It’s been a busy year for Leica Birding ambassador, wildlife TV presenter Iolo Williams. We caught up with him recently to find out how filming the BBC’s ever-popular Springwatch had gone this year.
For the latest series, Iolo found himself on the Farne Islands, a collection of igneous outcrops off the coast of Northumberland, historically inhabited by ecclesiastically inclined hermits. The monks are long gone, but the islands and the waters around them remain home to an astonishing array of wildlife, and their lives are anything but solitary: “It’s a real seabird metropolis!” says Iolo, ‘There’s tens of thousands of pairs of puffins, guillemots, terns, shags, eider ducks and lots more. It’s just an amazing place.”
These days, the Farnes are owned by The National Trust, and human residents are mostly concerned with looking after their valuable flora and fauna, as well as carrying out some exciting research. During filming, Iolo and the team were privileged to look on as a team of scientists from Newcastle University downloaded some record-breaking data from a geolocator that had been fitted to an Arctic tern in 2015.
“It was extraordinary – not just seeing what the results were, but also seeing the faces of the scientists as they broke into huge grins when they realised they had a new world record holder on their hands!” Iolo explained, “This tern had travelled 96,000km in eight-and-a-half months: it would have gone round the coast of Europe, North Africa, the southern tip of South Africa, briefly over the Indian Ocean, around the coast of the Antarctic, the Weddell Sea and then all the way back up to the Farnes.”
Amazing birdlife doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with amazing weather, however, and the conditions on the Farnes were pretty poor. “While the rest of the country was relaxing in temperatures of 24 degrees, the maximum temperature we had was 14!” Iolo laughed. “There was a thin layer of cloud above us for the entire three weeks and at times it was so wet that the puffin burrows flooded and we had to stop filming. It put the waterproofing of the binocs to the test, but I’m happy to say my Ultravid HD-Plus didn’t let me down once.”
And it was just as well that the Ultravid HD-Plus are so weather proof, as they had to face a test that isn’t performed in most optics factories… Rain wasn’t the only thing in the air on the Farnes: having more than 2,000 breeding pairs of Arctic terns on the islands makes for quite a lot of Arctic tern poo. “My binocs were absolutely white with the stuff!” declared Iolo, “It didn’t make any difference to how they performed, but it was quite a change from the usual black. Fortunately, they’ve cleaned up very well!”