The omens did not look good for this one. Firstly, for various reasons the trip was earlier than ideal. Puffins wouldn’t be settled, could be absent altogether. Same for Razorbills and Guillemots. Manx Shearwaters would be back for sure though (something for after dark!). Migrants? A complete lottery, especially so early into the spring. And 2016 has been a slow spring, at least here in deepest darkest West Wales. And the final straw? A weather forecast that changed more times than a catwalk model, and never looked very inspiring at best. What could go wrong?!
The result? Another brilliant 3 days on Skomer Island. The usual anticipation built as the 10 participants (Richard, Susan, Alan, Philip, Janet, Peter, Julia, Leigh, Jackie & Sally) arrived and greeted each other at Martin’s Haven. Cars parked at West Hook Farm, a slight delay due to the massive high tide, bags loaded onto the Dale Princess with ruthless efficiency, and we were on our way. A few seabirds on the way over set up us nicely, before the unloading/loading of the boat and the ferrying up the steps that marks changeover day.
Warden Bee gave us the introductory talk, and after unpacking and a nice cuppa and some cake, the first walk around the island saw us notch up some great birds including Peregrine, Chough, Hen Harrier, Raven, single Puffin, Guillemot & Razorbill, and passage migrants in the form of Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. Several Harbour Porpoise from Skomer Head were well received. Highlights included 2 sightings of Short-eared Owl, which pleased 2 people more than most as they had missed them on this trip last year!
Day 2 was windy….very windy. An average wind speed of 37mph, gusting to 50mph, meant most of the island’s birds had their heads down. The group was undaunted – “take us to the most exposed spot” they cried! So that’s what we did. And it was fun! Thankfully it was dry and the skies were impressive but the best bird of the trip waited until late on…a cracking Little Ringed Plover at Moory Mere was just the 7th record ever for Skomer, the 1st for 5 years, and the 1st ever in April. Boom!
Day 3 and, as predicted, the south-easterly winds delivered. First for the group a cracking male Redstart, quickly followed by a superb male Pied Flycatcher and brief glimpse of a Water Rail. Then a male Ring Ouzel showed to all, having eluded us earlier. Saturday’s Hen Harrier gave some great views. After lunch at the Farm an epic 10 minutes, not 1 but 2 male Ring Ouzels were seen, and drew in the (a) male Redstart and the (a) male Pied Flycatcher – just stunning! And later in the afternoon the male Redstart was seen chasing…another male Redstart. The day was capped by over 1,000 Puffins in North Haven – a brilliant end to a brilliant day. And this was followed by a fascinating talk on Albatross conservation and the longest ‘bird log’ in history (well, in 3 days for sure). Warden Ed was more or less delirious by the end.
Our final few hours were spent packing and enjoying a beautiful morning, Black Redstart was added to the list and the final half hour couldn’t have been better with several hundred Guillemots and Razorbills returning to the cliffs in North Haven, creating a cacophony fitting for our departure. It really was a fitting finale and all 11 of us were beaming from ear to ear even though our mini-adventure was over…61 species and an unforgettable 72 hours later. So glad I packed my hot water bottle (and my long johns).
The list of bird species seen during the trip can be found here: Skomer Spring Migration Special 2016 Bird List
A gallery of photos from the trip can be found here: Skomer Spring Migration Special 2016 Gallery