Wednesday 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

Greetings all. I hope everyone has a fantastic Christmas and a Happy New year and many thanks for all the support and lovely messages people have left, especially Kezia and Jan - make sure you visit the islands next year and say hello!
This mainland life is a bit strange (just getting use to running water and carpets) but it won't be long before me and my team return (I've already sneaked back once since coming off and hope to return next week - I really can't stay away). Best wishes from me and the Farnes team.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Thankyou lads

Farnes team 2008 (back row, left to right) David Steel, Richard Berridge, Kieren Alexander, Simon Capell. (Front row, left to right), Adam Scott, Ian McNee, Matthew Lipton, Anthony Hurd. (Craig Edwards not pictured)

Anthony Hurd, Senior Warden Inner Farne (complete with Puffin chick!)

Kieren Alexander, Senior Warden Brownsman (in Zodiac boat)

So the dust has settled, the hangovers cleared, its over, the Farnes season has come to an end. From Devon to Lothian and beyond, the team departed Sunday morning and went their separate ways to catch up with friends and family and to relive the tails of the islands. As for me, well it really is a case of starting all over again as the winter months will enable me to recruit new staff, prepare the islands for the new season and in mid-March we’ll be starting all over again. Having just escaped, I’m already planning a return this Friday..I just can’t keep away.

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

Early morning start - the team move yet more equipment

Ready to go - various things to take away
Where not alone- a second coater keep a watchful eye on us

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
Saturday 6th December. It was an early morning start for the team but all was not well. The wind was blowing from an easterly direction which was producing large swell around the islands and that did not bode well for our departure. Surely not, surely not a final cruel twist to our season. With everything cleaned, packed away, fridge-freezer defrosted, food removed, water containers emptied, furniture stored, surely we were not about to be trapped on the day we were due to leave...
However as dawn broke over the horizon, so did the shape of a familiar sight - the boat. Bobby and co had made it, we were heading off and saying goodbye. The boat was fully armed with four boatmen all ready to help the loading and we were going, no mistakes this time. The operation was as swift as ever, as everyone went about loading all the equipment and making sure we departed Brownsman in fine style. So that was it, we were off and just after 10am, the ropes were cast and we departed the island for the last time this year.
Its a sad moment for all concerned, as we were leaving 'home', having been living out here since late March. However I'll be back to fight another year but for some wardens, its the end of an era as contracts have expired and some won't return. This would be a big farewell for those lads as they head for pastures new over the forthcoming months.
However the job was not complete, as we popped the bubbly, celebrated and cheered a great season. We arrived in the small Northumberland fishing village of Seahouses just after 10:30 and we went about unloading, and storing everything for the winter. All the recycling and rubbish were sorted (we don't have bin-men out there!), the Zodiacs dismantled, computers locked away and that was it. The season of 2008 was over. As usual the team had one final night together as we stayed in Seahouses for the evening, catching up with friends and discussing the highs and lows of a great season. Eventually sometime in the small hours (and full of beer) we went to bed, having completed the mission - we were off and welcome to the mainland.
Thanks for every ones kind words and support but stick with me all this week as I'll bring you stories of the season from the wardens who made it to the seals which we counted. Don't go anywhere, I'm not finished just yet...

Thursday 4 December 2008

Close the Door!

This morning on the south end of Brownsman, yes another storm

An active colony, mating Grey Seals by Brownsman pond
Brownsman seal colony near the pond, starting to 'thin out'
My day started at 4am as I woke to thundering wind blasting the cottage on Brownsman and I opened my eyes wondering what had gone wrong. Wind? Surely not, the forecast was for calm conditions or so I thought. I soon realised that I wasn't dreaming as a storm force gale was lashing the south end of the islands. Oh dear, this is the last thing we needed with just a few days to go and this was very unexpected. However it was a storm and I had to venture down to the jetty to check everything and ensure all was safe from the North Sea, which was a bubbling frenzy. Following the unexpected early start, we now have to start wondering whether we'll actually get off on Saturday...
Regardless of our perils, the seals don't care although its almost the end game for them as well. The north beach of Brownsman is becoming deserted, like many of the Farne seal colonies, as successful cow seals are now mating before returning to the sea to put on valuable weight for the winter. The once white fluffy pups are now moulting into second coats and are well on their way to becoming the next generation of Farne seals. These little wanderers will soon follow their mothers into the sea and face the trials and tribulations of life as a seal and the islands will soon become empty once again. However its still reasonably busy, as pups will continue to be born on the islands throughout December but it'll be just a small handful of late stragglers which will do so.

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...

Packed and ready to go, Inner Farne closes

Home for nine months, the Pele Tower of Inner Farne

The wardens have left the building. Inner Farne is closed. Having been occupied since 27th March, the 15th century Pele Tower finally closed late yesterday evening as the team moved to Brownsman for the final few days on the islands. All the washing, cleaning and hovering was complete, everything was packed away from the digital box to the 'fine china' and it was ready to say goodbye. The Pele tower has taken on some major changes over the last few years, with some big improvements including solar energy and a complete set of new furniture, but this was all bubbled wrapped and shut down as one island was closed, with just one to go. We'll not be back to live on Inner Farne until next spring, so we wished it good luck and departed east.
Today was different again, as it was another day of publicity for the Farnes as the local BBC current affairs program 'Inside Out' arrived on Brownsman to follow up the Otter story from earlier in the month. The day went smoothly, as they had brought Northumberland Wildlife Trust Otter expert Kevin O'Hara with them to discuss the finer points of the sighting and to fire the questions my way. We went through the motions of producing a short piece to camera, with an interview discussing the exciting discovery and all went well. The BBC team were delighted with the day (despite no Otter), as they got their story and the footage, especially the dramatic shots of the mainland covered in snow. However nothing prepares you for Grey Seals up close, and there was some shock amongst the team, especially when one of the Bulls shouted at the cameraman (yes he jumped and then ran...). The bulls are mean tough machines and no one messes.

So just 'another day' on this rock and just a few days to go, but we have a final mission with the seals on Friday and then we can leave, if weather allows...

Tuesday 2 December 2008

The final week

A bloody bull seal ready to fight another day

A Little Auk - seen in good numbers each autumn around the islands (by Alex Ash)

Inner Farne with the Pele Tower in the background
Its now December and although there is very little evidence of Christmas on the islands, the low temperatures and the limited daylight hours, reminds us otherwise. So it’s the final week out on the islands, as nine months living on the Farnes comes to a close. However its not finished yet, as we’ve got plenty to do, from packing up the islands, to counting more seals, so forget sitting around waiting for Saturday's boat, we’ve got work to do!

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.
As for us, we've nearly completed the task on Inner Farne and we'll head back east, to Brownsman for the final week and hopefully a seal count on Friday. Fingers crossed for some good weather...