Jack Barton talks about his experiences of Skomer Island
Soft light pours into the murky darkness of my bedroom as I open the door on my first morning on Skomer Island. The air is crisp and cool and the sky a bright, monotonous white. Standing bleary eyed in the doorway, I look across the island out towards the sea. At first I hear an eerie silence, the sort you don’t seem to get on the mainland. The dawn chorus is different here to at home. There’s no noisy chattering of sparrows or electric clicks of starlings. There’s no great-tits chanting or blue-tit’s chirping and it’s unusual to hear the luscious song of a robin. Here, the sounds of the mornings are more subtle. The cry of gulls is carried through the clear air and blends into the background. The first bird to greet me as I stepped outside was a pied wagtail, busily flitting around the farm. Their friendly tail-bob and chirping ‘chi-litt’ became a regular morning greeting.
Spring was slowly but surely underway. The wind was still bitingly cold at times, but the warmth of the sunshine was gradually building up strength. Drifting on the wind, the true heralds of spring had arrived – swooping, streaming and glossy wings glinting as they passed. The hurried chattering of swallows is an uplifting sound, one which welcomes the summer months to come. Over in North Valley, bluebells carpeted the ground in a subtle pastel blue. Rising high above on their fluttering wings, skylarks announced themselves gloriously with an impressive and seemingly endless recital of trembles, scratches and trills, before tumbling and falling back into silence. Regularly passaging overhead, oystercatchers liked to make themselves known – uttering a loud peeping ‘kleep-kleep-kleep’, which rather suits their gregarious character.
As you approach the cliffs the soundscape transforms into something wilder, more urgent. The Wick is an impressive cacophony – a true spectacle to behold. The calming sound of expansive sea is overpowered by the tremendous disharmony rising from the cliff face. The cliff appeared to be groaning and screeching, for is covered in guillemots and razorbills. They jostle for space in in densely packed conditions, chatting to their neighbours and mates. Edging too close to the colony, a raven is an unwelcome visitor. Kittiwakes pour off the cliff in frustration, starting an exaggerated uproar of ‘Kitti-waaake, Kitti-waake!’ The raven appears unperturbed, passing by with nothing more than a ‘crunk’.
As darkness cloaks the island at night, an eerie sound begins to crescendo. Walking through the dark as the noise intensifies is a truly surreal experience. The island comes alive with manx shearwaters uttering haunting coos and shrieks. Occasionally there’d be a heavy rush of air and then a soft thud, as birds came to back to earth to enter their subterranean world of burrows. The experience is overwhelming, especially when you remember Skomer is home to over 500,000 of these precious seabirds – half the world’s population.