Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Skomer Festival

The last few days have seen us exploring the far western region of the Greater Kent area – Skomer.
As normal the other crew for the mid-summer jolly were Steve Ashton, Alan Ashdown and Mike Gould. We normally only go for 3 nights but this time we went for 4 so as to get 3 day birding in. Also staying at the same place as us were Les, Sue and Pete.
Day 1 was spent travelling down departing at ~ 3.00pm Sunday and staying overnight at Llanelli. Day 2 we completed our journey taking in the Welsh Wildlife Centre near Cardigan and day 3 and 4 we had on Skomer.
How was it ? To say that the Welsh Wildlife Centre was a disappointment would be an understatement. It has a very plush building that the locals think is a white elephant and has nearly bankrupted the organisation but that was closed. As for the reserve it consists of mainly reed beds and a few hides and all we saw were a few reed and sedge warblers, some reed buntings and a few goldfinch. Highlight of the visit was a buzzard that kept circling the car park.
Common Buzzard
We didn’t stay too long and completed the journey to Dale early afternoon. After a cuppa at our digs we went to Wooltrack Point to find out the procedure for getting the boat to Skomer and to look for choughs.
Near the entrance we found a family of stonechats, linnets, mippits and swallows and soon found our first chough - a juvenile that allowed us to get very close:
Juvenile Chough
 Also from the point we saw a few very distant Manx Shearwaters and over on Skomer we could see puffin, guillemot and razorbill.
Continuing around the point we found the rest of the chough family in the form of 2 adults and 2 young.
That evening we dined at our digs – Slate Mill Lodge and very good it was too. This however set a bad precedent and contributed to our overall disappointment but more of that later.
Tuesday morning Steve, Al and I met up early (5-ish) on the bridge just outside Slate Mill and it was at this time we realised this was not the best place to do our normal pre-breakfast birding session – narrow lanes though mainly arable farming. We decided to go to Wooltrack point to see what was going on and found out that pre-breakfast birding was actually going to be out of the question.
To get onto Skomer you have to buy a Landing ticket. These can only be booked on the day, on a first come first served basis, and when 300 have gone that’s it. When we got there at ~6.30 people were already beginning to queue. Al joined the queue whilst we went for back breakfast and collect Rip Van Winkle.
When we returned at 8.00 there already were 41- cars in the car park and over 70  people in the queue! Since there are no restrictions on how many tickets an individual can buy I suspect some of those queuing did not get tickets at all. On the second day Steve and I did the queuing and the first 4 people in the queue (Steve and I being 2 of the 4) bought 16 of the tickets! Again I suspect that getting there at 8.00 would have been too late.
Once you have your ticket you can push off until your sailing time – 9.30 till 12.00 at 30 minute intervals but you can chose your sailing time if you are there early.
On our first day on Skomer we went walk-about hoping to see the short-eared owls reported on Spring Watch but dipped. We continued to the north coast of the island where we saw a peregrine and 5 chough (distant) but little else other than pipits (meadow and rock), a few swallows, a lot of gulls. Out at sea we could see puffins, guillemots and razorbills but all too distant to photograph. After 3 hrs I don’t think any of us had taken a picture and I for one was getting a little dispondant! Due to the walk-about we didn’t actually reach the Wick – the main puffins site - till after midday and the sun was pretty much in our face so the resulting picture quality was not impressive.
I wandered off to the landing stage and got some razorbill and guillemot shots just so I’d have something to show for the day.
 The second day we went straight to the puffins and spent the morning photographing them on the ground and in the air (well trying to). As the sun came round into our faces we stopped for lunch up at the Old Farm (and hoping the SEO would come out to play) then went over towards the landing stage and tried again to get some puffin flight shots – again not very successfully on my part.
Puffin and puffling
And that was it for Skomer.

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