Skokholm as in Stoke ’em (Part 3)

Thursday and Friday

Though still badly stressed by the necessity of interacting with so many strangers, the group are becoming less strange, and as I expected, my first impressions were way off the mark. Part of the problem for me is that some of them are already in groups. The two eldest are Norma and John, who are entering their ninth decade, and they, with Dorothea, and, I think Liz, form the committee of a walking group which has been active for many years. Here is the cheerful and charming Dorothea with the equally charming Richard in the Lighthouse. 

John seems quit frail and taciturn, but Norma, his partner, is very interesting to talk to, as is their friend Liz. We talked about Aldermaston where she lives, and the more secret bomb factory at Burghfield, both places I knew well when living in Reading in my university holidays.  The other woman who is not part of this group is “Jessica”, and we have become quite good friends despite my comparing her hairstyle to Grayson Perry! Here she is talking to Dave who has unfortunately sprouted an extra arm! I have yet to learn how to strike a balance between spontaneity and composition when photographing people.

Jessica and I  have much in common –  in particular a liking for being alone. She too is married, but whereas the absence of my wife Thelma is due to temperament, her husband has chronic pain from a hernia operation which went wrong. Below are two more of the ringing team –  Liz and Geoff.I got to know them over the out-door dinner table. Geoff is another camera nerd, so we happily swapped acronyms, and when I struggled to hear him, Liz told him in an engagingly bossy way to “Take your hand away from your mouth!” They live near Newark and have a daughter with wanderlust. She evidently had a go at marriage but decided it was not for her and is now living on her own in Berlin. 

The coastal vegetation is perhaps the most important aspect of the ecology of the island. My knowledge of botany runs out after campion, thrift, pansy, pimpernel, sorrel and goldenrod, but there are dozens more species in abundance here, all protected from the incursion of bracken by their tolerance of salt spray.

There are one or two colonies of thrift which have formed big clumps, like miniature hobbit houses. One in particular reminded me of the Neolithic half- buried dwellings at Skara Brae in Orkney.

All round the edge of the island are the massive rock formations which make up the cliffs. It’s difficult to imagine the forces which upended these huge slabs of what is  now red sandstone, the colour varying between the dark chocolate of the naked rock to sage, orange or grey depending on the type of lichens growing on it. 

The other members of  the ringing team are Adrian and Jackie. He is gruff voiced, rather dour looking and walks with a stick, which doesn’t do anything for his joie-de-vivre, but a wry smile reveals a good sense of humour and a kind disposition. He seems to be the boss ringer. Jackie was friendly at first, and we talked about our origins, she from Swansea and living in Hampshire, me from Wiltshire and living in Carmarthenshire. However, I must have said something to offend her because she avoided speaking to me after the second day. My gut mini-brain didn’t like this at all and cranked up the stomach acid. The picture I took of Adrian has unfortunately got lost, and Jackie preferred not to be photographed. 

Our departure is scheduled for Friday morning. The wind has moved round from North to North-West and brought cloud and some feeble rain. This should be better for getting out of the harbour, which is on the South-East side, but we may not know until the last minute. Richard tells of times when all the luggage had been unloaded at the jetty, but then had to be reloaded and carried back to wait another day – or two.

The Ringers are still complaining that there are so few migrants – brings to mind images of rare birds picking fruit, doing cleaning jobs and running the NHS. I pack waterproofs and a peanut butter and marmalade sandwich with a flask of coffee and some fruit and biscuits. The rain peters out but the wind is still strong. I keep hoping for a Peregrine or even a Kestrel, both resident species here, but no luck. After my lunch in the hide called “Howard’s End”, so called because Howard built it, the sun comes out and most of us meet up for a tour of the lighthouse, as shown in the pictures above. After that we raid the cunningly devised stone nest boxes set up for Storm Petrels, and Richard shows us one of the chicks:

I hurry back to do some macro (close-up) work before the light goes. The Canon 5DS full-frame camera with a Sigma 105 macro lens is rigged on the tripod. I spot some shiny green flies clustered on something nasty. Moving very slowly I position the lens about 100mm from them. The image stabilisation and auto-focus are turned off and the live view screen turned on. To achieve focus I must put my x2.5 glasses on, greatly magnify the image on the screen and very carefully tweak the focus ring until the target area is sharp. I then set a 10 second delay and fire the shutter. The setting is 1000/sec at f2.8, ISO 640. In the evening I give a short picture show with commentary and dish out cards. It seems to go down well, and since there is more left in my box of Chilean Merlot than I expected, I celebrate with an extra glass of wine. So to bed, telling my body clock to be sure to wake at 6am. 

It’s a fine morning and I’m on schedule for my bags to be ready for the dumper truck at 7:15, so I snatch a few minutes to get some more pictures:The truck arrives and is loaded up for the first trip down to the harbour, where we have a long wait until the boat arrives at 8:30. I have a brief chance to catch Kirsty, but missed her partner Steve. They are the two long-term volunteers working here. Kirsty is off to Mauritius on a placement next year so I told her about our stay there with Carl Jones many years ago.
Then the hard work begins. We form a human chain and unload the bags from the next group just arriving. Once they are disembarked we then lug all our bags on board and finally take our seats around the luggage mountain. I’m glad to see that at least something was caught in these box traps:

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