All childhood instincts return as you wind your way down the snaking country roads, channelled by tall hedgerows, waiting for a gap or a high place to catch a glimpse of that shimmering blue mass, lying invitingly calm in the sunshine. The sea. For me and so many others, it is a constant calling to return to the coast, to take deep breaths of salty air and hear the screech of gulls littering the sky above. Sea birds. There's something about them that intrigues me. There is so much to learn about their lives both on land and at sea and are a collective of ornithological splendour that are so often caught up in both natural and man-made disasters, therefore in great need of conservation.
It is always a pleasure to visit Skomer Island, just off the Welsh coast of Pembrokeshire. Not only for the natural beauty of the land and abundance of wildlife, but also for the feeling that your being there is, in one small way aiding the survival of some of the most charismatic sea birds Britain has to offer. Not only does the money spent on a visit go directly towards the conservation of sea bird colonies, but more interestingly still, the presence of humans, so long as they are sensible and respectful, can help deter predators; allowing Britain's most comical bird, the Puffin, a safer place to raise its young.
As you are packed like salmon onto the Dale Princess (a small price to pay for the experience to come) the excitement is well and truly in the air. A mixture of seasoned island-goers and newcomers listen half-heartedly to the standard safety warnings, whilst distracted somewhat by the surroundings. As the boat bobs along, hugging the coast, the air begins to fill with gasps, shouts and tiny black specks, jetting to and fro across the horizon. Within sight of the small jetty on Skomer the expectations are fulfilled, as puffins, razorbills and guillemot sit in their hundreds upon the shimmering sea or flicker over head with just enough time to distinguish between a bright red and yellow bill or a black one. Further out gannets can be seen, as their long pointed, black-tipped wings flash before folding away and with expert precision they pierce the surface of the sea and no doubt their breakfast too. The long climb up the cliff takes an age as newcomers and seasoned birders alike are distracted by razorbills audibly attacking intruding guillemots on the rocks and the clowns of the sea littering the grassy cliffs, popping in and out of their burrows to see what excitement this boat load has brought.