Our Skomer Wardens are always very excited about the autumn season on the island!
Autumn on Skomer is many things, from the utterly peaceful, chestnutty stillness to relentless winds and raging seas. Many would think that the island in autumn turns into an empty rock, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. On the contrary!
The iconic Manx Shearwaters are still around, they are here pretty much into November, although once the chicks start fledging in the late July, the adults have no reasons to hang around, and as a result the eerie calls of this extraordinary species are less frequent and the colony less frantic as the season progresses.
The population of Storm Petrels on Skomer is so small (approx. 230 pairs) that we almost never hear or see these fairy birds unless we visit the colony to study their adult survival. We know they’re there but encountering them is only by chance.
The calls of seabirds are replaced by the regular and sometimes very odd sounds of grey seals and often thousands of birds moving through in their autumn migration. This is one of the reasons why Skomer never gets boring!
The UK grey seal population is extremely important, it accounts for approximately 40% of the global population.
A very thorough and systematic monitoring of grey seals program during the pupping season has been established on Skomer, which involves daily checks of pups, spraying of them in various beaches or caves, checks of females and any scarred or tagged individuals that we can identify.
The current count of pups, which have been born here since July is 233 and we are still finding new pups almost daily. Check out this little chap below. 🙂
We have a number of distant vantage points, from which we are extremely privileged to be able to watch females give birth, two pups suckling from one female (most often by two unrelated pups), which is a fairly uncommon behaviour exhibited by some females, which may suggest that their motherly instinct is somewhat stronger than others or perhaps that they are somehow able to quantify their fat resources and produce enough milk for two as a result.
We quite often see pups swimming with their mums, which is thought to be quite unique to Skomer, which in part is due to the beaches being fully submerged at high tide, effectively forcing them into the water. Interestingly, we have watched some playing in the water even at low tide.
We are always very excited about autumn, which as surprising as it sounds, starts for us here in late July, usually with the first appearances of non-breeding bird species. As any bird lover out there, we also anticipate for some of the rarer ones. It is especially adrenaline boosting when we briefly see something and we then have to patiently wait for it to reveal itself well enough to confirm its identity or photograph the bird if lucky. It’s like waiting to open our X-mas presents!
This years’ experience of our first Wryneck since 2018 was exactly like that! We waited for 2 days for it to finally come out into the open, for us to be able to fully grasp its beauty.
The island attracts a great variety of bird species here in autumn, particularly due to its abundant resources. This also includes some of the mainland commoners, which aren’t common here at all, such as the totally underestimated, full of charisma Blue Tits, Coal Tits or Siskin.
Some of the more interesting species encountered by us this year include Pomarine Skua, Leach’s Storm Petrel, Sabine’s Gull, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-backed Shrike, Rosy Starling, Dotterel, Balearic Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Firecrest, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Little Ringed Plover, Pied Flycatcher and the most angelic looking owl – Barn Owl. Barn Owl is a scarce and sporadic breeder. Its last breeding record is from 2007 and the most recent sightings is from September 2018.
Here's looking at you....Short-eared Owl on the island below...
Wind force and direction play a major role when the birds are moving. It often impacts their route, making it challenging to follow and they end up in unfamiliar places to them like Skomer. But that's the beauty of bird migration. And birds are magnificent in their performance and survival on the way to both their breeding and wintering grounds.