After an immense breakfast, I left the car at The Clock House, (on account of completely forgetting to book a spot at the farm nearer the jetty in St Martins Haven, which was actually a bit of a result as it meant I didn’t have to pay.. perhaps I should be more disorganised in future?), and Tim dropped me and our luggage down at the beach. He then drove the mile or so back up the hill to park the car securely at the farm for the next four days. All the other members of the group did the same thing leaving me alone with a pile of rucksacks, camera gear, tripods and coolboxes which had to be ferried from the beach, to the end of the jetty where the boat would soon be arriving. Time for the desk-worker to get some exercise... thankfully it was typical English summer weather and a gentle misty rain kept me nice and cool as I trudged like a donkey back and forth along the steps and down the ramp loaded up with very heavy gear.
The boat crossing was as bad as I had feared – the skipper was a happy chap though and made it slightly more bearable. The boat was lurching in all directions for a full fifteen minutes before we rounded the headland into the quieter bay of the island where we moored up to a waiting chain of people snaking up the steps on the face of the cliff, ready to offload our gear. The skies were filled with birds circling the boat and whizzing past it with the wind. The skipper got me off first and I steadied myself before climbing to the top of the cliff to join the end of the chain and start ferrying luggage once more on to the top of the island where a tiny tractor and trailer had backed down the path to meet us.
By lunchtime we (and all our gear) had made it to the residents block and unpacked our belongings, which for me consisted of simply rolling out my sleeping bag on the bottom bunk and sliding my rucksack underneath. Tim was in the bed next to me and David on the bunk above, then Kurt next to Tim and Gail at the other end of the room by the window. It was clean and basic, but on an island covered in Manx Shearwaters that can only be seen at night, I had not expected to be getting much sleep anyway to be honest. The other 3 ladies shared another room down the hall.
Once all the day trippers had left the island (about 430pm) it belonged to the 12 residents (of which our group were 7), 3 researchers, 2 wardens and a few volunteers. Bliss.
The first place people head to see the Puffins is "The Wick" on the southern side of the island, where they fly in towards you (at a ridiculous speed) with beaks full of Sand-eels for their young and crash-land on the soft daisies sometimes inches from your feet. Amazing experience - you cannot help but smile at the antics of these small comical birds.
Every night at 9pm (very awkward time of day for photographers) there is a "bird log" session which is not actually restricted to birds, but has been going since the 40s when researchers log all bird sightings, behaviour and numbers. Anything significant is written on the chalk board in the common room along with the time and location and all residents are welcome to attend and contribute anything they have seen during the day/night, be it bird, butterfly or paupoise etc.
Following sundown and bird log, there is a fair wait before you start to hear the "Manxies" come back around midnight.... flying back from the ocean down into their burrows with food for their young.... in their thousands... making one hell of a racket! but an awesome one at that.
No flash photography at night and our torches were all wrapped in red electrical tape so as not to blind the birds and ultimately make them prey for the Gulls and Peregrines. On the walk out in the pitch black to see the birds, it was a surprise to be tiptoeing around hundreds of toads too... not something I expected on a coastal island for some reason but the place is overrun with them at night - probably a good thing for me as they gobble up biting insects too... not that I saw, heard or got bitten by anything the entire trip. Result.
“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins