I arrived at South Stack on a dull, wet and windy late Friday afternoon in December and was welcomed by the team here and shown my accommodation, which I have to say is absolutely brilliant, perched up on the cliffs with sea views. It’s a good place to enjoy the wind too, which is part and parcel of the experience here. Rain isn’t unknown either and so acclimatising to and exploring the island at the week-end was challenging, but with Holyhead just down the road local services are very convenient (with the help of a car).
My first week was probably not very typical but maybe no week here is. My main task was to dismember pallets for the making of Christmas trees in preparation for the following week-end’s Christmas craft fair, which gave me a good chance to marvel at the number of different ways a pallet can be nailed together! I soon got a nice little production line going for the making of the Christmas trees for Becky and from what I hear her idea was very popular with the children who decorated them at the Fair, with many taken home.
However the highlight of the week had to be rounding up, checking and worming the Hebridean sheep which are the nicest sheep I’ve ever worked with. They seemed much more placid than other breeds I remember. I hadn’t seen one have a go at a sheep dog before either. Not so placid with attitude perhaps!
A little bit of fencing with Denise and one of the regular volunteers, Bill, finished the week. We had a particularly recalcitrant strainer post, or at least it’s hole, which was now full of watery sludge and with no really firm ground around the hole to pack the post in against. We reluctantly resorted to cementing it in. Will it work? Part two of this drama continues next week.
The weather is finally warming up and the Spring birds are starting to arrive. Up to five thousand guillemots can often be seen on the cliffs - they have been coming and going since January but won't stay permanently until they start breeding sometime in April.
Guillemots on the cliff
Razorbills have also recently arrived but like the guillemots won't stay until they start breeding. A pair of peregrine falcons have been seen near last years nest and hopefully we will have a live camera on the nest this year.
Wheatears have been seen in the last few days - they pass through South Stack in Spring on the way to their breeding sites and return again in Autumn on their migration to Central Africa where they spend the Winter.
Wheatear by Chris Lloyd (rspb-images.com)
Kittiwakes are starting to return and lots of meadow pipits are passing through the reserve.
We have a live camera on a chough nest and we have seen the chough arranging nest material - they should start breeding soon. The same pair of choughs often feed outside the Visitor Centre window and the male has learnt to feed from a sunflower seed feeder which keeps our visitors entertained!
Chough on nest on live camera
The first peacock butterflies have been sighted and celandine and coltsfoot is in flower. Lizards can be seen beside the paths and adders will be emerging from hibernation on the heathland. However, the question on everyone's mind is 'When will the first puffin be sighted'?
Mo Blackburn - Volunteer
Within the RSPB volunteers are an important part of the day to day running of all aspects of this wonderful charity. From working on reserves, administration, people engagment to working in the shops and cafes, without volunteers we wouldn't be able to continue giving nature a home.
Here at RSPB South Stack we recently had an awards ceremony to celebrate the hard work put in by our volunteers over the years, which for some has been many! However, this got us thinking, what make somebody come and volunteer for the RSPB for so long. We put this question to some of our volunteers and there responses are as follows:
Mel and Babs O' Hara:
"This is something that I have not consciously thought about before!
My wife and I have been volunteering at RSPB South Stack for the past four years. Intially it was my wife's idea, we had been retirees for a while and felt that we would like to get involved in something. We were both keen on wildlife and already members of the RSPB. As there is an RSPB on the island, namely South Stack we felt that this was an ideal place to offer our services.
From the moment that we joined the team we were made to feel very welcome and four years on this has only grown better. I have learnt much more about wildlife than I did previously and much more about the RSPB in general. In my role (which varies) I get to meet some very interesting members of the public. I work in one of the most scenic places in the British Isles, all this before I even mention that I feel that I am helping nature 'Find a Home.'
If I could sum up my feelings about volunteering it would be like this. " I have had an old dressing gown for many years. It is thread bare and avoided many attempts by my wife to discard it, she has bought me many nicer dressing gowns over the years but I still cling on, why?
Every time I put on my old dressing gown it gives me that feeling that is hard to explain. Comfort does not do it justice, when I studied German language many years ago thay had a word 'Gemütlichkeit'. The translation goes something like this, a situation that induces a cheerful mood, peace of mind, with connotation of belonging, coziness and unhurry.
P.S. I Know i also speak for my wife when as when i showed her this note she said that she feels exactly the same."
"After taking early retirement from a very demanding full-time job in the NHS, I needed to do something worthwhile part-time. I have always had a love of nature and was an RSPB member, so I decided to see if they needed any volunteers. I started as an Assistant Information Officer in Ellin's Tower and rapidly fell in love with South Stack Reserve - the fantastic views, changing light, succession of stunning wild flowers and the birds! Seeing the big smile on people's faces when you show them a puffin, peregrine or porpoise makes it all worthwhile.
When the shop opened I volunteered to do an additional day helping in the shop, which I do all year round. I enjoy the variety of two different volunteering roles, but have also helped with diverse tasks such as litter picking, clearing tables and washing up, burning heather and helping move sheep!"
Eveline and Bill Clark:
"What motivates me and Bill is knowing we are helping birds, butterflies and all wildlife from either the work done directly and the reserve such as putting in fence posts and helping to move sheep, to now working in the shop with all profits helping UK wildlife."
From all the team here at South Stack we would like to say a great big thank you to all our volunteers that help with the day to day running of the reserve, making sure we can do as much as we can for nature. Below are some of the photographs from the awards ceremony.
Mo Blackburn recieving her certificate for 5 years of service.
Bill and Eveline Clark after seven years with the RSPB.
Lynne accepting on her husbands behalf a certificate and badge for over 10 years of volunteering for the RSPB.