Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Birdwatchers for a Day: Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales


The drive down was long, instead of three hours it took five. Note to self: don't travel on bank holiday weekends before half term (school holidays).  We got to our B&B at 5:30 pm and were welcomed with tea and fresh Welsh cakes. These are like flattened scones and when served warm are soft and sweet and just delicious. We were anxious to get and see the coast so took a walk on the coastal path which where we were was not really on the coast and not as much a path as a road down to the river. I have to admit I was a little disappointed. Dinner in Milford Haven at the Harbormaster on the marina. It was just an average meal in an and industrial coastal city. After dinner we drove out to Marloes, where we would take the boat in morning. It was very remote and took much longer than we expected. When we got there after 9pm, it was pretty quiet except for some divers and people working on a boat in the little haven. The boat was pulled all the way up and the men were looking at the hull. No big deal. We heard the next day that this boat had hit a rock while touring Skomer Island, took in lots of water and started listing.  A may day call went out and 48 passengers had to be rescued!!! It made the national news!

The next day our hostess fixed us the most fabulous breakfast Welsh mountain smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on an English muffin, spelt bread, fruit and yogurt. Perfection.
We asked about going to Skomer Island and she recommended that we go and queue as soon as possible. They starts selling tickets at 8:30. We joined the queue at 8:45. Only a limited number of people are permitted on the island at one time and there are usually three boats over in the morning and three back in the afternoon. Having not gone out the previous 4 days, it was particularly busy, so they doubled that. Fortunately, we got two tickets on the last boat at noon after waiting in line for almost 2 hours. Many left with out tickets so we felt lucky. We had a while before we left so we took a walk along the coast which was just beautiful.  

Time went by quickly and soon we were on the boat. The boat is small, only 48 passengers, two crew. We had a 15 minute ride to Skomer Island. 

As we approached the island, we could see hundreds of birds (puffins,) in the water and on the cliff. cameras were whipped out and we all started snapping away.The crew mentioned that the BBC was filming, probably for a spring wildlife series. 

After disembarking and walking up a difficult rocky stairway we met the volunteer wardens who explained the rules of the island. The most important rule was that visitors were to stay on the paths so as not to interrupt the nesting, burrowing birds.  They gave a brief overview of what we would see and where we would see it and let us go. The wardens said there are 4 miles of trails on Skomer and we were determined to walk them all. 

The island is big enough that we often had the trail to ourselves. everything is well marked and we had a guidebook which also helped us identify the birds we saw, useful for us not being avid bird watchers! 
We almost sat on a nest of seagull eggs when we looking for a place to picnic.


There was one area where crowds did gather and that was called The Wick. This is a horseshoe shaped cliff where the puffins nest. They build burrows in the ground. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of them here, all around your feet and flying off the cliff. Many people came just to visit this one spot.

We spent a while there then continued walking the rest of the island.  The path led us around the coast to an area with several rock islands. This is we're we saw seals swimming and sunning themselves in the rocks. They are such graceful swimmers.

Moving on we made our way to the fields of blue bells and red campions. Normally woodland plants, they have acclimated to the island conditions and there were acres of them.

We had a beautiful boat ride back to Marloe and went into Little Haven for a meal. Seafood is very fresh here in this part of Wales so we both enjoyed the local fish specials.
Home again to some fresh welsh cakes!
It is amazing how quickly the weather changes, and we woke the next morning to gale force winds and rain.
Our plan to continue walking had to be changed.
What else can we do? How about a visit to the only whiskey distillery in Wales!! Sounded good to us! We packed up and drove to through the Black Mountains to Penderyn where the distillery is located, took the terrific tour and some samples to try when we are safely at home.

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