2013 marks the 75th anniversary of the work of WTSWW in the west of its patch. We’ve also welcomed new Skokholm wardens Giselle Eagle and Richard Brown, who have moved out to the island this month, and who are working with the newly formed volunteer committee to get the island re-accredited as a Bird Observatory. This month in our series of items exploring our archive, we head back to 1957 and the year’s report from the Skokholm Bird Observatory as a glimpse of things past- and hopefully things yet to come!
Skokholm Bird Observatory Report for 1957.
Compiled by the Field Studies Council and published by The West Wales Field Society
Report of the 1957 season, by Kate Barham.
The Observatory was opened by Peter Davis on March 2nd, following a preliminary visit with some stores on February 28th. The party consisted of Peter and Angela Davis, Dido Berry- who was to cook for the Observatory, Peter Hope-Jones (who gave us valuable help during the three weeks of his stay) and myself as Assistant Warden.
On March 12th we were joined by George Edwards, who was later to spend the season as Warden, after Peter Davis’s departure on April 12th to take up his new post as Warden of Fair Isle.
Peter Davis will be greatly missed here. The fine work that he did during his three years as Warden, and the valuable scientific studies carried out by him and also by Angela Davis, made their going a great loss to Skokholm. We wish them every success at Fair Isle.
1957 was a very busy and eventful year for the Observatory, in the course of which we welcomed visitors from Australia, India, United States, South Africa, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland among our may guests, who altogether stayed for a total of 260 ‘unit weeks’.
George Edwards gave help in bird-identification to many field students during the season and among other activities he constructed three excellent new hides to replace the old weather-worn structures.
Dido Berry, as well as cooking excellently, gave much willing help on the ornithological side, particularly in nest-finding, and completed 100 nest record cards for the BTO.
I would like to express my personal thanks to the Commanding Officer, R.N.A.S. Brawdy, for his kindness in providing helicopter transport in response to an emergency call.
Our sincere thanks to John Barrett and all his staff at Dale Fort for their co-operation and ready help throughout the season, to Robert Spencer for help on ringing matters, and to our friends the light-keepers, Messrs. E. Day, G. Hartill, W. Long and S. Booth, for their willing assistance and many kindnesses during the year.
The Observatory was closed on October 26th, after which George Edwards ended his period as Warden, and my own appointment to the Wardenship followed.
After a comparatively mild winter and early Spring, warblers began moving through by the end of March, with a noticeable movement on April 5th, followed by a good main passage in the first week of May. Willow Warblers and Whitethroats were in good numbers in spring, and Sedge Warblers and Spotted Flycatchers were more numerous than in recent years. Return warbler passage commenced early but was disappointing in numbers. The autumn, however, was remarkable for an unprecedented irruption of tit species in October, part of the widespread movement reported from many other areas in Britain. In addition, October brought an exceptionally good fall of Blackbirds. Wrens were also very numerous, and a Spoonbill on October 15th was a new species for Skokholm.
One hundred and twenty-six different species were seen in the year, which is the highest total yet recorded. In addition to the Spoonbill, Shore Lark and Long-tailed Tit were new to the Island list. Among other rarities seen this year, there were second records of Grey Phalarope, Great Tit and Siskin, and third reports of Sandwich Tern and Melodious Warbler. Other birds of note included Sooty Shearwater (two), Knot, Hoopoe, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Treecreeper, Firecrest (two), Woodchat Shrike, Red-Backed Shrike, Ortolan Bunting, Lapland Bunting (three), Snow Bunting and House Sparrow (four).
This year 7097 birds of 70 species were ringed, of which Redshank, Short-eared Owl and Hawfinch were new to the ringing list. A much-regretted fall in the number of Puffins, Razorbills and Storm Petrels ringed was partly offset by higher totals in gulls and some passerine species.
A new study commenced this year was a daily count of all freshly killed Manx Shearwater bodies found, in an endeavour to discover something of the extent of mortality among the species during the breeding season, from predators. Our visitors proved most co-operative in the daily search for Shearwater carcasses, which were afterwards disposed of, to avoid errors in the daily census.
During the season over 2500 bodies were found, with peak numbers at various times due to factors that are not all determined at this early stage. We intend to continue this research next year, on possibly more carefully planned lines.
Harold Dickinson returned in July, for the fourth year, to continue his Puffin-ringing studies.
R.A. Davies returned in April to continue his research on the movements and food-preferences of house-mice.
A Ministry of Transport film unit under the direction of I. Dunlop-Ferguson and R. Keen, spent a week on the island, gathering some material for a film on shore life.
In the autumn the Ministry of Agriculture team returned for three weeks, to test humane rabbit-traps.