Boobies

I will never forget the hard work, sweating through the Gates of Chaos, making our way to Lot’s Wife, to be rewarded by the amazing site of boobies everywhere, sitting motionless waiting for me hold them, measure them and record their vital statistics. With my wife alongside me, just as eager to join in, it is a day I will never forget.

In this story, the Gates of Chaos is a steep sided, dry valley running inland from the coast, an offshoot of St Helena’s own Grand Canyon. Twisted, folded rocks, cracks in fissures define the edges of these deeply eroded cliffs, the red brown earth punctuated by patches of bright lime green of the endemic plant Baby Toes.

Looking back down the Gates of Chaos. The Large rock in the distance is called Lot. Husband to Lots Wife!

Looking back down the Gates of Chaos. The Large rock in the distance is called Lot. husband to Lots Wife!

Lots Wife is a huge pinnacle of rock, a plug of larva which rose up through conduits in the existing rock forming pillars of the weather resistant rock trachyte and phonolite. Phonolite so called because of its resonance when struck, sounding like metal tubes as rocks fall upon one another.

Walking Up to Lots Wife, Graham leading the way.

Walking Up to Lots Wife, Graham leading the way.

Boobies (Sula dactylatra) are of course magnificent Seabirds, (what else would they be?). A diving marine bird, feeding on fish, a key indicator species for the health of local fish stocks and as such the subject of ongoing tagging and monitoring to assess population trends. They are also the reason that Bev and I found ourselves sat on a high ridge, with extraordinary views of Sandy Bay, Lots Wife ponds, the Atlantic Ocean and ever present Diana’s Peak, feeling like David Attenborough on the BBC’s latest big budget natural history documentary.

I love the piecing eyes of the Masked Booby. Perfectly designed fro predators.

I love the piecing eyes of the Masked Booby. Perfectly designed fro predators.

Masked Booby St Helena

Birds cant sweat, so to cool down they pant rapidly.

Birds cant sweat, so to cool down they pant rapidly.

Maskd Booby with two eggs St Helena

Our morning started with a drive down the infamous road to Sandy Bay, having earlier and gratefully dropped Oliver and Charlie children off with a friend (Thank you Lindsay). The roads on St Helena are extreme with steep inclines and descents being the norm. Sandy Bay Road however is something else, and as the only road on the Island that has a Warning Sign such is the angle of its incline its notoriety is well deserved.

Arriving at Sandy Bay we teamed up with Annalea of the Marine Conservation Team and Graham Sim, resident Jacques Cousteau  of St Helena. The Marine Team, under the Environment Natural  Resources Directorate (ENRD), have been monitoring this population of Boobies for a number of years, tracking their breeding efforts and populations as well as assessing their condition. The birds feed on fish in local waters and as such their population is a direct indicator of the health of local fisheries stocks. The work is important therefore in terms of both conservation of the birds themselves and in planning and regulation of fishery activities in St Helenian waters.

Graham led the way up Broad Gut and then into the Gates of Chaos and ultimately up a broad, scree covered ridge to the tagging site at Lots Wife. Graham Sim is, in short incredible. At 77 years of age he led the way up the extreme terrain, rising from sea level to 600 meters. Graham has been involved in marine conservation in one form or another for over fifty years, and was half of a pair of the very first people in the World to dive and explore St Helena’s waters.

Broad Gut, the Gates of Chaos and the South West Corner of St Helena are an incredible landscape, blending somewhere between the Grand Canyon and the foothills of Everest they are formed of volcanic eruptions and subsequent years of weathering and erosion from extreme flash floods. Now dry, we followed the scars of a river bed before veering to the left to ascend the scree slope that led to the Booby nesting grounds.

As we reached our summit I stood, wide eyed and smiling like a school child with a bag of sweets. Rows of nesting birds sat, protecting their eggs or young, watching our movement carefully, the sea breeze rose up the slope from the Atlantic Ocean cooling our brows and providing welcome rest bite from the sun.

Our first sight of a Masked Booby on her nest.

Our first sight of a Masked Booby on her nest.

When all members of the party had arrived the business of data recording began. New nests were tagged and recorded, previously tagged birds were recorded and the presence of eggs or chicks noted. Dividing into roles Bev found herself recording data, and myself tagging new nests.

The ridge in the shadow of Lots Wife lined with Masked Booby nests

The ridge in the shadow of Lots Wife lined with Masked Booby nests

Annalea and Graham of course set to the job of catching new birds, measuring morphometric data and applying tags to their legs. Itching to have a go, I was elated when, after some half hour or so Annalea asked if we wanted to have a go at holding the birds. Bev went first (I’ll leave you to decide if I was a gentleman or a wimp!) and once the bird was secured by Graham, Bev nervously manoeuvred herself to take hold of the bird. Body and wings held under one arm, with the head and more importantly the six inch, serrated blades of the dagger like bill held firmly, but gently away from the hands of Annalea taking the measurements. Once all the data is recorded, the less than straight forward task of releasing the bird, ensuring they and you remain safe takes place. Point the bill away, release the wings first and a split second later the bill, and be sure the bird has room to spread its wings without damaging them.

Bev holds her Booby gently but firmly.

Bev holds her Booby gently but firmly.

The moment of release.

The moment of release.

Soon after it was my turn, and I was asked if I wanted to catch the juvenile bird ahead of me. Slowly I moved round and gently and carefully lowered the net atop of the Booby. Once secured, I was able to handle the youngster, allow the measurements to be taken and a ring to be applied before releasing safely back to his nest. The placid nature of this young bird led me into a false sense of security and my next attempt was less straight forward. An adult bird being larger, stronger and more determined as it protected the eggs in his nest. I could feel my heart racing a little as the beak stabbed at the net, and then at me as I edged closer to try and gain a good hold and free him from the confines of the twisted mesh. Once in my grasp he continued to wriggle and squirm in an attempt to turn his sharp beak on me. Thankfully neither I nor the bird came to any harm and I released him promptly, leaving him to take off and ruffle his feathers.

Me, holding a booby!

Me, holding a booby!

After two hours of shear enjoyment sadly Bev and I had to depart, subjecting our friend to Oliver and Charlie for seven hours we considered to be quite enough. Leaving the professionals to it they thanked us as we departed and headed back down a new scree slope and onto the Gates of Chaos.

There was of course no need to thank us, as I remarked, “thank you, it has been an absolute privilege.”

An apparently unusual sight to see both parents at the nest.

An apparently unusual sight to see both parents at the nest.

Mother and chick.

Mother and chick.

They fly so fast, capturing one in flight was difficult. I think a dedicated trip may be needed at some point.

They fly so fast, capturing one in flight was difficult. I think a dedicated trip may be needed at some point.

Only on St Helena – Part 1. The Park at the End of the World.

During the course of my blog I intend to have a series of “Only on St Helena” articles. The Island is full of people, places, systems, politics and events that you will only find on this remote Island. The people are unique, the environment is unique, the wildlife is unique and an account of life on Island would not be complete without referencing some of this uniqueness.

During a trip to Millennium Forest (more on Millennium Forest Later)  we bumped into a fellow Ex-Pat, the wonderful and creative Lindsay McGinnety. She and friend Tim Tromen were heading to a park for lunch and asked if we wanted to join them. After they went ahead we followed their directions and eventually came to the end of a road, with nowhere to go save a small track that dropped off the end of a ridge we presumed a wrong turn had been taken. “Let me just get out and check” I said “ Lindsey did say it was at the end of the World”.

Returning back to the car hurriedly I exclaimed, “you won’t believe this, the park, is down there, at the bottom of the track that runs off the end of the ridge”.

And so it was, a park, so remote, so precariously placed it was hard to believe. Quite why it was here and not further up the road amongst the houses I will never know, but here it was, at the end of a road, at the end of the World, in Levelwood, St Helena.

Park at the end of the World St Helena

Not only a park but the most extreme football pitch I have ever witnessed. A dry, dust bowl, who’s outer touchline is marked by a shear drop down a cliff into a steep ravine. In a setting that resembled the Grand Canyon, Oliver and I took a few shots and played a game. Just so we can say we have played football on the World’s most remote football pitch. I do not know if it is the World’s most remote football pitch. But it is a football pitch, at the edge of a ravine, at the end of a track, at the end of a remote road, a junction from the remote hamlet of Levelwood on one of the most remote Islands in the World, I therefore believe it is a good candidate.

Worlds most remote fotball pitch Oliver in the Worlds most remote fotball pitch

Poise, precision.

Poise, precision.

Oliver shoots, and scores. Because the goalkeepe was taking a photo!

Oliver shoots, and scores. Because the goalkeeper was taking a photo!

Only in St Helena!!!

Slugs, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

I start today’s post by referring back to the last, my footballing exploits and performance in last Sundays thrilling match. Albeit truncated by injury, the match gave me one of my greatest ever achievements, an appearance on the back page of a newspaper, referenced by my surname just like a real footballer. Read the report here.

Moving away from my own exploits, I turn attention to our children, Oliver and Charlie, two boys in every sense of the word. A source of endless amusement for our friends they are energetic, troublesome, sometimes rude, boisterous and always fighting and arguing with each other. Our good friends Paul and Jen believe them to be hilarious, I only hope their next baby is a boy, a younger brother to their son Miles, and I hope to be there to witness the ensuing chaos.

John, who also journeyed with us to the Island, often refers to their behaviour with the phrases such as “ahh bless” in reference to our excuses that they are always tired. John himself has unwittingly taught Oliver some lovely phraseology, as he can now be commonly heard telling his younger brother to “watch and learn” and expresses surprise with the, thankfully truncated, phrase “what the!!!”

Our boys have both it seems now settled quite well into Island life, making new friends and heading off to school on the bus barely looking back, the days of a kiss goodbye it seems are already behind us.This week saw the schools Harvest Festival, in which Oliver and Charlie played a full role. We have all been learning Charlie’s harvest song, but Oliver’s roll as a giraffe came as something of a surprise.Olivers Class Pilling School Harvest Festival Charlies Class  St Helena Pilling Harvest FesivalDolphin St Helena Pilling Harvest Fesival Charlie Sings St Helena Pilling Harvest Fesival

For the first few weeks Oliver, troubled with school and adjusting to life, presented us with some truly awful behaviour, seemingly carrying the world on his young shoulders with fits of outrage interspersed with extreme sadness. During this period Charlie saw his opportunity, presenting himself as the most well behaviour three year old, full of affection and love for his parents and responding to Oliver’s turmoil with his own brand of sucking up. Thankfully, Oliver has found his feet and whilst far from perfect, his behaviour is back to a normal level of six year old boy. Charlie of course responded accordingly, and he has reverted to the artist formally known as “the naughty one”.

This weekend was a case in point with Charlie seemingly determined to single handedly ruin things for everyone concerned. Saturday was Carnival 2014 a bi-annual event that had been building in anticipation, excitement and curiosity over the past few weeks. Apparently carnival would be a afternoon of colour, music and celebration as hundreds of clowns, fairies, queens, kings and other exuberant costumes or scantily clad ladies parade down main street of James Town. Gathered crowds cheer and take photos before all of St Helena enjoy an evening of food, music and celebration, all in the aid of cancer awareness. That at least, is how it was supposed to be. Our morning stated in much the same way as many others, preparing our costumes. Bev and I were sorted, with grass skirts, Hawaiian Leis and for me, a fetching bow tie to accompany my Hawaiian shirt.

Charlie looking very unhappy at the prospect of walking to Carnival, despite getting the hat.

Charlie looking very unhappy at the prospect of walking to Carnival, despite getting the hat.

The boys wanted to be pirates and as such Bev was busy sewing material into pirate waistcoats. This is where it went downhill, a tantrum initiated over the availability of just one pirate hat quickly descended into a full on end of the world level of disparity. When eventually we left the house, having once again decided that our own day shouldn’t be ruined in punishment of Charlie’s behaviour, we missed the procession and arrived at town feeling stupid in our costumes (at least I did), with two miserable children, and hungry.

Although cup-cakes helped to break the mood for a short time we had arrived so late that waiting times for real food were by now so long we decided to cut our losses and returned home after having a thoroughly miserable afternoon! After the boys went to bed, Bev and I cheered ourselves up with a take away of steak and chips and a few glasses of well-deserved of Kia Royal!

A cup cake helps to break Charlie's mood even if just for a moment.

A cup cake helps to break Charlie’s mood even if just for a moment.

Sunday followed a similar pattern. We headed out for our first walk on the Island, a nice family outing to Flag Staff, a peak in the North East Corner of the Island affording a gentle walk whilst offering spectacular views at the end. Charlie however had other ideas, not wishing to walk at all and feeling the effects of a blustery wind. Given that his parents had forgotten his jumper we conceded to another nearby walk in a more sheltered but equally spectacular part of the Island.

The paint pallet sands of Banks Valley offer a landscape like no-where else on this remarkable Island. Formed by sands which blew up the valley when sea levels were lower, the landscape is made up of consolidated dunes of fine mud and sand. Sharp ridges dominate, casting shadows which serve to further enhance the mix of oranges, reds and purples in the sand, flowing in bands and broken only by bright green shrubs and the arid loving spikes of English Aloe. A sense of the unknown and untouched exists, the only footprints in the sand being our own, like the first steps breaking fresh fallen snow. The high peaks of the central ridge, look down on this colourful desert with their covering of tree ferns and fields of flax, one feels as though we are existing in a bye gone era, an time of prehistoric reptiles, and giant soaring birds.

Banks Valley St Helena Banks Valley St Helena

Prehistoic Landscape of Banks Valley St Helena

Prehistoric Landscape of Banks Valley St Helena

Wasted on Charlie, the spectacular views and otherworldly sand formations presented no enjoyment for him; at least his mood prevented any enthusiasm from escaping. More moaning and general disquiet ensued until such point that we reluctantly and much to my dissatisfaction at having had our morning once again cut short, returned to the car.

Charlie happy that our fist walk has been cancelled!

Charlie happy that our fist walk has been cancelled!

Start of Walk number two, still smiles at this point.

Start of Walk number two, still smiles at this point.

Charlie begins to contemplate whether this walk is any better than the last.

Charlie begins to contemplate whether this walk is any better than the last.

"Nope, this walk is rubbish, just like the last!"

“Nope, this walk is rubbish, just like the last!”

Our day was thankfully saved as we continued our conviviality with a late lunch date with the David’s family, Julie, Martin, Phoebe and Lottie, and friends Ian and Fiona Smyth and their children Oscar and Rachel. Martin, prison officer on the Island has become my regular breakfast date, as we enjoy belly buster sandwiches and real St Helena coffee at the Coffee Shop on a weekly basis. The David’s have good course for inviting people round for lunch. An agreement to purchase some of the remaining stock from a now closed butcher has left them with twenty six bags of sausages, each bag containing ten sausages. Gratefully I was able to do my bit and help them out with this problem. A long afternoon of great company, good conversation and of course the sausages was enjoyed by all, our children revelling in the opportunity to play in a large lawned garden, getting dirty and caring for garden snails.

And so we arrive at our first half term on the Island, despite my new positive thinking, the restrictions created by my groin injury, coupled with the thoughts of entertaining my children for five days has inevitably lowered my mood somewhat. School holidays are, it is reported, normally a time for enjoying the sunshine by the pool. It seems though we are lacking in both at the present time. Although the weather has improved summer is not here yet and the pool, despite all the rain, has no water. Drained and stripped, the pool has been due for a paint job and for some two or three months now has been waiting expectantly for the paint to arrive on the normally trustworthy RMS St Helena. The paint however has failed to turn up on successive shipments and the lifeguards still sit with no lives to actually guard save their own. The latest rumour, source unknown, is that the paint is now on Island but that the large brushes purchased to speed the act of painting, do not fit in the tins and we look towards Christmas for swimming and dive training to now commence.

This week will be a testing time for me as I spend long days in the company of said troublesome twos. I have always found being a Dad to be difficult. Troubling to write, and to admit, I find it hard to relate to our children’s young minds, finding their company to be often tedious and trying. Constant misdemeanours and boundary pushing leaves me exhausted and tired of their company. I am very aware that they provoke my temper and despite my sincere attempts to remain calm in situations, I am also very aware that our children’s occasional bouts of rage and anger have most likely come from the example set by their father. I am often left feeling out of control and unable to deal with their guidance and care, their constant needs and demands wearing me down and their silly requirements for inexplicable things that I have neither the desire nor means to seek out.  I vacillate between feelings of utter disdain and immense guilt and meander along between the two as I figure out how it is I am going to be the Dad I wish I could be.

Of course the feelings and emotions described above are in the extreme, felt at those times where my days have been long and unfulfilled, where all I can see before me are cleaning and an absence of meaningful work. Having reached the end of day two of our week together I am holding it together, today enjoying a fabulous walk with the children and feeling immensely proud at the mountaineering feats achieved by the little legs of my youngest, even enjoying his company for periods of the day. I hope it is these times that I can concentrate on, that I can learn to glean fulfilment and enjoyment from. I hope that remembering Charlie’s mammoth effort will help to ease my rage next time the bath has become an Ark, floating on the biblical flood that the boys are intent on creating each bath time.

My boys are just that, boys. They are wonderful, curious, inquisitive and busting with energy and enthusiasm. They are not badly behaved; they are just three and six years old. For every time of frustration, they provide a moment of real impress. Oliver in particular is fascinated with the World, taking inspiration from his parents, he has love for the natural World and shows respect for the creatures we share this planet with. Charlie is charming and cheeky in equal measure, providing moments of wonderful affection and caring. It is not at their behaviour that I should look but inwards, asking fundamental questions of myself and who I am, what I want to be and what is important in my life and for our family.

What is important to me, what do I want from this move to St Helena? I do not have the answers yet and remain in perpetual turmoil. Moving to St Helena has thrown up more questions of me than I expected.  I sit at a cross roads, on one hand immensely jealous of my wife, her importance and contribution to the island meeting with other adults to discuss work, projects, plans and training. Wishing I could also sit in a position of regard and I am eager to develop some of the opportunities that have recently presented themselves, leaving my children in the care of others whom in my own view would do a better job at their guidance than I ever could. On the other, feeling that I am here to build my relationship with them, to learn to enjoy their company, deal with the tests they present and give them two years in the Atlantic that will shape them and our family for the future. This half term will teach me a lot about whether I can achieve the latter, and perhaps will allow me to see a future which contains a balance of both worlds.

Summer starts to find its way into life at Half Tree Hollow.

Summer starts to find its way into life at Half Tree Hollow.

Waiting for Summer

Our life on the Island continues, my new found routine is taking shape efficiently, cleaning and shopping. I have Island shopping down to a tee now, Thursdays are meat day along with a fresh vegetable basket, Mondays and Wednesdays bread, wonderful and incredible cheap Tuna available daily, eggs from our neighbour weekly, although inflation has set in and we now pay a full £1.20 for them. Given that food is less readily available it is a pleasant surprise that my diet has improved immeasurably since living on St Helena. The sporadic availability of fresh fruit and vegetables makes them somehow more appealing and my retirement allows for home cooked meals with the family, (including local dishes such as Pilau, pronounced “Plo”, a Paella type dish with Bacon and Pork) instead the processed radioactive decay of ready meals eaten hurriedly at varying points in the evening we experienced back home. Our meals are then generally followed up by home baked cakes or biscuits lovingly prepared by my wonderful wife. Oh the virtuous life we lead. So as not to worry friend and family too much at this stage I will add that I have found a source for English Pork Pies and my cupboard has several packets of pork scratchings which are rapidly diminishing in number.

A new friend round for tea.

A new friend round for tea.

The RMS continues to excite upon its arrival, bringing with it a glut of fresh fruit to the island, which inevitably is snapped up rapidly just days after it lands on the shop floor. To that end we have also set up a fruit order with a local shop, who, upon receiving their quota from the ship, will divide the fruit up and pre bag it for their list of waiting customers. When the RMS arrives from Cape Town, Thursday is the day when the town goes a little mental, for a few hours at least. Rumours can be heard of Strawberries available at the Queen Mary store, as shoppers busily hurry from one shop to another hoping to grab their slice of pie. Alas, I was too late at Queen Mary’s but soon heard that there may be a punnet or two left at the Victoria, rushing over I was delighted to pick up two punnets of strawberries and some overpriced blue berries. FruitCoupled with numerous Bananas, Mandarins, Oranges, and Apples I felt proud of a good days foraging like the hunter gatherer returning home with a rich bounty to feed his family. I hadn’t however accounted for the volume of food I would later collect on my regular afore mentioned fruit order which combined with our weekly vegetable order resulted in the largest quantity of fresh fruit and veg my eyes had ever seen in a household!

The RMS’s arrival this week also heralded the arrival of our meat order, a shipment of choice meats from South African to fill up our deep freeze. Such is the exuberance and low price, of meat from South Africa that we have used up the remaining fillet steak on our St Helena Beef Curry, essentially a traditional stew with curry powder, now made with choice Fillet Steak!

RMS in the  Bay 2 RMS in the Bay

My fitness continues to improve, shopping twice a week means more in one go, I now carry multiple bags of shopping, as the convenience of a supermarket and all under one roof approach has not yet reached St Helena, thankfully. Walking back to the car I remind myself of days gone by, trying to keep up with my own Mum, who would walk back from town with an impossible number of shopping bags with two children behind asking her to slow down. St Helena is, in many ways just like the UK twenty years ago, and, in many ways is all the better for it. I have reached a respectable time of 8 minutes 30 seconds to climb Jacobs Ladder, although I seem to have hit a block and getting below this is going to take more work, meaning my wife still leaves me behind when it comes to climbing stairs! I have however had more success with the now routine football warm up, cross bar challenge, hitting the bar at the full length of the five a side pitch with both right and left foot!

My new timetable of walking and bird tagging took a hit this week when I left my first competitive game of eleven aside football with a groin injury. Called up to local football team Axis, to play alongside my good friend Paul

The chap with my kit did not turn up until the second half, embarrassingly leaving me wearing a white vest over my red shirt to distinguish me from the opposition! Dad, I know you taught me not to stand with my hand on my hips but we had a break in play for an injury!

In action, photo courtesy of budding photographer, Oliver, my son.

In action, photo courtesy of budding photographer, Oliver, my son.

(Liverpudlian with whom we shared our RMS dining table) in a must win Semi Final against the Fugees. A close game saw us leading one nil as we reached mid-way through the second half. A demoralising equaliser by the Fugees was followed shortly after by a tackle on my right leg which pulled my groin into places it didn’t want to go. This left the Axis with ten men and soon enough we were 2-1 down. A gallant effort by the boys saw a late equaliser take the game to extra time and then penalties, with everything resting on it, sadly two spots kicks were missed and we went crashing out of the tournament! Despite my injury, and following a very tentative start to my first competitive game of football in seventeen years, I thoroughly enjoyed the match, sadly I must wait several months for the new season, but with my face on the footballing map I feel confident I can find a team for the new season.

This week saw us invited round to the Governor’s home, Plantation House for a traditional drinks reception, welcoming the new teachers and celebrating the retirement and  long services of some of St Helena’s finest and longest serving teachers, who, between the three of them have given over 110 years’ service to school children on the Island. A pleasant evening was made all the more enjoyable after Bev met with a surprise guest at the occasion. Following a mistake in the invitation, two holiday makers, on the Island for just eight days found themselves at the prestigious occasion, surrounded by councillors, government officials, distinguished guests and indeed Governor Capes himself. I only wish I could find out who’s invitation they had received, and whether, upon seeing an incorrect name they made any protestations at all, or just took their chances.

Prince Andrews School celebrated their 25 years Anniversary last week. Bev and the other new teachers took their place in a celebration, including a song that will last long in the memory of all those party to it. Words were spoken by the current and past Head Teachers. It seems despite continuing difficulties, the school has indeed made great progress over the past twenty five years, last year posting their greatest ever exam results. Going back twenty years presents an intriguing picture of a young boy Nicky, who, at just fifteen, with no formal training and having himself just completed his exams, started as the schools Physical Education teacher. Nicky now works on the Island doing an incredible job running the local extra curriculum youth club and sports association New Horizons, giving children on the Island sporting opportunities that were not open to himself twenty five years ago. The tireless work of New Horizons resulted in several of St Helena’s finest athletes representing their Island at this year’s commonwealth games in Glasgow, a first for this Island Nation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMKV5u2Jdkc

Oliver meets a new friend on our photo walk. I think it reminded him of our lovely dog Ned, whom we have had to leave in the good care of our parents. We miss him dearly.

Oliver meets a new friend on our photo walk. I think it reminded him of our lovely dog Ned, whom we have had to leave in the good care of our parents. We miss him dearly.

Our weekend was a less dramatic one than previous and I have no stories of gigantic marine mammals. Oliver and I joined a good sized group of photographers to join in with a worldwide event, Kelby’s Photo Walks. The timing however was such to encourage a good turnout, rather than to make for good photography, and whilst producing little in the way of good photos, I did enjoy good conversation and a pleasant walk with Oliver and the others.

View from High Noll Fort to Flag Staff showing the haul road built by Basil Read for the Airport. The St Helena tourist office have asked if I can provide some photographs so Ive developed a watermark and will be including their logo on some on my photos in the future.

View from High Noll Fort to Flag Staff showing the haul road built by Basil Read for the Airport. The St Helena tourist office have asked if I can provide some photographs so Ive developed a watermark and will be including their logo on some on my photos in the future.

Ladybird TextureBev and Charlie meanwhile went to walk Donkeys at the Islands donkey sanctuary. Once a vital part of the workforce, the donkeys are now retired and well cared for. Children are invited to walk and feed the donkeys at the weekend. Charlie however, through a combination of poor carrot feeding technique and a short sighted donkey, found his fingers being eaten along with the intended food. Much screaming ensued as the donkey sucked on Charlie’s hand, eventually releasing him after expert donkey whispering, and no shortage of wrestling from Mum. No harm was done other than mild psychological damage and no animals were harmed in the making of this drama.

Having finally managed to locate some children’s fishing nets on the Island, Oliver and Charlie were thrilled to be able to head back down to James Bay for a spot of rock pooling. But it was their Dad who triumphed, catching three fish and this impressive Sally Lightfoot Crab

Sally Lightoot Crab

Amazing Ascension Sally Lightfoot Crab. Very very quick and difficult to catch as they skip across the rocks

Charlie Saves Bev

Charlie Saves Bev from falling in!

Bev Meets Crab

“Bev meet crab, Crab meet Bev”

Oliver Rockpooling

Oliver getting stuck in

James Bay Rockpools Looking West

Looking West showing the Rock pools at James Bay

And so, in Mid-October we await Summer to start, having been made promises that it is just around the corner for what now seems like months. Being British, it will be of no surprise that I am fascinated by the weather, even more so given that the weather and climate on St Helena are as extraordinary as the Island itself. The only surprise is that it has not come up in my writings more frequently. The general theme of the weather has been grey and overcast, with frequent mist rolling down of the central peaks. Speaking to one local revealed that this mild, occasionally rainy, inclement weather of a rather chilly thirteen to sixteen degrees centigrade, is the “worst and longest winter in his living memory” of sixty plus years. Given that description, I am pleasantly surprised and uplifted, as I have still been in shorts most days. However we would now welcome in the endless days of Sunshine and warmth we have been promised, especially by Bev, who spends her days in the somewhat cooler climbs of Prince Andrew School at Francis Plain, just below the central peaks.

Francis Plane Prince Andrew School and Diana's Peak

Before embarking on our trip, I’d read many quite clearly exaggerated reports, of extreme variations in weather, both across time and distance upon the Island. I am now going to give one such example of, it turns out, a not such exaggerated account. In one day I recorded on my car thermometer a high of twenty eight degrees centigrade in the lower reaches of Jamestown, the sun was beaming down and all was well with the world. Just three hours later, and less than a mile away, when collecting Bev from the school, the very same thermometer read twelve degrees. The rain and wind sweeping across Francis Plain confirmed this to be true as we waited for Bev to run to the car, still wrapped tightly in the bright blue bubble jacket that she has had to wear in the classroom just to maintain warmth on a daily basis since our arrival. Given that I spend my days in shorts, and just a stones through away Bev requires a bubble jacket nicely describes how the weather varies across this tiny Island.

I am confident however that the last couple of days have seen a serious upturn in our weather. Half Tree Hollow has been baked in sunshine and the blue skies and newly defined horizon are joyous to behold. They also herald the arrival of clear night skies, and our first glimpse of the stars that we have so eagerly awaited. Officially one of the darkest places on earth, the night skies here are famous. First put on the global astronomy map back in 1676 by Edmund Halley who set up an observatory on the Island and made the first scientific mapping of the Southern Sky, they now offer a new opportunity for exploration for this year’s traveller. They also open up a new avenue for my photography and last night as I write provided the first chance to view and photograph the Milky Way.Night sky Milky Way St Helena Night sky at Half Tree Hollow St HelenaThe experience left me a little awestruck. Despite it being just 9.30 in the evening, and just yards from my well lit house and the relatively high light levels of Half Tree Hollow the night sky was, like most things I have observed on the Island, extraordinary. I now cannot wait to get to Diana Peak, in the dead of night to view some of the most mind blowing skies I am ever likely to see.

Come on in Summer, you are most welcome.

*Footnote.

It may be that I spoke too soon about the weather, Wednesday has seen some of the strongest driving wind and coldest temperatures we have seen. One local described it as “English Weather”!!!

Turning of the Tide?

This past couple of weeks have seen a few changes in our lives (just this two weeks he says!), and hopefully things are taking a turn for the good. Despite our weekend adventures, the amazing opportunities we have had, the friends we have made and spectacular landscapes we have seen, we have all, for one reason or another had times of wow, and have struggled to adapt to our change of lives. I hope that my writings provide interest because they are open and honest, at times it proves difficult to write knowing family and friends will be reading, much of what I write below falls into that category.

Charlie has been exceptional, coping better with the change than the rest of his family. For a three year old his journey has been incredible, leaving home, flying for 11 hours, (his first time on a plane), a night in a hotel in a new country (his first night in a hotel and first night abroad), 5 nights aboard the RMS St Helena (his first time on a boat), a new place to live, a new house, a new routine with regular excitement at weekends punctuated with school. School, just four days after arriving on the Island at the end of our journey I left him crying in a classroom, alone with strangers for the first time in his life.

But Charlie is now very settled, taking the Bus to school and home, making new friends and receiving his first ever invite to a birthday party, that wasn’t from his brothers friend.  Reluctant to be put in a situation where he would have to try and play with new people again, he did not want to go, but once settled in he had a great time. We are learning that Saints like their food,

Pass the Parcel

Pass the Parcel

regular snacking throughout the day is the norm, and parties are never short of a good spread. Arriving at the party and seeing a table of cakes, a few sandwiches, crisps and the normal array of party food I exclaimed to Bev that I wondered if there would be enough to go round, and questioned what I might eat to calm my complaining stomach. I needn’t have worried, before long the first course of barbeque chicken, sausages and fries was unveiled. This was soon followed by beef curry and rice, before Ice cream was served. At that stage, we all started on the cakes, sandwiches, crisps and other goodies that had first presented themselves.  This was a party St Helena style,  and  I loved it!

Oliver has, this week, made huge progress. Struggling to break into well-established friendship circles his enjoyable lessons have been broken by difficult break and lunch times. Breaks have often been spent on his own, sometimes finding comfort by seeking out his younger brother for companionship, providing a heart breaking sight for his Dad to witness when driving past the school. But after a goliath effort on his part he has this week, established himself amongst some local boys, even having one round for tea and two more on the list waiting to come. Like his Dad, Oliver has always found it hard to approach people, to know how to join in with other groups, his success has made me incredibly proud, and I’ve no doubt it will make him a better, stronger person in this World, learning how to make friends with people from different cultures races and backgrounds. Break times have become times of fun and play, and collecting a smiling, happy boy from the bus has gleefully become a more regular sight.

Oliver has a friend round for tea.

Oliver has a friend round for tea.

Bev is, at present, teaching science and making steps to improve the department, tackling department meetings and organising practical changes to delivery, coursework and homework. Given her expectations of developing Marine Biology within the curriculum the lack of early opportunity to do so was initially disappointing. However, continuing in the vein of the title of this blog, this last week has seen reassurances given for the new year, Marine Biology courses have been identified, and a grant has been made available to buy resources to aid the new teaching when the time comes.  Although January seems a long way away, the odd meeting here and there, and the knowledge that she can at least start to pay some attention to the new qualifications she hopes to introduce, I hope will allow her to maintain positive thoughts until the real job begins.

As expected Bev is finding it hard spending less time with the children, having myself spent more time with them, I can’t think why, but none the less it’s a difficult change for her. My own thoughts are the quality of time spent with the children, watching whales, digging forests and the like more than makes up for the slight reduction in time spent with them, in their eyes at least. As the weather improves and weekends and evenings can be spent snorkelling, at barbeques, rock pooling, walking and other such fun I have no doubt our family time will continue to improve further still.

And so to me, despite the tales of whales, dolphins and wonderful weekends, I have found the past two or three weeks some of the hardest of my life. To the readers of this blog this may sound ridiculous given the general theme of stunning landscapes, extraordinary nature, Friday drinks and sport activities, but those good times have centred around the weekends, and I have found mid weeks to be very difficult, especially since the initial excitement and exploration of our new island has worn off. Shopping, that was at first a genuine novelty and provided the excitement of discovery, is now a chore and tedium.

Strait talking Bar Owner at Pub Paradise. A genuinely great venue for a children's party (so long as they cant read!)

Straight talking Bar Owner at Pub Paradise. A genuinely great venue for a children’s party (so long as they cant read!)

Collecting Charlie at midday, my days have been a limited routine of cleaning, shopping, washing clothes and drinking tea. My afternoons with Charlie spent largely not being the Dad I intended when we took this move, leaving him to his own creative devises whilst I play at being too busy cleaning to really spend time with him. Sunday evening would fill me with gloom at the prospect of another five days, stuck in the house with no time to do anything positive, and nothing to do but clean. I have most of all missed a sense of importance and responsibility, from managing people and budgets and being responsible for a myriad of delicate animals in my care I find myself responsible for nothing more than ensuring bread is available, at least that’s how I saw it.

My downward spiral accelerated last weekend, when back at home in Liverpool, my aquarium in World Museum Liverpool was hosting the UK’s largest aquarium conference. IMG_7464Friends and fellow professionals descending on Liverpool for three days, for a conference organised to a large degree by myself before I left the UK, ably continued by other colleagues in the industry since I departed. Meanwhile I was organising nothing more than the evening’s dinner, at least that’s how I saw it.

My depressed thoughts came to a head on Monday, when a bowl of spilt cereal left me sat on the floor with my head in my hands, crying at the thought of cleaning the kitchen for the second time that day. Any of you back home that know me well, will not identify with the person herby described.

By coincidence I had met a new ex-pat in her second year on the Island, and via the miracle of e-mail and facebook I found myself releasing a lot of pent up thoughts and feelings, finding an ease in speaking with someone who has experienced the change that the Island brings, and yet was not close to my own personal circumstance. Realising how low I felt has been the first step to me turning a corner.

It dawned on me that my fixation on collecting Charlie at 12pm each day had become a block to finding things to do, believing there was no time to do anything.  In reality I have three and a half hours each morning, if that is time enough for me to climb Snowdon back home, then it is certainly time enough for me to do something more with my time over here on St Helena. I also realised that my daily chores were not being approached with my usual sense of efficiency; the same sense that I approach my work life with. I need to take in every positive, enjoy the freedom provided by my temporary retirement, learn to understand the importance of my role here, and the responsibility I have to my family and to support my wife.

To make a positive start, I have set myself a timetable, limiting my cleaning and shopping and other household duties to shorter periods of work. I now shop two days per week, as opposed to six, allowing myself mornings free for walks, photography or whatever takes my fancy, including tagging seabirds with the Marine Conservation Team. Most importantly I have scheduled time to spend with Charlie, learning how to enjoy his company, and moving towards being the Dad I wish I could be. As I write I have just finished my first such day, I have still cleaned and shopped, but I have done so efficiently. I have achieved more cleaning in half an hour than half of yesterday, and I bought more in two hours of shopping, than two days previously.

Most importantly I played with Charlie. When your three year old tells you, “I know you don’t really like playing games with me, but I’d love to play zoo” then you realise something must change. Its day one of a new, positive thinking me, and having moved to St Helena nearly two months ago, its day one of starting to live here.

James Bay Long Exposure 2

I have also spent a morning taking photos, the first such time that I have managed to go out for the sole purpose of creating some nice images. Sticking with the theme, “Turning of the Tide” the cover image and this image are shots taken at Tidal Pools Near James Bay.

Dolphins, Dolphins, Dolphins………and Whales!

This weekend we embarked on our third trip out to see the Dolphins and Whales. Despite our fantastic time two weeks ago, subsequent trips from the Island have seen some truly breathtaking spectacles, and we wanted part of that action. It may seem that we go whale watching a lot, and we do, but not as often as some on the Island who seem to be present on every trip that departs the wharf.

Our weekend started back in the mud, on the monthly Saint Helena National Trust‘s community conservation engagement program we helped with four weeks ago. This time round we were at St Paul’s Primary school a lovely school set up in the hills and known as the Country School. Three hours of back breaking work saw us once again clearing invasive species, this time in the form of a fern with a root network reminiscent of the cables at the rear of my surround sound system, and so thick it required pick axes to dig out. Being interviewed for the local newspaper, I overheard the conservationist in charge, Jason, explaining that the work to remove the ferns was important to clear the way to re-plant another endemic plant species. It was at this point that I realised we had spent three hours, digging and clearing a 3m square area of fern only to see it replaced with, yes, another fern!

Jason explained that there are the right kind of ferns, and the wrong kind of ferns, to which the reply from our co-worker, Paul came, “like Fern Cotton and Fern Briton”!

The monthly community engagement program plays a greater role in raising awareness and instilling public participation and responsibility for the Islands rare plant life, than it does real conservation, which is carried out Monday to Sunday every other day of the month. Some of the rarest plants on earth are clinging to existence on St Helena, and it is vital that the locals appreciate and understand the importance of protecting these habitats if the program is to succeed long term.

The evening was spent back in the company of the Days family who came round for a movie and pizza. Get Carters, a local eatery provides the Island with take away pizza of fine quality. Amongst the usual selection I felt obligated to try a 9” Caribbean, the topping consisting of Jerk Chicken, Bacon and, Banana, no that is not a typo, Banana on a Pizza, and delicious it was too.

On Sunday morning Bev and I embarked on the first of our theory sessions to learn to dive. Given my background in Marine Biology and Public Aquaria it is highly unusual that I don’t already dive, but finally a life-long ambition is being realised on this tiny Island, and I will soon be diving amongst some of the most pristine marine environments in the World and sharing my time with Whale Sharks, Devil rays and a smorgasbord of endemic species seen nowhere else in the World.

And so we arrive at our Sunday afternoon boat trip and what a trip it was. This time we took to the Sea with Into the Blue, on a much smaller rib boat, an inflatable with two out board motors capable of travelling at great speed. The advantage of this, is the ability to move across the sea to where the animals are spotted in the distance, and get there before they disappear. Being low to the water also presents great views if the animals come close and of course it is huge fun bouncing and skipping across the waves.

Craig the operator and captain has been very successful in recent weeks and it seems has a sixth sense for finding the best views of these amazing animals with 13 sightings in 14 trips. So with great expectation we once again swung off the wharf and onto our latest adventure.

Moving at speed we were once again heading along the Northern coast towards egg Island, before we knew it we experienced the now familiar stop, turn and full throttle. Being experienced as we now are we knew or captain had spotted something.

Within minutes we were surrounded by a pod of around 300 Pan Tropical dolphins. Everywhere we turned dolphins were jumping, spinning, flipping and diving around us. The Deep Blue Circus Ring providing the perfect stage for these acrobats par excellence.  The excitement on the boat was palpable with expressions of “wow”, “amazing” “awesome” and a few expletives to boot. The sense that looking in one direction would cause one to miss out on the next leap clear of the water just behind you, caused us to flit from one side of the boat to another, jostling for position. Dolphins were jumping a clear 15ft from the waves, spinning and dancing in the air before coming down with a splash of a tail.

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Pan Tropical Dolphins, the acrobats and show off’s of this watery World, a pod of some three hundred all around us.

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This individual liked to show off by swimming vertically, pushing himself along in this upright position!

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The boat suddenly slowed to a halt as Craig made adjustments, with some sadness the Dolphins is seemed to then tire of us and the acrobatics ceased. A quick turn around and we were off again, soon back up to speed and along with us the dolphins began act 2 of their show. They suddenly sprung back into action with the sound of the motor and within a minute were once again putting on the display of a lifetime. Without doubt these animals were showing off, performing for their doting public and loving every minute of it. Oliver sat in amazement, completely breath taken at the sight, the experience he will keep with him for a long time. Charlie on the other hand was less interested, or at least too tied to be, seemingly nodding off to sleep with the warmth and comfort provided by his large padded life jacket.

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Spinning a full 360 degrees in mid air.

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Incredibly difficult to photograph. You never know where they are going to jump up, and inevitably you miss the focus, the timing, or both!

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After a time we moved on, I say a time as I have no idea how long we spent dancing with the dolphins, it may have been minutes it may have been an hour such was the depth of enthralment and captivation the dolphins held us in. Charlie at this point was soon brought back to life as some home baked chocolate brownie was passed round the passengers.

What then seemed like an age passed with no further sighting of dolphin or whale. Our captain approached some local fishermen, who, after pointing us in the right direction, held up their catch, a huge Moray Eel, highly prised eating in these parts.

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Cousins swim side by side

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Two adult Hump Back Whales with two Rough Toothed Dolphins which help to show the scale of these giant animals.

Following their directions we headed off and sure enough, in the distance we spotted the now familiar site of a hump, breaking the waves in the distance. As we approached it became apparent that two Adult Humpbacks were being accompanied by a smaller pod of dolphins moving slowly around them.

It became clear that these two whales were not just moving along slowly, diving periodically with a wave of their huge tail as we had seen before, but were also rolling and splashing, turning and spinning, their huge pectoral fins (the largest pectoral fins of all the Whales), crashing down as they rolled onto their backs, revealing their bright white throats, and ventral pleats. With each dive we waited with baited breath for a breach, the huge whale leaping from the water and crashing down with a tidal wave. But alas this never materialised as they resurfaced to continue their gentle play.

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With the largest pectoral fin of any animal in the World. A photograph cannon convey the size of this animal. The fin you are looking at is around 4.5m long!

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Splashing huge waves with a swipe of the caudal fin.

Rough Toothed Dolphins swam alongside and between them as we began to question this behaviour we observed. It seemed that maybe we were witnessing courting behaviour but further research with the Island’s Marine Team suggests the dolphin’s presence may have indicated that we were witnessing a calving mother and we may have been privy to some stage of a birth. Whatever the truth it was wonderful to watch and the Rough Toothed dolphins provided a greater sense of scale for these giants of the sea.

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Look at the fin at the far right of the image. That is the fin of a Rough Toothed Dolphin which can themselves reach 2.8m and is completely dwarfed by it’s gigantic cousin.

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Relative to their cousin the Pan Tropical Dolphin, Rough Tooths were very calm, cruising around alongside the Whales.

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Me, and my, shadow!

Returning back to shore we reflected on our weekend adventure. Many people spend their lives and never come close to seeing what we witnessed today, others embark on a once in a lifetime holiday to see such things. Yet here we are, with the privilege of a trip every fortnight, or more regularly if we choose, to spend our time amongst these mesmeric animals. How lucky we must be to live on St Helena.

I will leave you now to enjoy the photographs from our trip however one thing has now become clear to me, whilst my photography skills are improving and my enjoyment for the art is enormous, my budget, second hand equipment does not cut the mustard amongst the big boys. Following the success of my blog I hope to develop my writing and photography further and who knows maybe one say sell some photos in the future. Despite my wife’s protests and rightly pointing out we cannot afford it, I am now saving for a new photography shopping list, including a whacking big telephoto zoom lens, a boy can dream cant he!

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IMG_7695 This is the dorsal fin of the Humpback Whale. Situated towards the back third of the body length just before the tail.

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Our House, in the Middle of…

……the Atlantic Ocean.

The influence and presence of the Atlantic ocean is inescapable on the Island and in particular our house. The Northward facing bungalow provides extraordinary views of the ocean. Its colours change from deep blue to grey and a host of hues and tones in between, its texture from sand paper torn with white waves, to smooth glass reflecting perfectly the orange rays of a setting sun. Changing minute by minute and day by day I will never tire of looking out at the endless expanse. Walk in a straight line from our house, and eventually (aside from drowning) you would cross 5234 miles of ocean before eventually hitting the South Eastern Coast of Newfoundland in Canada!!

our house

The ocean dictates the weather on the St Helena, whilst having a quite extraordinary variety of weather and climate across this tiny island. Wind, rain and weather is driven South to North from the Cape of Good Hope, crossing nearly 2000 miles of water on the way before reaching this tiny blip in its path. The weather since our arrival has been changeable at best, and downright awful at worst. We are assured however that we have just come out of scruffy season (the wettest month) and will pass through Windy October and summer will arrive soon, itself brought on by warming climates in South Africa and the influence of the Benguela current.  At present,  wind rushes down the slopes of Half Tree Hollow, picking up dust and pulling the rains and mists down from the central summits and out to sea. A strange sensation, looking out across the ocean, with the weather crashing in from behind rather than running up from the sea below.

…….Half Tree Hollow

As I sit at lunch, or over an evening cup of tea, looking out across the Atlantic during welcome sunny breaks in the weather, I feel unaware of our isolation. The community that is Half Tree Hollow feels strangely normal and the ease at which we have settled into our little home is comforting. Whilst the Island and our new lives continue to present challenges and settling into school, work and our new lives will take a while longer, our house has become a home, and one which provides an Island on an Island, of comfort and security. Like most of the homes in Half Tree Hollow and the Island in general our bungalow of three bedrooms, is a breezeblock construction, with a pastel coloured lime wash exterior, providing a Mediterranean feel.

With views this good even putting the washing out to dry is a pleasure.

With views this good even putting the washing out to dry is a pleasure.

Houses are detached, with significant land and space around them. Lack of flat land has caused houses across the Island to spring up in clusters wherever access can be achieved. The picture of small colourful boxes hanging on hill sides, or buried within a sub-tropical jungles adds to the charm of the place, leaving us with wonder and awe at the those who navigate their way down tracks and across cliffs to reach their home, never mind those who built them.

With a supermarket, fuel station, bank outlet and numerous small shops ran from people’s houses, Half Tree Hollow provides for much of our needs. A friendly community we begin to recognise familiar faces, sat waiting for buses, or walking to collect the days bread as we pass by on our way to the next drop off.

Charlie showing us the boys lovely bedroom.

Captain Charlie Sparrow (yes that is a tea towel on his head) showing us the boys lovely bedroom.

…..Our Lives.

Large windows and open plan interior provide us with plenty of light, an airy feel and space for the boys. Reminders of home, photos, mementos and good luck messages from family help to break up the floral décor, and provide a necessary sense of familiarity.  Oliver in particular continues to struggle to adjust to his new school and finding friends remains challenging, but the home provides a sanctuary for him, a welcome sense of familiarity and a place of comfort, cuddles, fun and exploration.  Despite the sociality of our new lives, with regular meals out, weekend excursions and our regular spot on a Friday night at Donny’s bar, our home has become more important for all of us than it has in the past, and more important perhaps  than we give due thought to. When embarking on an adventure such as this,

Spacious and comfortable lounge

Spacious and comfortable lounge. Sorry the curtains aren’t straight Mum!! x

you consider work, food, people, sites, sounds and hope that your house will be comfortable and sufficient, but give less thought to your house as a home, what it will be like and how it will feel. Yet, our home is perhaps the most important aspect of our embryonic lives on St Helena. A place for work, for play, for home cooked meals; a place of laughter and few tears, for reading and learning, a place to be a family. If the home is where the heart is then we have found ours.

….Cacti

I think back to our first steps on the Island, cautiously driving up the nerve wrangling Ladder Hill, (which now seems like a walk in the park) and turning up a steep track to find our new house, isolated amongst a field of dense cacti, stunning and exciting as it spread for hundreds of yards all around us.

Surrounded by a dense field of cacti our house provides adventure a plenty for the boys.

Surrounded by a dense field of cacti our house provides adventure a plenty for the boys.

These fields of green, breaking up the larva fields and dust bowl, provide home for birds and insects galore, as well as a home for two excited children who could spend an eternity uncovering rocks, searching through sharp spikes and joyously exclaiming at each and every millipede found.

Mornings and evenings are awash with flashes of brilliant yellow and red as stunning Canaries, Waxbills and Cardinals flit and fly from one seed pod and grass stork to the next. The beautifully and aptly named peaceful dove sits motionless in the dust, hoping to remain unspotted until the final second when a flurry of feathers accompanies its erratic escape flight. Mynah birds provide a constant symphony of click, whistles, and song, accompanied ably by the chirrup of finches and canaries perched on Cacti tops.  Closer to the ground, bold Java Sparrows land in large flocks feeding on fallen grass seed before flying of in unison to the next feeding ground, the comfort of shelter provided by dense cacti giving the local wildlife security.

Wax Bills in the sunset

Wax Bills in the sunset

The national bird, a plover found in small areas on the Island, the only place in the World this bird can be found and an occasional visitor to our house.

A Wirebird.  The national bird, a plover found in small areas on the Island, the only place in the World this bird can be found and an occasional visitor to our house.

A sodden Peaceful Dove waits for the rain to stop to dry out.

A sodden Peaceful Dove waits for the rain to stop to dry out.

One of my favourites. This lovely small dove sits motionless in the middle of roads hoping the mechanical predators will not stop them Im forever having to stop the car to save running them over!

Peaceful Dove. One of my favourites. This lovely small dove sits motionless in the middle of roads hoping the mechanical predators will not see them. I’m forever having to stop the car to save running them over!

Java Sparrows form flocks of around 40 flitting from one feeding post tot he next.

Java Sparrows form flocks of around 40 flitting from one feeding post tot he next.

Difficult to photograph as they never linger more than a second the stunning Cardinal flashes red around our house.

Difficult to photograph as they never linger more than a second the stunning Cardinal flashes red around our house.

Beautiful Yellow Canary. This is the female, the males are even brighter.

Beautiful Yellow Canary. This is the female, the males are even brighter.

Oliver runs inside, “Dad I need a tub” he exclaims, as the next insect is found and collected. Millipedes, known locally as button worms, are collected in their hundreds, as are weevils, roaches and caterpillars. The porous larvae rock scattered all around provide little defence against the keen eyes of Oliver and Charlie, a two-man excavation team. Yet more exciting, if a little worrying has been the discovery of giant (and biting) centipedes, and scorpions, but the boys are well aware of the risks of being bitten or stung and their thankful parents feel happy enough that the boys know not to attempt to collect these particular Island Insects.

Moth Caterpilla

Moth Caterpilla (sp unknown)

These little millipedes are evrywhere, they exist in their millions in half tree hollow.

These little millipedes are everywhere, they exist in their millions in half tree hollow.

 (Menemerus bivittatus) one of many jumping spiders on the island and in our house keeping the fly numbers in check.

Grey Wall Jumper, (Menemerus bivittatus) one of many jumping spiders on the island and in our house keeping the fly numbers in check.

Tiny Brown Scorpion, sting is equivalent to a bee sting.

Tiny Brown Scorpion, sting is equivalent to a bee sting.

The Wildlife on this Island is incredible, and at every turn is another species clinging to existence as an endemic on this tiny and ancient land. Having had millions of years, isolated from the rest of planet earth and, until recently, free from human destruction, St Helena has more unique, rare and endemic species of plant and animal than the whole of the Galapagos, and around ten times as many in its one hundred and sixty to square miles than the whole of the UK. Yet these rare creatures do not need a degree in botany or entomology to discover, they lurk around every corner and under every stone, a truly unique opportunity of discovery for our young naturalists.

…..a building site.

With confusion and sadness I returned home last week to find JCB’s tearing out a large section of cacti, piling it high amidst a plume of dust blowing across our home and garden. Within days our cacti fields have been cleared, dust covering our house and car. The boys wilderness has been wiped out along with the thousands of insects and hundreds of birds that brought such pleasure to our daily lives.

A JCB starts to clear cacti from the land surrounding our home.

A JCB starts to clear cacti from the land surrounding our home.

It seems our home now sits in the middle of the largest housing development the Island has ever seen, and within 6 months, 18 new homes will rise up from the dust around us. Our Island of tranquillity will never be the same again, the boys and their parents, genuinely upset at the loss of our beautiful cacti jungle. Housing is in hugely short supply on St Helena, development is needed, and areas to build on are as scarce as the endemic plants and insects. Cacti is an environment of value only to the Tyson’s, it does not contain the rare ferns and trees of the cloud forests, and the endemic insects are common across many sites on the Island. Sadly we sit alone in our wonder and appreciation of this rugged, spiky moat surrounding our castle and there is nothing we are able to do to halt the inevitable development.

Where once stood acres of wildlife now stand mud and dust.

Where once stood acres of wildlife now stand mud and dust.

Our heart is still in our home, and patches of cacti, rock, insect and finch remain plentiful enough on our eastern side to entertain the boys in the medium term, but it now seems inevitable that we will have to move in the new year as building progresses further. They say home is where the heart is, I only hope that our hearts can find a new home, elsewhere on this enchanting Island.