A trip to Skomer Island

A birding friend and I finally got to Pembrokeshire last week for our covid-delayed 2020 trip to Skomer Island, and the Puffins. Spoiler alert – the young Puffins, or pufflings as they’re known, had either all gone off out to sea, or they were hiding in their burrows.

We’d booked with photographer and guide Drew Buckley, who was wonderfully knowledgeable and helpful, and is highly recommended. Pembrokeshire is a long way from our respective homes however, so we’d booked a couple of nights at a local B&B either side of the day trip. The heatwave didn’t arrive until we were on the way home, thankfully, so we had perfect weather, warm but not too hot, and just enough cloud to diffuse the sunlight.

The afternoon before the trip, we popped across to Martin’s Haven, from where the ferry to Skomer departs, to check we knew where we going, and then had a little walk around the area. While we were up above the harbour, this Kestrel decided to pay us a visit.

The surrounding fields were full of wildlife, but I didn’t take many photos. This Potato Capsid was rather sweet though.

The lay of the land checked, we went back to the B&B to prepare for the next day – and what a beautiful day it was. No photos of the boat ride I’m afraid – too busy hanging on to the rail, and my kit. This was the view from the top of Skomer though…

The sea really was that blue – almost mediterranean! And so to the birds – a few non-puffin shots first…

The magnificent but deadly Great Black-backed Gulls were all over the island, mostly explaining the plethora of Manx Shearwater carcasses. The poor little things aren’t very good at walking, and the gulls just wait for them to land then kill them before they can scurry to their burrows. But, there are somewhere around 350,000 of the little Shearwaters on the island, so a high percentage survive. There were plenty of other birds to see as well though, especially the ever-present Meadow Pipits…

A good few Oystercatchers…

Camera-shy Wrens…

…and plenty of butterflies, like this Small Copper.

But a trip to Skomer is really about the Puffins, and so without further ado, here are a few of the estimated 35,000 that were on the island at the time.

Quite why this one was carrying a stone we never discovered.

This one looked like he’d been disturbed having a comfort break in the bracken.

What you hope for as a photographer though is the classic shot, landing gear down and a beakful of fish. To be honest though there were so many flying back and forth you just had to point, shoot, and pray to the gods of autofocus.

They were a lot smaller than I’d imagined, only about the size of a Jackdaw, and had absolutely no fear of people at all, wandering around us as we walked like they owned the place. Which they do, of course. I had taken my big 150-600mm lens, but I almost needn’t have bothered, as I rarely got above 300mm. Some of the time they were almost too close for the lens to focus!

Puffins mate for life apparently – these two were obviously still quite fond of each other…

Incoming! It’s amazing they don’t crash into each other as they land – or maybe they do!

And then it was time to go, our five hour stay over in a flash. If you have the time, I can’t recommend Skomer enough – the only trouble is you have to book the boat tickets quite a way in advance, and if the weather suddenly changes the boat doesn’t sail.

Our trip wasn’t quite over though – the next day we went down to the south of the peninsula, to St Anne’s Head.

We were mostly hoping for Choughs on these cliffs, but they were nowhere to be seen – but then one flew over. I thought it was just a crow, so didn’t photograph it. It was only when my friend looked at her photo of it that we saw the red beak, and realised it had been a Chough after all.

But despite the lack of Choughs, there were plenty of other birds, like this juvenile Meadow Pipit that posed so nicely…

A lot of the birds seemed to be juveniles in fact, like this Whitethroat…

…and this Wheatear. There were a good few of these on the Head itself.

And then there were the Stonechats, which seemed to be everywhere. These two, a male and a female with their respective catches, followed us along the path for quite a while.

And then, sadly, it was time to go home, but we’d had a lovely and very memorable trip – looking forward to the next adventure already!

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