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Skomer Part 1 - The first voyage

A Manx Shearwater I have recently returned from my annual pilgrimage to the island of Skomer, having enjoyed a fabulous three days of birding along the Pembrokeshire coastline with my "Three Amigo" friends Paul and Nicola. We had been planning for the trip for ages. Leading up to our trip the days, hours and seconds seemed to pass ever so slowly. It's then just typical once you end up going on your trip it seems to be over way too quickly - time certainly flies when you are enjoying yourself and in good company. This year we had  arranged three boat trips through Pembrokeshire Boat Trips Day 1 - Seabird Spectacular Day 2 - Skomer Day 3 - Grassholm I have decided to write three blog posts documenting the trip and this is the first one to kick things off. The First Voyage. The weather forecast was looking rather dodgy for the weekend with high winds and rain predicted. Thankfully the dreaded North winds were not expected so there was a very good chance that most of the boat

An outstoating morning at Goldcliff

 

Adult Stoat "Mother"

I really needed some nature medicine this weekend to cure the stresses of a busy week of work. I may work hard and show plenty of commitment but I really live for the moments I can escape away from the computer and get out and enjoy the natural world. It really provides a healthy balance in my life, without it I think I would be totally burnt out.

As ever on Saturday morning I rolled up just after dawn at Goldcliff Lagoons. It was a cloudy start and there was absolutely no chance of any kind of sunrise. For a change it was actually quite warm and best of all dry - something which makes a big difference  from the incredibly wet month of May we have had this year. 

The reserve I think at the moment is starting to enter a bit of a "lull" period. The breeding waders that choose the reserve to breed are coming towards the end of their breeding cycle. By the looks of things the Avocets appear to have had another year to forget as I don't think they have had any kind of success this season.

The large flocks of waders have now moved on to their breeding grounds in Iceland, Northern Europe and the Arctic. Left behind are stragglers, non-breeders ,the odd vagrant and the occasional rarity moving through the wetlands.

I am not to saying it's quiet though. There is plenty of wildlife about and plenty of birds to watch in-particularly. Only this week it was reported that a Red Rumped Swallow had been spotted. Always an exciting find. Not seen a photograph yet but the people describing the sighting are pretty reliable on the identification side of things.

I was joined on my early morning tour of the reserve by my friend Nev Davies and as we started our attention was immediately drawn to a Lesser White Throat that was calling near the entrance.

Lesser Whitethroat

The Lesser Whitethroat ( Sylvia curruca) looks very similar to the Common Whitethroat (Sylva communis) and it can take some practice to tell the difference. Both species have unique songs though so if you can get familiar with their repertoires then it makes it easy to identify and track them down.

Both species are summer migrants too Wales to where they travel in order to breed. They winter in Northern and Western Africa and fly over the Sahara Desert during their migration.

Common Whitethroat

Much of the mornings tour of the reserve was fairly quiet on the bird front. Monks had a small flock of Black-Tailed Godwits and Priors looked a little like Swan Lake with over ten Mute Swans floating about.

A Male Marsh Harrier quartered the reed beds of Priors before moving off Northwards. A Buzzard cruised through being mobbed by a pair of Lapwings. The tide was on its way in but there was no sign of any waders coming in to roost.

Eventually we made it to the seawall hide where I started taking some pictures of two Shelducks that had decided to roost up on the wall. I then heard a Cuckoo calling and told Nev. It sounded to me as if it was in the direction of the farmhouse. After about five minutes of neither of us having clocked one or heard it again I started to seriously doubt myself and considered I may have mistaken it for a call of a Woodpigeon.

I turned and looked over to the seawall hide and then noticed a big grey "Sparrowhawk" like bird perched up in the Willow fencing that leads down to the hide.

Hurrah - I wasn't mishearing things, there indeed was a Cuckoo. In fact after getting our lenses trained on it there was actually two Cuckoos. A nice sighting as these were my first Cuckoos of 2021.

Cuckoo





Next stop was  the seawall hide and a rendezvous with John "The Video" Lawton. One thing I did notice   on walking around the reserve was the huge amount of chironomid flies ( non-biting midges) they seemed to be everywhere and good place to see them close up is by finding the unlucky ones that get trapped in spider webs.

Midges "Chironomids"

Chirinomid flies and particularly their larvae play a major role in the diet of waders such as Avocets.

As things on the seawall side were a little on the quiet side and as high-tide approached it was time to move around to the first hide and check out Monks Lagoon. The first pool has been attracting the most waders and in the past week both Curlew Sandpipers and a Little Stint had been observed.

One thing that struck me whilst strolling back with my friends was the carpets of yellow buttercups everywhere. It was like Mother Nature had been walking around with a dripping paint can of yellow paint as all over the lagoons especially around the grassy verges were meadow buttercups. Some of the fields were completely carpeted with these lovely flowers.

Field of Buttercups

Meadow Buttercups

When I eventually made it to hide 1, there was an excited buzz in the air as John, Nev and Goldcliff veteran John Marsh had discovered that a nice flock of waders had turned up including a Little Stint and a Curlew Sandpiper.

They were quite distant but I think the video shows them off quite well.


The waders suddenly all flew off. I am not too sure why but the hide was getting busy and there was some noise being made by birders approaching the hide noisily. Who knows it may have been an unsighted raptor.

This led to me concentrating outside the hide for my bird watching fix and I started to photograph some Whitethroats and a pair of Linnets.

Male Linnet

Suddenly Nev called to me and said that a family of stoats was bounding towards us through the grass that runs near the reen at the back of hide 1. There must have been at least 6 Stoats. It looked like a mother with kits. They chittered to each other as they shot directly towards us. The little carnivores move lightening fast. 

The Stoats went straight into a thick bramble bush that bordered the steps that lead up to the hide. I was shaking with excitement. I could hear the mammals calling to each other and then one popped its head up near the path and looked straight at me and then ducked back into the safely of the bush.

I said to Nev "Get ready mate, they are going to cross any minute".

Out she comes

Out they then came. Mum came out sniffed the air and listened intently stopping for a split second before bounding into the opposite bramble bush. She called and then a kit slowly at first popped its head out before rushing across the gap.

A kit hesitantly pops its head out.

Then the mother stoat ( I think it was mum but it could have been a dad) shot back across the steps and went back to where the remaining kits were hiding. Moments later she was back out carrying a kit in her mouth. Repeatedly she did this for the rest of her brood.

Mum shoots across with a kit in its mouth

It was absolute pure magic to watch.I moved position anticipating a repeat of this behaviour at the next gap in the bushes that the mother would need to negotiate her family through.

Waiting patiently paid dividends as it all happened again and this time in better light. Getting a picture in focus was a real challenge as these little creatures move so incredibly fast.

One of my favourites was when she jumped over bramble stem as she returned to get a kit.

A bounding stoat returns to get one of her kits

Well, what a morning. It really was outstanding. Once again , Goldcliff never fails to deliver my nature fix.






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