Sunday, 28 November 2010

Snowy Farnes

'Second-coat' pup in the snow (David Steel)

Our near neighbours on Brownsman (David Steel)

Footprints in the snow (Graeme Duncan)

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Snow pups

Looking west towards the mainland - Bamburgh Castle covered in snow
(Graeme Duncan)

A new born pup in the snow (Graeme Duncan)

Moulting pup in the snow (Jason Moss)
Sunday 27th November comments: You know its cold when the beach freezes. Not only that, snow forms. Its that cold. The north-east has been blasted with arctic winds bringing plenty of the white stuff with it and we’ve not escaped. The Seals have been covered, the islands dusted and the wardens are cold (but happy!).

So what’s it like on the Farnes at this time of year? Well today we ventured over to Inner Farne to finally 'close' that particular island down. In the process, we were caught in a blizzard but we survived and got on with work. We also checked out the new born Seal pups on the inner group before eventually heading back to Brownsman. We finished the day by moving various bits of equipment from the cottage to the jetty, which is no easy feat with several adult Seals and pups along the route (never mind the freezing conditions). Regardless we made it back to the cottage just before dark to settle down for the evening.
So how cold was it? Well my right hand needed warm water pouring over it before it would open – painful and cold and maybe we pushed it a bit today but mission accomplished. Now we can settle down on Brownsman and get back to the Seal colonies, in the snow...

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Seal days

A Seal pup on Brownsman with Longstone in background (David Andrews)

You looking at me? Seal pup up close (Graeme Duncan)

Thursday 25th November comments: It’s been an interesting time for the Grey Seals on the islands as unlike the previous year, we’ve had some serious storms from the north and east (bringing with it, some huge swell). As well as cold temperatures (not that Seals are bothered about cold temperatures!) but the seas have been mountainous. Although its early days, we’ve certainly lost Seal pups but we expect that on these small rocky islands, as nature can be a cruel mistress.

Despite the weather (ranging from biting northerly winds to sleet and hail), the team have got on with work and we've been active on the colonies. At one point, we took shelter behind a rock face from a sleet storm and were joined by two Seal pups - we couldn't blame them, its was horrendous. Regardless we;'re still not finished and I would not be surprised if we even got snow over the next few days, its that cold!

Latest pup populations…

South Wamses 389
Staple Island 327
Brownsman 296
North Wamses 269
Northern Hares 31
Big Harcar 3
Longstone 1
Total 1,276

Sunday, 21 November 2010


Farnes seventh record - a Woodlark on Inner Farne (Ian Fisher)

Looking a bit wet, Woodlark showing well (Ian Fisher)

Woodlark (Ian Fisher)

A lingering Black Guillemot (Graeme Duncan)

A good autumn for Common Redpolls on the islands (Ian Fisher)

Sunday 21st November comments:
It’s the late autumn and we’re still on the islands. We’ve got just over two weeks remaining before we head back to the mainland for the winter but before then, we’ve got a job to do. The stormy season is truly upon us and trips to the mainland have become few and far between. However this isn’t anything new at this time of year and we’ll focus on the Grey Seal colonies over the next few weeks before we eventually move off.

The past week has been generally quiet for birds although Auks have been the noticeable exception. Good numbers of Guillemots and Razorbills have returned to Farnes waters whilst Little Auks are being recorded daily, with at least one Black Guillemot lingering.

Friday witnessed a flurry of migrants as easterly winds produced late passage with the pick of the bunch involving a confiding Woodlark, representing the seventh Farnes record. The bird showed well on Saturday for an admiring group of keen Northumberland birders and at one stage, came within 8ft of the admiring crowd! The bird appeared to be reacting to a camera shutter lenses and once in position at the feet of the birders, decided to start singing in ‘sub-song’! Yet another strange and wonderful visitor to these extraordinary islands.

Other birds of note included several Common Redpolls (it’s been a good autumn for them) along with both Short-eared and Long-eared Owls. Also of note was three late Chiffchaffs, a scattering of Woodcock and reasonable numbers of Thrushes moving west towards the mainland. The Seal colonies continue to go from strength, with over 1,000 pups although I’ll bring you all the news and updates over the next few days. The winter is almost upon us and you don’t need to remind us out here – its definitely cold!!!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Storms rage

Safe and sound, a Seal pup on the Farnes

Grey Seal pup on Brownsman

Woodcock - one of several moving through today

Tuesday 9th November comments: Its been an epic day as the storm raged and the sea boiled, whilst the warden team stood back and admired the chaos around them. The North Sea is the last place anything or anyone wants to be at this moment in time and for those newly born Seal pups, they must wonder what kind of crazy world they have been born into. Its a fact of nature and the brutal realism of the Farnes, but not all will make it but we'll not know the extent of the damage until we return to the colonies, but that may be some time....the gales continue....
On a positive note, passage of seabirds kept us entertained with good numbers of Little Auks alongside a few other noticeable highlights, including a returning wintering Black Guillemot and our first Glaucous Gull of the autumn. However the star bird of the day was a little Siberian waif, a Pallas's Warbler, which graced Inner Farne. the bird, found early in the morning, is our second of the year and 17th ever.

Tuesday 9th November highlights: Little Auk 1,731 south, Great Northern Diver 2N, Red-necked Grebe, Sooty Shearwater 4N, Common Scoter 226N, Velvet Scoter 8N, Scaup 8N, Long-tailed Duck 20N, Tufted Duck 1N, Goldeneye 5N, Goosander 1N, Red-breasted Merganser 3N, Great Skua 5N, Arctic Skua 1N, Little Gull 1 south, Glaucous Gull immature, Black Guillemot 1N, Merlin 2, Peregrine 2, Woodcock 7, Chiffchaff 2, Pallas's Warbler 1 on Inner Farne all day – our second this year! and Common Redpoll 2

Monday 8th November highlights: Long-tailed Skua 1 juvenile north (a late individual), Little Auk 6N, 13S, Goldeneye 15N, Long-tailed Duck 14N, Woodcock 7 and Jack Snipe.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Fright night...

Staple Island with a difference... (Graeme Duncan)

Keeping pup safe - a mother on Brownsman with Longstone in background (Graeme Duncan)

Monday 8th November comments: If you've seen the forecast, you know what is happening. For those who haven't, look away. Its fright night.
Its storm season and this one is brutal and it couldn't be happening at a worse time. The wind cranked up to 'storm force' overnight from the south-east and by dawn, the sea was raging. Mother Nature was moving through the gears and the Farnes were feeling the full affect. The storm raged all day and the forecast isn't pretty. The radio crackled into life as darkness fell...
"Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover; easterly backing northeasterly 6 to gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later. Rough or very rough, but high for a time. Rain or squally showers"
I'm not sure what 'high' means, but it doesn't sound good. We're in for a rough ride this week, there is no doubting that. As for the Seal pups, well, we've got trouble ahead....

Friday, 5 November 2010

Autumn continues

Mother and pup (David Andrews)

Bull seal taking it easy (David Andrews)

Saturday 6th November comments: Its been a quiet period on the Farnes in recent days although the islands eventually closed to the public at the end of October, albeit on a disappointing note, as we were only open twice during the entire half-tern period (the weather really is 'king' out here).
The team having been working hard as ever, from digging ponds to closing down the islands, ready for the winter (its that time of year again). We've also been active in the Grey Seals colonies counting new born pups, which have increased significantly in number since I last put an entry on the blog. The predominately westerly winds have brought very little in the way of bird migrants, but that may change next week as they are forecasting big easterly gales. However if those huge storms do materialise (expected Monday-Tuesday) the Grey Seal pups won't be finding life as easy as it has this space...

Latest Seal pups totals:
South Wamses 235
North Wamses 200
Staple 107
Brownsman 96
Northern Hares 16
Big Harcar 1
Overall total: 655