SEALS ON BARDSEY

Bardsey Island – in Welsh Ynys Enlli, the Island of the Currents – is off the coast of Gwynedd.

Nature Diary by Chris Kinsey

Bardsey seal

Getting on or off Ynys Enlli at a set time is never guaranteed. On the 15th June fierce westerly storms seemed intent on blasting us off Llyn. White horses in the bay at Cricieth surged the news that Saturday’s sailing would be cancelled but it surprised me to hear Colin Evans, the boatman, say, “But Sunday looks good.”

We found a caravan at Rhydlios for the deluges of ‘Bloomsday’ and lay watching grey clouds sail whilst listening to episodes of James Joyce’s Ulysses on the radio. Two swallows scissored by and snipped a patch of blue. A cock sparrow with a beak full of blond grass dropped it to chase a hen over a barn – the blades wafted east not west. We put our waterproofs on and went out.

The stone-hedged lanes were red with campion, honeysuckle and lacy sorrel. Magnificent foxgloves held court with navelwort’s flower wigs. Patches of scabious scrubbed more sky blue. We splashed down a bridleway, skirted a bog of yellow flag irises and ended up on the cliff path above Porth Oer, Whispering Sands. The sun shone, the sea-swell eased and we started to sweat.

We sailed from Porth Meudwy at 10.00 with no hint of storm other than a mound of seaweed on the beach and an escort of gannets dipping their black edged wings before rising and plunging into the glittering sound. Gannets dive at speeds of around 60 mph. The impact makes older birds prone to blindness. We saw less of them over the next four days as the weather stayed fine and the sea was like glass.

Cool brightness and the chuckling playfulness of choughs kept drawing me up the mountain.  I puzzled over the raucous restlessness of the north end gull colony. A deadly speck suddenly stooped. One of the island peregrine falcons was out hunting. I had it in my binocular sights. And then it vanished.

Thanks to Mynydd Enlli, Bardsey gives the impression of turning its back on the mainland. Looking down on razorbills, guillemots and the occasional bullet-like puffin gave me vertigo so I headed to The Narrows to commune with the Grey Seals.

Nearly 40% of the World’s population of Atlantic Grey Seals live around UK shores and perhaps more than a hundred of them were sunbathing on the rocks of Henllwyn. The basking seals shifted and cussed, snorted and adjusted. It felt bad manners to remain perpendicular so I lay prone on short grass and wild thyme.

seals bardsey

Through bobbing thrift, I stared into big eyes; at leatherette or mottled velveteen skins and felt like howling, hooting and keening along in a sort of seal Karaoke. There seemed to be a hierarchy; a dam of the biggest seals were closest to the water enforcing a log jam of smaller seals. Whether wriggling or slithering from the back was deliberate or inadvertent, nudges were met with snaps and deep growls. I guess front row seals had the best of the bladderwrack and the quickest getaways. The contrast between aquatic agility and land clumsiness is so extreme in seals. The colony reminded me of a fat yoga class but all managed a better Shalabhasana pose than me. I thought I’d stay twenty minutes but lay charmed for over two hours. Stiffness made me shift.

Storms returned. Our departure was delayed by a day. We left on a flood tide and whilst exhilarating in boat-spray and glimpses of shearwaters I felt a pang that this might be my last visit. By 2014 Bardsey might be a ’Highly Protected Marine Conservation Zone’.

QCA note: there is a breeding colony of ten to sixteen thousand Manx shearwaters on the island.

Chris’s article reproduced with kind permission of Frances Jones – Davies, editor of Cambria:

Cambria is Wales’s National Magazine covering Welsh Culture, Lifestyle, Politics and interviews and articles on leading figures in Wales.

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~ Photos courtesy of Liz Hinkley. There is more work by the poet Chris Kinsey on our web site:

http://quaker-animals.co.uk/2012/tribute-to-the-greyhound/

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