Last trip to Skomer / by Jerry

This week sees my last few days in the office in Cambridge before spending some time back in the Lake District. The weekend just gone was a fun one though...

I headed down to Pembrokeshire on Friday night, to The Griffin in Dale, where people had gathered for what should have been the final episode of Dream Island, the documentary about Skokholm made over the last two years (due to last weeks football it was actually episode 5, the last one is next week). It was great to see assorted programme-makers, boatmen and volunteers, as well as Chris and Sarah, enjoying our work and applauding loudly during the end credits.

South Haven, Skomer

Despite all expectations the weekend was sunny and calm and we were able to get over to Skomer. Porpoise passed us on the way, seeming to celebrate my return. It's a lovely time of year to be there as the low sun brings out the greens and browns of dying vegetation, while plenty of migratory birds are making their way through. There wasn't anything too rare this weekend but it really felt like autumn as Sunday morning brought several hundred thrushes as well as finches and others passing overhead. Flocks of Jackdaws and Starlings are hanging around, enough to hear the 'wooooosh' as they fly past.

Grey Seals on North Haven beach.

Probably the real draw of this time of year though are the Grey Seal pups. It's the middle of the season down on Skomer and around 130 had been born already. A big storm last week had moved them around a little, with big waves picking up some and depositing them on different beaches. This can potentially be very bad news as pups get injured, cold or separated from their mothers, but the majority we saw were sleeping away all fat and happy.

Fat, healthy, moulted pup on the slipway.

Because of the storms and the high number of pups still being born Dave is very busy running round recording and identifying them. We got to go with him down to the bottom of The Wick, an exciting part of Skomer only accessed at this time of year. A bit of a scramble takes you down to the shingle where many years worth of driftwood has piled up and young seals are surprisingly camouflaged. The seal pups are marked with an agricultural dye on their white coat. This moults before they head off on their own and is used to differentiate them and record how successful a season it has been. There was one or two particularly aggressive mothers down The Wick so it was useful to have one person distracting them while the other nipped in and marked the pup. I'll report how different work on Bird Island is, where each angry seal is surrounded by thousands of other angry seals.

 Trip down to the bottom of The Wick to mark and record seal pups.

We departed on Sunday afternoon and stopped briefly by my Grandma's house, a wonderful place looking out over Tenby and the beach, where I spent many happy childhood holidays. It's the last time I'll see it as it's being sold, so saying goodbye was harder than saying goodbye to many people. There was time for an stroll down to the beach in the evening sun before stopping at another pub for tea.

Looking along the beach to Tenby.

A damp day in Cardiff followed by a long train journey back to foggy Cambridge couldn't detract from the joy of two sunny days on the Pembrokeshire islands, including my last chance to swim in the sea.