29 August, 2016


First time (and one time) visitors to this blog could be forgiven for reading the title 'Bill's Birding' and wrongly assuming that I post about birds here. Of course this hasn't been the case for a very long time. I'm not proud of the fact that I haven't posted a photo of a bird here since April 2016, but it is what it is. I still enjoy birding as much as I ever have, but I now fulfil that enjoyment without lugging a telephoto lens around with me wherever I go, worried that I might miss the 'perfect shot' should I leave home without it.

That's not to say that I don't still look out for photographic opportunities. These loitering Mallards came to me during my time of need at the eerily beautiful Silent Pool deep in the Surrey Hills, when moths were nowhere to be seen, and allowed me to take their photograph. I was only carrying a wide-angle lens at the time but the results are quite arty-farty, and by posting them on the blog I'm fulfilling my yearly quota of two bird posts.

26 August, 2016

Maritime flowers

Visitors to Skokholm during high summer would have a hard time overlooking the array of wildflowers that carpet the cliff tops. At this time of year Sea Mayweed and Ragwort dominate at ground level much to the delight of pollinating insects. 

A species of bee in the Colletes genus enjoying Sea Mayweed - a particularly hard genus to identify to species level.

 Ragwort is a common sight on the cliff tops, as are the Cinnabar caterpillars that feed on the plant

Back in 2014, Golden-rod was abundant across Skokholm's grassland, with Ragwort growing in only very low densities. In the past couple of years the tides have changed. Population of Golden-rod seems to have crashed and now only isolated clumps still thrive around the farm and on The Neck, whilst Ragwort is everywhere.


A whole host of smaller plants add to the cliff-top colour spectrum at this time of year.

Creating a carpet of pink across the island's coastline in early-summer, by August only a few Thrift plants remain in flower


Field Pansy and Scarlet Pimpernel cope well with the arid conditions of Skokholm's rabbit-grazed dry grassland

Bog Pimpernel grows amongst Marsh Pennywort in the wetter flushes and streams

20 August, 2016

Returning to Skokholm

A couple of weeks back I received a message from Ian Beggs, a regular guest at Skokholm Bird Observatory who stayed there for two weeks whilst I was assistant warden. He was driving back to Skokholm for a week of bird ringing and wondered if I wanted to fill up a spare seat in his car. There were no two ways about it, returning to Skokholm has been top on my list of things to do ever since I left the island two years ago. A quick exchange with wardens Richard & Giselle and it turned out I had a bed to sleep on for the week!

Having spent a summer and half an autumn on the island in 2014, Skokholm has a very special place in my heart, and the whole visit was a trip down memory lane. Everything was where I'd left it, bar a couple of humongous boulders which had dislodged and tumbled down into the sea. After a couple of days of mist, wind and horizontal rain, we were basking in sunshine for the remainder of the week, intensifying the warm colours of Skokholm's Old Red Sandstone and giving the island's cliffs their characteristic red-brown hue.

It was great to be back, catching up with old friends and making new ones. There's never a dull moment on the island, with fellow guests including several BTO seabird researchers who were fitting radio-tracking devices onto Storm-petrels, and award-winning wildlife photographer Sam Hobson who had come to Skokholm with a vivid image in his mind of the perfect Manx Shearwater photograph to capture.

Every square inch of Red Sandstone on Skokholm is carpeted in various maritime lichens, some being extremely rare like the delicate Golden Hair Lichen below...

Sam and I discovered a Basking Shark just off the lighthouse cliffs one afternoon - the first I'd ever seen and a rare sight around Pembrokeshire waters. We watched it slowly cruise east towards the mainland, dorsal fin and tail barely breaking the surface as it battled against the turbulant sea in an effortless and unperturbed manner. Unfortunately, by the time I'd mustered up enough phone reception to alert the other islanders the shark was moving into bright glistening waters directly below a hot sun and we lost sight of it as the first 'twitchers' arrived.

Basking Shark twitch

North Haven

Looking out towards Pembrokeshire - Skomer on the left, Marloes on the right and my feet in the middle

Painted white stones mark the various paths that run across the island

The farm complex at sunset