Amazing Birding Experience in Wales
Off the rugged
Pembrokeshire coast, West Wales lies the scenic, tranquil islands of
Skokholm and Skomer. Together, they represent one of Britain's most exciting
wildlife nature areas - home to more than 50 per cent of the world's Manx
Their guardian, the
Wildlife Trust West Wales up 'til last year could only arrange for trust
members to stay on Skokholm to view thousands of birds participating in an
amazing nightly spectacle. To date, only limited accommodation was available
in a small 18th century cottage. More
recently, however, additional chalets/rooms have been
provided for a maximum of 15 guests permitted to stay on the island
at any one time. So, commencing
This year, the general
public has been able to experience this unique island for the very first
time, taking a three-night package, which includes ferry crossings, all
meals and accommodation.
The highlight of this trip
is to observe tens of thousands of slim, black and white silky-coated Manx
Shearwarters depart early each morning to go fishing, far out to sea,
winging their way back to their island burrows at night thereby avoiding
detection and certain death from predatory Greater and Lesser Black-backed
Gulls who eagerly await their return, and a substantial feast!
Accompanied by "churring"
Storm Petrels, thousands upon thousands of these magnificent birds fill the
night sky, calling out to their respective mates as they draw closer to the
burrow entrances. It is incredible how they ever manage to find their mates,
but they do!
The recognition between
Manx Shearwater pairs is repeated continuously throughout the island
creating a unique cacophony of sound and activity.
One of the best parts of
the island to view this momentous event is near the lighthouse on the
island's western tip. This is where four of us headed to experience the
noise and mayhem of the birds as it reached a crescendo around 23h00 pm. We
were armed with small torches, cameras and clad in warm clothing. It was
April and there was a distinct chill in the air.
Manx Shearwaters were
everywhere, darting over, above and around their burrows and us. The light
was poor as the modern, unmanned lighthouse had been specially modified with
a red filter to offer protection to the returning birds making it difficult
for the gulls to locate them.
We took utmost care not to
disturb or fall over the birds as they rushed across the main path, which
resembled and felt like a thick hall-way carpet - thanks to the island's
healthy rabbit population!
Graham, our knowledgeable
Wildlife Conservationist gently picked up a glossy coated Manx Shearwater so
we could get a closer look.
The bird was in excellent
shape, especially in view of the amount of time it had spent out at sea on
its long daily flights returning to land late at night. Each year, in May,
just one egg is hatched in the deep underground burrow where each pair makes
Skokholm was once a favorite
Viking stopover when regular raids of coastal West Wales were commonplace.
The name, Skokholm, means "wooden isle" in ancient Norse, and was
where local farmer and naturalist, Ronald Lockley, set up home in a
whitewashed cottage for 12 years from 1927, writing books about his work and
Now, some of the guests
stay in his beloved cottage or nearby
rooms, spending their days recording
bird sightings, joining guided walks with the warden, enjoying sea
views, photography and sharing the tranquility and their experiences with
like-minded guests. The seas around the island are frequented by grey seals,
porpoise and dolphin.
The island is at its best
when the coastal cliffs are covered with colorful lichens, flora and fauna.
At mealtimes there is a
guest roster for assisting with preparation of salads and vegetables and the
washing up. Many hands make light
work of this, in record time!
Advance arrangements are
made daily with the resident cook as to the desired time for collecting
water for personal washing.
There is no electricity,
running water, baths, showers or telephone lines on the island! It's a true
getaway from it all. And lighting is
by gas lamps. But, mobile 'phones can be used and drinking water is pumped
up from a freshwater spring.
The 18th century farmhouse
and neighboring complex comprises a cottage with several bedrooms - beds
with mattresses - and the highlight is the comprehensive library cum lounge
with fireplace. Further down the passage is, a chemical toilet and hand
In an adjacent building is
the dining room - "The Wheelhouse" - with a kitchen, bar and long
dining table. Additional rooms are housed in the building opposite.
The most famous section is
"The Brig" which has a red doot and is located in one of the outer
buildings. this toilet a la difference has walls adorned with a wide
selection of colorful hand painted birds the work of past visitors. Their
names with dates of the particular bird's sighting appear under each
hand-painted work of art.
Graham, the friendly,
resident warden spends eight months of the year on the island. Early
evening, he gathers with guests around the fire in the lounge to discuss the
day's sightings, before or after dinner.
He explained that there is
growing evidence that a small number of the wide range of seabird species
attain the age of 30, or more.
At least one is known to
have reached 37!
Puffins and guillemots are
color-ringed to make them easily recognizable The Manx Shearwater, however,
sometimes wears out its "ring" grinding it across rocky surfaces,
which makes the actual numbers of these older birds recorded being
Living alongside thousands
of puffins and rabbits who regularly pop out of the multitude of underground
burrows in their shared "honeycomb" burrow environment.
Visitors can expect to see
a wide range of other bird species such as fulmar, shag, razorbill and the
When booking your
three-night package, be sure to check out which items you need to bring to
the island. These might include a single duvet cover sheet, bed sheet and
comfortable walking shoes. Items such as chocolate bars can be bought at the
island's small tuck-shop.
Travel by train or car from
London to Haverfordwest by train or car. A night's stopover in Cardiff or at
the award-winning farmhouse in Spittal, near Haverfordwest is highly
recommended. Consider buying a BritRail Flexi Pass if several long distance
train journeys are planned during your stay in Britain.
or Web site: www.wildlife-wales.org.uk
for details on Skokholm's 3-night packages, a visit to the island of Skomer
and overnight stays on the Pembrokeshire coast.
departures leave from Martins Haven, outside Haverfordwest, in West Wales,
crossing the famous Jack Sound. Usually, a handsome seagull, Tonto,
accompanies the ferry!
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