After a long spell of rough weather, jumping off the Dale Princess onto the seaweed covered South Haven jetty on 16th March was our latest ever return.
Little did we know that we would be spending at least the next three months, just the two of us, alone on Dream Island and experiencing a very different spring to the last seven. Whilst the first couple of weeks seemed very normal, the spring work parties which typically start at the end of March were sorely missed. The work parties are made up of a group of hard working and hilarious volunteers who come out to help us tackle the big maintenance jobs on the Island - things like the annual lime washing of all of the buildings, painting the Lighthouse exterior, the cleaning of 20 guests rooms and communal areas and the repairing and touching up of everything that has suffered during the winter (and this winter was especially wet).
With lockdown and social distancing preventing anyone from travelling to Skokholm, we had to adapt to the idea that we wouldn’t be able to get our Spring Long-term Volunteers out either, two extremely keen naturalists that were excited and eager to spend three months of their lives out here, something that would support their career in seabird conservation. We also had to break the bad news to our long-term researchers who wouldn’t be able to get to Skokholm to continue their monitoring.
Tuning into the news on the radio every morning we quickly realised just how lucky we were to be able to continue ‘as normal’ on Dream Island, at least in terms of the daily monitoring work. It was important to get the balance right. Even though Skokholm is only a mile by a mile and a half, with just two of us wielding binoculars, getting full Island coverage every morning to monitor migrant and resident birds was going to take longer.
The decorating and cleaning were going to take a lot longer and there were going to be jobs we just couldn’t do. For the first year ever we would be juggling painting bedrooms with seabird research, but with the long-term monitoring of Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Fulmar, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin and three species of gull dating as far back as the 1920’s, it was crucial that we continued to add to this important dataset. It has been a whirlwind two months and we have enjoyed some stunning spring weather; huge blue skies and flat calm seas in April were the perfect conditions to perform a whole Island Puffin count which totaled 8534 birds, this the highest April count since the 1950’s.
Now that the Fulmars, Manx Shearwaters, auks and gulls are on eggs most of the annual seabird monitoring has kicked off, but migrants have been moving through since our return. Spring highlights have included a stunning Curlew Sandpiper, a splendid male Marsh Harrier, at least six different Red Kites (a species rare here before 2015) a Hobby, an Osprey , a Turtle Dove, a Cuckoo, a Blue-headed Wagtail, the first Red-spotted Bluethroat since 1995, just the second and third spring records of Siberian Chiffchaff, the fourth spring record of Coal Tit, a female Western-type Subalpine Warbler and a male Eastern Subalpine Warbler.
It’s not just the birds that are monitored each day; the non-avian highlights include a regular passage of Noctule Bats, the first ever records of Emperor Moth and Water Carpet, the first Orange Tip since 2010 and a pod of 14 Risso’s Dolphin off the Lighthouse.
Despite all of this excitement, it remains surreal that Skokholm is not bustling with researchers, volunteers, artists, poets, musicians, botanists, moth enthusiasts, ringers, birders, photographers and relaxers. We can’t bring guests here to share with them all of the amazing wildlife, so we hope that the daily blog and social media nuggets are bringing the Island to them.
Please help support Skokholm and the Trust through this difficult period by making a doantion here.