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Those magnificent aviators in their flying machines

  It has been a long time since I went to an airshow. If my memory serves me right the last one I attended was at St Athan's, Cardiff, with my father when I was in my teens - probably around the mid-1980s. Like me my Dad loved aircraft and on that occasion to ensure we had a good view he enthusiastically ensured we had the closest view possible by attending very early, parking the car up at the crack of dawn and then marching right up to the fence next to the main runaway. I recall the car park being empty when we turned up and it being a very sunny and windy day. Despite the years passing by the thrill of watching and hearing the planes with my Dad has never left me. I also remember after spending a fantastic day with my father returning feeling very windswept and sunburnt to the car park and spending over an hour trying to find my Dads car as he had forgotten where we had parked it (and the fact that several thousand cars had turned up since we had arrived did not help things ;)

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 trips would run.

The Three Amigos travelled down in glorious weather on our first day of the trip. There was a clear blue sky and it was boiling hot.

Our first stop was a nature reserve called the Gann which is located near Dale. Apparently, it's a very good area for spotting various species of waders and the odd rarity. We took a look around the reserve and spent some time admiring the fantastic view from the beach. Nicola and I even went for a quick paddle after being bitten to death by sand flies whilst flying the drones out over the bay.

The information sign at the Gann



Dale


After checking out the Gann we headed for Dale Village and enjoyed a pit stop at one of the cafes before heading to our accommodation which was located in a holiday lodge located a couple of miles outside Broadhaven.

Then it was time to head to Martins Haven to catch our boat for the Seabird Spectacular. We have previously been on this trip a couple of years ago and were expecting a small number of fellow passengers and the Dale Princess to be our transport for the evening. When we arrived at the jetty at Martins Haven it was quite a surprise to see about fifty people already queuing ahead of us. I think the three of us were starting to have some misgivings about booking the trip as we were wondering how much room there was going to be in order to use all our camera kit.

Martins Haven - boarding the Dale Queen boat.


As the 7 pm, departure time quickly approached, into the bay came our boat. It was not the Dale Princess. Instead, a bigger and newer boat named the Dale Queen turned up. This boat was much larger than the Dale Princess and is a catamaran. 

The Dale Queen


Once we were on board any misgivings suddenly were dispelled quickly. There was loads of room on this boat and even an upper deck. You were even allowed to walk around after the safety brief.

The trip has a guide on board named "Jim" who throughout the journey kept us all very entertained as he gave his very funny and informative talk. He had such a lot of enthusiasm and I think everyone had a good laugh and learned something at the same time.

As we sailed across the Skomer the scenery was nothing but spectacular and best of all there were lots of birds. Puffins were everywhere we looked, in the air and floating in the sea. Guillemots and Razorbills flew past the boat on fishing sortes.

On two occasions we were lucky enough to have close views of Gannets flying over the boat.

A Gannet flies past the boat


The Dale Queen took us on a tour of the coastline of Skomer, into North Haven and headed out as far as the Garland Stone where we saw some grey seals.

A grey seal at the Garland Stone.


I could not believe how many Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills there were. There seem to be more birds every year I visit.

We were eager to see Manx Shearwaters. The islands of Skomer, Middleholm and Skolkholm host approximately 1 million of these birds that travel all the way from the coast of Argentina to breed in Wales. The Manx females lay just one egg in a burrow and with the help of her mate they feed the chick. Manx Shearwaters are very vulnerable to attacks by the ferocious Great Black-Backed Gulls so in order to avoid the gulls the Shearwater adults spend all day at sea feeding. The adults then run the gauntlet of the gulls late in the evening and night when they return to feed their chick.

Manx Shearwater


I often see dead Shearwaters on Skomer Island and seeing a live Manxy is always a rare sight. A few years ago on the same boat trip, we were lucky enough to see thousands of these birds off the shore of Skomer so on this occasion I was hoping to see them in good numbers.

The sun was starting to get lower in the sky and despite there being quite a lot of clouds there was the start of an orange glow on the horizon.

The Dale Queens skipper took the boat further out to sea heading towards where there were a number of very large vessels at anchor.



I looked into the distance and excitedly got my first glimpse of a raft of Shearwaters floating on the sea. There were hundreds of them.

As we got closer single Shearwaters began to fly past the boat and I managed to get some nice pictures of a few of them as they flew by inches above the surface of the water.

Manx Shearwater flies past the boat






The Manx Shearwaters are always a delight to see. They fly absolutely effortlessly above the sea occasionally flapping their wings but most of the time they just glide making minute adjustments with their wings.

More birds began to arrive as we neared the rafts and we soon spotted more flocks of Shearwaters and the numbers were soon growing into the many hundreds.

Eventually, the boat got a little too close and it caused the Shearwaters to take flight and gather a little further way into the distance.

A "raft" of Manx Shearwaters


The boat guide told us he could not believe how many of the Manx Shearwaters were close to Martins Haven as we started to make our way back on our return journey. The sun was starting to get even lower and in a couple of hours, it would be sunset.

The trip lasted about an hour and a half and I always feel like the time has flown by. I wish the trip could have been extended until sunset as we were all really enjoying ourselves.

Manx Shearwaters gather off the coast of Skomer and prepare to run the gauntlet of the gulls later in the evening.


Part 2 to follow, Skomer Island here we come.

Comments

  1. I'm glad you guys had a great trip. There seem to be more birds every year, because there are. Puffins anyway, unlike many of the east Coast colonies which have been declining, allegedly due to overfishing of sand eels, forcing puffins to try and feed their chicks with low nutrition items like pipe fish. Let's hope the avian flu doesn't hit the Welsh islands , but we'll be very lucky to escape it. https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/record-numbers-puffins-now-populating-23639437

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading Paul and the link to the WalesOnline article. Fingers and toes crossed that the bird flu does not reach Skomer

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