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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 2 - The visit to the island.

 



Skomer Part 2.

I have been making pilgrimages to Skomer since 2006. I first visited the island with two friends who were both keen photographers. Grev Phillips, the chap in the pictures shown below, kindly loaned me his Nikon D90 SLR camera for the trip with a big lens and rekindled my love of nature and photography. Ever since I went "up" the road to using Nikon cameras, my passion for wildlife photography has never ceased.

The Wardens House was renovated in 2006.

Grev and myself pictured opposite TheWick on my first visit.

I can still remember my first visit and how excited I was. Back then we had to get to Lockley Lodge to queue for tickets at stupid o'clock times. It meant we had to leave home really early in the morning, a three-hour car journey and then hope the weather gods were favourable and the queue wasn't going to be too big to avoid disappointment. It was all very exciting but also quite stressful at the same time.

We then caught the Dale Princess from Martins Haven and sailed over in a thick mist. When we reached North Haven it was like King Kong Island. I will never forget the noise of the birds and that smell Skomer has. I was absolutely awestruck when I saw all the Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills flying in the sky.

That feeling of awe and excitement has never waned despite all the visits I have had since and only I ever want to experience more of it.

Things have now changed a little bit since 2006. On this year's visit with my amigos, the journey to Skomer is a great deal calmer. There is now online booking which has taken away the mad panic and stress of having to queue for tickets and having to get there at crazy times in the morning.

You book your time slot online and pick your tickets up at Lockley Lodge. This is a  vastly improved system of obtaining tickets and I believe it's an example of something good that came off the back of the covid pandemic.

There has also been a change of boat this year. On all my previous visits I have been safely carried to Skomer on the Dale Princess. In 2022 there is now a new boat named the Dale Queen. It is a much bigger boat with two decks and it's a lot less cramped making it much torder to take photographs during the journey.

The Three Amigos sail forth again.


The Dale Queen - bigger and better.

The Three Amigos sat up in the stern of the boat and despite getting a little wet whilst queueing to get on the boat the sun started to break through the clouds right on time for our arrival at the island.

North Haven in 2022

The arrival at Skomer remained as thrilling as ever. Birds filled the skies and the noise was incredible.

I could not believe this year how many burrows and birds were at North Haven. The numbers seem to be increasing every year.

As we debarked from the boat a sudden gust of wind swept up a load of dust into our faces and Nicola was temporarily blinded as we ascended the steep steps. The dust and the wind were going to cause us a few issues during our visit.

The notice board is full of useful information

Our next stop after climbing the steps was going to be where the Skomer Warden and volunteers do their customary meet and greet. This year the mandatory welcome talk has been cut down to only ten minutes. Those visitors who want to learn more can stay longer if they wish but if you don't want to linger around visitors can make their way up the hill and into the island.

I think this is a great improvement as I personally used to find the welcome a little too long and many repeat visitors had heard much of it before.

It was then time for the Three Amigos to split and we all headed off in different directions. I marched quickly to The Wick. I managed to get there in just a little over twenty minutes. The Wick is a very popular part of Skomer and attracts lots of people. The huge cliff is an amazing sight. The Puffins fly in quickly with beaks full of fish. They land at the cliff edge desperately trying to dash to their burrows where their chick is waiting to btorder to avoid the gulls from robbing them of their catch.

A Puffin with its catch of sand eels.


The Wick is a good location for getting photographs of the Puffins with fish in their mouths and flight shots. Over the years, however, it has become a busy place with sometimes gets a little congested. When I first visited it was relatively quiet and you would have a lot more space. In recent years the location has had to be policed by volunteers to ensure people don't get too close and prevent the incoming Puffins that have fish from reaching their burrows. 



The Wick

It was very dry at The Wick and lots of dust was being blown about.

The wind was very strong and was whipping up all the dust from the burrows into people's eyes. It was also a little quiet on the Puffin with the fish front. I managed to get a couple of photographs of one bird with a beak full of fish but it was having a hard time from a Lesser Black-Backed Gull that had zeroed in on it and was constantly chasing it whenever it landed.

I decided to head off to somewhere less windy where I could settle down take a break and just watch for a while.

I walked to High Cliff. En route I watched a Lesser Black-Backed Gull chick picking at the remains of some unfortunates birds egg.

A Lesser Black-Backed Gull chick

High Cliff is located to the southeast of the island and offers a nice relatively quiet spot to watch Puffins close up and also to scan the massive cliff face for Auks and other species of birds.

The view at High Cliff and a few of the inquisitive Puffins.

Looking back across to High Cliff from the footpath.


On this visit, I spent quite a bit of time recording videos of the birds inhabiting the cliff faces. How the Guillemots and Razocanable to nest on these almost sheer cliffs is amazing.

I use a Nikon P1000 both as my scope and as a video recorder and if you look closely at my pictures of the birds on the cliff faces you will be able to spot Guillemot and Kittiwake chicks.

You will notice that the majority of the Guillemots are facing into the cliff. They are doing this so that they prevent their chicks from falling off the cliff and also to stop the predation from gulls which are constantly quartering the cliffs on the lookout for an isolated chick.

Guillemots. If you look really closely you will find a couple of chicks.

If you can find the Kittiwakes sitting on their nests you will also see their chicks.



For a time I was the only person sitting watching the birds and I had it all to myself. The Puffins are inquisitive birds and gradually a group of them inched closer and closer to me. One of them hopped up onto a sign post and just perched there watching me as had a bite to eat.

A very inquisitive Puffin climbed up onto a perch for a better view of me.

Eventually the peace and quiet ended when a few more photographers arrived and in my opinion got a little bit too excited taking pictures and the little flock of Puffins that had gathered near my boots scuttled further away down the cliff. Sometimes I think people need to just sit up and wait and let the birds come to them.

On a few occasions, the odd Puffin would frantically fly in with a beak full of fish and hurtle quickly into its burrow. I managed to get a few pictures as they flew by where I was sitting.

Speeding by with a beak full of fish.

I really could take pictures of Puffins all day long and never tire of it. They must be one of the most photographed species of birds on the planet.

Puffin Portraits

The Puffins are constantly keeping an eye out for the gulls which terrorise the place.

Before I knew it the time had flown by.  I am sure time speeds up when I am on Skomer when I am enjoying myself. Now I had to head back so that I could meet back up with Paul and Nicola and catch the boat back to Martins Haven.

I casually strolled back and enjoyed the fabulous views and of course lots more Puffins.

A group of Puffins on a rock above the landing place

This Puffing was strutting his stuff and cocking his head up and down repeatedly.


As I started to walk down the hill towards the landing-place I was in for a real shock horror. A commotion further up the slope caught my attention and I could see two birds fighting. A big Great Black-Backed Gull had caught a Manx Shearwater. I am presuming it must have pulled it out of a burrow. The poor Shearwater did not stand a chance and was being pecked to death. The Manxy put up a brave fight but it was to no avail. I had just witnessed the harsh side of nature and it was not for the faint-hearted. I recorded a video but I am not going to publish it. I know its nature but it really is not good viewing material. 

I eventually rendezvoused with Paul and Nicola back where we had all started. They were both busy taking flight shots of the Puffins as they sped past the landing place.

We all had a tale to tell and had made the most out of our visit and were very satisfied people.

We have been super lucky with the weather but it had started to spit with rain as we made our way down the steps to the jetty as the Dale Queen boat entered North Haven.

No drones! I cannot believe people may have tried to fly their drone on Skomer.


The Dale Queen returns

Guillemot

Razorbill

As ever whilst waiting to board the boat it was a great opportunity to take some photographs of the Razorbills and Guillemots that posed for us on the way out of the island.

On the return trip, we were in for a surprise. As we headed back to Martins Haven the skipper shouted that there were Manx Shearwaters out over the water. I braved the wind and a bit of headwind that had swept up and I watched the Shearwaters flying low over the sea.

Now that was a great way to finish off the second boat trip.

These Manx Shearwaters were photographed from the boat.


By the time we had reached Martins Haven the weather was seriously on the turn. The rain was starting to hammer down. We had been so fortunate.

The following day we had a trip planned to Grassholm to see the Gannets. Would the Three Amigos make it? Well if you would like to know what happened next then you will have to wait until Part 3.

Thanks for reading!



PS - See if you can find the chick in the video.


















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