Thursday, 11 April 2013

Stranded Without a Coat!

14th April.  I have some catching up to do on the blog having spent an interesting week birding on the Northumberland coast.

Sunday saw Sam and I stranded on St Mary’s Island along with friends Hilary, Kelsey and Mark.  Before leaving for the ordeal I had thrown away my desert island discs, book, bible and luxury item and replaced them in my bag with a decent supply of food and a bottle of wine.  Having arranged the stranding sometime ago fingers had been crossed for decent weather and the sun did shine.  This wasn’t primarily arranged as a bird-watching trip, but more of an all round experience away from the crowd, hopefully giving some good chances of photography.  Sadly the giant waves battering the island did not materialise, but the chance for photography was still there.  I’m making progress into manual mode these days.  Kelsey took the opportunity to do some water colour work on the island and the end results were very good.  Sam and I hoped to have a close encounter with a Seal!

The day started well with a Common Seal laid out nicely on the rocks allowing us a close encounter.  Although, not too close.  Initially there were still some other folk on ‘our’ island.  They eventually disappeared, although had to be reminded that the tide was about to cut them off from civilisation.  It reminded me that there are many folk who seem to need to be guided throughout life.  I would have thought that if you are on an island which is about to be cut off by the tide that you would at least make some mental effort to keep an eye on your situation.  I suppose it’s a case of why make the effort if someone else does it for you!  Anyway, they did eventually go and we were left in peace.  The Common Seal was very obliging.  Other Common Seals were seen in the sea, but unfortunately just out of reach of the lens.

The Common Seal was the highlight of the day, but this was closely followed by a new life experience.  I walked to the top of St Mary’s Lighthouse.  It was great to have the Lighthouse to ourselves.  The lighthouse was built in 1898 using 645 blocks of stone and 750,000 bricks.  There are 137 steps to the top.  Now that might not sound a lot of steps, but I can assure you that when carrying camera gear on your back and a tripod in hand, having drunk a little wine, getting to the top is demanding.  Add to that the fact I don’t like heights, then I think I coped very well!  I have to admit Sam took charge of the tripod for most of the time.  Thanks Sam.  Great views from the top, although the sun and dirty windows made viewing and photography a bit difficult.  I guess the window cleaner doesn’t go up too often!

Sam...A guy heading for the top!

A highlight!

Having come down from a high, it wasn’t long before I was watching my first Sandwich Terns of the year.  One flew north, and a little later four dived for fish near to the lighthouse.  As Sam reminded us, on several occasions, the Common Seal was still here!

I must mention the panic that set in.  No, it wasn’t caused by the feeling of isolation, but the simple fact that my coat went missing.  Who had taken it was the question?  Who was the culprit?  There were not many suspects to choose from.  I was sure I hadn’t had it on when we went to the top of the lighthouse, but simply could not find it anywhere!  There was only one thing to do.  Yes, climb the 137 steps again!  So my first trip ever to the top of the lighthouse was quickly followed by a second visit.  I saw no Puffins today, but there was an awful lot of puffin’ from me!  It wasn’t until I had returned to earth that I managed to track down the damn coat.  I hadn’t put it on and it was safely at home.  Thankfully Sam had a spare coat, as it was cold out there.  I now think I suit army camouflage as it added some ruggedness to the usual classy look.  I’ve decided I must have one like it, such were the compliments I was receiving regarding my new style.  The Common Seal was still there!

A long way down.

A long way up...especially the second time!

Sam and I got the chance of some long exposure photography practice whilst also watching a bit of birdlife.  Waders seen were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, seven Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew.  Red-throated Divers were seen flying both north and south, whilst Eider and Kittiwake were around in numbers.  Rock Pipit was included in our list of twenty-seven bird species on the day.  Not a long list but it was all about experiencing the atmosphere and it was great to have the island to ourselves for over four hours.  Sadly time flew by and it wasn’t long before the masses were beginning to invade our island again.

Some slow shutter practice

 It had been a cold day but nothing approaching the cold Sam and I had to face for the following few days on the Northumberland coast.  We never the less survived and had a lot of laughs along with some decent birding and other experiences. :-)  More of that anon.

The Common Seal was still there when we left! :-)

Strandings on St Mary’s Island, with access to the lighthouse and other facilities can be arranged via staff on the island.


  1. Interesting tale Brian , any Island large or small is a magical place when the tides in , the only problem can be at St Mary's is you could find yourself not alone but in the company of a gang of youths flushing every bird in sight !!
    News to me about the access sounds good !

    1. Yes Brian, it can be noisy around St Mary's.

      The access idea is a good one. Only problem is it is quite expensive which really means you need a large group, which kind of defeats the purpose. We were lucky simply because circumstances worked in our favour and we got a two thirds discount which meant we didn't require numbers to attend. It was a very nice experience. Cheers.

  2. Nice idea. Well told.
    Look forward to "not seeing you" in camouflage.

    1. Cheers John.
      Ha, Don't worry I'll let you know if I'm there.

  3. Replies
    1. I'm pleased you enjoyed the day Mark.

  4. Cheers Brian, yes I'd be happy to be stranded like that again, lol!