From the small landing stage at Martin’s Haven, we hopped aboard the Dale Princess, shoulder to shoulder we sat on the little wooden benches, eagerly awaiting our arrival to Skomer Island off the coast of Pembrokeshire. The wind was brushing past our faces as we kept our eyes peeled for any exciting sightings. “I wonder if we will even see any Puffins today,” I said, as simultaneously, three speedy Puffins raced alongside our boat. Emerging through the sea mist, you feel like you’ve arrived at a secret island.
Skomer is a unique wildlife habitat for the seals and seabirds that live there and has the largest colony of Manx Shearwaters anywhere in the world. Having arrived, we made our way to the centre of the island, where the overwhelming haze of bluebells, red campion and white wildflowers greeted us, along with a quick glimpse of a short-eared owl.
We continued venturing into the wilderness, the sea mist still surrounding the island like a halo. Halfway around, we found the perfect picnic spot. Sat high up on the rugged cliffs, we ate our packed lunch listening to the chorus of seabirds and keeping an eye out for a porpoise – sadly not any out and about that day, but they have been seen from various points around the island.
We all knew why we were really visiting though – to catch glimpse of the clowns of the sea. We arrived at The Wick and there they were, with their orange beaks and kind eyes. Puffins are amazing flyers, flapping their wings up to 400 times a minute and impressively reaching speeds of 55 mph. We had come at a time where they were preparing their burrows and feather and grass-lined nests. They only raise one puffling a year and both parents take it in turns to incubate the eggs for the first 36-45 days. The parents stay together for life and return to their same home each year. We witnessed the highs and lows of their monogamous relationships, from cuddles to marital disputes. They quickly became my favourite bird of all time. We sat and watched them for hours, one chased a butterfly, whilst another ran over the footpath, weaving past visitors, where you could hear their feet pitter patter loudly across the ground.
On this small Welsh island, puffin numbers are booming. This year’s island count was estimated at 31,000, a sharp increase from 14,000 in 2013. But in former strongholds like Iceland, Norway and Scotland, it’s a different story. Warming seas caused by climate change, affecting puffins’ food sources are thought to be one of the main threats to their numbers. As well as the species recently being declared as vulnerable to global extinction – you can find out more about what is happening to help save these incredible birds by following Project Puffin.
This is a unique home for wildlife and a wonderful pause from everyday life for its visitors. I’ll be back – and next time, I hope to catch a sighting of a puffling.
Top tips when visiting Skomer: Arrive early to make sure you get a space on the boat, don’t forget your packed lunch, bring or hire binoculars, if you’re an amateur bird watcher like me – look out for the pros with their huge lenses, as they just might see some rare bird you may miss! And don’t forget the golden rule, stick to the footpaths.
To find out more about a visit to Skomer Island in Wales, visit the Visit Wales site.
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Isabelle Rose Povey is a documentary maker based in Walthamstow, London. She inquisitively loves to tell character-led stories through film and photography, on a variety of topics, such as women’s lives, human rights, traditions and nature. Her work aims to allow people to open their minds and connect to a cause, story or way of life.