Laura Kudelska site manager at South stack. During lock-down non-essential work on our reserves which included a lot of our conservation work stopped. At South stack we have livestock sheep and cattle who graze our fields and the heathland so myself and the site warden Den remained in work. Checking the sheep every day, along with organising seasonal activities such as sheep shearing.
The RSPB manage a number of sites on Anglesey one of which is called Ynysoedd y Moelrhoniaid/The Skerries. A small rocky islet nearly 2 miles from Carmel head and owned by Trinity house, and has a distinctive red and white lighthouse on it. Den has been with the RSPB since 2005, she was a warden on the Skerries for 6 years. Her great grandfather was the lighthouse keeper there in 1911, John Samuel Jones. Small islands have a sense of wilderness about them, a remote place where time hasn’t changed with no netflix or shops. This sense of being cut off from the world appeals to many of us including Den. Den has had a passion for the sea and seabirds all her life having grown in Holyhead. Being a warden brought together her passions. The Skerries is a special home to Terns, several different species of them, Arctic, Common and Roseate. Arctic Terns make the longest migration of any bird in the world from the Antarctic to Anglesey! Here on the Skerries we have the largest breeding population in the UK. Approximately 4000 pairs of Terns breed on the island, Den said ‘seeing this wildlife spectacle every day is mind blowing’. In 2019 Roseate Terns became the UK’s rarest breeding seabirds and The Skerries once had a breeding colony. After years of work putting out decoys (clay birds), playing calls and building little wooden shelters for the chicks in 2019 2 pairs successfully bred on The Skerries!
I joined the ranks of the few to sleep on The Skerries and experience day and night on this special island in 2016. My role was to film the life of the birds on the island, it is an experience that will stay with me forever. Over 2 years I would go out on the ‘food’ run where we would drop of supplies for the wardens and I would get an hour or 2 to film. At the end of the project I spent 3 nights on the island collecting more footage. You feel the rhythm of the life there. If the Terns think something might attack them or their chicks they all lift from their nests or resting spots and fly around in a massive flock. Causing us all to look up at the danger. The noise of thousands of seabirds doesn’t rest at night! The wardens jobs are tough, in all weathers they are outside. Once most of the birds have laid eggs in the colony the terns become aggressive, they will fly at your head pecking you and pooing on you. I don’t blame them they are doing their best to protect their chicks. On one of my early visits one cut me on my hair line and blood trickled down my forehead! Den told me to get a wax coated hat as the bird can’t pierce it and it doesn’t hurt the bird. How do you know if the birds have done ‘well’? The wardens count how many eggs are in each nest, we then know if the flock has enough chicks to survive the winter and how many pairs we have. The number of times chicks are fed helps to, it shows how much food is about. They talk to visitors to the island asking them not to walk through the colony as the tiny chicks and eggs are very well camouflaged. They also put out little wooden boxes they have made to act as shelters for the chicks on stormy days.
Ian Hawkins who is responsible for managing The Skerries called us and asked if we could help him with the boxes this year as there are no residential wardens. His son Sam would be joining us as he has been a warden covering the other wardens holidays on The Skerries. The RSPB have permission from the government to do this work as the tern colony has national importance. Den is very seasoned at this and I have helped a bit in the past. We both jumped at the chance to go back to The Skerries! The task was to move 500 small wooden shelters across the island near to nest sites without standing on camouflaged eggs and place a rock on each box to anchor them down. Ian and his son Sam met us at the port and Gareth took us out on his new Spindrift rib. The journey out is always cold, lots of jumpers and sometimes waterproofs. We arrived to a Peregrine eating a tern! Nature is beautiful and cruel to watch at times. The seals sang in the distance and the Terns swooped around unsure about the latest Peregrine attack and our arrival. They soon settled into our presence as we had scared off the peregrine just by being there. The terns weren’t aggressive either so we assumed there can’t be many eggs which is a little later than usual. Social distancing was adhered to traveling over, Ian’s son lives with him so they were able to sit together on the boat. Ian emptied the shed, Denise wheel barrowed boxes to the Helipad and I scattered them about. Sam placed boxes from the shed around the island. Great team work by all and we managed the task in 2 hours! It was hot and beautiful. Over the years the wardens have painted fun designs on some of the boxes. Only a handful of eggs have been laid and no sign of the amazing Roseate terns but we didn’t have long as we needed to head back on the tide. We hope to return in a few weeks and will update you all then.
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