Saturday, 30 November 2013

Living with Seals

Hello...anybody home? (Ciaran Hatsell)

Just me! A young Seal pup! (Ciaran Hatsell)

Boardwalk blockage (Bex Outram)

Making it tricky to move about (David Steel)

Sleeping pups on the boardwalk (Ciaran Hatsell)

Brownsman; home with the Grey Seals
Saturday 30th November comments: Life on the Farnes at this time of year is very different from mid-summer. The Grey Seals have replaced the seabirds, cold unsettled weather has replaced the long summer nights and it feels like Santa is already half-way down the chimney.

The Grey Seals have done well, as hundreds of youngsters are moulted ready to head into the big bad world of the North Sea. There are however still lots of mothers and pups on the island tops, making our lives interesting as we get on with Farnes work. Even simple tasks like bringing our food and water supplies to the islands have an added twist as we have the Grey Seals to dodge and dive between! A protective mother is not to be messed with and more often than not, we end up walking the long way round; the Seals win, again.

Our latest counts revealed another 82 new pups born across the islands bringing the autumn total to 1,418. With still a few more weeks to go, we’ll be surpassing the 1,500 total for the third consecutive year.

Birding highlights included the lingering two Iceland Gulls whilst a Sandwich tern is heading into the record books as our latest ever recorded. With one of our ringed birds sighted in The Gambia recently this one must be a little bit cold and confused!

Tomorrow sees the team celebrating Farnesmas (Farnes Christmas!), one last celebration of what has been one of the greatest seasons ever. For birds, for visitors, for everything! So raise your glasses to the team, they’ve done the islands proud.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Twice as Ice

Stunning white...Iceland Gull in flight (Bex Outram)

Looking darker in dim light (Will Scott)

Away it goes (Will Scott)

Double trouble on the rocks (Bex Outram) 

Wednesday 27th November comments: Make no mistake, its winter. The temperature has plummeted over the last week or so and the mighty Cheviots in the distance are dusted with snow. Even the birdlife is now living up to the season as wintering wildfowl is very evident including a scattering of Long-tailed Ducks and Goldeneye.

However it was capped today with a splash of white-wings in the form of two Iceland Gulls and a Mediterranean Gull. Iceland Gulls breed in Greenland and small numbers winter in the UK although they have become a scarce visitor to these islands in recent years, so it was nice to see them dip feeding in the surf. The strong northerly winds in recent weeks have probably pushed them down to the Farnes and they are certainly welcome visitors! If it’s going to be cold, then bring on the winter visitors! Ivory Gull and Arctic Redpoll tomorrow please!

It’s back out on the seal colonies again tomorrow for the team as we count the newborns once again. Stay tuned for more action from Planet Farnes!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


Collecting timber for the islands

Not just visitors who are transported out to the Farnes

Offloading begins

The move begins...onto the jetty

Timber galore
Tuesday 26th November comments: It’s that time of year again - Farnes management work! With our ground nesting seabirds long gone and the visitor season now finished, it’s time to get on with some good old fashioned management work.

Today we took full advantage of the mild conditions to head to the mainland and collect the timber required to replace some old boardwalks on Inner Farne. With our trusty Mitsubishi, the timber was collected and we were soon on the boat shipping out our latest supplies.

As ever, it is a lot of grafting for the team and they’ll certainly sleep well tonight after all that lifting, but the job is done, the timber is on the islands and the new boardwalks will be constructed. Hammers at the ready!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Seal with a loving kiss

First 'inner group' Seal pup born on Knoxes Reef

Let sleeping pups sleep

Piling on the weight...only three weeks old

Three weeks old and now independent

Seal colony with a snowy Cheviot hills in background

One in the hand...Little Auk

...and away it goes!

Saturday 23rd November comments: After a turbulent week (which brought northerly storms and snow) the wind and sea eventually eased to allow us access onto the Seal colonies. As the sun was dawning, the team were launching the boat and there was some trepidation as we entered the colonies for the first time since the northerly storm.

We were aware of displaced pups across the colonies and a few which had been washed ashore on nearby beaches, but just how bad was the storm? At this time of year any bad storms can wash over low lying nurseries and the result can be catastrophic. Young pups must remain on the land for their first three weeks of life otherwise they’ll perish in the North Sea; in poor years we can loose up to 50% of all pups born.

However, it wasn’t the bad news we had feared. Inevitably a few had been lost, but overall it was a good result as protective mums had moved vulnerable young further up the beaches. A total of 148 new pups were counted bringing our total to 1,336 this autumn and we’re still going strong.

On a different note, a few Little Auks were seen around the islands today and we even managed to help one back to the sea. Thankfully it was fighting fit and it swam away confidently into the North Sea; a great little bird to see at the best of time.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Storming north

Stormy Farnes

Thursday 21st November comments: It’s been a bleak, cold day on the Farnes as the northerly winds have produced some mountainous seas. Combine this with heavy rain, you start getting a picture of the extreme conditions we’ve experienced on the islands.

Despite this, there have been reasonable movements of birds which have been displaced by the weather, especially wildfowl. Winter ducks have been noted including Long-tailed and Goldeneye whilst a dozen Little Auks were no surprise considering the wind direction. Arguably the best bird of the day was a Slavonian Grebe through Inner Sound, the first record of the year bringing the ‘year list’ (the number of species recorded this year) to 192.

On a more worrying note, the Grey Seal pups must have been struggling on the low shingle ridges although the extent of the damage will not become known to us until the wind eases and we get back out onto the nurseries.

Todays highlights: Red-throated Diver 27N 1S, Great Northern Diver 6N and one on sea, Slavonian Grebe one on sea, Red-necked Grebe 2N, Wigeon 84N, Shelduck 1N, Common Scoter 62N, Velvet Scoter 4N, Long-tailed Duck 23N, Goldeneye 33N, Red-breasted Merganser 3N, Grey Plover 3N, Bar-tailed Godwit 20N, Great Skua 4N, Arctic Skua 1S, Pomarine Skua 2N 1S, Little Auk 13N, Black Guillemot 1N, Woodcock 12, male Blackcap and two Snow Buntings.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

From Gambia with love

From Gambia with love...our Sandwich Tern!

Farnes to the Gambia...just 3,000 miles

Ringing Sandwich terns this summer

Ringing operations start on Inner Farne

Wednesday 20th November comments: Bird ringing provides invaluable information about migration and is one of the most important scientific studies carried out on the Farnes. Over the years, a ringed Arctic Tern hatched on the Farnes made it to Australia whilst even our Shags have been discovered in the Netherlands.

This summer, for the first time on the Farne Islands, we ringed just over 100 Sandwich Tern chicks with small red darvics; special red plastic rings which have a unique three letter code enabling observers to read them in the ‘field’ with telescopes.

This scientific study will help us learn and understand more about our Sandwich Terns, especially the movements between British colonies but also the movements abroad particularly on their wintering grounds.
And it’s worked! In the first autumn of the project one of our chicks has been discovered on passage, in Africa! Yesterday Dave Montreuil photographed one of the island’s Sandwich Tern fledglings sporting ‘UFA’ at the Tanji bird reserve, The Gambia, a mere 3,037 miles south of the Farnes.

This sighting shows you the value of such a ringing scheme and we hope this is the first of many sightings in future years so if you’re going abroad this winter, you may be a lot closer to the Farnes than you think!
Sandwich Tern ‘UFA’ movements

12th July ringed as a chick on Inner Farne

3rd August seen at Greyhope Bay, Aberdeenshire

19th November photographed at the Tanji Bird Reserve, The Gambia by Dave Montreuil

Monday, 18 November 2013

Signed, Seal, Delivered

Peek-a-boo pup!

Welcome to the world little fella

Our female Seal with transmitter

Bull seal in the wars

Action packed Staple Island

Seal team preparing for another mission
Monday 18th November comments: Our seabirds may have long since departed and winter is now upon us, but the Farne Islands are still full of life; Grey Seal life. Following the first Seal pup born on the islands on 27th September, we’ve now had over 1,000 born and still going strong.

Our latest ventures into the colonies over the weekend revealed a total of 1,188 pups born with Staple Island dominating as the main nursery. The top four island seal nurseries are; Staple Island 405 pups, South Wamses 331 pups, Brownsman 237 pups and North Wamses 190 pups.

The ranger team still have three weeks remaining on the islands so plenty more to count. On the bird migration front, the adult Bonaparte’s Gull was seen again today alongside an adult Mediterranean Gull, whilst wintering wildfowl and a good scattering of Snow Buntings have also been the order of recent days.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Seal Peak

Seal pup on the rocks

Another new born on the Farnes

Moulting pups appearing across the islands

Fat and almost ready to go!

and now the adults have started breeding

Saturday 16th November comments: It's been another hectic period on the islands as the Grey Seal colonies are brimming with life. New pups continue to be born, older pups continue to suckle and some are now independent. Even mating is now occurring as the seal season reaches its peak. It won't be long before we are celebrating another successful season, but until then, we still have a job to do. Today we were on the seal colonies counting and spraying pups and we hope to complete the job tomorrow so I will bring a full update with all the latest counts.

Monday, 11 November 2013


One of 2579 Blackbirds today! Feeding amongst Grey Seal pups! (Bex Outram)
Redwing stops for a rest and a well deserved apple! (Bex Outram)
Merlin rubbing it's talons together with all the migrants! (Bex Outram)
Cock of the rock! What a way to see a Woodcock! (Bex Outram)
Mucky pup! Grey seals doing well so far! (Ciaran Hatsell)

Monday 11th November comments: It’s been a very busy day on Planet Farnes, for birds, seals and rangers alike!

The day started with the trill of Blackbirds overhead, as they piled in off the sea after a long journey from Scandinavia. These birds use the Farnes as both a navigation marker into the country and as a fuel stop after flying hundreds of miles across the sea. Everywhere we looked, there were birds! It was an incredible sight and it kept going all day, with the final total standing at 2579 Blackbirds west over the islands! Get your apples out everyone and be ready for an invasion!

There were Woodcock hunkering down in every crevice, bursting from underfoot. There were two tiny Little Auks battling the waves and several duck species adding to the excitement. Then at 10.30am, a beast of a Hawfinch flew low over Brownsman heading south! This is a major bird for the islands, only the sixth ever record, the second ever Autumn record and the first one to be seen since 2007! This is also the 191st bird species to be recorded this year by the team, after the addition of Scaup broke the record on Saturday. It just keeps getting better! Well done to the team for a great effort, you’ve made history!

These last two days have also seen the ranger team out on the seal colonies and it’s getting busy! There were 195 new pups in the last four days, bringing our total to 962 pups born this year! The pups seem to be doing well, with no major storms giving them the best chance possible at a good start in life.

It’s all go on the Farnes at the moment so keep tuned for more action from Englands’ largest Grey Seal colony which so happens to also be an internationally important seabird reserve and one of the most awe inspiring places to watch migration in Britain. This is nature, at its best!

Totals: Wigeon 125N, Velvet Scoter 4N, Long-tailed Duck 1N 1S, Goldeneye 4N, Little Auk 2N, Arctic Tern 1 (latest ever record!), Pomarine Skua 1N, Woodcock 41, Merlin 1, Starling 83W, Song Thrush 6W, Redwing 145W, Blackbird 2579W, Fieldfare 188W, HAWFINCH 1 South (6th Farnes record, 2nd ever autumn record and first since 2007!), Brambling 10W, Twite 2, Snow Bunting 2W. 

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Record Breakers...

Star Tern...our first ever Bridled Tern this summer

A long over-due first ever Red Kite

Spring Black-headed Bunting

Our 11th Yellow-breasted Bunting

Stunning winter addition; Bonaparte's Gull

One of two Citrine Wagtails

An impressive nine Great Spotted Woodpeckers

Southern delight; Hoopoe this autumn

A good year for Balearic Shearwaters
Saturday 9th November comments: It’s been an impressive year for the Farne Islands as we’ve had some great weather, the seabirds have done well, lots of visitors have enjoyed the seabird spectacular and the media coverage has been outstanding. To add to the many fine achievements, we added a new one today; a record number of bird species seen in a year.

The record for the number of birds recorded in a season stood at 189 (set in 2005) but today with a group of six Scaup recorded flying north, we have broken this record and now sit proudly on 190 species. And its not over as although migration is grinding to a standstill we still have time to add a few more before we leave.

This year has seen some impressive visitors including three ‘first’ for the islands; the stunning Bridled Tern, a long over-due Red Kite and Pectoral Sandpiper. Just as rare came Bonaparte’s Gull, White-rumped Sandpiper and Black Kite for the second time whilst other major highlights have included our 4th and 5th Citrine Wagtail, 6th Black-headed Bunting and 11th Yellow-breasted Bunting.

Not bad for 80 acres of rock sticking out in the north sea….

Highlights this year:

1st Bridled Tern, Pectoral Sandpiper and Red Kite

2nd Black Kite, White-rumped Sandpiper, Bonaparte’s Gull

4th -5th Citrine Wagtail

5th-6th Little Egret
6th Black-headed Bunting
6th-7th Fea’s Petrel
8th Olive-backed Pipit

10th Nightjar, Hoopoe, Marsh Warbler

11th Yellow-breasted Bunting

11th-13th Greenish Warbler

Other noticeable highlights: Balearic Shearwater (minimum of four), Leach’s Petrel, Spoonbill. Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Corncrake, Wood Sandpiper (two), Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Cuckoo (two), Great Spotted Woodpecker (nine northern race birds), Red-backed Shrike (two), Hooded Crow (two), Firecrest, Shorelark, Pallas’s Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler (twenty), Wood Warbler, Barred Warbler, Icterine Warbler (three), Bluethroat (two), Red-breasted Flycatcher (three), Richard’s Pipit, Mealy Redpoll (invasion), Common Crossbill and Common Rosefinch (two).