Skomer is a small island just off the tip of the Pembrokeshire coast (Geohack location) not far from Haverfordwest. It is well known as a wildlife haven, in particular for its large colonies of puffins and Manx shearwaters.
Human presence on the island is strictly controlled, but about three weeks ago, I was lucky enough to join a group of likeminded photographers, led by Drew Buckley and Richard Peters, staying on the island for two days. Drew and Richard organised the trip in exemplary fashion, and were always helpful at every level, from photographic advice, to making sure we were well fed. I was doubly privileged in that the group had some outstanding photographers in it, including Matthew Cattell, landscape photographer of the year 2016, and Monica Doshi, multi-talented and with great insight into the island and its wildlife.
I'd never photographed puffins before, so this was a challenge I'd been looking forward to for months in advance. FWIW, I took my Nikon D810 and D500 cameras with 20mm f/1.8, 24-120mm f/4, 70-200mm f/2.8 and a rented 500mm f/5.6 PF lens, as well as my binoculars for general birdwatching. There was a load of other stuff too - I do tend to pack to the limit of the capacity of my bag - and I was horrified to discover that my big Lowepro backpack weighed 22kg with my tripod attached. (In the end, the tripod didn't get used. I'd hoped to do some astro, but the night skies were cloudy.) If I ever go again, I'll take exactly the same cameras and lenses, but split them between two smaller, lighter bags for convenience.
I knew in advance that it should be possible to get close enough to the puffins to get environmental portraits with the 20mm or 24-120mm lens. In the end, I only used the 20mm on the D810 for this, and hardly used the 24-120mm at all.
The 500mm PF lens is amazing. It is scarcely any bigger than my 70-200mm, but it is sharp wide open, and is excellent for bird photography. On the D500, it focusses fast, and can track birds in flight extremely well. In addition to puffins, I got my first ever pictures of fulmars and choughs with this lens.
I'd expected to be able to use the 500PF to get pictures of puffins landing with their beaks laden with sand eels, but there were two problems with this. First, few were actually bringing in catches. I'm not sure why that is, but possibly by the second week of July, many of the pufflings had actually fledged and were not being fed in the burrows. Second, and more simply, the puffins move so fast when landing that the 70-200mm lens, with its wider field of view, was a much better choice. In any case, at a location such as the Wick, the puffins land so close that there's no need for the longer lens.
I'd also hoped to be able to see Manx sheerwaters flying, or, best of all, settled on land at night. But a gibbous moon was up, and a tanker was anchored next to the island, brightly lit all over. The sheerwaters are heavily predated by great black-backed gulls which also nest on the island. The gulls can detect sheerwaters in moonlight/tanker light, so the sheerwaters generally keep moving. We could hear them overhead, but never actually saw them. On the other hand, there were an awful lot of their corpses around, well eaten, with just the feathered wings left. (The petroleum storage and distribution terminal at Milford Haven is close by. Tankers anchor close to the terminal, which also means close to Skomer island. As I understand it, the law of the sea requires them to be fully lit overnight to avoid collisions. This is completely right, but the presence of the tankers is resented by local conservationists because of their potential effect on sheerwater predation.)
Overall, this was an amazing experience, and I came back with a set of pictures I really like (a few more on Flickr). Nonetheless, it is inevitable that after such a short visit, I have unfinished business there. At some point in the future, I'd love to go back.