Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
It’s been a brilliant season, as the seabirds have had generally a good season (with the expected one or two blips), visitors have come out in their droves (over 40,000 visited), media coverage has been non-stop (from Puffins to Otters) and I learnt how to write a blog. It wasn’t that long ago when the first mobile telephones arrived on the islands (how those have changed life out their!) and now I’m writing blogs from a fifteenth century Pele Tower on the islands. What ever next? GPS on Puffins…oh watch this space.
As for the team, well we started with nine from March-September and this was reduced to four in October. Although there are lots of people I need to thank, there are two I would especially like to say a big thank-you to; Anthony Hurd and Kieren Alexander.
It was a sad note when we departed on Saturday as both Kieren and Anthony will not be returning having spent three glorious years out on the islands. Both men came through the ranks and this season both held the ‘Senior Warden’ positions of Inner Farne (Anthony) and Brownsman (Kieren). Both led by example, both were a credit to the islands and both put 100% into their work as they believed in the Farne Islands. As head warden, I could not have got through the year without either one and it’s a huge honour that I had the privilege to work with them both. In Farnes terms, they won’t be forgotten as simply they were two of the best wardens who have set foot on those rocky shores and they’d be welcome back with open arms. Thanks lads.
As for everything else, well those Seals have done well, as its crunch time with the counting as I’m on the verge of working out the birth and death rate for the season…
Sunday, 7 December 2008
Escape from Brownsman
The boat approaches - its time to leave
Goodbye Brownsman - on our way westwards to the mainland
Time to celebrate - me with the 'usual' finish, a bottle of bubbly
Thursday, 4 December 2008
Close the Door!
As for the team, well with just days to go we’re full of busy as there are plenty of reports to write from birds and seals to butterfly's and cetaceans. Its been a great season, as a lot has happened over the course of the past nine months and its almost at an end. As for the door, well we left it open on our early morning raid to the jetty and returned to discover a seal in our bathroom. Remember, please close the door.
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Inner Farne closing...
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
The final week
A Little Auk - seen in good numbers each autumn around the islands (by Alex Ash)
Inner Farne with the Pele Tower in the background
Following a settled period of weather, we leave Brownsman for the day to head west to the largest of all the islands, Inner Farne (at a mighty 16 acres!). This spectacular island, once home to St.Cuthbert, houses a Pele Tower, built in 15th century and now home to the warden team on that island. Our mission was to pack, scrub, wash, hover and generally leave the place how we found it - clean. This will enable us all to move to Brownsman for the final few days and so we spent the day shutting down the island for the winter, despite a cool northerly wind blowing, bringing a light scattering of Little Auks to the Farnes.
As for the seal colonies, its heading full circle as the second coat pups start leaving for a life of independence around islands, and its now mating season for the parents. The cow seals mate as soon as the young pups leave and this activity is very evident, as its now time for the bull seals to play their part. If anyone thinks sitting around a colony, waiting to mate is straight forward, then think again. Its not easy being a bull seal as they must defend their patch against rival males and that’s not always easy, as these brutes of the islands have some firepower. At over 300kg, they have some weight to throw around and bruising battles are a common place and although fights never end in death, there are some impressive injuries. On my morning walk I came across several bulls which had been clearly fighting, with blood oozing from deep cuts. Thankfully the thick blubber helps protect the seals from any serious harm, but ouch, it still looks sore. Fighting and mating will go hand-in-hand over the next few weeks and gradually the Farnes colony will return to normal, ready for another year.
Sunday, 30 November 2008
The South Wamses, the current champion, is home to over 350 and it was good to catch up with a few old friends that I’ve come to recognise over the years (yes, some females will pup in the same parts of the same island from year-to-year). The great news is that the island was brimming with second-coat pups including one little fella we hadn’t seen for a few weeks; Archie. It was clearly Archie as his red mark on his tail flipper gave him away but he’s changed. Like Nemo and Lucky, he’s made it. His second coat announces that he’s ready for the brave new world of the Farne Islands. Like all our pups, we wish him good luck and I suspect it won’t be the last time we see this wee chap on the islands.
However it isn’t all good news, it never is. It was very evident that most pups born on the north or east edge of the colonies have experienced great losses. The brunt of the storm had been felt on several islands and lifeless corpses were scattered across the colonies. As part of my job, I have to gather, tag and mark all dead pups found, and as I go though the process, I try not to ponder the difficult circumstances which they battled against, and lost. Mother Nature had done her job but she had done it too well.
However heads up, we’re getting some great success and mortality will be slightly below the 50% we expect on the islands. Since the first pup born in late September, the colonies now boast 1,114. As we head into the final week on the islands, a lot could change and a lot will, but you still with me? Keep reading stay tuned, as the islands are heading into December…
Saturday, 29 November 2008
Happy Birthday Bob
Today’s blog news from the islands comes with a slight difference. Forget the seals, the birds and the islands. Today it’s about the people behind the scenes, but more to the point, one particular individual…
Glad Tidings I skipper Bobby Pearson is 50 today – congratulations Bobby,
A BIG HAPPY BIRTHDAY from the islands!!
Thursday, 27 November 2008
Armed and Dangerous
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Even our shed has been taken over
On Brownsman, Seal pups are appearing everywhere on the island and the ‘second coat pups’ are becoming part of the furniture. The little blighters are getting everywhere and as the photos show, we’ve got one at the front door and another in the shed around the back of the island. Even the solar panel system has one living beneath it, so its home sweet home. However these are fairly gentle compared with what greeted me this morning, as a cow seal has decided to pup outside the front door of the cottage, so Mr Postman, forget beware of the dog, just beware of the seal! There’s nothing quiet like living on a small island in the North Sea and there really isn't a dull moment. I'm sure we'll have fun when we eventually come to leave the island, as we'll have a few seals to leap before getting to the boat.
However its the north beach which deserves some attention, after all, this blog and Autumnwatch would have not happened if it wasn't for that small colony on Brownsman, and I returned to see how our characters were getting on. It was easy to spot both Nemo and Lucky, as the young starlets appear very content and happy and so they should be. Both are now 'barrels' of blubber and they'll be soon off to discover what life is like below the waves. The north beach colony has been reasonably sheltered throughout the storms and its nice to see them doing well.
Whilst at the 'office' yesterday (well inside the Brownsman cottage), I was delighted to read all your messages because as most of you are aware, I’m new to this blogging business but thanks for all the support, from Aberdeen, to Bristol and far flung Hampshire! However I’ve still got plenty more to tell you and then maybe next year I'll be bringing you all the news, views and comments for a complete season from the islands. Watch this space...
Monday, 24 November 2008
The fight continues
Silence. Where not out of the woods yet, not by any stretch of the imagination...
Saturday, 22 November 2008
Fight for survival
The Otter story made the national headlines and top billing on the local Teletext news report, and even the mighty Terry Wogan mentioned it on his breakfast program. But every day is different out here and the Otter story is quickly forgotten as we've got trouble, big trouble.
The storm has been raging from the north or north-west for two days now and as each day passes the sea builds in strength, power and magnitude. The North Sea is a vast place and a northerly backed wind will whip across it, increasing the swell and the waves. There's nothing stopping it until its reaches its first breaking point; the Farne Islands. Welcome to the Farnes in late November. This morning has been incredible, as I'm witnessing waves on areas of the island I've not seen before and even standing in the centre of Brownsman I can feel the sea spray breaking over. The islands weather machine is recording a chill factor of -2.4 degrees and its only ten o'clock. This is the true raw strength of the North Sea and it's not stopping. Its brute force will ravage the islands leaving very little standing and the outcome looks bleak.
The Grey Seals out on the colonies will suffer and the fight for survival is none more apparent than on Nameless Rock, a small low lying island opposite Brownsman (see photo above). A small pup was born on their just over a week ago and its now under siege. The waves are breaking over the top, the tide is rising and it's helpless and there is nothing we can do. Will he make it? The swell is crushing everything in its path and it won't stop for a small seal pup. It's mother must be distraught but I don't fancy its chance, I really don't. I'll know the outcome in the next few hours as high tide approaches but I can only but pray for the little life on the rock.
This is just one small story of the bigger drama which will unfold over the next few days on the Farnes. Without doubt the pups are paying a heavy toll on the islands as the harsh mistress that is the North Sea will be washing them off the rocks and beaches around us. Its a cruel time of year and for young pups, they won't stand a chance if they don't find safety. Moving just a few yards further up the beach can make a huge difference between life and death, but I suspect its to late. I'm fearing the worst and those with a nervous disposition may not want to read tomorrows entry... The storm is raging.
Friday, 21 November 2008
You've Otter to be joking!
The footprints in the mud tell its own story. An Otter has reached the shores of the Farne Islands for the first time ever and this wasn’t just any ordinary site, this is Brownsman, an island three miles out in the North Sea off the north Northumberland coast.
It’s staggering that an Otter could survive the perilous journey out to the Farne Islands, especially Brownsman which is so far from shore. There was initial shock and disbelief amongst us as we looked down and discovered the tracks. Just how the animal made it over is almost beyond belief. It’s tough enough for an engine driven boat to navigate the currents and rip tides, but an Otter?! Wow!
This is the first occasion that Otters have been sighted on the Farnes and this probably reflects the boom in the population around the north-east region. The tracks were discovered in the muddy pathway where our old boardwalk was sited (it's been ripped up for a new walkway) and they run for about ninety foot up the island. Although we don't know the age of animal, it maybe safe to assume that it is a young animal exploring from its home territory and it may remain around the islands for some time to come. The rocky islands will offer it a safe place to live as it should find an abundant food supply even during the winter months.
Thursday, 20 November 2008
The one that got away!
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
Sunday, 16 November 2008
Mid-November and its hectic as usual on the Farne Islands. Its the height of the pupping season on the main island colonies, with huge numbers of new pups being born daily. The island of Brownsman has been invaded as we're now up to 93 pups whilst nearby Staple Island has tallied almost 200 pups. However we've not completed the count and North and South Wamses should be home to even more, so tomorrow should be another busy day.
Thursday, 13 November 2008
Despite the huge colonies of Seals scattered across the islands, its the small colony on the north end of Brownsman which I visit daily, just to keep a careful eye on Nemo and co. It's been an interesting start to life for little Nemo and what a life he has had (after only three weeks). He's had it all, swimming lessons at three days old, his mother driven off by another female before being accepted by yet another cow seal. Its been a turbulent start to life but he's nearly there. Little Nemo isn't so little these days and he's almost there. The white fur coat is gradually moulting away and his independent life is just around the corner. The day he leaves the shore of Brownsman will be a day of mixed feelings. I'll miss this little character, his crazy upbringing, but I'll be so relived that he has made it this far. Hand on heart, I didn't expect to bring good news but we're nearly there, just a few more days. Fingers crossed for little (or not so-little) Nemo. How the other seal pups are coping, only time will tell, but the lack of big northerly storms is helping the pups survive. Lets hope it stays that way.
Otherwise its all quiet on Brownsman as the dark nights close-in and bird migration starts dwindling away. The hustle and bustle of Farnes life is ebbing away for another year and it won't just be the Seals leaving soon, as the wardens prepare to head for the mainland for the winter. However it's not over yet, we've still got some seals to count.