Friday, 1 August 2014

Things that go bump in the night...

Leach's petrel (left) Storm Petrel (right) (Paul Baker)

Friday 1st August comments: It’s been all go on the nocturnal petrel ringing sessions, as more Storm Petrels have been caught whilst our Leach’s Petrel total has reached four; an unprecedented number for the Farnes. This oceanic wanderers are impressive birds but to see them in the hand, is another thing again. We even had the delight of listening to them ‘sing’ around the nets. The Farnes never fails to impress.

In another noteworthy bird sighting, the Farnes produced a major rarity on Wednesday as an immature COOT was discovered on the sea off Staple Island. A reasonably common breeding species in Northumberland this represented only the 24th ever record for the islands and the first since March 2007! It may not be noteworthy on the mainland, but a few Farnes birders were pretty pleased with that sighting!

So onwards into August and what will the month bring? The seabirds are shipping out, the migrant birds are moving through and who knows what the sea will produce? Orca anyone (it’s long overdue!).

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

I don’t Be-leach it!

Head of a Leach's Petrel


Distinctive wing of a Leach's Petrel

Forked Tail

Tuesday 29th July comments: The fine weather continues to dominate as the seabird season draws to a close. Each day

Late last night another nocturnal Petrel ringing session produced some wonderful highlights including five Storm Petrels. These dingy nocturnal seabirds breed as close as the Shetlands, but wander down the North Sea under the cover of darkness and are trapped regularly, as they are tape lured into bird ringers nets which help us peace together their movements.

However the real highlight came in the form of not one, but two Leach’s Petrels (a larger and rarer cousin of the Storm Petrel). The first was heard singing around the nets before eventually ending up in the ‘shelf’ of a mist net but whilst the bird was in the hand, another circled singing!

It was a great moment and although the second bird avoided capture (it unfortunately ‘bounced’ out of the net), to witness two singing Leach’s Petrel’s in Northumberland is something very unique!

It’s never dull on planet Farnes and you can’t take your eyes off this season…

Monday, 28 July 2014

Count Down

Family party of Sandwich Terns on Inner Farne beach

Fulmar chicks growing strong

On passage; Roseate tern fledging from Coquet island

Late Cormorant chick

Empty cliffs; Guillemots long gone

Monday 28th July comments: Time fly’s! The seabird breeding season is almost coming to a close and WHAT a season it has proved to be. The summer has been kind (plenty of sunshine and very little rain at the crucial times) but more importantly plenty of food (Farnes waters have been teeming with sand-eels this year).

The end result is that lots of chicks are now fledging the Farnes and it won’t be long before they are all gone. Over the last seven days we’ve seen a mass exodus of Puffins (we’ve still got some left but be quick!) whilst Guillemots and Razorbills have all departed. The majority of Tern chicks are now on the wing and within the next few weeks, the islands will fall silent for another breeding season.

My advice to anyone wanting to enjoy the seabird spectacular is to visit soon before it all comes to a close. However it’s not all bad news as soon we’ll be heading into the Seal pupping season...then the fun really begins!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Monster monster monster!

Monster in the hand (Phil Joyce)

It's big! (David Steel)

Obvious markings in wing (Laura Shearer)


Forked tail (Laura Shearer)

Tuesday 22nd July comments: Its that time of year when bird ringing on the Farnes takes on a completely different form; nocturnal bird ringing! For the previous two evenings, tape players have been played off the islands in the hope of catching Storm Petrels or something even better!

The idea of playing a tape to attract birds at night has been working for many years up and down the east coast and our success rate continued as seven Storm Petrels were trapped and ringed on Monday evening. However this was all eclipsed by something much bigger; a Leach's Petrel, caught and ringed just after midnight last night.

The bird, a nocturnal migrant which breeds in far remote Scottish islands was only the second ever to be ringed on the Farnes and its been a good start to the 'Storm Petrel' season. Hopefully a few more will follow in the next few weeks...

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Lift off!

On the move; Puffins heading off

End of the season for our Guillemots

Not far behind; Arctic terns getting ready to leave

Fulmars now have chicks

Friday 20th July comments: The Farnes season continues to move on and it’ll be a matter of weeks before our seabird numbers start dwindling following a very successful breeding season. Over the next few weeks, the final touches to the population counts will be made and then we can reveal exactly what has been happening this year; the good, the bad and everything in between.

In general we are heading for a cracking breeding season with lots of chicks of all species fledging from the islands. It appears a similar story is occurring at other east coast colonies which is tremendous news for our embattled seabirds. It’s been a tough few years (especially in the northern isles) and it’ll be good to report some positive news for a change.

So if you want to see our puffins, you’ll have to be quick; I’ll give it three weeks before they depart for another season…

Friday, 11 July 2014

Puffin Patrol

Puffin adult and chick

Scientific work on Puffins

Living under ground can be a messy place!

Weighing of a Puffin chick

Large chick having its wing measured

Ringing operations

messy work; team having a wash!

Friday 11th July comments: Although this year we are not carrying out a full Puffin census across the islands, we still continue to monitor the population on a smaller scale and indications this year suggest good numbers are nesting and more importantly, the birds are doing well.

With plenty of Sand-eels being brought in (the principal diet of Puffins) and good weather (very little rain to cause us problems) the breeding season is heading for a very successful outcome. In recent days the team have been putting hands down burrows (it’s a messy job but someone needs to do it!) and have been ringing chicks and adults as part of our scientific work. The numbers of large chicks is very encouraging and let’s keep our fingers crossed for the final few weeks, because we could be celebrating a very good seabird breeding season. Keep crossing those fingers.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The End is Neigh

Visitors enjoying Staple Island Puffins

Plenty of fledged Arctic Terns on the wing

Some dramatic skies of recent

Not all about birds; an impressive Garden Tiger moth


Heavy rain on Saturday took its toll (but many were saved)

Wednesday 9th July comments: The end is neigh. We are into the latter stages of the breeding season and its make or break time for all our seabirds. We are heading towards a very productive season as huge numbers of chicks are starting to fledge from Puffins to Arctic Terns.

With a little bit of luck (from Mother Nature) it will end well but we are reminded just how precious the situation is out here as on Saturday some heavy downpours resulted in the loss of several Arctic Tern chicks. It’s a thin line between life and death out here and things can turn in an instance.

However overall things are looking good and it’ll be a matter of weeks before the majority of our seabirds have departed so if you want to experience the Seabird City that is the Farnes, you’d best be quick!