missed summer! The coast is very pretty and as we were too late to get the ferry that day, we opted instead for a clifftop walk. The views were stunning but it was COLD! Somewhere along the walk a part of my camera fell off, never to be seen again. The poor thing has had a hard life and I seriously started to think about retiring it.
There wasn’t much around in the way of wildlife on the walk – a few gulls, a robin and a starling, and I think I heard a skylark. I managed to make friends with a couple of dogs on the walk, and the hotel cat when I went for a brief walk after dinner. The cat looked a bit odd and I suddenly realised it was because she was polydactyl. I’ve never actually seen a cat with 6 toes on each foot before!
The next morning I was up way too early and we made our way out to Marloes, the ferry landing, for the trip to Skomer. It was only about a 10 minute ride but I was taking no chances – Stugeron to the rescue!
On landing we were immediately faced with a very steep ascent. The first stop was a small clearing for a short safety talk – which, refreshingly, focused on the safety of the birds rather than of people. Skomer was originally farmed but has been a nature reserve since 1959. Today it’s a research site for breeding success of the puffins and also of the Manx shearwater, so most of the island except for the narrow pathways are roped off and public access is not allowed. Numbers are strictly controlled and day visitors have a maximum time limit.
Skomer is very exposed so was windy and cold, even when the sun did come out. But the scenery was stunning, and who cared about the weather when there were so many birds! There were thousands of comical and colourful puffins, dapper razorbills, smart and sleek guillemots, greater and lesser black-backed gulls, herring gulls and kittiwakes, oystercatchers, crows, jackdaws and fulmars – all immaculate and perfect. I even saw a pair of choughs which was another new bird species for me, along with meadow and rock pipits, and wrens. Unfortunately my luck with the camera did not improve – my batteries ran down and I had no spares. Though I only saw one live Manx shearwater, there were literally hundreds of burrows. Sadly, there were also a lot of bodies littered along the pathways. The shearwaters are nocturnal so as to avoid being preyed on by the gulls, but some of them get their timing wrong and they meet a grisly end. As is my way, I grieved for every lifeless bird I saw.
The puffins have favourite spots and there were points at which hundreds of birds kept guard outside hundreds of burrows. As I walked along I found one spot where the nests were very close to the path. I stood still, just surveying the scene, watching the puffins close before me, and the fulmars, razorbacks and guillemots on the rock face nearby. I was rewarded by seeing a puffin chick occasionally popping his little smoky grey head out of the burrow. Blink and you would miss it. Had he stayed out any longer, he’d be an easy target for predators. One puffin pair popped up out of a burrow right at my feet and while one kept guard, the other crossed the path to make her way to the cliff edge to go fishing. I stepped back to allow her plenty of space but she just kept on her merry way – which happened to be to my left at a distance of about 20 centimetres! As I passed their burrow I caught a glimpse of movement and sure enough – there was a fuzzy little bundle inside.
On one of the cliff faces I saw a precious fulmar chick underneath it’s mother. There were a multitude of gull chicks, fuzzy and beautiful. There weren’t many places to rest, but I found a bench and sat to have lunch. The odd gull kept me company, but they were completely uninterested in anything I might have – in fact, they tucked themselves up and went to sleep in the sunshine. This is the beauty of birds who don’t have to live where there are too many people, and who don’t get a taste for chips and other assorted junk food. Puffins came in from fishing with beaks full of sand eels, just like all the postcards. They would be flying in towards the cliff-top one minute, and gone the next – vanished deep into their burrows to feed hungry little mouths.
The circuit of the island took five hours at a leisurely pace – just long enough to get back to the embarkation point on time for the ferry to leave. Had I not wanted to see the coastline and perhaps get a glimpse of the seals and dolphins we were told also frequent the marine reserve encircling the island, I’d have propped in the spot where I could see thousands of birds of different species just by looking up. I’d have watched the comings and goings and peeped into the lives of these endearing little puffins and their more raucous, but equally splendid, neighbours. In the future, I may well have to find other puffin colonies!
At mid-afternoon, my limited time up, I got back on the ferry, regretting leaving the birds behind. But there was one last treat – a gannet skimming the water, and a grey seal popping up his head to see what all the commotion was.
To misquote Emily Dickinson: Joy is the thing with feathers…."
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