The sea parrots of Skomer
I’m just back from a few days on Wales’ Pembrokeshire coast where I’ve been working to plug one of the holes in my UK portfolio. Puffins have always been conspicuous by their absence from my body of usable work so I headed to Skomer, a seabird paradise three miles off the west coast.
On what turned out to be the hottest few days of the year so far across much of the UK, I seemed to have picked the worst time to hit the road as wind and rain threatened to derail my plans and ruin my chances of getting the various shots I was after. Even though the sea mist rolled in, making it hard to track the birds in flight as the camera’s autofocus system struggled in the low light, I guess I can consider myself lucky that I didn’t get rained on and that I even made it onto the island at all. A number of seabird expeditions were cancelled in the days prior to my visit to Skomer due to bad weather and stormy seas.
The island is a national nature reserve managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and is home to nearly half a million seabirds as well as short-eared owls, peregrine falcons and choughs, but it is probably best known for its colony of more than 10,000 puffins. This time of year, the air is full of adult birds flying like bullets from the sea to their burrows with mouthfuls of sandeels to feed their chicks…followed clumsily and aggressively by gulls looking for a free meal.
Between March and August is the best time to see these iconic parrots of the sea as they come ashore to breed in huge colonies. Seeing them in such large numbers in one place like Skomer makes it hard to believe that the puffin is listed as Amber Status in the UK but their numbers have fallen significantly across much of their European range. Terrestrial predators like cats, mink and rats remain a threat to breeding colonies and the species is susceptible to the affects of marine pollution and unsustainable fishing.