Saturday, 29 August 2009

On the move

Fledged Shag chicks

Not long now - the Grey Seals start moving in
Saturday 29th August comments:
Where has time gone? The end of the month is fast approaching and the seabird breeding season is well behind us now. Puffins haven't been seen for a few weeks, almost all the terns have departed Farne waters and I'm starting to forget what Guillemots and Razorbills look like, as its been a while since we last saw the auks around the islands. Even the Fulmars are at it, as youngsters have, at long last, started to fledge and within a few more weeks the islands will return to bare rock once again. Out of interest, a Staple Island Shag chick (darvic ringed) has been seen alive and well near Edinburgh, a movement of 114km north of us, so even the Shags are starting to move on (although the majority remain with us for the winter).
As time moves on, it won't be long before the Grey Seal season is upon us again, and its hard to believe its nearly a year since we were last dealing with them. As expected, we'll have the first pup born by the end of September and thereafter we'll be inundated, so watch this space!
As for bird migration, it still remains very quiet although the juvenile Cuckoo is attempting to break all Farne records as it lingers for its seventh day (plenty of caterpillars for it to eat) whilst small numbers of summer migrants continue to move South through the islands. A spell of easterly winds would bring huge numbers to the islands, but it's not looking likely in the near future so we'll just have to remain patient once again.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The one that got away...or was it....

Tuesday 25th August comments:

Was it or not? that really is the question. August had been running its course as a series of westerly winds had brought very few migrants to the islands but a slight change in wind direction yesterday afternoon produced a light fall of migrants as the wind switched to the south-east.

The result? A small 'fall' of birds on the islands as Pied Flycatchers (first of the autumn), Garden Warblers (first of the autumn) and Willow Warblers (amongst others) were suddenly springing up amongst the nettle patches on the islands mid-afternoon. Then came the moment. A bird spiralled onto Inner Farne and bang, three competent observers confirmed the bird as a Yellow-breasted Bunting, the 11th for the Farnes (and a rare bird for the UK). The bird showed briefly before flying off, a behaviour the bird continued to do for the following hour. Views weren’t great, but enough.

Then came the twist... Whilst searching for the bird (it hadn’t been seen or in flight for over an hour), I stumbled across a Bunting on the north rocks, instantly recognising the bird as an Ortolan Bunting (another cracking bird from the near-continent). However the jury was suddenly out as the presumed Yellow-breasted was not to be seen. Was it a mistake – had the Ortolan being mis-identified, or had there really been a Yellow-breasted and an Ortolan Bunting present?

The history books will now show just one bird and some very disappointed people, but no-one will really know if there were two birds or not. For me, I was just disappointed for the people who travelled, as I was not able to provide the bird they wanted to see. I was also disappointed for the Farnes, as we continue to try and open up the islands to the twitching scene and become more birder friendly (its a hard place to get too at the best of times!!). So was it a conspiracy or mistaken identity or was their really two different rare Buntings on the island? The debate and inquest will run long and hard into the autumn but it won’t stop us from continuing to find nice birds on the Farnes. My heart says two, but deep down, my head rules just one bird, an Ortolan. We'll learn and progress and fingers crossed for more exciting moments, but hopefully a bit more straight forward...

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Quiet days

Sunday 23rd August comments:

Very little to report - strong southerly winds with heavy rains on occasions resulted in no visitor boats sailing and the warden team staying inside catching up on paperwork - its not all fun living out here!
Highlights: Merlin 1, Cuckoo juvenile present for second day on Inner Farne, Swift 1 south, Wheatear 5, Whinchat 1 and Willow Warbler 19.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Cuckoo magic

Todays juvenile Cuckoo (by Davy Still)
Saturday 22nd August comments:
Despite a westerly wind, migrant birds started to move through the island including our third Cuckoo of the year – it was 1999 the last time the Farnes boasted three Cuckoo’s in a year!! Otherwise the islands remained quiet, with the majority of seabirds gone and the number of visitors dropping, as the school holidays start to fade out (I can hear every parent celebrating as children head back to school very soon…). The team continued various bits of work including the start of the Brownsman board-walk which will take some time, as we plan to cover a distance of 300m!

Highlights: Merlin juvenile – 1st this autumn, Cuckoo – juvenile our third this year, Greenshank 2 (Staple and Inner Farne), Common Sandpiper 1, Swallow 3, Wheatear 4, Tree Pipit 1, Chiffchaff 1, Willow Warbler 6.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Welcome back.

Manx Shearwater passing the islands

Distant Arctic Skua with adult Gannet
Wednesday 20th August comments
Refreshed and ready for the autumn. Welcome back to the daily blog from the Farnes, bringing you all the news, views and a lot more from the Farne Islands.

The breeding seabird season is well and truly over and the islands have fallen silent after a hectic summer period. The Terns have gone, as successful family parties start moving south to winter in the southern hemisphere, whilst Puffins are rare (seen only one bird since my return!). The Razorbills and Guillemots have long gone and it’s the end of a very busy but highly successful breeding season. All that remains is a good scattering of Kittiwakes and huge numbers of Shags, the latter remain around the islands throughout the autumn and winter period in ‘super flocks’.

On a daily basis, the islands remain open, with Inner Farne open all day and will continue to do so until October. The team, apart from working with visitors, have started strimming and all the management work we couldn’t do whilst the seabirds were nesting including a new boardwalk.

Today brought some excitement as an Osprey drifted over, mobbed by some angry Gulls. As the British population of Osprey grows, we’ll probably see more records of this impressive fish-eating raptor over the islands. Seawatching was also productive despite the southerly-backed winds (not ideal for seabird movement).

Seawatching: Balearic Shearwater 1N (2nd record of the year), Manx Shearwater 128N, Sooty Shearwater 5N, Great Skua 2N, Arctic Skua 4N Teal 3N, Velvet Scoter 1N and Common Scoter 8N.

Highlights: Osprey 1 east mobbed by Gulls at – the 14th Farne record, Common Sandpiper 1, Green Sandpiper 1 on Staple, Greenshank 1, Golden Plover c400, Bar-tailed Godwit 2, Swift 3 south, Yellow Wagtail 1 west and Wheatear 3
Butterflies: Painted Ladies 20+, Wall 1, Peacock 2 amongst many others

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Grizzly find...

Wednesday 5th August comments:
WHAT a day – the weather was perfect; the sea was flat and large numbers of visitors enjoyed the islands in all their glory, minus a few thousand seabirds… We still have a few Puffins lingering but they are becoming more and more elusive (two chicks fledged last night).

Away from all the visitor and wildlife aspects of the Farnes, we’ve been improving the accommodation on the islands over the past year or two. The next step in this progression has been the improvement of the fire place in the Pele Tower on Inner Farne to allow a new wood burning stove to be installed. As part of that work, the old chimney works were removed and it was then we made a grizzly discovery…

The building team discovered a well preserved, mummified Puffin complete with wing feathers and skeleton. It certainly was a sad end for the bird, as at some stage in history the bird had fallen down the chimney and become trapped. How old and how long it has been there is anyones guess, but where looking at years rather than months.

Highlights: Common Scoter 13N, Manx Shearwater 6N, Arctic Skua 3 lingering, Green Sandpiper 3 (1 on Brownsman and 2 on Inner Farne), Whimbrel 8, Bar-tailed Godwit 2, Knot 12, Golden Plover 200, Dunlin 8, Swallow 12, Sedge Warbler 1 and Willow Warbler 4.

Butterflies: An excellent day with huge numbers of all common butterflies along with 20+ Peacocks and 10+ Painted Ladies.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Tim Departs

Tuesday 4th August comments:
The wind increased but it remained calm enough for a few visitor boats in the morning – but nothing in the afternoon - just a bit too rough! It was a mixed day as passage birds continued to move through, especially seabirds and we said goodbye as first of the warden team departed for pastures new.

Tim Wallis, on this seasons short-term contract departed the Farnes today having spent an enjoyable four months with us. Tim worked and lived as part of the Brownsman team, helping to monitor the seabirds of the outer group and help with the daily visitor work on Staple Island. Tim is heading for pastures new following the completion of his contract and we all wish him well for the future. It’s strange that we’re already seeing the team leave, and sadly we'll see more departures at the end of September, as the Farnes year progresses.

Seawatching: Manx Shearwater 177N, Sooty Shearwater 1S, Balearic Shearwater 1 south at 10:30 - first of theyear - good views as it flew through Staple Sound, Great Skua 1N, Arctic Skua 7S and 3 lingering.

Highlights: Tufted Duck 2S, Pintail female-type on Knoxes Reef, Green Sandpiper 3 west, Common Sandpiper 2, Golden Plover 250, Whimbrel 2, Grey Plover 1, Bar-tailed Godwit 34, Dunlin 2, Roseate Tern 2 and Swift 4S.

Monday, 3 August 2009


Stunning: dawn over the Farnes this morning
Sunrise - yes I was up early today!
Monday 3rd August comments:
Another busy day on the islands, as the sunny weather and school holidays brought out lots of people but finding Puffins to keep people happy was easier said than done! However with good numbers of Kittiwakes, Shags alongside Sandwich and Arctic Terns, there was still plenty to see! As its August, Inner Farne is now open all day so the team are working hard to meet demand and as usual, rising to the challenge – it’s a credit to my team just how well things have gone this year.

However we’re expecting another weather front to hit tomorrow, so I suspect we’ll be closed to visitors (but it may bring more migrant birds!). Otherwise all quiet and the last of the breeding seabirds are continuing to raise young as the summer progresses. The birding continued to pick-up as the first Willow Warbler of the autumn arrived (they’ll be many more to follow) whilst seawatching picked up in the evening with a reasonable total of Manx Shearwaters passing.

Seawatching: mainly in late evening - Manx Shearwater 155N and Arctic Skua 3N

Highlights: Sanderling 2 summer plumage, Snipe (first of autumn), Golden Plover 100, Knot 20, Curlew 90, Roseate Tern 5 (including 1 juv), Swallow 12 (including our family party – yes they’ve fledged four chicks!) and Willow Warbler (first of the autumn).

Butterflies: (Inner Farne only) a good day - Green-veined White 12, Small Tortoishell 5, Large White 33, Small Whites 7, Peacock 10, Red Admiral 5, Painted Lady 7 and Wall.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Sabs Surprise

Waves crashing around Brownsman

Don't look down - Kittiwakes on the edge
Saturday 1st August comments:
Welcome to August and what a way to start – we were closed! A strong southerly wind increased during the night and as dawn broke over the islands, we realised we were marooned, as no visitor boats were going to even attempt the sea which was crashing around the islands. Even a local fishing boat got into difficulty and had to be helped out by the RNLI and Humber Coastguard. It was rough, take my word for it!

It wasn’t just the sea which we noted as the shout went up “Sabines Gull on the flats” – a rare North American Gull had been picked out from the Browsnsman cottage as it roosted with Kittiwakes – wardens have never moved so quickly out of bed and moments later, the team were enjoying the 21st Farnes Sabine’s Gull, although I’m not sure what it thought of a bunch of lads semi-dressed having just rushed from bed (it was early after all). The bird showed well before departing and everyone agreed it was a cracking way to start the autumn season. Later that day we also bagged a Sedge Warbler on Inner Farne, again the first of the autumn amongst others.

Interestingly whilst walking around the island, I managed to grab an adult Greater Black-backed Gull (not to be recommended!) but the reason – it was ringed. Here on the Farnes we’ve not ringed GBB Gulls for over twenty years, so it should prove very interesting when the details are returned from the BTO. So watch this space!

Seawatching: Manx Shearwater 34S, Pomarine Skua 1 south at 10:30 (first of the year), Arctic Skua 3S and Great Skua 2N.

Highlights: Golden Plover 7, Purple Sandpiper 36, Black-tailed Godwit 7 south, SABINE’S GULL - moulting adult on the flats on Brownsman – the 21st record for the Farnes and the first since September 2007, Roseate Tern 4, Swift 13 south, Sedge Warbler on Inner Farne – first of the autumn.