‘Springwatch’? We’ve got everything right here!

20160524_065845We hear that BBC’s Springwatch is going to be filming on the Farne Islands again for the new series of this extraordinary live programme, shortly to be nightly on our screens. Whether it’s the puffins, gannets or guillemots – of whom there are currently thousands stinking out the islands with their guano – the Farnes have no shortage of wonderful bird life during the breeding season with which to delight the audience, and that is without mentioning the seals whose inquisitive antics always draw the cameras.

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But on our own little beach trundle this morning it was all too obvious what wonders this area of Northumberland provides by way of a daily feast, the sea fret yielding gradually to intense sunlight upon the incoming tide which had even cast up a little pink sea monster, beautifully disposed upon the sands.

20160524_065220On a less glamorous, more everyday level, as May deepens into the lushness of June, everything around us on our daily perambulations seems remarkable. The heath behind the dunes and everyone’s gardens never look lovelier than now: birds never more songful; creatures  – great and small – never busier. Skylarks abound, and always do, but summer warbling visitors of all kinds are singing away from every type of bush. We have lost the curlews inland for now but above us the swallows dart and the martins chirrup. The dunes are drilled full of sand martin holes and the terns fight each other, over what we cannot know.

20160524_065933On the stone wall which separates his haunt from the hares running amok in the neighbouring field of winter barley, father pheasant patrols in the early morning mist. Fearlessly, he addresses the crow who comes too close to his family concealed nearby. Every year it is the same.

20160524_071804On the beach, near the horrid pool, the lumbering and much-loved toads have reappeared, mated and now – encouraged by the sun – their tiny offspring have wriggled into life, thousands of them 20160507_072124dancing for joy in their brackish backwater, straining for growth even as the water  – such as there is – recedes. How remarkable that year after year the parents return to find this little pool – a stone’s throw from the sea – retaining enough rain water (the only pool for more than a mile) to give their progeny a chance.

All that without even mentioning our nesting gulls! Finding the spikes a very acceptable sprung interior for the wads of dried vegetation they’ve pushed between them, affording the couple what looks like a very comfortable bed, they are once again ensconced on the chimney stack, awaiting the birth of this year’s brood.  Up there they now contend daily with our jackdaw family, whose nest is in the rear chimney, laying down the law to them regarding when to approach. Come one, come all, I say.

 

Wonders of the deep and life’s whirlygig

Basking sharkOut within the sound between the islands, a basking shark takes his ease, pootling about, mouth open, as the summer calm and warmth persist unseasonably. Andrew took this photo from his boat, incredulous at the sight of such an infrequent visitor to our normally cold coastal waters. Our gentle, gigantic friend has been lurking around for a couple of weeks now, delighted with the tranquility no doubt and the prolific plankton. We are all thrilled to welcome him and enjoy his company; stay as long as you like, we call to him.

20140921_073201Within the horrid pool two crabs are feasting on limpets, the empty shells of their prey cast aside like so much litter. Their antics catch my attention in the dim morning light and I in turn catch Kemo Sabe’s with my focused pondering : anything lurking there is notable, so weird and harrowing an atmosphere pertains. The mutability of the horrid pool fascinates us both.  The residual water is refreshed by most high tides but, despite this, its depths change colour disturbingly:  sometimes an oily blue, mysterious as the night; sometimes a purple; occasionally clear and clean – as today – revealing the little monsters at their meal. An exciting homely diversion and rare sign of life in what is otherwise a deadly, despondent reservoir.  Then, on our afternoon tramp, we see that the whirligig of time has brought in his revenges. Instead of limpet shells, the crabs’ carcases are now detritus, the backs torn from the bodies, the flesh eaten, probably by one of the many herons hunting round the rocks these days. Such is life. Short and sweet. Sad, nevertheless.

A fatally injured cat, white, pale grey and perfect, lies dead in the middle of the road near the dunes as we drive down to begin our morning run. Its expression is peaceful once it is moved, as though sleeping, to the pavement. Nine lives lived. On the beach, not far from the horrid pool, a young puffin, left over from the exodus which has stripped him of his friends, hobbles disconsolately into the safety of the sea, where nature intended him to thrive. He could not leave with the others and he will not survive long, injured as he is. We pass by, without upsetting him, commending his little soul to the Great Spirit. The geese are returning, croaking maniacally, heralding crispness in the air which must perforce arrive some time soon. Life and death, big and small. On and on, round and round we go. Ordinary and extraordinary.

 

Three years on, and counting

20140911_065258Last week on the beach we met some visiting New Yorkers  who were excited about seeing puffins on the boat trip they’d booked for the following day. Their dismay was palpable when we said that the puffins had already abandoned the Farnes for a life in the North Sea over the coming months; they really took some convincing that despite their desperate desire to see the puffin population, it simply would be impossible.  By mid-September, having raised their jumplings and seen them off into the watery world they would thereafter call home, instinct had driven them up and away to an adventurous life at sea, away from land until their webbed feet touch our rocks again next spring. However much the visitors may have wanted – nay expected – to see our iconic seabirds, they were confronted by a simple fact of nature:  the birds have their own agenda, and their own way of life. The winter months are their secret, when unseen and unwitnessed, they confront uncertainty  – surely something they enjoy.

220px-Emberiza_hortulana_1The sadness of saying goodbye to summer visitors like the puffins and the swallows, some of which are still diving about round the dunes and returning to the church porch where they were born, is balanced by the beauty of the quietness they leave behind; the mist rises and falls as the hours unfold, revealing further wonders of a world remade after the birds have been abounding. No less than eight young herons, tall and touching, practise identifying the pond life which will sustain them, temporarily drawing strength and confidence from a togetherness on the mere which will desert them once they mature. Safe for now from its human hunters in southern Europe, an ortolan bunting lands on Inner Farne; we pray it remains safe, though we will not see it again and will never be sure. Like daily life itself, we take it step by step, pondering on the preciousness of life, whether it be the junior frog I spotted climbing slowly across the fossils round our pond – welcome to a different environment young Pardiggle – or the beginning of my third year. Every dawn is different, every sea remarkable. Yesterday we had the first real rain since we can’t remember when. Thursday we hope our Scottish neighbours will want to stay with us. Those in danger far from home endure unimaginable pain. I lie at Kemo Sabe’s feet. Tomorrow is another day and I humbly give myself up to it.