Seabird monitoring and chicks – updates from the Skomer Island team!

It's June already and the team have been busy on the boat counting seabirds. We caught up with Ceris, our Assistant Skomer Warden.

Madi, Digital Comms Officer:
Ceris, we can't believe it's June already and amidst the seabird counting season! Can you update us on how its coming along and what you've seen so far?

Ceris, Asst. Warden:

Yes, we're now in the midst of the busiest time of year, where we must count all of the island's cliff nesting seabirds. It's busy, tiring and exhilarating! We spend long days on the boat, with one of us at the helm and three or four others using binoculars to scour the cliffs.

Using clickers, we set to - a click per bird seen, or a click per ten on some of the busier stretches of cliffs. Two counts are done of all of the birds in each of the island's 45 sections. Two people count each species in a section, and if these two counts are within 10% of one another they are allowed. If not, we begin again.

And once we've finished all 45 sections, we start again, with the entire island needing to be counted twice! When we close our eyes, we see guillemots…

The island is also busy with new life. Late May we saw the first herring, great and lesser black-backed gull chicks, they are such tiny bundles of fluff guarded by loud and protective parents!

They were soon followed by the first puffin chicks - the island is now teeming with puffins bearing sand eels, a sign that beneath the surface hungry pufflings are being well fed. Peeping sounds from the cliffs lead the keen-eyed observer to small fluffy guillemot and razorbill chicks and on the 8th June, we saw our first downy kittiwake chick.

Our earliest chicks, the ravens, are now fledging or have fledged, and look very smart in their fresh plumage – in stark contrast with the now rather ragged adults, which are going into moult. Two shelduck chicks (dubbed shelducklings) are defying our expectations by surviving (for now) in the midst of a gull colony, whilst North Pond boasts three broods of moorhen chicks – small pom-poms with comically oversized feet!

Madi, Digital Comms Officer:

Fantastic, it sounds like the island wildlife and staff are busy! Do you have any off the water and volunteer updates for us too?

Ceris, Asst. Warden:

Yes, we’ve had a marvellous bunch of volunteers since the season began, adapting well to new ways of working under Covid restrictions and contributing humour, hard graft, Welsh lessons and cake – all very welcome!

Off the water, the weekly volunteers have a full programme welcoming visitors, patrolling the island and cleaning the accommodation. They keep the whole island ticking over, and we’d be quite lost without them!

Over the past two months, they’ve also set to with a whole miscellany of tasks: sign-making, hide repairs, landslide clearance, painting, sanding, bench and gate construction, exclosure deconstruction, and – unenviably – boat-scrubbing.

One large bull seal unfortunately seems to view the island boat as his personal lilo and toilet (!) - extra time for boat scrubbing is now being factored into each day of boat counts.

Madi, Digital Comms Officer:

Thank you for the update Ceris, it's always great to hear more about the invaluable research and conservation work on Skomer and of course, the incredible and hard-working volunteers! We'll catch you soon for another update, perhaps when the season winds down!

Ceris, Asst. Warden:

Yes, you probably won't hear much from us for a few weeks, as we spend time out on boats or dotted around the island for the rest of seabird season. Wish us luck - and see you on the other side!

Madi, Digital Comms Officer:

Good luck all, see you soon!

Image by Josie Hewitt
Lesser black-backed gull chicks by Josie Hewitt
Volunteers scrubbing!