Saturday, July 10, 2010

Skomer Island

I fell asleep on Monday night with fresh, cool air and the sound of the sea coming through my bedroom window and the feeling of anticipation for what was coming the next day.  In two words, Skomer Island.  The drive to Skomer Island from the golf club was probably 1-1/2 hours.  It's not that it was really all that far away; just that we were driving on small, busy roads.  It seemed like we would never get there. But, we did, finally, and drove up the the small gate house.  We thought we had got an early start, but the parking lot was already full with cars. We also noticed that some cars were turning around and heading away. Uh oh, what's this?

There would be no landing on Skomer Island that day.  If I had been a balloon in the back seat, I would have deflated.  What am I writing - I did deflate.  I couldn't believe it!  Here we were on this picture perfect day and there would be no landing on the island.  It was explained to us that while they would be able to take people out to the island, the wind was predicted to pick up as the day progressed and they would not be able to get people off.  Something about the wind, the tide, the boat landing ... I was crushed.

Cliff, anticipating that this could occur, had considered an alternate itinerary.  We squabbled about it for a moment, but as is true of his thoughtful planning for my whole visit, it turned out perfectly.  At least while the winds cooperated, the boat would be taking people around the island.  We reserved a spot for the 11:00 am excursion and while waiting we explored the cliffs near the boat launch.

Of all the birds I saw, maybe it was the Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) that was the most cooperative for photos.  I saw the whitethroat many times, but with this photo I was finally on the right side of the sun for this nicely teed-up and very cute, little bird. 

I can never resist nuzzling horses.  I don't think these are wild horses, but I'm not sure.  The coastal land is also used for grazing and the paths through the heather and grass allowed us to walk right next to grazing cows and sheep.

We came to a gate with this sign.  Who ever knew there was such a thing called a kissing gate?

Nor can I resist the sweet, doughy eyes of a cow. 

Because we wanted to get a good seat on the boat, we ended our rambling and walked to the boat launch to stand in line with a dad and his seven or eight year old daughter.  I gave my typical greeting, "Hi, how are you?" to which he replied, "Okay, I guess." He explained that he and his daughter had left their home in north Wales at 4:00 am to be assured a place on the boat for the Skomer Island landing.  It was right then that I perked out of my funk at not being able to land on the island. Everyone here today was just as disappointed as I was.  What was I thinking?  Later, on the crowded boat, the little girl fell asleep resting against her father and with the hood of her pink jacket shielding her eyes from the bright sun.  At the time I didn't think of it, but now I wish I had got a photo.

At ten pounds per person (I think young children were free), the boat owners made a killing.  They packed, I would say overpacked, the boat for the 75-90 minute excursion.  Even though the boat traveled slowly around the island, it was still very bumpy and, for the birdiest part of the trip, we were on the wrong side.  Nevertheless, I was still pleased with the photos I got. 

Double click on each photo to enlarge image

Razorbill (Alca torda)

Flotilla of Common Murres (Uria aalge)

Murre colony

Puffin (Fratercula arctica
What's to say?  Out of focus, but iconic!

Needless to say, we saw lots of birds.  There were also kittiwakes and gulls, but with one exception, impossible to get a photo of these.

Herring Gull (Larus argentalus)  

Considering the circumstances, I felt very satisfied with the quality of the bird sightings and the opportunity to see the breeding colonies on the rocks.  It wasn't great for photographs, but I was pleased with the images I was able to capture.

We were hungry and went back to the car to get our Marks and Spencer sandwiches and water. To eat, we hiked to a nice spot along the coastal path that overlooked Skomer Island in the distance.

We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking the coastal path just taking it all in and fully enjoying where we were.  There was always something to look at - flyby gulls and gannets, seals resting on a rock, flowers, cows. sky larks ... so much to remember. 

There were several  Sky Larks displaying over the fields.  The one above finally landed in a spot close enough where I could find him in the grass.  I used my crouch and sneak-up technique to get this so-so photo. Still, you can see the bird's beak open in song.  No wonder this bird was the muse for many great poets, like William Wordsworth, who actually wrote two poems to the skylark.  

At one point, I caught a glimpse of a black, crow-like bird flying just along the cliff edge and then spotted its red bill and legs.  Chough, chough, chough, I called out.  I had been tipped off to look for the Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) here by a fellow we met a week earlier during dinner at the Barnsdale Hall Hotel.  Exciting to see.

Finally, nothing about this blog entry would be complete if I didn't also include my friends, Joy and Cliff Young, with Skomer Island behind them.  Thank you so much, Joy and Cliff, for our spectacular time in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

The beautiful, but deadly Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Atlantic gray seals on a rock

Coastal Wales

Next:  Ramsey Island

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