Skokholm as in Stoke ’em (Part 2)


Good light, horrible strong wind, gut ache all day.

It wasn’t totally ruined though. The joy of capturing a good image banishes the wind and the belly ache for a while, and it’s hard not to love creatures which love each other:

With no birds to watch at the Orchid Bog hide, I got much pleasure from watching this rabbit washing itself – front paws licked and then stroked over head, face, ears, and back paws:
The swallows and sand martins are still passing over in small groups. These two however look like residents, since one of them is clearly a juvenile. They are flying in and out of a cave, unseen below, perhaps to test the youngster’s flying powers before they head south. 

A lull in the wind brought out the midges. Magnified like this they look like tiny flying ants, but these were no more than 2 mm in size:


Tuesday & Wednesday

Wake at 6 – good. Down to the harbour to catch the sunrise – and yes, the sky is clear. The harbour is a seal village. There are ten of them in sight, and one group is perched on top of a rocky outcrop a good 3 metres above the water. How do they get there? OK, the tide may be low at present – it’s difficult to tell with no beaches. One seal with a pale yellowish coat – a juvenile perhaps (must find out) is evidently intent on doing a climb so I take a series of pictures, which show that he or she (must find out) uses his or her flippers to help pull itself up. The main move though is what we might call a “larumph” – the kind of humping movement that caterpillars make.

What I don’t understand, and again must find out, is  why? Why would they want to make a grotesquely undignified climb onto jagged rocks when they are so much more at home in the water, or at least on a beach. Perhaps this one just wanted to greet the sun.

Later, I thought I had the answer – to sleep:

Later still I discovered that they can sleep in the water in a vertical position, nose up. I looked up the phenomenon in the Skokholm library and another possibility is to get rid of water-borne parasites, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer. 

After my breakfast I set out, girded with gear, along one of the paths round the coast, and find one of the 8 hides. Skokholm seems to specialise in micro-hides, with barely enough space for two people – suits me. If anyone else turns up I will leave them in possession and move on. This one is an old glass-fibre hides, of a kind which you find on the older reserves. Nobody seems to make them now, which is perhaps a pity. In the tiny wooden hides, there are several types of hatch which I have never seen before. As well as the normal hinged above type, one slides down, another lifts out completely. 

There is nothing here to interest the true twitcher or ringer, but I spend a pleasant half hour catching images of pipits. Telling the difference between a Rock and a  Meadow doesn’t sound too hard, but when it comes to Pipits I need to do some work, so I take numerous pictures of what I think are Rock Pipits but later find are actually Meadows. Now I know – if it looks clean and bright it’s a Meadow (top), if it needs a good wash it’s a Rock. (bottom – both pictures are taken from the internet: mine didn’t show the difference well enough.)





The path gets steep and surprisingly hazardous, in one place needing great care and a degree of effort. The reward is a pair of Choughs, one of my favourite birds. I have several times witnessed touching displays of affection between members of Chough families. At least it looks like affection, but we have to remember that birds are not like us. Birdsong, for example, is usually either a way of getting laid or an aggressive warning.

Meanwhile, back at the farm the ringing team are getting frustrated at the lack of migrating birds to catch. They have spring traps, box traps, Heligoland traps and mist nets, but the number of victims is disappointing. Top is a Willow Warbler, bottom a Whitethroat. None of the birds caught are harmed at all.

The paths follow the coast, but not all the way round, so I divide it into North and South with the lighthouse in the middle. The wind is still from the north and relentlessly strafes the north and west sides, where hundreds of Fulmars, a pair of Ravens, numerous juvenile Great Black Backed Gulls and a family of Choughs quite literally hang out. The Fulmars in particular are masters of the dynamics of cliffs and wind. They circle out with wings locked straight like a toy glider, then back and into the wind where the wings flex, the feet dangle and with no effort they hang-glide along the edge – a very characteristic pose which I captured in Iceland, but have yet to catch here.

The gulls drift along the cliff in an easterly direction, and there is a steady trickle of swallows and sand martins heading straight across the island towards the mainland. They begin to arrive around 9:00 which fits my theory (later confirmed by Richard) that they are on migration from Ireland and heading across Wales and then south. 

In the bright sunlight I can see a large group of gannets circling at the western end of Skomer. Against the sea they blend in and are hard to see, but when they circle upwards and turn they show up in brilliant white.

Watching the pair of adult choughs on the north side, I am intrigued to see one bird performing a deeply looping flight as if on a roller-coaster, while the other bird flies straight. Why is this one pretending to be a woodpecker?  Some sort of display perhaps.

By 11:30 I have reached the light house.

There is another micro-hide here but with plastic chairs instead of a bench. This means  you can’t get close enough or sit high enough for taking photographs so I have to adopt an uncomfortable crouch. However, as if on command, I had no sooner settled in for an uncomfortable sea-watch than black shapes started to appear in the waves. Two black, sickle shaped fins loop in and out of the water. Porpoises?
I hadn’t been paying attention when Richard explained the difference between them and dolphins. These two swim quickly eastwards and are followed by 3 more. I am thrilled to have reasonable pictures of these intelligent and charismatic mammals, and sit back with a big grin on my face. Suddenly they are back, now swimming northwards and – Oh Joy – they are reaching higher, showing pale undersides, and even more joy, one of them is a calf!

This I have never seen before, and “Common Dolphin” seems a poor name for such a sublime animal.

To go from the sublime to the fabulous, several of us got good imates of this Hummingbird Hawk Moth on the patch of Golden Rod by the farm:

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1 Response to Skokholm as in Stoke ’em (Part 2)

  1. Viv miles says:

    What a great trip Dick, that blog was enjoyable and a good wildlife education for me, I!ll have to come on one of your tracks with you one day!
    Ps we are loving Calvi and the wild beauty of Corsica.

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