Updated: Apr 29, 2019
Don’t be fooled – that’s not summer snow. Nor is the white topping on Grassholm Island the result of some gigantic pillow fight. White feathers, yes, but we’re not talking duck down here. What you see as you approach this magical island, 18km off the coast of Pembrokeshire, is gannets – 39,000 pairs of them, nesting so densely on this scrap of rock that they form a living cloak.
Copious guano adds a splash of whitewash to the effect (you’ll smell it as you get nearer), while a constant airborne contingent of birds hangs over the island like white flakes of ash rising from a bonfire. Then there’s the sound: an incessant cackling, punctuated by the rattling of bills from courting pairs and harsher squawks as fights break out among neighbours.
Grassholm requires a bit of a voyage, but that’s no bad thing – you can often spot porpoises, dolphins and even the occasional minke whale enroute. Seals haul out on rocky pedestals around the island, while the gannets themselves can be seen feeding out at sea, dropping like arrows on unsuspecting shoals of fish.
Landings are not permitted on Grassholm, but just a short hop from Martin’s Haven on the mainland, Skomer is not only a doddle to reach, but allows you the chance to go ashore and mingle with nesting puffins. Dapper in their piebald plumage, around 6,000 of these little ‘Pembrokeshire penguins’ take up residence each summer in nesting burrows on the grassy slopes above Skomer’s sea cliffs. Sit quietly (well back from the cliff edge) and they’ll often waddle right past you, their colourful bills crammed with silver sandeels. Train your binoculars on the cliff faces and you’ll see guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars squeezed onto the narrow ledges of huge, noisy seabird citadels.
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