Stormies

Storm Petrels are a bird that can not be seen too often on Skomer.  They live on scree slopes near cliff edges, are small flitty things and only fly near land at night- so you really have to put in the effort if you want to see one of these guys!

released just after acquiring a shiny new BTO ring that you can just see on its right leg.

These birds are roughly the size of sparrows yet ride out the nastiest weather at sea and fully deserve their name.  When things calm down they float just above the water and dabble with their dainty legs whilst picking up small bits of food from the surface.  As with most sea birds they are very long lived and raise a single chick in a season, putting in a lot of effort and producing eggs which are nearly as big as them!

Stormies have an amazing call and can be quite chatty with their purring/hiccough/purring calls, something used to great effect when studying them as we can play a recording down a burrow and if they sing back on several occasions we can be fairly sure it is occupied that season.  A great way to spend a sunny day out on the islands I can tell you!  The photo above (and below) was taken during a ringing session where a mist net was used to catch birds coming and going at night.  They were all quickly extracted before they got too entangled and released after they had been given an uniquely numbered ring (a ring that is made of especially hard wearing metal as decades of rubbing against rocks and submersing in salt water take their toll on something so small it weighs just a fraction of a gram).

After a quiet wait for birds there is a big rush of activity as they are ringed and released by torchlight (dim torches and long exposure!)

As well as a great sound, Storm Petrels have an amazing smell… a bit odd but stick with me on this one.  Their feathers are waterproofed with an oily substance that is pretty pungent.  Some people find it offensive but its a musky fragrance that is actually pretty pleasant to most.  The smell lingers around the burrows and a single feather found on the rocks will instantly tell you who it belongs to if you just give it a quick sniff.

After saying that these birds take an effort to see, they are fairly reliable so if you do make the trip out to a colony it will not be wasted.  Skomer has several small colonies but Skokholm Island really shows them off to their best with some nests right next to the buildings and an old quarry area that gives amazingly close sightings (its not unknown for the birds to land on you as you sit and watch!).  I return in less than two weeks now and can’t wait to get reacquainted with the quarry colony.

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