End of season wrap up on Skomer Island

The autumn is a brilliant time of year on Skomer. It has a very different feel to what most people are used to. The majority of seabirds are inconspicuous, we haven’t seen a puffin since august for example, but the wildlife is still incredible..

The island was closed to visitors at the end of September and the team have spent two months with just four of them on the island! These two months are spent on a mixture of maintenance tasks, cleaning, and office work and they sure have flown by! The team are aiming to move off at the end of November, so we thought it would be a good time to recap some of our highlights from the last couple of months. We spoke to Skomer Warden, Leighton Newman, for an update.

One of the highlights of autumn is the visible migration that occurs over Skomer. On a calm day in October and November, the sky can fill with birds moving westwards in what can seem like a never-ending stream. Hundreds of skylarks and chaffinches can be seen each day along with some scarcer species, it has been a good year for brambling for example.

Starlings and woodpigeons can number in their thousands, with day counts of 9,661 and 2,932 respectively. Jackdaw flocks can also increase and sometimes counts can reach over 1000; often high up, they can suddenly drop out of the sky like a stone. It can pay to watch these commoner flocks of birds too, such as when we saw a glossy ibis flying east with jackdaws in October.

Also in October we had a mass movement of jays, where 101 were seen over Skomer. Jays are a rare species out here, with the most recent record in 2011, they generally only occur in ‘eruption’ years where there is a scarcity of food available.

Starling murmuration over North Valley

Each year is different, the autumn can often be unsettled but we have seen our fair share of calm and relatively warm weather, where the sun glistens against the golden bracken. We have also had some stormy periods, which can be equally beautiful but also dramatic.

Waves reaching 14m at times have pummeled into the south coast and rain has lashed at the windows for days. It took until these storms in late October to replenish the ponds which had been mostly dry since the summer. It was incredible how quick the ponds filled with ducks though with mallard and teal taking advantage of the new water.

There are of course, days where the weather has meant being indoors but luckily, they have been few and far between. The showery days can lead to spectacular scenes where the light cuts through the clouds and rainbows span the width of the valley.

It’s fair to say the autumn is a spectacular time to be on Skomer with an ever-changing landscape and wildlife to match. We are occasionally reminded of what the summer is like, however, when the guillemots return, albeit briefly, to their breeding ledges to stake a claim before heading back out to sea.

In the first week of November we also see the return of the fulmars to the cliffs and their cackling can be heard amongst a backdrop of seals hauled out on the beaches. It’s a wonderful time of the year.

-- Leighton Newman, Skomer Warden

Sunrise over the Neck and North Haven
Rainbow over North Valley