Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Pembrokeshire May 2014: Puffins and Porpoises

Monty the Motorhome is still rubbing his headlights in disbelief at the idyllic site he is parked up at.

Two days in now without electric hookup and no problems. There is an onboard battery monitor that shows voltage and current, as well as percentage charge. This has fluctuated between 14.4v and 12.2v, while amps being drawn has gone up as far as 6.4 (the laptop charging seems account for the most power). Conversely, when the solar panel is in full operation, it is putting up to 3.2 amps back. Overall we see a gradual drop in percentage charged down to about 60% by bedtime, but it is back up to 100% by about 9.00am.

Sorry to those of you who are not too interested in this sort of thing - as you may have gathered it really fascinates me. Anyway, on to what we’ve been up to today.

The whole reason for coming to this area was to visit Skomer island. This has to be on the bucket list of anyone who wants to visit iconic nature reserves. It is fairly small (1.99 x 1.49 miles), but crammed to the rafters with wildlife between April and July. 
A small ferry that takes up to 50 people goes from the tiny harbour of Martins Haven and takes roughly 15 minutes to cross the channel to the island. Tickets for the journey cannot be booked in advance as the boat skipper decides on the day if weather conditions are safe for the crossing. We had been advised to get to the booking office early as queues soon form and the allocation of 50 can quickly go. That said there are three sailings per day (10.00, 11.00 and 12.00). However we wanted to be on that first boat, so were at the office for 8.00am. There were already about a dozen people there, but we only had about 15 minutes to wait until the office opened. Tickets purchased, along with sunscreen (really sunny day again) we adjourned back to Monty, as the site is only 10 mins walk away, to get well hydrated with tea before wandering down to the boat at about 9.45am. 

A strange site greeted us at the quay. A massive amphibious craft (obviously ex-army) was on the shingle beach and loading up with a small digger and cement mixer. Once these were stowed aboard the whole craft manouvered itself off the beach and into the water. I must say it looked really top heavy and gave every appearance of one of those home made rafts that take part in charity events on our rivers and usually end up giving much enjoyment to the crowds as they gradually disintegrate. However this was a slick operation and with clouds of smoke it was transformed from a land going vehicle to waterborne craft.

The queue for the ferry. Everyone is fascinated by adjacent activities - see below photos
Loading machinery onto the amphibious vehicle, which then gradually drove down into the sea

And away it sails!

Our little boat followed it out and we both took the same course for Skomer. We subsequently learnt that it was transporting building materials to the island in preparation for building work to replace a concrete jetty that had been virtually washed away by fierce winter gales.

On arrival we had a brief introduction from one of the wardens - there are a handful of these dedicated people who spend about six months of the year cut off from the mainland and living on the island - then were let loose to wander at will, but with stern instructions to keep to the paths, as many parts are undermined with rabbit burrows that have been taken over by Puffins and Manx Shearwaters and any transgressions onto this land could easily result in stepping through onto the birds below.

Our first highlight was the mesmorising sight of porpoises jumping out of the water, though we needed our binoculars to see them clearly. There were also a number of grey seals basking on the rocks. 
Then on through fields of bluebells to the seabird colonies - Kittiwake, Fulmar, Guillemot and Razorbill nesting on the cliffs; but the real attraction is Puffins. 

These adorable little birds show no fear of humans and come within feet of visitors. They are still sorting their nesting burrows out and it was hilarious to see their antics. One bird would suddenly disappear down a burrow while it’s mate kept lookout. Shortly afterwards the burglar bird would reappear with a beakful of nesting material and both birds scurried quickly back to their own burrow.

The bird in the foreground is keeping watch while it's partner is underground engaged in criminal activities

This is how close we could get - almost touching distance

Our other highlight was spotting one of the resident Little Owls, though sadly no sign of the much rarer Short Eared Owl.

All too soon it was time to return to the mainland, but a relief to have Monty so close at hand once we were back.

A few more people have arrived on the site while we’ve been away and we have new neighbours - a Swedish couple who are touring Britain. We had a brief chat and discovered they lived near a town called Umea, which is a university town and the largest in the area of Norrland. That meant nothing to us, which shows how poor our geography is.

Beef stew (which I had made last week and froze), cabbage and mash tonight. Some Henry Weston Vintage Perry slipped down very easily to finish with.

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