Thursday, 27 June 2013

Home From Northumberland


Well, after 8 wonderful days in my home county of Northumbria I'm now home - in Rugby.  Rugby is about as far from the sea as you can get in the UK and how I'm going to miss the sounds and smells of the coastal area.  Oh, and the fresh fish that goes so well with the chip-shop chips ;-).

I've taken so many photos that there's no way I can put them in my blog - so I guess some will just end up on Flickr (kelticsteve-back in harness)

The countryside - wonderful.  The people - great.  The Farnes - as always spectacular!  I really need to say that my time has been made about as good as it could ever get by the hospitality of the guys at Serenity Boats, Seahouses.

My heartfelt thanks has to go to Andrew - skipper of Serenity II,  Toby - skipper of Serenity and the solid guys who crew the boats.  Of course the 'girls' - the people on point in the kiosk at Seahouses harbour - need a special mention.  Thanks for the warmth of your reception of all Serenity's guests.

Andrew Douglas - Skipper - Concentrating in the Swell 

The Unexpected Highlight - Jumpling Exodus

I have been thrilled with the photographic opportunities that the stable platform that Serenity II affords.  The quick eyes of Andrew and his crew rarely miss any potentially good shots which present themselves on any of the sailings I have been on.

All of the wildlife and its behaviour is fascinating at this time of year - the Breeding Season.  

The Puffins were braving the thuggish Black-Headed Gulls which were trying to steal the Puffin's hard-won Sand Eel catch (see previous blog pages).
The Terns attack visitors to the islands, protecting their young chicks from these "bipedal predators" - even if we are only armed with our cameras. Kittiwakes were showing off their chicks and even Razorbills were sitting on eggs or brooding their young.
Shags were brooding the most Pterodactyl-looking chicks I've ever seen.
Black-backed and Herring Gulls were predating whatever they could opportunistically take.  If you're not squeamish you can see a shot of a Black-Backed Gull taking a Guillemot Jumpling on my Flickr photostream.

The thing that will stick in my mind's eye will be the Guillemot Jumpling exodus as they were leaving for the Farne Deeps or the Dogger Bank.

Cut and paste the following link into your browser to hear a sound file of the commotion which I recorded under the Staple Island cliffs as the little darlings were jumping:

For those of you who know the story of the Guillemot Jumplings the following will be no revelation but for any reader who doesn't know the story of these brave little chicks .... read on.

By way of an introduction you need to know that when most birds leave their nest for the first time, they normally fly.  This is known as 'fledging' so the chicks are called 'fledglings'.  The Guillemot chicks have been born and brooded on ledges or in crevices on the cliff face and their wings do not form fully before they leave the 'nest'.  They either jump from their cliff-based 'home' or they are pushed by 'mum' which causes them to 'bounce' all the way down to the water below, where 'dad' is waiting for the chick so he can shepherd it to feeding grounds in the Dogger Bank or the Farne Deeps.  Since the chicks don't 'fledge' but rather jump they are aptly named 'Jumplings'.

After the chick hits the water it immediately starts to make the 'cheeping' sound you can hear on the sound file above.  You can hear the calling of the parent birds as they seek to link up.  The pair then paddle away - some 20-40 miles to the place where 'dad' can teach the youngster to catch its food and eventually fly.

On Tuesday morning there were one or two Jumplings in the water - on Tuesday night the sea was heaving with them!  The following series of photographs may give a feeling for what we saw from our ringside seat on the boat on Tuesday night (25th June).  I'll never forget that night, it was really special.

OK son, are you ready to jump?

Yep, I think I'm ready.

Good lad, I knew you could do it

Right, I'm in - but where are you dad?

Here I am son

Don't you leave me dad, I'm scared

It's OK son, we'll make this together ....

OK dad, I'm ready to paddle

Are we there yet dad?  It's cold and wet and I'm tired already ....

And so they paddle off into the sunset - only a few tens of miles to go.

And the sun sets over Bamburgh Castle
Now I'm home and my trip is just a set of photos and memories - but what memories.  Big skies, big tides, thousands upon thousands of birds - and of course great company with the Serenity team.  

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Beautiful Farne's - 23rd June 2013

Well, the weather here has been quite changeable.  A period of sunshine and quiet and then, within half an hour, it can be overcast and chucking it down!  It's been lovely and warm in the sun and then windy and cold and it's had me reaching for my heavy jacket and waterproofs.  Still - if you want the beauty of these islands you just have to take the wet with the dry.

The shot at the head of the page is the Inner Farne Light taken on an evening trip to sea last night.  There was a tantalising blue patch of sky which just wouldn't catch up with us so we had a fairly overcast sail around the islands.  

The thing is, when the weather changes - so do the islands and the seascape.  Who needs clear skies when every variation in the weather brings a beauty of its own?  Of course there are extremes that I wouldn't like to encounter - such as those which caused the demise of the Children's Friend below.
BK177 - "Children's Friend" - One of 250 wrecks in the Farnes

Looking further out towards the Eastern edge of the Farnes we had a great view of the Longstone Light .....

The Longstone Light

This shot was taken not far from the site of the wreck of the "Forfarshire" which lies at the heart of the story of the bravery of William and Grace Darling.  The father and daughter team braved difficult seas in the early hours of the morning to row from the Longstone to rescue survivors of the wreck who had become stranded on the rocks of Big Harcar island.  Even in Serenity II with its two powerful diesel engines we could sense the power of the seas.  My oh my, do I respect Grace and her dad!!

All-in-all it was a good end to an interesting day.  Oh and of course I can't close without mentioning the wonderful Farne's wildlife.  Apart from the birds (which I'll post loads of photos of) there are also the "Atlantic Greys" like the one below, enjoying a meander through some kelp.

And so endeth another day.  I think the Farnes must be an example of another illustration of how some of the most beautiful aspects of Creation can also be the most dangerous and testing.  

I think I'll close this post with some words from Psalm 107:

[23] Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters.  [24] They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. [25] For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. [26] They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. [27] They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits’ end. [28] Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. [29] He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. [30] They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. 

Peace to all ....

Friday, 21 June 2013

A Newbies First Blog

Today's Blog (21st June 2013)

This is my very first attempt at writing a blog - so mistakes here we come!  This is more for my memories than anything else - but you're more than welcome to listen in to my unpacking of my days if you choose to do so.  Maybe you'll be as blessed with my musings as I feel :-).

Anyway this first upload is by way of a draft I suppose.  I can't experiment before I go live (apparently) so keep your laughter to a quiet roar please.

I've Just returned from a trip around the Farnes with Serenity Boats. I have to say that with my wildlife photographer's hat on - these guys are the best.  Thanks to Andrew and crew.

I'm going to experiment with adding Photos from the trip as I go.  I suspect I'm going to have to change my page layout - but nevertheless here goes

It's been a great week so far.  Peaceful - even amidst the noise of the colonies of seabirds breeding all over the Farnes.  I guess I've got salt in my blood because I can't get enough of the sea and I really do have a thing about these islands.

I can really understand how St. Cuthbert found them to be a place of serenity and how they quietened his spirit. For those of you who will understand - I think that here I have found a "thin place".  There's something about being cut off from the mainland which seems quite appealing - although we can only do it in short bursts - courtesy of the National Trust.

We can't be sure exactly where Cuthbert built his cell but we do have a general idea - and I have to say that it is a pretty beautiful setting (when the weather is fair and I have food in my stomach).  I'm not sure how I'd have managed in his day (7th century) without waterproofs and having to scratch a living out of some difficult terrain.

Having said this, his aim wasn't personal comfort but rather it appears to have been to draw apart into seclusion to escape the political machinations of a church which seemed to be getting far more involved in the gaining of power and influence than in the pursuit of the purity of the early church's view of humanity and spirituality (of course I understand that the early church had it's own problems in this respect too).

Anyway - Inner Farne, (Cuthbert's chosen island) is a beautiful place and I envy the National Trust wardens who can live here for 9 months of the year.  In reality I think they must suffer what some people would think of as privations - but they are nothing like those experienced by Cuthbert.

Of course the beauty of the surroundings, the seasonal variations, the ever changing days and the magnificent wildlife offer their own rewards over and against doing without some of the "stuff" which seems so important to many people today (myself included?).

Go for it NT wardens - you rock!!

On to some photography ......

Here's a shot of an Arctic Tern - hovering, as it gets ready to attack a visitor to the islands because it is trying to protect its mate and its young .  Click on the photo to get it full size.

Oh, and of course, here's the little fella the Tern is protecting from these nasty invading humans - Aaahhh :

Oh, then of course there are the nasty attacking natural-world "baddies" who want to take what others have worked hard to collect to feed and care for their own families.  In the following shot you see a Black Headed Gull trying to take the Sand Eels out of the mouth of a Puffin which has been out at sea fishing for these things while the Gull has been "swanning" around waiting for him to come back to provide him with an easy meal.  You'll be pleased to know (I think) that the Gull didn't succedd because the plucky little Puffin outflew and outran him!!  Yeah!  Puffins 1 Gulls 0 !!

And out of the 400 or so shots I took today I'll close with this one of a couple of Razorbills having a conflab .... "I wonder if these strange-looking humans realise how clumsy they look bobbing around on the sea on their noisy bits of machinery.  If God had intended them to be on the sea surely He'd have given them webbed feet.  Never mind, they always go away when it's dark or the weather is bad"

Not so my feathered friends - rain and wind may be forecast but I'll be out again to see you if the boat is putting to sea tomorrow :-)

Well that's the first blog - let's see how it turns out - and remember if you really need to comment - be kind 'cos it's my first attempt!