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That's All Folks (from the Ranger)

11 September 2012

It's that time of year again for me to migrate away from St Kilda for the winter. Looking back over the 2012 season I thought I'd illustrate a few highlights of my time out here.

Unlike most of the UK we had drought conditions. Water was rationed to showers every second day, washing machines virtually banned and toilet flushing with buckets of muddy pond water. The St Kildans were a superstitious lot and believed in the supernatural. In common with other places in the Western Isles they believed in the 'Brownies', little people who would help human activities in return for a libation of creamy milk. Unfortunately last year geologists knocked a chunk off a rock dedicated to these little people. The missing piece was seamlessly put back and a votive offering of milk made in the hope of restoring harmony between the natural and supernatural here.

Brownie Stone Susan

It seemed to do the trick and mist rolling in from the sea heralded the end of the drought.

Sea Mist


The mist brought me a surprise. I nearly tripped over a Snowy Owl in the mist!

Snowy Owl in the mist

My role is primarily visitor orientated and I always enjoy the interaction. Early in the season we had a party of amateur radio enthusiasts.

Radio Hams 2012

It was interesting to see their marriage of old and new technologies; a Morse code tapper with a left and right brass lever just like a modern 'mouse'.

Radio Hams Morse Code Mouse

Work Parties came and went bringing company and entertainment for us.

Work Party One 2012

To help with looking after all the visitors, volunteer ranger Steve Wilson worked with me during July and August.

Steve Wilson 2012

On the wildlife front, the Snowy Owl has been with us for most of the summer but our main avian attraction - the puffin - is  less elusive, although their colonies are difficult to get to.

Puffins

Puffins have not had a great year and the final piece of evidence for this was the below average weight of pufflings found around the buildings during the fledging period.  We had to improvise a creche indoors for these little characters.

Puffling Creche


Newborn lambs were up and running within hours during April and May. Skuas were a worry for their mothers and I saw ewes running to the aid of their lambs when these predatory birds landed nearby.  I also saw skuas driving older sheep and lambs away from their own ground nesting sites.

Soay Lamb New Born 2012


Away from the smallest to the largest mammals we saw this year. A couple of times this season other residents on island spotted a Minke Whale close in to Village Bay.

Minke Whale 2012

 (Photo PJ Henry via Kilda Cruises, not the creature we saw in the Bay!)

Not to be outdone the plant kingdom produced a surprise. We had confirmation of a species of dandelion thought to be extinct growing on Hirta. This dandelion Taraxacum pankhurstianum represents a relict population once common in the Faeroes and Iceland.

Dandelion Taraxacum pankhurstianum

 Flowering close to the ground it seems to prefer gravelly soils in common with other montane plants found here. The verges of St Kilda's one road seem to be just right for this sub-arctic dandelion.

From the natural to the supernatural we had our very own ghost story this year. A visitor group photo taken outside Cottage 5 revealed an extra member of the party.

Cottage 5 Ghost

Who was the mysterious figure leaning against the wall to the left of the party? (Thanks to Karis Allen for sharing her photo).

So that's about it until next year. I have had good time as usual working with colleagues around the island.  A special thanks to Gina the Seabird & Marine Ranger and Andy the Archaeologist. And of course thanks to the just over 4000 visitors this year who make my job so worthwhile.

 Cruise Ship and Sailboat

For 2012 - that's all from me!

Paul



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