Monday, 1 June 2015

26th May - Stackpole & Skomer Island

The forecast for today was not too bad, overcast skies but dry.  We were booked on an evening cruise from Martin's Haven, so decided to spend the day walking around the area of Stackpole and Broad Haven.

Stackpole is a former grand estate stretching down to the sea, and including some amazing coastal scenery.  Today it is owned by the National Trust and is a National Nature Reserve.  For 800 years, Stackpole was the site of a large house that was originally the home of a Norman lord.  In the 18th century it was rebuilt as a fashionable house, and in the 19th century extended further.  Today's landscape is a result of the design and planning that took place then to create lakes and saw over a million trees planted.  In 1963 Stackpole Court was pulled down as it was not able to pay for its upkeep.  Today there are remains of the old buildings and gardens, but the area is dominated by the lakes, and the coastal scenery.

We set off around the western arm of the lake.  Water lilies blanketed the lake, but were not quite ready yet to flower.



We were told the lake is a good place to look for Otters but all we could find was a Grey Heron perched in a tree up stream.



We continued to follow the lake shore and crossed the central arm, and then headed north on the eastern arm of the lake.  This part is dominated by the Eight Arch bridge that spans the water.



When the lilies are in full bloom it must be an amazing sight.

The path was partially under the leaves of oak, ash and beech trees, and in places there was Campion and Bluebells in flower.  A strange song above us had us searching the branches and leaves, when we located the source I was amazed to see it was a Blackcap.  The song was nothing like I have ever heard a Blackcap sing before, but it was definitely coming from this male bird.



We crossed the Eight Arch Bridge, pausing to look back down the lake, again wondering how it would look with the lilies in bloom.



From the bridge the walk goes through open farmland where there was basically nothing much to see.  It was overcast and with the wind quite cold so we walked at a fairly brisk rate.  As we approached the car park at Stackpole Quay we started to see the cliffs stretching away to the north of us.



We headed south towards the beach at Barafundle.  We took the steps down to the beach.  At the back of the beach were a series of dunes. Being half term there were lots of people on the beach, so we headed to the far side and after a short break we headed up the steps in the direction of Stackpole Head.

Looking back across Barafundle beach we could see Lort's Cave.



Thee top of thee cliff was quite bleak now.  Around us we could hear Skylarks singing but as usual we could not see them.  The grass was cropped quite short, and there were plenty small flowers. The cliffs are almost vertical, one of the reasons why this is a popular climbing location.  It made the walk though not so interesting because all you could was the edge of the cliff, the sky and a distant sea.

As we reached the outcrop of rock known as Mowingword you could now see the coast towards Broadhaven.



The cliffs are subject to some interesting erosion producing stacks, arches and caves.  At the top of the cliffs were also sink holes which I can only assume were formed where the sea erodes at the base of the cliff and weakens the rock allowing the rock above to sink down.  You can see the feature in the above photograph.

The eroded cliffs though were an attraction for the Herring Gulls and there were several pairs nesting, some with chicks.



Fulmar were also nesting on the higher cliff ledges.



The top of the cliff is known as Stackpole Warren, and is basically a series of dunes.  Down below the bays had beaches that were inaccessible, and the sand untouched.



Walking through the dunes there were Wheatears and many more Skylarks, finally one perched on a bramble for me, look at the claws on the rear toe.



The cliff path then made its way to the beach at Broadhaven South



I then made a mistake in my map reading and ended up getting us a little lost resulting in us not returning along by the lake, but taking a footpath to a road that led into the village of Stackpole.  

Back in the car we headed back to the cottage.  We had an early dinner, and then made our way to the car park at Martin's Haven to meet the boat for our evening cruise.  It was marketed as a chance to see Puffins and Shearwaters, the hope being that we would catch the Manx Shearwaters coming back to the island as the sunset.

The skies had cleared, and the sun was out, there was a breeze but not too strong.  We expected a cold time but in reality it was not too bad.  After waiting for some stragglers to arrive we finally set off out of the haven, and out across Jack Sound.

We were to cruise around Skomer Island, and then towards the end of the two hour cruise, head out into St Brides bay in the hope of intercepting the shearwaters.  First stop was Midland Isle, and island off the east end of Skomer.  There were several Shag on the rocks, and one on a nest was pointed out.



The boat eased through Little south and went around to the more sheltered southern side of Skomer.  Almost immediately we were surrounded by Puffins



They seemed to be everywhere, on the water and in the sky.  The boat then moved into one of the bays and we were able to both watch and get close to the Puffins and the Razorbills and Guillemots too.

The light was wonderful creating colours in the sea that framed the Puffins as they sat on the water.





Every so often the Guillemots would decide to take off, exploding from the water and almost running along the surface.




The Puffins were very similar on take off, but would get away quicker than the heavier Guillemots and Razorbills.  But once up in the air their wings would become just a blur.



The boat gently made its way around to South Haven where there were a serieds of high cliffs with nesting Guillemots and Razorbills.

The Razor bills move more to the top of the cliffs, and like space in which to nest, while the Guillemots all huddle together in a fight for the best location on the ledge.  It doesn't seem to be a problem if the ledge is not level.



Once again all around us auks were flying past us, and looking out across the bay the cliffs were a hive of activity.



Around High Cliff it was a lot darker as the water was in the shadow of the sun, this though provided some interesting light and the Guillemots stood out in it.



One Guillemot was standing on a rock with the dark cliff face behind it, re-enacting a penguin in the Galapagos



Unlike the many on the boat, the Puffins were for me not the main attraction, although I love seeing them.  Looking out to the bay there were a group of Razorbills on a rock that looked lovely with the background of the sunny cliff on the other side of the haven.



As I watched these three Another Razorbill flew in wanting to land in the same area, landing though for an auk is not the easiest of skills.



Using the feet and tail feathers as air brakes it seemed to be hanging in the air, flapping fiercely as it picked the best spot to land on.



The boat then left South Haven, passed through Little Sound and then headed to North Haven, the place we had disembarked the day before to go onto the island.  As we sailed alongside the cliffs a Shag was drying its wings on a rock.



Puffins were everywhere, flying over us and on the water, but for me the challenge now became a Fulmar.  I wanted to get a good picture of one as it glided around the cliff face.



We pulled into the haven and sat drifting while the Puffins wheeled around above us.  They fly in these circles to both confuse possible predators as they look to land, and to allow them to be able to pick a good safe spot to land.

This gives you some idea of what it is like, small birds wheeling away above you.



On the cliff tops there were Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and a few Great Black-backed Gulls, these were what the Puffins were trying to avoid.  However the Lesser Black-backed suddenly found something they were concerned about, a Buzzard, and the mobbing began 



Forcing it to take some evasive action.



The gulls were relentless in their pursuit showing some amazing flying skills.



Finally the Buzzard flew off and the gulls were happy it was no longer a threat.



We headed out of the haven and into St Bride's Bay.  The chance
 of seeing the advertised Shearwater rafts was slim and so it proved to be.  We needed it to be darker with cloud, but we had a wonderful clear sky and a setting sun.  I managed to see three very distant birds heading south, but nothing like I had hoped for.  There was though a Fulmar following the boat, silhouetted against the evening sky.



Looking back to Skomer you could just make out the bluebells on the island with the Farm House in the background.



As we cruised into Martin's Haven, looking back towards Ramsey Island the sun was lighting the sky and making a wonderful seascape.



Despite the lack of the aforementioned Shearwaters it had been an enjoyable cruise, but with maybe too many people making for difficult travelling conditions.  The hope was that the clear skies would bring another lovely day tomorrow.

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