Sunday, June 27, 2010

A day trip to the Farne Islands

Having been once to the Farne Islands and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, we've been planning a return trip for some time, to coincide with my being in the country for an uninterrupted weekend.

We booked ahead with the boat service (now £28/person - we reckon they took over £5,000 on Saturday alone, more than the National Trust whose islands they serve) for the 10 am departure 'whole day' trip. Seeing as Helen doesn't like boats this has been our fifth such trip this year...

Rather than a detailed account I thought for a change I'd discuss the species we encountered a little more, in something approach alphabetical order:

First-up then the Arctic Tern:

Beautiful and surprisingly small bird up-close. It is for these birds everyone has to wear hats when visiting Inner Farne. A surprisingly large number fail to and spend the first part of the walk waving their hands over the heads and looking amused and worried in equal measures as the birds seek to protect their eggs and young, both of which are very exposed along the edge of the path.

This chick was within a metre of the path and it was further back than a number, which were actually moving along the path or adults nesting on it:

The Arctic Terns have one of the longest migrations known. Once they have bred they migrate to the furthermost parts of the Antarctic Ocean before heading back again for the next breeding season. It is a remarkable feat of endurance.

I think whoever first decided to draw an 'angel' must have taken inspiration for Arctic Terns:

perhaps that's what they were doing on 'Holy Island' - birders creating religious content?

On the boat out and infrequently thereafter, we encountered Atlantic Seals:

They give birth in Autumn when the Farnes becomes a home primarily for seals, once the migrants have headed south again.

Perhaps the most travelled for bird and the most sought after are the Atlantic Puffins:

They are tremendously cute:

This one I suspect was waiting for the pesky humans to move away from its burrow before heading in to feed its chick:

The Puffins are targets of the gulls which predate them and try and steal the food they bring in for their chicks. We saw a Lesser Black-backed Gull take a chunk out of Puffin that didn't quite get into its burrow quickly enough, it got the food in but we didn't see it re-emerge...
When not feeding, they loaf and wander about:

Providing excellent photo opportunities on both Staple Island and Inner Farne, especially with some not forecast sunshine:

They usually aren't that vocal, however every now and then...

When they take off the head is held low:

Due to the number of Puffins and indeed the number of people they fly remarkably close to you, often within a metre of your face/head/legs, etc.

Everyone was smiling:

You're on the islands long enough to try some flight shots too:

One of the birds preying on the more vulnerable nesting birds is the Black-headed Gull:

This one was raising a small family of chicks and hassling the Puffins and Terns as they brought food to their own young.

One of the two species of duck present was the Common Eider:

This a lone female. In the harbour a group of females was with a creche of young. We saw a lone drake in the distance. Out of the water and indeed on it, the Common Eider is a surprisingly large duck.
The most common bird on the islands is the Common Guillemot:

Here you can see both the common and the bridled forms of the species. This year is proving to be the second good breeding season on the bounce, which is great news. The vast majority of Common Guillemot young had in fact already fledged and departed, we saw just a couple of youngsters being shielded by their parents.

Another less common (on these islands anyway) Tern is the Common Tern:

Note the black tip to the bill. This one was wandering around with a packed lunch, no sign of any juveniles:

The saddest sight of the trip was the, apparently unusual, taking of a Shag chick, from the nest with parent in attendance, by a Herring Gull:

Which then proceeded to kill and consume the chick. Once away from the nest it was defenceless.

I have no understanding of Geology but the rocks of Inner Farne have a very worn look to them:

Those you can actually see that is:

One of my favourite coastal birds is the Black-legged Kittiwake:

Again these birds are having a good breeding season, potentially the best in fifteen years, with their overall numbers increasing for the first time after a long series of declines.

Even better we don't hunt them here, though some scumbags think shooting them on the cliffs in Norfolk is clever. The police still haven't figured out who did it, but then I suspect they aren't exactly falling over themselves to solve it either... as we know wildlife crime doesn't register on the radar... not enough ticket revenue or something... or tricky crimes to solve when there's targets to be achieved...

The most common of the birds engaged in parasitical feeding on the Islands is the Lesser Black-backed Gull:

This family was patrolling through a Puffin nesting area hassling and attacking Puffins. An Oystercatcher got too close which caused a very noisy argument between the birds.

Considering how many Gulls there are, parasiting food and taking chicks, the Mallard was very brave to leave her brood like this while she flew down to the water for a while:

Another bird present in most cliff breeding areas but always in moderate numbers is the Northern Fulmar:

You can clearly see the tubenose on these birds.

A bird we've only ever seen on the Farne Islands is the Razorbill:

We did have a target species in mind for the trip having dipped out on our first visit, the
Roseate Tern:

It's the bird in the foreground with the all back bill and the black cap and was kindly pointed out to us by a group who knew we were looking for the bird. A tick!
The most flamboyant of our Terns is the Sandwich Tern:

Photographing a flying (albeit sort of hovering briefly here) bird at 840x is tricky...

My favourite characteristic is their displaying, the way they hold their wings, march around, dance around, call, etc. Brilliant!

They get the youngsters joining in too:

Last but not least the Shag:

They too appear to be having a good year, as this family attests:

The Farnes are well worth a vist. Watch your step and tread with care. Oh and wear a hat. My trousers and coat were splatted with poo but my head was intact despite a few full-on peckings from the Arctic Terns :)

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