Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Farnes - Inner Farne

The boat pulled up alongside the platform on Inner Farne, but before we were allowed ashore a member of the resident National Trust team boarded and warned us that the 'Arctic Terns have laid eggs and are attacking, so make sure you are wearing a hat', etc.

He wasn't wrong. The birds have nests right up alongside, and in some cases actually on, the boardwalk set aside for human access, though they are protected by makeshift barriers. As soon as you approach them they rise into the air calling 'tchack, tchack, tchack' before diving at your head and pecking. On exposed skin and through coat hoods they draw blood as their bills are sharp and they are very serious about defending their offspring. This one is about to dive:

This one was having a good old shout before joining in the assault:

The bill and leg colours are really very deep red. Another bird diving in to attack:

This one briefly settled on a lady's head, before resuming his attack:

I tried to take a picture of one bird launching repeated attacks on Helen but I was laughing too much to hold the camera steady. She'd already had a good laugh at me though, the first bird to attack me had pooed all over my hat and on my coat and boots too :)

As well as the Arctic Terns there were a few Common Terns:

and a large group of Sandwich Terns, note the crest and yellow end to the bill and the 'wings-held' posture, which together with the prominent sand eel show the bird is displaying:

We spotted a couple of the birds posturing and calling to each other in the group:

They carried on:

The pairing display ends with them both assuming a 'wings-held' pose, then almost ballroom dancer like, wing-to-wing they circle around together. The assembled and growing group of watchers were 'oohing' and 'ahhing' at the display:

As well as the birds on the island itself we were briefly overflown by a group of Gannets:

I spotted this Northern Fulmar, restless, it actually launched itself at a group of Puffins and Guillemots. The photo is unfortunately not sharp but I have included it to show the bill of the bird:

At one point on the island it was possible to get really quite close to a Razorbill (it's definitely worth a clsoer look, this one):

Also common on the Island are Puffins:

This bird had a bill full of sand eels but seemed content to just stand. Either it was displaying for a mate or waiting for the young to hatch in the burrow.

Last but not least an Eider duck with a gaggle of young ducks in a rock pool on the island:

With a drake Eider just offshore, rising to shake off excess water after a feeding dive:

I've included this picture to illustrate just how crowded the breeding colonies are:

With thirty minutes to go I asked a warden if there were any unusual birds on the island, he told me they had been sightings of a Red-backed Shrike and a female Bluethroat though he suspected both would be in cover with the number of human visitors to the island. With about fifteen minutes to go though we spotted the Shrike and tracked it round the island until I finally got close enough to take a couple of decent pictures, including this one:

No sign of the Bluethroat but this Red-backed Shrike was an unexpected bird on Inner Farne and a first for us!

Back on the mainland we decided to walk down to and around Bamburgh Castle:

Helen spotted some wild Wallflowers, something she'd not seen before:

Inexplicably I'd decided to leave my main camera at the hotel. I was kicking myself when we heard then saw a pair of Lesser Whitethroats, but the small camera we had with us wasn't up to the job.
In Bamburgh we stayed at the Victoria Hotel. We were very disappointed with this hotel. The room they put us in was tiny and cramped, with ill fitting main and bathroom doors. The room got too hot at night and when you opened the windows all you could hear was the kitchen extractor fans. The bed was a 'soggy pudding' which left me with backache after a very poor and fragmented attempt at a night's sleep. They had pushed us into booking dinner for the nights we were there as 'space is at a premium', but the restaurant was nearly deserted. Breakfast was one of the poorest and cheapest buffets I've ever seen, with the glasses, bowls and plates appearing to be deliberately small to limit portion sizes and the choice was very limited - though the staff did try and help by bringing yoghurt and kippers if requested, for example. In fact the hotel was cheap in everything but price (it was the most expensive hotel on our holiday by a distance) and I would strongly recommend avoiding the establishment unless they make dramatic improvements.

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