Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Last day of June

Sunshine? what sunshine - fog galore!

Arctic Tern at sunset
Its going well: fledged Shag chicks on the rocks
Saying hello, a yearling Grey Seal

Tuesday 30th June comments:
Hot, hot, hot…but not here. The British Isles is basking in a heat wave (or so I’ve been told) but hot sunny weather, with a light southerly wind brings only one thing to the islands: fog! The fog has been with us for four days and we’ve not seen the mainland for sometime. Even visitor boats were struggling yesterday as we couldn’t see the main jetty from the Pele Tower – visibility can only be described as poor!

However work doesn’t stop because of fog, this is a seabird colony and its still all go. The monitoring of seabirds has eased (just a little bit) as birds start leaving the islands whilst bird ringing and general research continues. The number of visitors continues to be high (despite the fog!) and generally spirits are high. The main reason is due to the great success of our seabirds, as we approach July and its looking like a great season…

The world of Farnes will become busy tomorrow as the press release will go ‘live’ and I suspect we’ll have a few enquiries during the course of the day, but we’ll have to wait see. Otherwise all is well and if everyone could share the sunshine with us out here, that would be great.

Highlights: Common Sandpiper on Staple Island (first of the autumn) and Purple Sandpiper 1.

Breeding birds: Good groups of Shag fledglings have started gathering in sheltered areas of the islands forming ‘family super groups’, one of the last nesting female Eiders has gone with very few remaining, Black-headed Gull a few more chicks fledgling from the colonies, Sandwich Tern chicks now fledgling as birds bring chicks down to the beach, Arctic Tern – the first fledged today, Common Tern chicks now medium sized, Guillemots and Razorbills continue to leave with huge gaps starting to appear on the cliffs and Puffins chicks leaving in the droves.

Butterflies: Painted Ladies are moving through the islands in good numbers with 70+ today, Painted Ladies several.

Cetaceans: nothing to report as we can’t see the sea due to the fog!

Monday, 29 June 2009

Toilet puffin

Puffins galore

A good crop of Sandeels

Sunday 28th June comments:
Life’s not easy is it? Just ask a Puffin chick (also know as a Pufflin). It spends forty days down a nesting burrow, never seeing daylight and growing up on a diet of Sandeels. Eventually when it’s ready to go, the chick will leave under the cover of darkness and walk down to the sea, before swimming out into the North Sea, away from all predators and survive on the North Sea, returning three years later to breed (hopefully). Simple? Well not quite…

Not everything goes according to plan. Every year on the islands, we have a small number which leave the burrows and set off on their journey to the sea under the cover of darkness. However, put a 14th century Chapel, a 15th century Pele Tower and a visitor centre in the way and the end result is that we normally have several fledged chicks scampering around the buildings, discovered during the morning cleans-ups. If their really lucky young Pufflins, they’ll be found in the public toilets....

So this is where yesterday’s story begins – we found a scampering Puffin chick in the toilets having lost its way in the dark the previous evening. So operation ‘Release the Puffin’ swung into action and due to the risk of predation, we kept the bird with us for the day and then we descended onto the jetty as light faded. We released the youngster (who was delighted to be out) onto the jetty but he wasn’t in a hurry. After a few wing flaps and stretches, he eventually walked (with some trepidation) to the edge of the jetty. Plop, he was then in – the North Sea for the first time in its life. The bird began to swim strongly east away from the islands and almost immediately started diving (its incredible behaviour from something which had never seen water until a few moments earlier).

It was a great success story and we’ll have many more like it over the next few weeks – the Puffins are doing well and this little chap is just one of the first of many. The season is going well, fingers crossed for a really good one...

Highlights: Green Sandpiper remains on Brownsman, Purple Sandpiper 2 and Whimbrel

Butterflies: Painted Ladies 60+ moved through the islands yesterday – a noticeable invasion whilst there was a general increase in Red Admirals
Moths: Several hundred Silver Y's moving through - another migrant on the charge

Saturday, 27 June 2009


Nothing like an adult: a fledgling Puffin on its way

Dr Richard Bevan talking to the media on Brownsman

Never work with Puffins - thanks for that
Friday 26th June comments:
This really is it now. The first Puffin chick walked from its burrow, without parents consent and departed. The bird had fledged and now like its other family members, the Guillemots and Razorbills, the Puffins are going. It’s hard to believe this thriving seabird metropolis will soon be empty and everything gone. Over the next four weeks, birds will depart on mass and by early August, the islands will become just that, bare cold islands. The season is heading for a great success story (fingers crossed) and with the first departure of a Puffin chick, its time to say goodbye.

However not everything is going, as Kittiwakes and Shags will linger on until late August and then comes more excitement, it’ll be migration time again! Also the months of August and September can bring other exciting sightings, as its peak cetacean time, so hopefully more Dolphins and a Whale or two on the agenda.

Staying with Puffins, the media descended onto Brownsman today, both local and national, to cover a story which will break next Wednesday (1st July), so brace yourself, more Farnes related press coverage coming your way. However you’ll have to wait for the story to unfold, but its interesting and well worth reading or listening too. As for me, well whilst holding a Puffin in my lap, it decided to leave its mark and let me know what it really thought of me - the joys of working with seabirds!

Highlights: Green Sandpiper on staple island, Purple Sandpiper 2 – returning birds but otherwise quiet

Butterflies: Plenty of Painted Ladies moving with small numbers of common butterfly’s

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Dolphin Crazy

Bottle-nosed Dolphin - adult with youngster

Great views - Dolphins near the boat

Saying hello to Glad Tidings I skipper Bobby Pearson and his visitors

© All photos Andy Smith
Thursday 25th June comments:
The Farnes are alive and kicking as the breeding seabirds make this one of the most exciting destinations in the UK at present – or is that me being biased? Anyway its all go, as chicks grow ever stronger as the food supply continues to be brought in, in great quantity. As for the team, plenty happening as we continue to monitor the seabirds whilst adding the finishing touches to the counting process and where nearly there! The Sandwich Tern colony now stands at a final 1,311 pairs on Inner Farne although we’ve still got birds settling on Brownsman. As for me, busy as ever keeping law and order and dealing with the media, but all will be revealed early next week…

Today brought some excitement with the appearance of at least five Bottle-nosed Dolphins in Inner Sound (between Seahouses and Inner Farne), during the course of the morning. The animals, at east five, were seen at 9am and remained in the area until early afternoon (and thanks to the Glad Tidings III team again – more great photos from Andy Smith). The amazing spectacle was seen by plenty of visitors to the islands and we suspect it’s probably the same pod which has been seen on-and-off in the area over the past month or so. The islands are really buzzing and its not be missed at this moment – keep your eyes peeled, anything is possible.

Breeding birds: Shag chicks ready to fledge, the first young Black-headed Gulls are now flying, Sandwich Terns now have large chicks, small chicks and eggs – a mixed bunch indeed and there is even a very late colony establishing on Brownsman – up to sixty pairs at this moment.

Highlights: still very few, but adult Wood Sandpiper on Brownsman on 23rd, Bar-tailed Godwit 9, Curlew 40, Turnstone 49 and Swift 7 over.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Sandeel Fishing

Bernicia - the Farnes research vessel

Sorting out the trawl nets

The catch: its good news, Sandeels galore
Tuesday 23rd June comments:
Days come thick and fast on the Farnes in June and the fantastic weather brings out lots of visitors, its great for the seabirds and the team don’t complain either (its BQ weather after all!!). Today was another exciting day, as the research vessel Bernicia arrived on the islands for its annual trawl around the islands. The boat is part of the Farnes Marine Research group, who, along with the wardens on the islands, map the seabed around the islands and trawl for samples of Sandeels, to see what is actually happening below the waves.

As usual, two wardens (Davy and Joe), accompanied the boat to assist with the trawl for the day and the results were excellent. The number of Sandeels being trawled up was good (better than the previous few years) and Snake Pipe-Fish (a problematic species) was almost non-existence.

Snake Pipe-fish were classified as very rare in Farnes waters up until 2003 (only three records existed until this time). Thereafter we saw a huge boom and to put it into context, just a single trawl from around the islands two years ago produced 500+ Snake Pipe Fish - and that was just in ONE trawl. However they appear to have gone as quick as they arrived, as Snake Pipe-fish are now becoming scarce.

Breeding birds: its ALL go, as the seabird colony has now reached its peak as chicks grow bigger by the day and some even fledge – we’ve now got Razorbills and Guillemots leaving in their droves. The Tern chicks grow ever bigger by the day and it’ll only be a matter of a week or two before they are flying. Even the passerine birds are getting in-on the act as Pied Wagtail young fledged last night (second brood) although our Swallows appear to have given up trying.

Cetaceans: Porpoise three sighted by Longstone Lighthouse with another two in Inner Sound (between Seahouses and the islands), so keep your eyes open if your visiting!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Ringing and research

The lads and the ringing team, ringing adult Shags

Warden Jason Moss showing a family Puffin Cam on Staple Island

Wardens in action - both Zodiac boast coming in to land

Sunday 21st June comments:
Another glorious day, bringing lots of visitors and more importantly, more good weather for the growing chicks. The seabird ringing team lead by Dr Chris Redfern visited the islands today, helping to ring adult Shags, Kittiwakes and Puffins. The Farnes team supported the ringers and help ring a good number of nesting seabirds, which is all part of the valuable research on the islands. Research on the Farnes takes in many forms, from range finding, to mapping of seabeds, to collection of feather samples to ringing amongst plenty of others. The valuable data collected helps ensure we build a bigger picture of what is happening to our seabirds, not only on the Farnes, but the UK in general.
As well as the ringing, the Farnes obtained a new exciting bit of kit today - a small endoscope, complete with infra-red lighting, which enabled us to penetrate Puffin burrows to check the contents. The 'Puffin Cam' was an amazing addition, as we were able to show members of the public what was happening below the surface and we were able to check on the health of Puffin chicks (all doing well I'm glad to report). This bit of kit will be used extensively over the next few weeks so hopefully I'll get some good results to report.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Onwards and upwards

Parent Shag caring for young

Puffin carrying sandeels for a hungry chick

Saturday 20th June comments:
It’s been another hectic period – although thankfully the worst of the weather avoided us again and things continue to look good (fingers crossed). The breeding seabirds are getting on with the serious business of raising young whilst the Farnes team go about their business of monitoring, meeting and greeting and everything in-between. Seabird breeding season’s are quick affairs, and its hard to believe we’ve got young chicks which will be fledging within weeks and soon all will be gone. However its nowhere near finished, so don’t stop reading!

As part of the National Trust, we’re one big happy family and its always great to see staff from other properties and regions visiting the Farnes. As well as the day visitors, we’ve just had a visit from the property manager and head warden from Blakeney Point in north Norfolk, discussing ideas and swapping ideas, so many thanks to John and David for all their input and hope you enjoyed the visit!

Breeding birds: Both Comorant and Shags has large young (although some still on eggs – its going to be a protracted season), sadly the majority of the nesting Eiders have now departed having fledged young, more young Guillemots seen jumping off the cliffs today although still thousands present – the bulk won’t move for a few weeks yet, Puffins now feeding medium sized chicks, Arctic and Sandwich Terns have plenty of chicks so sandeels galore being brought in (and no sign of any pipefish this year!

Highlights: Manx Shearwater 312 north in two hours this evening - a notable count for the islands, Shelduck 2, Roseate Tern - up to six lingering on the outer group - will they breed?, Starling 10.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Stunning: Arctic tern in flight

Numbers looking good: Razorbills on the up

Shags galore

Chicks at last: Kittiwake on nest
Wednesday 17th June comments:
At last! The final cliff counts were complete early on Monday morning and the teams, both Brownsman and Inner Farne celebrated…by going to bed early and having a lie-in (well until 8am at least). The early morning shifts are now over and its down to me to crunch all the figures and produce the population totals for the islands for the season.

The effort by the team has been massive and since 1st June, over 77 hours have been dedicated to counting the seabird populations of the Farnes alone (this is not including our ‘normal daily duties’). With just a few ‘satellite’ island counts to go, the task is almost complete. So watch this space for updates and I’ll bring you all the news very soon.

As for the islands, it’s currently raining. The stuff we have lacked for several months is now falling from the sky and it couldn’t have been at a worse time for the seabirds. Following the news that we now have Kittiwake chicks, all the colonies could do with a few weeks of great weather and then we’ll be reporting great successes. If only everything was as simple as that as rain can and will kill small young and eventually start causing other problems, like flooding of Puffin burrows. Only time will tell, but I could do without much more rain, otherwise we’ll have problems on our hands. Keep those fingers crossed…

Other than that, all is well on the islands, the team are shattered after the population counts, and all deserve a BIG thank you for their efforts, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Interestingly we carry out visitor surveys across all National Trust properties in the country, looking at the visitor experience and with a rating of 87% by the end of May, we boast second spot nationally – so a big thank you for all those who returned the forms and it reflects the brilliance of the islands and the staff which man it. Anyway enough of thanking my team, they’ll let it go to there heads (only joking lads), we’ve got lots of seabird monitoring to carry out and lets hope we produce some good results.

As for the seabirds, its ALL go now, as everything has chicks including all the Terns, so feeding hungry mouths has become the number one focus of attention. If anyone wants to see a seabird colony at its best, visit now, its amazing and you’ll never forget it.

Breeding birds: Cormorants have large young almost ready to fledge, Shags have medium sized young, Kittiwakes have newly hatched young, Guillemot and Razorbill youngsters have started leaving the colonies as they fledge successfully, all Puffins have chicks, all Arctic and Sandwich Terns have small chicks, Wrens, pied Wagtails and Rock pipits have fledged young whilst the Swallows continue to nest build.
Cetaceans: Porpoise are starting to be re-seen around the islands with two near Inner Farne yesterday although there have been no recent sightings of the Bottle-nosed Dolphins.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Peak time

Sandwich Tern with food

There behind you - Arctic Terns in attack mode
Saturday 13th June Comments:
The busy days continue to come thick and fast on the islands, as the calm sunny weather has returned and visitors have returned in good numbers (not that they’ve not been visiting). Its now eight cliff counts down for both island teams and by Monday morning, we’ll hopefully be celebrating a complete set of ten. The end result will bring us our cliff count figures and the population totals for several species (Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags and Kittiwakes). Gradually everything will come together and the Farne seabird population totals will be revealed in the near-future. As well as population counts, the team are constantly monitoring the seabirds, which will reveal just how well each species has done this year and then we can compare against other North Sea Seabird colonies and previous Farne seasons. The Sandeel situation appears good so far (touch wood) and Snake Pipefish (a problem and concern of recent years) appear to be very few and far between.

One thing which we did receive today, which we’ve been in very short supply this year, was rain! After nearly two months without (the ponds are now dust-bowls), we had a heavy downpour for one hour this afternoon. Rain may be a relief for gardeners, but at this time of year, as small chicks are just hatching, it can be a killer. Exposure can kill a small chick in the matter of an hour or so, so rain isn’t welcome and we could do without much more over the next few weeks. After that, I don’t mind, so long as the seabirds escape the worst of it.

Breeding birds: The first Guillemot ‘jumpling’ has jumped off the cliffs on Inner Farne on the morning of 11th June. It’s the start of the end for the Guillemots, as the youngsters jump from the cliffs to the sea and the parents (mainly the male) will take them to Dogger Bank (middle of the North Sea) where they will grow flight feathers and learn to become independent. The entire population of Guillemots (there is a lot of them!) will be gone from the cliffs of the Farnes by mid-July. Elsewhere its now all go, as most seabirds (apart from Kittiwakes) have young and the number of Arctic Tern young hatching has reached a new high, as hundreds are present on the day. The result is lots of hungry mouths so plenty of fishing by the adults to be done.

Highlights: Marsh Harrier female west yesterday (13th June) represented the second this season and the Farnes 18th record overall. Canada Geese - two skeins of 17 and 45 north - heading to moulting grounds in northern Scotland (yes some do migrant in the UK), Bar-tailed Godwit 10, Knot 30, Roseate Tern 2 adults lingering, Black Tern reported near Brownsman, Swallows – the pair remain on Inner Farne but the half-constructed nest appears to have stopped, have the pair given up?

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

New Arrivals

Hatched - the Farnes first Arctic Tern chick of the year

Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Brownsman - a stunning visitor

Tim, Tez and Adam counting Brownsman
Tuesday 9th June comments:
Following the mammoth Sunday count of Inner Farne, Brownsman followed suit with a count of that particular island on Monday. The population totals of the two main islands are now starting to come together and it won't be long before we have overall counts. However it's not over, as the team celebrated the half-way stage with cliff counts - five down, with five to go. It'll be another week or so before everything becomes clear and we can start boasting the 2009 population totals.
Although its early days, an indication of what appears to be happening out here includes; Eider numbers appear down, Arctic Terns similar to previous few years (a healthy population), Sandwich Terns level to last season, Common Terns down and black-headed Gulls down. As for the cliff nesters (still plenty of counting yet to be done), but Guillemots up, Shags level and Kittiwakes down. It’s a complex picture and everything will be unravelled over the next few weeks, but you’ll just have to keep on reading to find out what happens. Seabird colonies, especially the Farne Islands, are never a dull place.

Away from all the counting, good numbers of visitors continue to arrive daily whilst the most noticeable highlight recently involved another pod (or the same animals?) of Bottle-nosed Dolphins in Inner Sound on Monday. On this occasion, the wardens were lucky enough to see them – cracking views of the pod ‘playing’ just after midday – a real treat for all those who saw them.

Breeding Birds: The first Arctic chick has hatched - the little fella appeared from an egg on Brownsman and over the next week, the majority of nests will have little hungry beaks to feed. Its great news and we're now into the most critical period of the Farnes season - the next four weeks will decided just how good this year will be. Fingers crossed for some good weather. Other news: the breeding Wren’s have fledged three young – only the second year the species has nested on the islands (and two chicks were ringed) whilst Pied Wagtail have two nests with chicks.

Highlights: Little Tern 4 at roost, Roseate Tern 1 inspecting the 'Tern Terrace', Stonechat – a juv appeared on Inner Farne – a scarce bird for the islands, Knot 6, Swallow 2 - remain resident on the islands - will they breed?

Monday, 8 June 2009

Big day on Inner Farne

Having a laugh but with some serious work - the lads counting

Birds everywhere...

Early morning, the count begins

Sunday 7th June comments
The BIG day arrived, nest count on Inner Farne. The team were about to spend all day counting all ground nesting seabirds across the island. Transect lines would have to be placed, full concentration would be required (watching for those eggs!) and the hammer blows from the 1,000+ pairs of Arctic Terns would just have to be tolerated. This was it, no turning back.

As arranged, the Brownsman team covered visitor work in the afternoon (Inner Farne remained open to the public throughout the count) as we don’t count Brownsman until tomorrow. The day went well, the weather maintained itself (despite an early scare from a rain shower) and the Inner Farne team worked hard, counting and roping all the nesting colonies across the island. Everything was counted, from sitting Eiders, to nesting Oystercatchers. No stone was left unturned and finally, some 15 hours later, the count was complete and the job was done.

For the majority of the team, this was a new experience and one they won't forget. The team were shattered and mentally drained having concentrated on not standing on any eggs but despite this, there was a sense of great achievement and huge satisfaction. It was great fun but hard work at the same time. We were there, the one-off count was complete and our population figures for several species is now be known (for Inner Farne at least).

However it wasn’t all finished, as the evening was spent crunching figures (and sorting the weekly cash-up), but otherwise I was in bed at 21:00, exhausted from a hard days work. They don't get any harder out here but it was a great result. My team had done me, themselves and the Farnes proud, but it’s still not over. Tomorrow, we will get up at 6am, we’ve still got several cliff counts to complete and Brownsman to count. It’s never dull out here and it never stops…

Nest count results, Inner Farne:

Arctic Tern 1,067 (up 29 pairs)

Common Tern 94 (down 10 pairs)

Eider 411 (down 35 pairs)

Black-headed Gull 247 (down 73 pairs)

Large Gulls 16 (same as last year)

Ringed Plover 4 (same as last year)

Oystercatcher 5 so far - one more to find!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Counting continues

View of home - the Inner Farne Pele Tower

Thrift (also known as sea pink) - th only bit on the islands!

The counting continues into day six
Friday 5th June comments:
It was another morning of counting, but on this occasion, the ground nesting birds of one particular area of Inner Farne. The central meadow which (as the name suggests) is in the centre of the island, contains nesting Arctic and Common Terns along with good numbers of Eider and Black-headed Gulls. The process is simple; we lay transect lines across the meadow and count every nest (as a pair of birds). The main bulk of Inner Farne will be counted tomorrow followed by Brownsman and Staple Island on Monday.

Thereafter we can reach for the abacuses and we’ll have population figures for the islands. The cliff counts are still going and will do so for some time yet, so we’ll not know what’s going on there just yet. Its interesting work and not what I would call a day at the office!

The major highlight of the day came in the form of a small migrating game bird, not often seen by British birders. As myself and Jason were about to undertake more counting on central meadow, I placed my foot in a patch of grass, only to flush a medium sized bird a few feet in the grass. After a brief pause, the bird took flight again, this time heading strongly over the meadow before ditching into an area over the far side of the island. Sadly that was it, no more views (as expected on the islands), but two very happy observers. The bird in question; a Quail, having travelled from wintering grounds in Africa to breed in the UK (they are notorious late arrivals). It represents the first inner group Quail in ten years (since 2nd June 1999) as Brownsman has dominated records since (seven between 2000-2008).
As for tomorrow, it’s a BIG BIG day. We’ll be up at 5am counting all the ground nesting birds on Inner Farne for what is one of the longest, hardest but yet rewarding days in the Farnes calendar. Watch this space, my predictions for Eider numbers down but Arctic Tern numbers up, but then again, what do I know…

Highlights: Manx Shearwater 7 north, Arctic Skua 1 north, QUAIL 1 on Inner Farne at 13:30, Swallows 2 still prospecting on Inner Farne.

Friday, 5 June 2009

The trouble with Arctic's

Arctic Terns everywhere

Watch the skies...

Warden Jason Moss meets one of our Arctic Terns

A view with a difference; Arctic Tern on warden Adam Hicks hat

Friday 5th June comments:
For those unfamiliar with one of the Farnes most famous nesting seabirds, let me introduce the Arctic Tern. These magical birds arrive in Farnes waters in mid-April, breed on the islands during the summer months before heading south for the winter, as far as the pack ice of the Antarctic. One of our birds even has the distinction of being found in Australia, after leaving the Farnes 100 days before - now that is some going!! These birds are incredible and deserve all the plaudits they receive, but it’s not about the receiving, it’s about the giving when it comes to these aggressive nesters.

As anyone who has set foot on Inner Farne at this time of year will tell you, you’ll be greeted by a peck, followed by another, and another and another. Arctic Terns have being nesting around the main visitor trail (beside the Chapel and the courtyard) for the past thirty years. Despite the daily disturbance from visitors, the birds actually do very well, as predatory large Gulls (which would eat their eggs and chicks), do not enter areas where people will stand, so it works as a kind of protection racket. However that doesn’t stop them from attacking you!

Despite their size (compared to us), the birds attack, and attack hard, drawing blood on those unsuspecting visitors who arrive without hats at this time of year. Alfred Hitchcock would be proud. It’s surprising when you mention this to people, as they laugh it off presuming were only joking, but these Terns don’t joke. So if you do visit over the next month or so, enjoy and appreciate these amazing aerial masters, but be warned, the guard Terns do bite.

Seawatching: Manx Shearwater 12 north, Arctic Skua 3 north,

Highlights: Knot 25, Starling 11, Swallow 2 - prospecting - haven't bred on the islands since 1997.

Breeding birds: Oystercatcher – the first chicks have hatched so join the ‘chick club’ – not many to go, just Arctic Tern, Common Tern, Fulmar and Kittiwake! The cliff count this morning was cancelled due to a poor sea state, so fingers crossed for tomorrow.

Moths: Hummingbird Hawkmoth remained for a second day on Brownsman whilst the Inner Farne moth trap produced: Bright-line Brown Eye 12, Spectacle 1, Cabbage Moth 1, Marbled Coronet 5, Common Quaker 1

Butterflies: Still general quiet although Painted Ladies 5 and a Small White

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Blowing from the north

Stunning: a Shag on nest at sunset

Female Eider with ducklings

Jason getting some thanks from an Arctic Tern - Farnes style
Thursday 4th June Comments:
The sun, flat calm seas and settled life is becoming a distant memory, as the cold northerly wind has kicked in and the atmosphere has changed on the islands. The Farnes remain active as ever, as the daily hustle and bustle of life in the seabird colonies continues but temperatures have dropped and we’re on the way to becoming cut off from the outside world. Staple Island was closed for a second day, cliff counts were cancelled, and visitors only landed in the afternoon on Inner Farne, but only just. I just hope the storm doesn’t reach gale force; otherwise our breeding seabirds could be in serious trouble just at the crucial time. Watch this space…

As for the team, the islands will be shut completely soon (I suspect) as the northerly winds are due to increase in strength and the weekend looks bleak. We’ve already started planning for the worse, as food is stock piled and water rationed (we don’t have a water source so we import it from the mainland) and we’re bracing ourselves. It’s never dull out here and that’s just the weather.

Breeding birds: Wrens still feeding young on Inner Farne, otherwise much the same as usual – we’ve got 80,000 breeding pairs of seabirds, so plenty happening!

Seawatching: Red-throated Diver 2 north, Canada Goose 9 north (migrating to northern Scotland), Common Scoter 2, Manx Shearwater 45 north, Great Skua 3 north, Arctic Skua 1 north.

Highlights: Golden Plover 3 east, Sanderling 1 summer plumage bird – with only one leg! Knot, Starling 6

Moths: A noticeable highlight tonight as a Hummingbird Hawkmoth appeared on Brownsman – a cracking first of the year (we get about 4 or 5 a year on here). The moth trap will be set tonight in hope of some interesting species

Butterflies: Painted Ladies 5 and Small White

Three counts down

Breeding Fulmars on Brownsman

Bottle-nosed Dolphins, Farnes (last Friday)
© Andy Smith, Farne Islands

Bottle-nosed Dolphins bow-riding Glad Tidings three
© Andy Smith Farne Islands

Wednesday 3rd June Comments:
A day of change on the islands, as the fine, hot sunny weather, which has being verging on the unbelievable at times (for the Farnes), is changing. The wind has switched to the north and although it remains bright, the cooler northerly air has dropped temperatures. Not only that, but the sea state has altered, and once where smooth calm seas were, white caps start to brake. There’s a storm brewing….

The day started early ‘as usual’ for this time of year and we were off on cliff count number three at 06:30. The count went well although with those impending northerly winds, it may delay further counts, so we’ll have to wait and see. The quicker we can achieve our ten counts, the better! Following the counts, we decided to catch-up on some monitoring work combined with some bird ringing. It never stops at this time of year, as everything and everyone is busy. The northerly wind resulted in Staple Island closure (the first in three weeks), but Inner Farne remained open to the public, opening its doors at 13:30.
Once the last visitor boat departed, we settled for a night of seawatching as passage birds were moving north following the switch of the wind. What tomorrow will bring is uncertain, as cliff counts could be postponed and visitor boast may struggle to sail, but I’ll know more when my alarm clock goes off at 06:00. Its just another day in a seabird city.
A final note on the photographs, many thanks to Andy Smith and Micky Craig who provided the shots of last Friday's Bottle-nosed Dolphins - cheers lads, nice work!

Weather: N1-2 increasing 4-5 with bright sunny spells

Breeding birds: The pair of Razorbills at Lighthouse cliff (you can approach within two feet of this pair!!) now have a chick, whilst a good majority of the Guillemots now have young. The newly established Arctic Tern colony in the Lighthouse compound of Inner Farne has now reached a respectable 45 pairs, whilst Sandwich Tern young can be seen from the boardwalk. A second nest of Pied Wagtail (with small young) was found in the courtyard stone wall.
Highlights: Manx Shearwater 51N, Great Skua 1N, Grey Heron 1 east towards Longstone, Little Tern 4, Roseate Tern 2, Bar-tailed Godwit 60, Knot 20, Starling family party.

Butterflies: Painted Ladies 12 were the highlight

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Nice Sandwich

Sandwich Tern colony count on Inner Farne

A bold step: Sandwich Tern meets senior warden Davy Still

Watch your step, eggs galore!

Tuesday 2nd June Comments:
Another big day – although every day is a big day out here at the moment. The team were up at 06:00 for 'round two' of the cliff counts – counting the nesting birds on the cliff ledges, with eight counts to go. Everything went smoothly, the weather was perfect once again and the sea state was like glass (a technical term for a very flat sea!). Once that was complete, we had time for a short break before venturing to Seahouses in a quick dash before we set ourselves up for the big event – the Sandwich Tern colony count. Whilst this was going on, the Brownsman team were dealing with visitors (Staple Island opens from 10-13:30 – so plenty to keep us going).
Sandwich Terns nest colonially, and in only one spot on the entire Farne Islands archipelago – on Inner Farne on ‘top meadow’. The colony has being increasing over the last few weeks, so it was time to count the number of nesting pairs. This involves setting rope transect lines one metre apart and walking each line, counting every nest (which represents a pair of birds). The team continue that until the entire colony is counted and then it’s a job well done. Without doubt its one of the most stressful jobs as hundreds of eggs are scattered in such a small area (so you have to concentrate on where you put your feet), but the reward is great as the population is counted and something not everyone gets a chance to do! Thankfully everything went smoothly and we were finished, ready for Inner Farne to be open to the public by 13:30.
As for the count? Well, we’ll have a few more to add next week (the late nesters) but at present, we counted 1,256 pairs – slightly down on last season (1,358 nested last year), but I suspect we’ll be over that total once more have settled. We also found a few hatching, so Sandwich Tern chicks as well!! The afternoon was hectic, with more visitors (the fine weather is bringing out lots of people at this moment) and as the last boat departed at 5pm, the team had had another long day and a well deserved cup of tea.
Highlights: Still few and far between with Roseate Tern 3 adults on Inner Farne mid-afternoon – still no sign of breeding, Starling 4 and thats about it!
Breeding Birds: Sandwich Terns now have chicks, whilst Arctic Tern numbers have increased again including over 31 pairs in the lighthouse cottage grounds on Inner Farne (a new nesting area). Elsewhere all three Auk species (Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot) have chicks hatching in ever-increasing numbers and Shag chicks are becoming larger by the day. Pied Wagtail young are now becoming independent and the parents are already on six eggs (second brood) in the next box by the lighthouse and Wren young are almost ready to fledge.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Its flaming June

Puffins Galore

Cliff counts begin - the team counting the seabird populations

Monday 1st June comments:
For those regular readers, you can tell when I'm going through a busy period on the Farnes as the blog is not updated daily. Well the fine weather (its been amazing!) has resulted in some long days, thousands of visitors and tiring work - and its not just me putting the work in, but also my great team I have out here - all eight wardens are working very hard and deserve a medal for their achievements so far (but sorry lads, its not over yet!).

As well as all the bird monitoring, the general day-to-day tasks, and the occasional odd job, we've welcomed hundreds of visitors to the islands overt the past week. Amongst the masses, we've had visits from ex-wardens from 1991-92 and more recently in 2006-08, and various National Trust staff, which are always pleasant to meet. However one visitor stood out on Saturday - our Farne historian, Anne Wilson. Anne is not employed by the Trust, but just helps for the love of the Farnes, travelling 100 miles all-round journey from home to spend the day on the islands. On Saturday she reached a milestone of 300 visits - a great achievement and many thanks for all the hard work. Other than that its all go, with plenty to tell and I'll keep you posted, so keep reading.

Media: For those interested in seabirds and the Farnes, you can catch up with the latest at 11am on Tuesday 2nd June on BBC Radio Four - its worth listening!

Population Counts: Its 1st June and for the team it means one thing – the start of the population counts. As well as dealing with all the visitors and the various seabird research, we now start our day at 06:00 to count all the cliff nesting species – and there’s lots of them!! The team will carry out a co-ordinated count over the next ten days (weather permitting) and assess the populations of Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Shags. The end result will bring us our population totals for the year but we’ve got some hard work to do before we can start talking about that! Our days have just got a bit longer...

Breeding birds: It’s now all go – the Farnes is running on full steam – everything is busy, all birds have either eggs or chicks and it’s going to be an action packed month ahead. We’ve got Razorbill and Guillemot chicks hatching everywhere, Puffins bringing in countless Sand-eels (although not all have chicks), Shags and Cormorants with two weeks old youngsters, Kittiwakes on eggs although typically, some still have yet to build nests whilst the first Tern chicks are just around the corner.

Highlights: All quiet on the migration front with 30 Bar-tailed Godwit and a Grey Plover early this morning. Starling families have started bringing family parties over from the mainland (it’s a safe area as we’ve got no aerial or ground predators). Greylag Goose 9 over Brownsman, Mute Swan 3 west through Inner Sound, Little Tern 6at roost, Roseate Tern - our pair continue to roost on an evening but will they linger to breed?!

Moths: Trapping last night brought Spectacle 5, Bright-line Brown Eye 6, Swift 1.

Butterflies: Painted Ladies – migrants have started moving through the island in small numbers whilst our regular visitors are starting to slowly increase in numbers.

Cetaceans: The dolphins seen last Friday were identified as Bottle-nosed Dolphins thanks to the Glad Tidings Three team of Micky Craig and Andy Smith – the lads got some cracking views and even better photos (as will be shown on the blog tomorrow) – us wardens were very jealous when we saw the results. So not only do they beat us at football, but they also get bow-riding Dolphins – nice work chaps, but share the great occasion with us next time!