Friday, 30 October 2009

Welcome back storms

You can't see me - a Brownsman Seal pup

Who's that...

Feeding by the cottage - Woodcock showing well
Friday 30th October comments:
Welcome back to storm season – a day of strong wind and heavy seas. Although we’ve been technically open to visitors for the past two weeks, we’ve only welcomed them on two days – Mother Nature hasn’t been kind to us recently. However Farnes life continues and yet more Seal pups have been born today, although we don’t have an official count for a few days. The team made the most of the day, as we went about daily tasks including construction of more boardwalk and applying much needed wood preserver to various wood doors.

On the bird front, the south-easterly winds brought in a small number of Thrushes but also at least ten Woodcock – like the Thrushes, moving from the near continent to winter within the UK. It allowed for some great views as birds fed around the buildings and give us a great opportunity for photos – nice work Davy! The Snow Bunting flock remain whilst the Richard’s Pipits are still here although due to the weather, we could not confirm the presence of a second bird…

Highlights: Woodcock 10 – a noticeable influx, Lapwing 2 south, Richard’s Pipit 1+ - still here although second bird not seen, Redwing 32 west, Blackbird 82 west, Fieldfare 21 west, Chiffchaff 1, Brambling 1, Snow Bunting 9 lingering

Thursday, 29 October 2009

All change

Up close and personal - a Farnes Seal pup

Keeping tabs on us - a Cow Grey Seal

Given respect - a Bull Seal on the rocks

Thursday 29th October comments:
It’s all change on the Farnes. Yesterday and today have witnessed some fantastic weather, and it was almost hard to believe that it was late October. The sun was out, the sea was flat calm and the team were full of busy! It allowed us access to the Seal colonies, visitors arrived in their droves and we even made it the sanctuary of the mainland for vital supplies (although Anne Wilson, the Farnes historian, brought some fantastic cakes and biscuits out for the team!). So a busy 48 hour period.

The visit to the Seal colonies was productive as the number of pups has topped the 200 mark with the island of North Wamses leading the way with 103 born. Last season we witnessed a Cow on the north shore of Brownsman suckling not one, but four pups and we’ve seen it again! However this time it involved a female on the South Wamses suckling three pups – it was very unusual to record it last year but a repeat – unheard of!

Migration through the islands continued as the Richard’s Pipits remain although they did consider departing (at one stage we watched them fly off west towards the mainland before returning – they have to go soon!). Interestingly a Yellowhammer arrived on Brownsman (the first on the islands in two years) alongside 21 Twite, whilst the Snow Bunting flock on Brownsman peaked at fifteen. As for the forthcoming few days, its looks like where in for a turbulent time and don’t look at Sunday’s weather, its going to get very, very interesting…

Highlights: Shoveler 1N, Water Rail one feeding on Inner Farne (2nd of the year), Skylark 12 west, Richard’s Pipit 2 remain on Brownsman…heading for November, Chiffchaff 2, Snow Bunting 15 together on Brownsman, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet 60, Twite 21, Siskin 2, Yellowhammer immature on Brownsman – first since 2007, Reed Bunting 1

Grey Seal pup population: population counts so far
North Wamses 103
South Wamses 94
Longstone 1
Brownsman 11
Staple Island 27

Total 236

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Over they go!

Spot the dots - thrushes galore over the Farnes today

Counting the lot - Jason on the obs roof on Brownsman

Tuesday 27th October comments:
Another day, another on Brownsman. There has been no escape since last Monday and today was no different. The wind increased overnight from the south-east and the sea prevented any escape, so it was a case of “life goes on” in a Farnes kind of way (just without any milk or sugar!).

On a positive note, the day produced an impressive movement of Thrushes, as birds moved from the near-continent to winter in the UK. The Farnes act as a key flyway for passage migrants and today saw a typical movement, as good numbers of Blackbirds, Redwings and Fieldfares were logged throughout the day. The spectacular sight involved small flocks moving west with the occasional bird dropping in onto the island looking for a deserved well earned rest. How many actually moved across the North Sea down the east coast today will never be known but it must have involved some huge numbers.

Thrush passage west:
Blackbird 1,736
Redwing 1,506
Fieldfare 766
Also Lapwing 3, Woodcock 6, Goosander female north, Merlin hunting, Skylark 4, Richard’s Pipit 2 – as happy as ever together on Brownsman, Willow Warbler, Brambling 6, Snow Bunting 5 together and Reed Bunting 2.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Still no go

Brownsman's latest arrival

Stand clear - a Bull seal keeping his ground

Monday 26th October comments:
So it goes on. The wind direction may have changed but where going nowhere. Just over a week ago, a south-easterly weather front battered the islands and it’s not stopped since. Today, at long last, the wind switched direction swinging to….the north. Things don’t get much better, as instead of a hammering from the south-east, we’ll just take it from the north. However it’s all change again tonight as we head back to south-easterly gales. Role on some calm westerly’s… Despite the storms, the teams morale is still good although with sugar and milk running low, it may change in the near future (the lads aren’t keen on long-life milk…)

On the islands, the number of seal pups increases daily and we’ve had several new arrivals on Staple Island whilst two more pups have been born on Brownsman. The storms appear not to be causing many problems however where still a few weeks away from peak birth rates and peak time for storm season. It’s going to be interesting.

Highlights: Richard’s Pipit 2 remain on Brownsman having originally arriving from the east on 11th and 13th October respectively – these really are record breakers for the islands – they don’t want to leave! Willow Warbler, Firecrest – a new arrival on Brownsman, the 4th this autumn, Goldcrest 2, Snow Bunting 2, Reed Bunting 1.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Look who's back...

Battered - the wind returnsAlign Centre

Saturday 24th October comments:
Was it over? Had the wind eased, were we going to escape for vital food supplies and would the islands be open to the public?

No. short and simple.

Overnight the wind had returned and within a few hours of daylight, the huge breaking waves hammering the islands had returned. We’re not getting out of this in a hurry. The islands have been battered since Monday evening and yesterday we experienced a calming off period when we thought our chances of escaping was good. How wrong could we be. Looking at the forecast, its going to be a tough week ahead and we could, possibly, be looking at next weekend before its calm enough to leave. Rationing water supply and food has just reached top of the agenda. Its storm season and don’t we know it.

Away from the storm, the Grey Seals continue pupping, as just since yesterday, five new pups have been born on Staple Island but we’re not due to make an official count until Tuesday. Otherwise all is well and the pups are keeping clear of the turbulent seas and the madness that is the North Sea. Migrants were few and far between today, as lashing rain and gale force winds made viewing very difficult. However it was obvious that we’d had a clear-out as most birds had disappeared and moved on.

Highlights: Jack Snipe on pond, Richard’s Pipit – no surprise the two birds still remain, Chiffchaff 2, Willow Warbler, Firecrest lingering, Goldcrest 3 and Snow Bunting 2.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Sealing mission

Mum and pup sticking close together on Staple Island

Stand clear - an angry mum warning us off

Grey Phalarope feeding Staple Sound (Brownsman in distance)
sorry for photo - taken on my phone!

Friday 23rd October comments:
Dawn on Friday, the end is neigh; the storm is over.....or is it? As the first rays of daylight streamed across the Farnes, the team were up and about although we had a few ‘over-night’ guests to release as both a Goldcrest and surprisingly, the Firecrest had taken advantage of the warmth of the building. Its not every day that you share a room with some migrant birds, but nothing should surprise us anymore. This is planet Farnes after all.

Although the open sea remained mountainous, the wind had eased enough to allow us access to the nearby Seal colonies. So Friday was a busy day as the team went about spraying, counting and tagging the young pups on the islands and we’ve now got a respectable 96 new pups (only 1,200 to go.....).

On the way back we discovered a Grey Phalarope feeding on the surface of the sea – a great little bird which showed well by our Zodiac inflatable. However due to the lack of cameras on board, I had to use my phone to sneak a few 'record shots' of this unusual visitor. 'Grey Phals' are annual on the Farnes although still remain rare elsewhere - it's the beauty of sticking four miles out in the North Sea! However as darkness fell, all was not well. The windows were rattling, the wind had increased once again from the south-east and here we go again, there is no escape.

Highlights: Grey Phalarope 1 in Staple Sound between Inner Farne and Brownsman feeding on the sea by boat! Lapwing 1 west, Woodcock 2, Richard’s Pipit 2 yet again, Fieldfare 16, Redwing 38, Song Thrush 9, Blackbird 27, Wheatear 1 lingering, Robin 15, Redstart 2, Black Redstart 2 (Inner Farne and Brownsman), Blackcap 2, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff 8, Firecrest 2 (Brownsman and Inner Farne), Goldcrest 11 and Reed Bunting 4.

Grey Seal pup population: population counts so far
North Wamses 52
South Wamses 38
Longstone 1
Brownsman 2
Staple Island 3

Total 96

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Storming over

Morning world - the Brownsman seal pup says hello

On the move - small numbers of Redwing

Its a small world - Goldcrest looking for food
Thursday 22nd October comments:
It’s not over and we know it. Day three and there was no let up. The day witnessed a drop in the wind, but the booming south-easterly swell was still producing waves big enough to crash over the Pinnacle stacks, which tower 80ft above the surface of the sea. This is some storm season and the wardens understand one thing about this time of year; there is no escape. As darkness fell, the wind was whipping back up and the stormy seas were angry once again, where in it for the long haul.

Despite the storm, the Grey Seals just get on with daily business as if nothing is happening. The bulls have moved up onto Staple to defend important colonies, whilst young pups, few in number, cling onto shingle banks hoping the next big wave is not their last. Thankfully all seals appear fine and well, as Staple Island now has two pups whilst Brownsman has just got the one. Hopefully the team will be able to visit the satellite colonies soon, as we should have a few more to report.

Migrants birds have continued to filter through the islands with a few interesting arrivals. However the day belonged to a cheeky Goldcrest which roosted overnight in the dormitory in the cottage before being released unharmed as dawn broke over Brownsman. The little bird, Britain’s smallest, has probably crossed the North Sea from Scandinavia and a little rest bite and warmth in the cottage was probably most welcome. Interestingly, the bird returned tonight and we’ll be heading to bed later with a Goldcrest sleeping alongside us for a second night...

Highlights: Water Rail 1 on Staple (first of the year – a rarity out here), Lapwing 3, Jack Snipe 1, Snipe 2, Woodcock 5, Wood Pigeon (rare out here!), Richard’s Pipit 2 STILL remain on Brownsman, Skylark 29W, Black Redstart 1st winter, Redstart 2, Wheatear, Robin 21 (influx), Firecrest 1 fem/imm for second day, Blackcap 3, Chiffchaff 4, Yellow-browed Warbler 1 at dusk (5th this year), Goldcrest 10, Red-breasted Flycatcher 1st winter – 2nd this season, Brambling 15, Chaffinch and Reed Bunting 7.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Storm season

Brownsman only Seal pup - safe and well

Staple Island being battered

Wednesday 21st October comments:
Day two of the storm and it remains real, it remains big. The south-easterly weather-front has remained constant and the sea has increased in size as two days of strong winds has ensured some impressive swell which is smashing itself into the islands. Although the Farnes are only 4 miles off the north Northumberland coast, that gap may as well be wider, as we’ll not see anyone else for some time. Forecasters are looking at next Tuesday, maybe. As the storm rages, the Shags look bemused, the Seals don’t care and the wardens look in awe. Welcome to the Farnes, this is storm season.

As for the seal pups, although few in number, they know when to keep their heads down and shelter out of reach of the vicious North Sea. The mothers are street-wise, they’ll know how to keep the youngsters safe and that’s a good thing. Migrant birds have also been dropping in today, somewhat bedraggled, as our lingering Richard’s Pipit remain, whilst a Firecrest was the pick of the rest.

Highlights: Woodcock 2, Short-eared Owl, Richard’s Pipit 2 STILL remain on Brownsman – the first of these two arrived over eleven days ago! Skylark 21, Black Redstart 1st winter, Ring Ouzel 1st male, Firecrest 1 fem/imm (2nd of the season), Blackcap 2, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest 5, Brambling 7, Chaffinch and Reed Bunting 4.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Storm time

Big waves battering Brownsman

Lonely and bleak - Longstone Lighthouse

Under siege - Jason inspecting Staple Island from Brownsman

Tuesday 20th October comments:
Good morning world, its storm time. I woke just after 3am to the sound of ‘dancing’ roof tiles – the storm was starting to bite and by dawn it was evident the forecasters had indeed not got it wrong. The south-easterly wind had kicked in during the night and it was raging and things did not change during the day - the wind and sea just battered the islands, relentlessly. The forecast is indicting that we’re due to be battered until at least Sunday – that’s five days away, so where in for a long haul.
Despite the weather life continues as normal on the Farnes, as the team got on with a few bits of practical work, whilst the first Grey Seal pup was born on Brownsman, well away from danger at the north end of the islands. We also had the bizarre sight of male Eiders, now back in their striking full summer-plumage (having been in moult during the late summer) starting to display. So there we had the surreal sight of displaying male Eiders in huge mountainous seas - what a crazy world, but then again this is the Farnes and its no ordinary place...
Highlights: Peregrine, Woodcock, Fieldfare 11, Redwing 73, Richard’s Pipits 2 – both still here, there going nowhere in this! The birds remain vocal and flighty at times, but appear very settled on the island (maybe linked to the lack of predators – raptors have been few and far between and we’ve got no other ground predators on the Farnes), Ring Ouzel 2 (male and first-winter), Blackcap male, Brambling and Reed Bunting 2.

Monday, 19 October 2009


Calm before ther storm - a calm Brownsman south end

Zodiac boats secured and away from the jetty

Jason with vital supplies - the beers!
Monday 19th October comments:
The siege is on. It’s the autumn and only one thing keeps us on our toes – storms, big blasting storms and its coming. The forecast has been building it, the isobars are getting tighter and the wind is increasing. Next stop – mayhem.
The islands are expecting a battering as a raging south-easterly storm which, if forecasters are to be believed, will last the week and not much is going to stand in its way. The wind will blow across the North Sea, and stop at the first thing in its way – the Farne Islands. Expect trouble. Today has seen some important work – planning for a siege. The local Co-op was happy with the teams arrival today as we spent over £200 between four of us but we’re fully stocked and ready. The islands boats and equipment have been moved and secured, the storage areas lashed down and entrance signs removed. It’s going to be brutal but we’re ready.
As for the Seals, where up to 26 pups as the team made it onto the colonies yesterday and their all doing well, but then again in calm conditions its what we'd expect. Hold on to your hats, its not just the wardens about to experience a battering, the big seas might just cause the Seals a few problems…watch this space.
Highlights: Brent Goose 2 pale-bellied lingering, Richard’s Pipit 2 remain – still present together on Brownsman – will they ever leave? Chiffchaff, Blackcap male, Brambling and Reed Bunting 2 – generally quiet

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Northern visitors

Pale and distinct - Common Redpoll on Brownsman

Pale northern visitor - Chiffchaff but not a British bird

Saturday 17th October comments:
The northerly wind continued today although much lighter than the previous day. The weather brought in a small scattering of migrants including two noticeable northern birds – a pale Common Redpoll – stunning against the dark background of the dock and a very pale Chiffchaff - a bird certainly not born in this country! Otherwise quiet, although our long staying Richard’s Pipits remain with us – they love Brownsman having been here since last weekend! Tomorrow we head back out to the Seal colonies, so hopefully a few pictures of our first born Seal pups.

Highlights: Great Northern Diver, Sooty Shearwater 2N, Manx Shearwater 8N, Arctic Skua 1N, Great Skua 2N, Brent Goose 1N, Long-tailed Duck male north, Merlin, Snipe, Richard’s Pipit 2 still lingering – the first was found on Brownsman 11th and has been here ever since! Common Redpoll 1 on Brownsman, Chiffchaff 3, Goldcrest 3, Brambling, Greenfinch and Reed Bunting 2.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Northerly wind blows

Friday 16th October comments:
A quiet day on the islands today as a strengthening northerly wind pounded the islands resulting in no boats sailing and the team being cut-off. Northerly winds at this time of year can produce some interesting bird sightings, but alas, it remained quiet despite our best efforts. Thankfully the low number of seal pups (a total of six born so far) will not cause them too many problems. However the teams focus went back to the new Brownsman boardwalk and hopefully we'll be boasting a new walkway by the end of the season. We'll be on the Seal colonies tomorrow morning, so I'll bring some photographs of our first pups born across the Farnes.

Highlights: Sooty Shearwater 3N, Manx Shearwater 3N, Great Skua 2N, Arctic Skua 1N, Richard's Pipit - both still present on Brownsman - their enjoying the islands having been here since 11th October! Chiffchaff 2, Garden Warbler, Goldcrest 3, Re2d Bunting.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Double take

Keeping a close eye on things - an adult Grey Seal

One on the wall - a Goldcrest checking for food against the cottage wall
Tuesday 13th October comments:
It’s the autumn and that means one thing: seal pups. The team were up bright and early this morning, as the weather allowed our first major check of the Seal colonies and we were not disappointed. The main colonies of the South and North Wamses produced six pups, although sadly two were dead, but this is expected on the Farne colonies at this time of year. The first pup of the season born on 4th October is doing well and being well protected by its mother, but sadly I forgot my camera so no photos today!

On the migrant front, the day brought a reasonable movement of Thrushes as well as a few other migrants and the lingering Richard's Pipit was still present on Brownsman for its third day. However we were stunned whilst watching the bird mid-afternoon, as there was not one, but two birds, as a second had arrived and decided to join up with the first - a double bonus but not surprising as this is the Farnes!

Highlights: Goldeneye 6, Merlin, Peregrine female, Woodcock, Arctic Skua one mobbing a Kittiwake, Short-eared Owl on Inner Farne, Richard’s Pipit 2 on Brownsman (one having been present for three days), Wheatear, Skylark 3, Blackbird 112, Redwing 933, Song Thrush 22, Fieldfare 113,Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff 2, Blackcap female, Goldcrest 4, Greenfinch, Brambling 10 and Reed Bunting 7

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Pups away!

Blackbird's on the move - heading west to winter in the UK
In coming - Redwing on the Farnes
Sunday 11th October comments:
Following yesterdays avalanche of birds, the wind switched direction and increased in strength, almost reaching gale-force from the north-west. The result was an almost complete clear-out of passerine migrants from the Farnes although the day brought one surprise. As the team were about to start work on building some new boardwalk on Brownsman, a Richard’s Pipit, a rarity from Siberia, dropped in and showed well before flying off to nearby Staple Island. The bird was refound on Staple by the team before it returned to Brownsman later in the day, the 18th Farnes record.

Whilst I was away on the South Uists (meeting no fewer than three ex-Farne wardens – great to see you boys!), the team recorded the first Grey Seal pup of the year! The pup was born on the South Wamses on 4th October and both mother and pup are doing well. So the first (of no doubt many) have been born and it'll probably be another roller-coaster of a ride over the next six weeks, so stay tuned - the Seals are taking over and weather is on its way...

Highlights: Woodcock, Snipe, Richard’s Pipit – one on Brownsman at 11:30 moved to nearby Staple Island before returning a few hours later, Whinchat, Wheatear, Redwing 14 west, Chiffchaff 3, Greenfinch 4, Chaffinch 9, Reed Bunting 3, Snow Bunting male lingering. Sadly Inner Farne was not checked due to the severe weather.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Migrants role in...

A cracking male Firecrest on Inner Farne (by Davy Still)

Red-breasted Flycatcher Inner Farne (by Davy Still)

One of todays Yellow-browed Warblers

Saturday 10th October comments:
Welcome back! and what a welcome - its been a cracking day on the islands as a huge 'fall' occurred with a few rarities adding to the spice. The blog is up and running again and I'll be bringing you all the news from the Farnes over the next two months and read tomorrow as I'll bring you news of our first Grey Seal pup of the year....

Today's highlights:
Pintail 1N, Great Skua 4N, Sparrowhawk 1 on Longstone, Short-eared Owl 1 on Staple, Peregrine 1 on Brownsman, Jack Snipe 2 (Inner Farne and Staple), Woodcock, Quail 1 on Brownsman and then Staple Island - 2nd record of the year and latest ever Farnes record, Skylark 9, Wheatear, Redstart 4, Whinchat, Robin 37, Dunnock 11, Redwing 3,567 west, Blackbird 75, Ring Ouzel male on Inner Farne, Garden Warbler, Blackcap 15, Lesser Whitethroat, Yellow-browed Warbler 2 - singles on Inner Farne and Breownsman, Willow Warbler 1, Chiffchaff 18, Goldcrest 3, Firecrest male on Inner Farne - first since 2007, Red-backed Shrike immature on Inner Farne, Red-breasted Flycatcher 1st winter on Inner Farne, Brambling 16, Greenfinch 12, Chaffinch 14, Snow Bunting 5 and Reed Bunting 4.

Recent highlights:

Friday 9th October
Seawatching: Red-throated Diver 1N, Manx Shearwater 244N, Sooty Shearwater 71N, Arctic Skua 35N, Great Skua 64N, Pomarine Skua 4N – all adults, Puffin 2, Ring Ouzel - 1st winter on island, Snow Bunting 1 on island.

Thursday 8th October
Long-tailed Skua 1 adult north, Great Skua 4N, Snow Bunting on island

Monday 5th October
1N at 18:00 – skirting past Crumstone and then Brownsman – 5th for the Farnes following accepted records in 2002, 1999, 1996 and 1993.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


The one - its not a great image but enough - Lancy on the rocks
(well done lads for snapping this in difficult conditions and fading light!)
Wednesday 30th September comments:
Its been a while since I updated the blog so here goes…

It’s been a long, slow September for the birders on the islands, as a series of westerly winds has produced very little in the way of bird migration. In fact nothing. I suppose it’s a bit harsh as we’ve had a Black-headed Bunting amongst others, but it’s been slow going at times.

However that changed on Tuesday and I should have known. I walked off the islands on Monday evening to attend an all-day ‘conflict and resolution’ training course on Tuesday as part of my job. After weeks (it has felt like an eternity) of westerly winds, I decided to leave on the only day an east wind decided to blow and that proved to be a big mistake, a real big mistake...

As forecast, the wind switched and by Tuesday morning, the islands were full of common migrants, as Skylarks and Pipits were present in their hundreds, Brambling and Chaffinch arrived from the east and the occasional oddity was discovered including a Lapland Bunting on Inner Farne. Then it happened.

The lads decided to check the most easterly island as time slipped away, as they arrived on Longstone (some 4.5 miles out from the mainland) at 18:30 and were greeted by a small number of migrants feeding amongst the lichen covered rocks (which is always an odd sight). The rain was falling and light was starting to fade but in the gloom, the team picked up on a small creeping warbler as it ran around on the open bare rock. The bird, small in appearance with the odd behaviour of preferring to walk rather than fly, was seen well by the lads and then the penny dropped. The team had discovered a ‘Lancy’ – (also better known as LANCEOLATED WARBLER) a very rare warbler from eastern Siberia.

Unlike anything else this season, this was a real rare – less than 120 records in the UK and most of those are from the Northern Isles of Scotland. Even Northumberland only boasts two previous records – on the Farnes in 1995 and Tynemouth in the late 1980’s. As light disappeared, the lads returned to Brownsman, to celebrate, but in the knowledge the world would be watching.

Due to a set of unforeseen circumstances, the internet ‘dongle’ was on Inner Farne and photos of the bird could not be forwarded to an anticipating head warden. Eventually the pictures were sent to me (I’m still mainland-bound at this moment) and the discussion began. At this stage, I got Ian Fisher, a very knowledgeable and well respected Northumberland birder ‘in on the act’ and following a review of the photographs (not the best of quality due to fading light and poor conditions), everyone was happy and the bird was a Lancy (not that my team had any doubts!).

It was great news for the lads (brilliant work team – that’ll be something you’ll not forget for a long time!), great news for the Farnes and the County, but not such good news for myself and many other birders who would have loved to have seen it!! To their credit, the team were on the Longstone complex very early Wednesday morning, but sadly the bird was gone.

So WHAT a bird, what a bird to miss...