The boat which will ferry us to Inner Farne Island and the bird sanctuary looks like a big rowboat with a little wooden cabin tacked onto the front, and the queue waiting to board is very long. Our hearts sink. People pile on, one after the other, until the boat looks like a colorful octopus with hundreds of arms and legs hanging over the edge, but still more climb in. When it is crammed full, six of us are still waiting. Another boat, painted orange and red and yellow, slides into the mooring when the full one putts away, and the 6 of us pick our seats out of the 50 or so available. The bad news is that with so little weight, the boat rides high on the water. The wind is blowing pretty hard, so we are told to sit near the cabin or get a soaking. We get soaked anyway, but the sun is shining and we don’t care.
Friends and family who have visited the island told us to wear hats. I thought this was British overstatement, but took a hat anyway. When we near the dock at Inner Farne, a crowd waiting to leave the island lines the path leading up the hill, all looking at something. As soon as we start up the hill, we realize they are looking at nesting birds right at their feet. Tern chicks wander onto the path while their mothers swoop, screaming, towards the interlopers. Bernard hands his hat to Lora and puts the red hood of his jacket over his head, which is not only higher than anyone else’s, but is now red. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a tern magnet. They attack his head relentlessly until we are past the danger of treading on the chicks. It is frightening. Hitchcock must have been here before he made his film, THE BIRDS. But while they are terrifying parents, the terns are beautiful to look at, their glistening white feathers separated by careful lines from the deep velvety brown of their heads.
Once through Tern territory, we begin to see droll little puffins, their bright beaks and heavily made- up eyes peering out at us – and at the gulls circling overhead waiting to snatch a curious chick emerging from its burrow. We never expected to be as close as this to the nesting birds. At the edge of the cliffs, cormorants and gulls have built comfy nests on the tiniest of ledges. Some of the young birds are pretty big, and we are afraid one fall over into the sea, but they don’t. We could touch them we are so close, but they don’t seem concerned at all, intent as they are on keeping their babies warm and safe.
We spend a good hour on this very small island, gleefully discovering new nests and photographing them, but the experience is far more than a mere tourist attraction. It is more like being allowed to be a part of their wild lives in this windy place, if only for a brief time, accepted as part of the environment while they get on with perpetuating their species. If only human beings could just do what is in front of them to do, instead of nosing around in other people’s business, getting us all into trouble.
- York minster and Belford