Monday, 1 September 2014

Farne Islands Seabird Populations 2014

Good year for our breeding Shags

Increase in Arctic Tern numbers

Kittiwake chicks galore

Farne Islands breeding season 2014


It’s been a bumper year on the Farne Islands as mild summer weather combined with good food availability has led to an excellent breeding season. The majority of seabirds showed welcome population increases with some species bouncing back from recent poor seasons. Some of the most noticeable highlights include:

Shag up 37% to 795 pairs (from 582)

Kittiwake up 21% to 4,175 pairs (from 3,442)

Eider up 16% to 639 pairs (from 552)

Sandwich Tern up 16% to 959 pairs (from 824)

Arctic Tern up 15% to 2,212 pairs (from 1,921)

Guillemot up 4% to Farnes record of 51,883 individuals (increase of 1,835)

It was a welcome boost for the Shag population following heavy mortality during the winter of 2012-13 which halved the Farnes breeding population the following year. There was also welcome news for Kittiwakes as the population increased by 21% and good numbers of young fledged; a positive step forward following recent poor breeding seasons.

As has been the case in recent years it was also another good year for our breeding auks with Guillemots at record levels, Puffins producing huge numbers of fledglings and the Razorbill population maintaining itself. Other birds to show increases included both the Arctic and Sandwich Terns, whilst Eiders (also known as Cuddy Ducks) made a welcome increase. Other highlights included the Farnes first ever confirmed breeding of Shoveler whilst Northumberland’s only breeding pair of Red-breasted Mergansers nested again.

In general it was an excellent breeding season; with bumper population numbers, good food supply, settled weather and excellent numbers of young fledging the islands. Encouragingly this success story was mirrored along many other east coast seabird colonies; halting the well documented declines in recent years. The year of 2014 will certainly be remembered as a good season for our nesting seabirds.

Farne Islands 2014 Breeding Numbers

Shelduck 1 pair (down 1 pair)

Mallard 21 pairs (up 6 pairs)

Eider 639 pairs (up 87) increase of 16%

RB Merganser 1 pair (level)

Shoveler 1 pair (first ever Farnes breeding record)

Cormorant 93 pairs (up 6) increase of 7%

Shag 795 pairs (up 213) increase of 37%

Oystercatcher 39 pairs (down 2)

Ringed Plover 6 pairs (level)

BH Gull 610 pairs (up 45) increase of 8%

LBB Gull 799 pairs (up 34) increase of 4%

Herring Gull 937 pairs (up 63) increase of 7%

GBB Gull 17 pairs (up 2)

Kittiwake 4,175 pairs (up 733) increase 21%

Sandwich Tern 959 pairs (up 135) increase 16%

Common Tern 88 pairs (down 6)

Arctic Tern 2,198 pairs (up 277) increase 14%

Guillemot 51,883 individuals (up 1,835) increase 4%

Razorbill 501 pairs (down 4)

Puffin 39,962 pairs (level)

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Wag the Tail!

Eastern promise; Citrine Wagtail (David Kinchin-smith)

Farnes 6th Citrine Wagtail (David Kinchin-smith)

Mixing it with the waders (David Kinchin-smith)

Preening on Brownsman (David Kinchin-smith)

Thursday 28th August comments: Its been coming. After several months of settled weather we can safely say the autumn is now with us (from a bird migration point of view!). In the last few days the winds have switched to the east with the end result of dropping migrant birds onto the Farnes.

A scattering of common migrants were discovered before mid-afternoon produced the bird of the autumn (so far!). An immature Citrine Wagtail was discovered on Brownsman favouring the mudflats on the pond. The bird is a rare eastern migrant and follows on from two last year. Overall it is the sixth Citrine Wagtail to reach the Farnes following the first in 1989.

With more east winds predicted, what else will arrive….

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Spitting Success

Fulmar party!

Chick about to be ringed

One leg and a special bird ring being attached by trained staff

Almost ready to go
Saturday 23rd August comments: The Farne Islands support twenty-three breeding species of seabird and most have now departed the islands after a successful breeding season. However we still have one remaining; the Fulmars.

Fulmars are notoriously slow breeders with the first eggs laid in mid-May before spending up to sixty days incubating. Once hatched (in early July) the single chick takes another eight weeks to fledge before departing in late August (talk about taking your time!).

Over the last few weeks as part of our long-term monitoring programme of Farne seabirds, we’ve been ringing the chicks and it’s a messy job. The species main defensive weapon is to spit an oily substance at ‘would-be-attackers’ and it works; nothing goes anywhere near them…apart from us (yes someone has to do it!).

So we’ve successfully ringed all the chicks but blimey, do we smell (even more than normal) as we took plenty of direct hits! We have to hand it to them Fulmars are certainly good at raising chick sand looking after themselves!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Shear Greatness


Manx Shearwaters galore (Bex Outram)

Wednesday 20th August comments: It’s been an interesting week as we remain cut off due to the heavy seas and strong winds. However things are gradually improving and we’ll be back in business before we know it. Despite the lack of visitors, we’ve been recording and monitoring as usual and it’s been a good few days…

On Tuesday a GREAT SHEARWATER was tracked up the Northumberland coast and just after 14:30 we discovered the bird flying north trough Staple Sound. This rare visitor was only the thirteenth record for the Farnes and the first since 2007. Also of note were the number involved as today produced 507 Manx Shearwaters and 6 Sooty Shearwaters north past the islands.

Other noticeable highlights included an adult Pomarine Skua (with full ‘spoon’s’) along with plenty of Great and Arctic Skuas. Its not just sea passage as waders are also on the move with four Ruff, Green Sandpiper and Greenshank seen on the Farnes today. It’s never dull!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Pups At The Ready!

Adult Grey Seal on Brownsman (David Andrews)

Checking us out...Grey Seal on the look out (Graeme Duncan)


Nearly ready to pup

Monday 18th August comments: Whilst the seabirds have been busy, the visitors have been visiting and the rangers have been ranging, one Farnes animal has gone largely unnoticed. The Atlantic Grey Seal.

The Farnes are home to some 5,000 Grey Seals (although you won’t see them all at the same time) but during the autumn months ‘pups’ (young Seals) are born across the rocky Farnes. Throughout the summer months, pregnant cow seals have been fattening up whilst letting the world go by…but not for much longer.

It’s only a matter of six weeks before the birth of the first pup on the Farnes and once they pop, they won’t stop! And then be warned, Seal season 2014 will begin.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Migration Magic!


The bird of birds...the male Red-flanked Bluetail on Longstone, Farnes September 1998
(thanks to ex-warden Mark Cornish - the finder of this stunning bird!)

Robin in the hand
Sunday 17th August comments: As the seabirds move off, the islands will change into a motor-way service station for migrant birds. Over the next few months, millions of small passerine birds leave the northern hemisphere for warmer climes in the south and the Farnes acts as a fuelling station as birds will stop off to feed up on the vast crop of caterpillars and insects on the islands.

During this exciting time, literarily anything can arrive from the commonest Robin to the incredibly rare Red-flanked Bluetail. It’s all to play for and during this period we’ll be running bird walks and bird ringing events for people to enjoy the amazing spectacle so come along and find out more. It’s never dull on Planet Farnes…

Monday, 11 August 2014

Scottish Sandwich

Adult Sandwich Tern on eggs on Inner Farne

Special 'darvic' rings for Sandwich Tern chicks

Fledged Sandwich Tern chick on Inner Farne beach sporting a darvic ring

And now on Findhorn beach, northern Scotland! (Richard Somers Cock)

Monday 11th August comments: Over the last few months the Farnes team have been going about their ‘usual’ business from dealing with thousands of visitors to monitoring the precious wildlife.

Part of the scientific work we undertake includes bird ringing, a tried and tested way of discovering so much about our birdlife. For the second consecutive season, as part of a larger UK wide scheme, we ringed almost 200 Sandwich Tern chicks with special ‘darvic’ rings. These rings are plastic with three digit codes allowing observers to read them with binoculars and telescopes.

As our Sandwich Terns have now started leaving, it’s been great to receive news of our birds on their first travels. Up to six Northumberland ringed Sandwich Tern chicks have been sighted on a beach at Findhorn in northern Scotland by Richard Somers Cock and this will hopefully be the first of many sightings.

It’s interesting to learn that our Sandwich Terns always depart north before eventually heading south for the winter (why do this?). This scheme is only in its infancy, but already it’s producing some impressive results and long may it continue. So if you see a Sandwich tern, check its legs…it could be ours!