Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Dolphins Day Visit

Sea swallow: Arctic Tern on nest

Best place to nest: Arctic Tern on boardwalk

One of our 300 pairs of Black-headed Gulls
Wednesday 26th May Comments:
The busy week continued as the school holidays brought out plenty more people, although thankfully not as many as the busy bank holiday weekend (we needed a beer after that one!). The wind increased today, making things a bit cooler on the islands, although this didn’t affect our breeding birds as they got on with life as normal (hungry mouths to feed for some parents). As well as visitors, the team have plenty to do as each warden has a number of breeding seabirds to monitor – checking nest contents on a regular basis. This helps us understand what is going on with our seabirds on an annual basis and it allows comparisons from year-to-year and site to site. Fingers crossed for some good weather over the next few months and I’ll report all the findings as they happen. Otherwise business as usual and the population counts role ever closer…

Highlights: A quiet day as very few migrants arrived on the islands – it’s that time of year when everything should be on their breeding grounds. Roseate Tern - one adult seen again on Inner Farne in afternoon, calling over Sandwich tern colony and landing on rocks near jetty

Butterflies: A small number of Painted Ladies were seen – part of a nationwide influx, but otherwise quiet

Cetaceans: A pod of up to nine Dolphins were seen from several visitor boats between Seahouses and the islands during the early afternoon. Unfortunately none of the warden staff got to see them, but plenty of photographs have emerged and we’re just waiting to confirm if they were White-beaked Dolphins (as suspected by some). The animals remained in the area for over an hour, often bow-riding the boats and were fully appreciated by all who saw them and yes, the wardens were gutted when people arrived off the boat to tell them great stories of Dolphins within feet. Thankfully the lads will hopefully see more over the course of the summer, so fingers crossed.

Breeding Birds: Another good day as Puffin activity has really increased as more chicks hatch on a daily basis – we’ve been finding discarded egg shell around the islands, whilst the first Razorbill chicks were found hatched on the West Wideopens. Although Arctic Terns will not have chicks until second week of June, there are plenty of birds now settled and in ‘full attack mode’ – those visitors without hats will understand what I mean! As for Sandwich Terns, they’ll have chicks soon but will our Roseate Terns stay to breed…only time will tell.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Rosy's return!

Stay close: female Eider with ducklings

A rare sight on the islands: Mute Swans fly-by

An odd rare: Bar-headed Goose returns to islands

Happy days: Newcastle down and out.
Bobby (Glad Tidings skipper) on good form but not today
(photo taken last week - sorry Bobby, chin up)
Tuesday 26th May Comments:
Move aside Springwatch. It’s Farnewatch time. The popular BBC program may have started for another three weeks but we’ll bring you all the news and stories from the islands, so stick with us everyone and don’t tune over…

Its all go on the islands as the breeding season has ‘stepped up a level’ and we’ve had plenty of interesting discoveries and plenty of people to share the experiences. The Puffins and Guillemots now have their first chicks, but plenty still to go, whilst Roseate Terns have returned. The Arctic Terns have started settling and attacking our visitors – even the wardens are not immune from the attacks, so we’ve got to wear hats almost 24-seven. Its all go.

An interesting story has developed as (for those regular readers) you may remember we placed cages over our Ringed Plover nests to protect the eggs - allowing adults to leave but to stop predator Gulls from stealing the eggs – its simple but effective. The adult Ringed Plovers have since moved out of the cage as they’ve hatched their young and moved on, leaving the cage empty for the past week or so. However that has now changed. Amazingly we’ve had a breeding pair of Oystercatchers move into the cage and lay eggs – protection without even trying!! Very strange but its protection for the Oystercatchers.

On a final note, to all those friends who support Newcastle United including boatman Bobby – chin up, it could be worse…actually no its couldn’t. There down and the might of Peterborough, Scunthorpe and Blackpool wait and you never know, they’ll be playing Gateshead in a few years time…

Highlights: Generally quiet as spring migration is coming to an end but still some interesting sightings including Mute Swan 14 north, Red-breasted Merganser male, Bar-headed Goose – adult returned for two days off Inner Farne on 23rd-24th, Sanderling 1 still lingering, Golden Plover 30 south, Roseate Tern 2, Little Tern 23 at roost and Tree Pipit one over calling.

Butterflies: Painted Ladies 7 on Inner Farne today with small numbers of Large and Small White’s and Small Tortoiseshell 2

Breeding birds: Puffin and Guillemots now have chicks and feeding activity has increased as parents are whizzing backwards and forwards to collect food to raise there hungry chicks. A pair of Roseate Terns returned yesterday with one noted today – fingers crossed for a breeding attempt, whilst more Eider young are on their way, as females take young to sea. All three passerines which nest on the islands have chicks including our pair of Wrens (which only nested for the very first time on the islands last season!). So it’s all go and its not about to stop.

Up and coming: If things feel busy now, well its just about to increase yet further as my team have one huge task over the first few weeks of June – to count the entire seabird population of the Farnes. Good luck lads, but as ever, I’ll be bringing you all the news and comments and watch out, its not good news for Eider numbers...

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Foster Mums!

Homeless with no mother: young Eider chicks in a box

Ready for release, Paul at Seahouses harbour ready to release the ducklings

Foster mums are go! Female Eider with four new chicks to look after

Eider mothers - surely the best. Today's Farne story is a happy story although please note, this shouldn't be tried at home, for reasons explained....

For those unfamiliar with Female Eider ducks, will probably not know that within 24hrs of hatching, the mothers will take the small ducklings straight to the open sea and west towards the mainland, finding relative safety of Seahouses harbour away from predatory Gulls. The first few mothers have departed the islands with young and before venturing onto boats to the Farne Islands, you should keep a close eye on the harbour to see the successes of these great birds.
Anyway, one great feature of mother Eiders (unlike the majority of other birds), is that they will accept other Eider young, regardless of where or when they were hatched. This leads to large creches, where non-breeding females or those which have lost youngsters, team up with mothers to form giant super-nursery's which benefits everyone. At times during the summer months, you can find several hundred chicks with 50+ adults helping to raise the young - its great.
And this is where our story begins. Paul, an Inner Farne warden, discovered a nest of Eiders which were hatching but sadly appeared to be abandoned. As instructed, he waited patiently over a period of 12 hours but sadly the female did not return. Whether the female was inexperienced and had given up just at the wrong time, we're not sure, but these chicks were not going to make it. But wardens being wardens, we decided on this occasion to intervene. We took the hatchlings into a box (because they were Eiders) and next stop Seahouses harbour, where we knew female Eiders would be lingering with young. So on arrival we were pleased to see a few mothers with chicks. So Paul moved closer, got the chicks out of the box, and the female Eiders did what they do best - made a direct bee-line for the ducklings and all ended happily. The four chicks were reunited with their new mothers and what a great success - Eiders at their best.
However I should finish this story with a warning to all: please do not try this at home. If you do find young baby birds from a nest, just leave them where they are, even if the mother is nowhere to be seen. Adult birds are clever and can be nearby (even though you don't notice) and they will return to youngsters over time, so please leave all young chicks. On the Farnes we know what where doing, so please don't get involved, leave it to those who know best - the mothers!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Wardens fall in seven goal thriller

Farne Island Wardens 3 - 4 Seahouses Boatmen

Warden discussion: Hick, Still and Steel in debate

Defensive duties - the wardens prevent a further goal

Just wide - Hopkins (blue shirt) cracks a shot just wide of the post

Boatman man of the match - Andy Smith (well played)

The big game was on, it was time for scores to be even as the wardens took on the Seahouses boatmen for the second game of the season. The game kicked off with the boatmen pressing from the off, and the advantage showed as the ever dangerous Craig scored following a defensive mix up amongst the wardens. It was an early blow to the wardens, hoping to bounce back from April’s defeat and unfortunately things went from bad to worse soon after, as Weightman hammered a second and the wardens had an uphill battle on their hands.

However not all was lost and despite the goal, the wardens became galvanised as play started to flow and the wardens started carving chances. Some good link-up play with Steel, Hopkins and Moss saw Steel flash a fierce drive just wide and this was just the start of things to come. The chance encouraged the wardens to push on and more great play saw Hopkins and Moss create a chance for Scott to finish in style to bring the lads back into the game. The momentum of the game had changed as the warden team surged forward, with Still and Cockram working hard in midfield, backed by Steel and Scott, with player of the moment Hopkins pulling the strings.

The wardens pushed on and forced a corner which was expertly swung in by Moss with Hopkins crashing a header home to bring the scored level. It was a deserved equaliser and more joy was to follow, as a through ball found Moss in on goal, and with all the time in the world, slotted the ball home to turn the game on its head, as the wardens were 3-2 up as the half-time whistle blew.

Once again, as like the first game, the wardens appeared to suffer a lack of concentration early in the second half as the boatmen were soon level. Captain Pringle, working effortlessly once again, broke clear and drove home from close range to bring the scores level with plenty to play for. The wardens appeared rattled and Pringle showed no mercy as he skipped a number of challengers and put the boatmen ahead by 4-3 soon after. It was a blow for the wardens as they never recovered as despite over twenty minutes to play, the team never found the elusive goal. It was obvious the team had rattled the boatmen, as with minutes to spare, time was been wasted, but the boatmen hung on for their second win of the season. It was a bitter blow to the wardens, who had worked hard and once again, had let a lead slip. Next time, surely we can go one better. As for me, I was proud of the lads and gutted it never showed in the scoreline. Bragging rights remain with the boatmen, but everyone knows its only a matter of time....

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The match, round two

Common Terns displaying - now on eggs!

The boys in practice - victory on the cards?

Wednesday 20th May

The wind has eased, the team are ready, its time for a re-match:

Farne Island Wardens vs Seahouses boatmen

So it begins, the bad memories of the 2-4 defeat on 22nd April will hopefully put behind us and the wardens will take the bragging rights back from the boatmen. Having been put through their paces (well walking around looking for migrant birds), the team are as close to wanting victory as we've seen all season. Surely we can't fail this time. Newcastle United and Sunderland maybe lacking the passion for victory, but as a head warden, I don't think I'm letting my team eat tomorrow night (yes I'm cooking) if we don't win. Competitive? Oh course.... ha ha ha. So look forward to a match on.

Breeding Birds: Today the islands have a complete set, as Kittiwakes and Common Terns are now on eggs - its all go and everything is starting increase. The number of nesting Arctic Terns has increased rapidly and the first 'attacks' from these aerial magicians is only days away. As always there will be plenty of twists and turns in the breeding season, but its now getting exciting.
Highlights: Not much to report: Little Tern 42, Little Gull first-summer, Sanderling still with us (fourth day), Grasshopper Warbler, Chiffchaff 3, Whitethroat - that's about it, quiet!

Monday, 18 May 2009

All quiet as westerlies are coming...

Inner Farne Sandwich Tern colony continues to grow...

Yesterdays male Pied Flycatcher on Inner Farne
Monday 18th May

A quiet day for everything – no visitors (sea poor again – its relentless at the moment), the majority of migrant birds have moved through the islands and the breeding birds were quiet although plenty of Arctic Terns laying now. The team failed to make the mainland due to the poor weather, so we’ll have to wait (once again) for supplies.

As it’s a Monday, I was kept busy with various paper work but generally not much to comment on. Thankfully the wind appeared to be easing so we can get back into the swing of things and settle for the summer. If the wind does ease, then we’ll be taking on the mighty boatmen at a rematch on Wednesday evening – so revenge is on the cards!

Weather: SE swinging to the SW 5-6 decreasing to 4 late evening

Highlights: A quiet day as the wind switched to the south and then a hint of west later in the day. Highlights included: Bar-tailed Godwit 70, Knot 40, Common Sandpiper 2, Black Redstart female lingering still, Tree Pipit, Chiffchaff 5, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Wheatear 4 and male Blackcap.

Breeding birds: More Arctic Terns with eggs – the islands (Inner Farne and Brownsman) is starting to ‘fill up’ with nesting pairs – over the next few days it’ll be littered! Otherwise not much to report from today, as things are starting to settle and we’ll be in the swing of the full breeding season soon.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Hectic Day

Sunday 17th May

At last the sea calmed (a bit!) and visitors made their first landings on the islands since Wednesday. The day was a busy one for all concerned and news filtered through that the first Arctic Tern egg was found during the early afternoon – about time! Amongst the visitors, two ex-wardens from the 1980’s were present (it’s always great to speak to ex-wardens about the ‘good old days’ out here) and Eliza, a researcher who spent three years on the islands not so long ago.

As for me, my afternoon was taken up by the BBC as Radio Four arrived to record an interview regarding the problems facing Seabirds in the UK. The series is looking at seabirds across the British Isles and they wanted to finish on a high-note with the Farnes, where seabirds are bucking the trend nationally. The interview goes out on Tuesday 26th May at 11am, it’ll be worth a listen, without being big-headed (I actually don’t enjoy listening/watching myself in the media – do I really sound like that….ha ha ha).
The big match, round two – Wardens vs Boatmen this Wednesday - having lost 2-4 in the first game on 22nd April, the second match of the season is scheduled for Wednesday evening and let’s hope for an improved scoreline…

Weather: SE 3-4 occasionally 5, with bright sunshine

Highlights: very few new birds in on the islands with several lingering from the previous day including; Grey Heron, Manx Shearwater 5N, Common Sandpiper, Collared Dove (A scarce visitor here), Black Redstart female, Whinchat, Wheatear, Willow Warbler 3, Chiffchaff 3, Lesser Whitethroat 3, Whitethroat 2, Pied Flycatcher female, Siskin and Linnet 2

Breeding birds: At last – the first Arctic Tern eggs were laid today discovered just after 1pm on Inner Farne with another on Brownsman by 5pm. So it starts from here, within the next week the birds will start attacking and life on the islands will change for the next few months. Also more Fulmar eggs discovered, Pied Wagtail fledged young from Inner Farne (good news after yesterday loss on Staple Island) and Mallard with four ducklings.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

One in the oven!

Flight fantastic - Arctic Tern in flight

Don't try this at home - Kittiwake in the oven!
Saturday 16th May Comments
Another day without visitor boats as the sea state remained rough although the wind had eased and switched direction slightly, as it started blowing from the south-east. The excitement of yesterday birds continued although the impressive Red-throated Pipit had departed overnight although the friendly Bluethroat remained for his fourth day. The most noticeable newcomer was a ‘blue-headed’ Wagtail on Inner Farne whilst plenty of other commoner migrants made it to the islands.

Thankfully the breeding birds escaped the worst of the brutal sea yesterday although it nearly did claim one life – in a bizarre manner. The turbulent sea had caused large amounts of foam to gather in gullies near the cliff ledges and brought the surprising discovery of a distressed Kittiwake trapped up in the mess. The bird, somehow, had managed to fall into the foam and become trapped, saturated beyond recognition. So, as good wardens, we did what we are trained to do – protect the wildlife of the islands. Twenty minutes later, the bizarre sight of a Kittiwake in our oven (door open!) greeted the lads who had not seen me walk into the cottage with the bird. After a twenty minute blast of hot air, a further hour drying in a box, the bird was restored to a fully operational Kittiwake, which was released unharmed and on its way. We noted the bird later, preening and flying back to its colony – success and a good outcome, if not slightly strange… but then again, this is no ordinary place.

Weather: SE 4-5 decreasing during the evening – a brief shower otherwise sunny conditions.

Highlights: Common Sandpiper 5, Little Gull second summer, Little Tern 58 at roost, Cuckoo on West Wideopens (yesterdays bird), ‘Blue-headed’ Wagtail male on Inner Farne, Swift, Swallow 34, House Martin 8, Sand Martin, Tree Pipit 2, Skylark, Whinchat, Bluethroat male present for fourth day, Black Redstart, Redstart 2 (male and female), Wheatear 3, Dunnock, Song Thrush, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat 3, Whitethroat 3, Willow Warbler 10, Chiffchaff 8, Pied Flycatcher 2 (male and female) and Siskin

Breeding birds: Despite the conditions yesterday with the rough seas, the breeding birds appeared to have got away with it – the Guillemots on the south end of the islands are hanging on in there whilst the Kittiwakes have restarted nest building. Thankfully the rain wasn’t heavy or prolonged enough to cause any problems for nesting Puffins. Sadly one casualty of the storm was six small Pied Wagtail young, which all perished in the nest on Staple Island – a sad sight indeed. However the parents will bounce back and a new attempt will be made in the near future. Rock Pipits are feeding young on three islands and fledged young will probably appear over the next week around the islands. Cormorants now have young on the East Wideopens and the Arctic Terns remain unsettled and the first eggs are still yet to be discovered.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Blue turns to Red

Another cracker: Red-throated Pipit on Brownsman today, Farnes seventh
© Joe Cockram, National Trust

Move out the way Blue-throat, Red-throat coming in...
© Joe Cockram, National Trust

Out of the way: Staple Island no match to Mother Nature
Up and over - waves crashing over Staple Island

Friday 15th May Comments:
Wallop. It hit us like an express train, and didn’t stop.

The wind continued throughout the night and strengthened during the morning and backed by an incoming tide in the afternoon, the sea was brutal, real brutal. The wave height couldn’t be measured, but when they are crashing over the sixty foot Pinnacle stacks (complete with nesting birds), you might get an idea what was happening. Nothing stops it nothing stands in its way. The Guillemots can only do their best and cling to their single egg with what they’ve got, whilst the Shags on the south end of the islands stood very little chance.

Tomorrow might reveal the true extent of the devastating hit, but if the islands have one bit of comfort, it’s that it’s only just the start of the breeding season. The Kittiwakes haven’t got any established nests, let alone eggs, so they were lucky this time. The losses experienced by the Guillemots and Shags will be replenished as its early enough to cope with the setback. However we could do without a repeat next month, during the crucial stage, so fingers crossed for some good weather. I suspect the Arctic Terns were aware of poor weather on its way, hence the late nesting this year.

As for the team, we watched in awe as Mother Nature dealt a savage blow. However it wasn’t all bad news as the wind and rain did one favour – it dropped migrant birds, swept in from the North Sea, onto the island. The Bluethroat remained throughout and a good scattering of common migrants were seen including a Cuckoo – a scarce visitor to the islands, dropping into both major islands. However the best was kept until last as the seasons second Red-throated Pipit was found at 17:30 – only the Farnes seventh in total (and by Adam Scott, the finder of the first!). This rare eastern vagrant is rarely seen in the UK and for the islands to boast two this year is outstanding. More to the point, Joe managed to grab some photos of the bird which we failed to do with the first. Hold onto your hats, tomorrow is just around the corner…

Weather: E 6-7 increasing to gale force 8 occasionally severe gale force 9, with rain mid-afternoon, poor visibility

Highlights: Little Gull 2nd summer, Cuckoo visited both Brownsman and then Inner Farne, Tree Pipit 2, Red-throated Pipit summer plumage adult, seventh for Farnes (and second this year!!), Whinchat (first of the year), Wheatear 2, Bluethroat male for third day, Black Redstart female, Lesser Whitethroat 5, Whitethroat 2, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler 3, Chiffchaff 7 and Pied Flycatcher 2 (male and female).

Breeding birds: Despite the weather things did happen! The day brought the confirmation of the first Fulmar eggs whilst a pair were seen copulating – just the Arctic Terns to go! A pair of Great Black-backed Gulls have three eggs in a nest on Brownsman, while huge numbers of Arctic Terns have finally arrived with nesting activity imminent.

Tomorrow: Another day of strong winds and big seas, so no visitor boats and I suspect more interesting migrant birds will be found. The Arctic Terns can only be a few days away from laying eggs, so watch this space...

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Its on its way...

Its a cracker: day two for the male Bluethroat
© Joe Cockram, National Trust

Incoming - a migrant Painted Lady butterfly - our first of the year

A showy Chiffchaff on the Solar Panels - we've got no trees!

Thursday 14th May

It’s coming and there is nothing we can do about it apart from batten down the hatches and hold on. This evening’s shipping forecast crackled across the airwaves

Forth Tyne Dogger: East 5 or 6, increasing 7 to gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later. moderate becoming rough or very rough. Rain later. Good becoming moderate or poor”,

Bad? You want to believe it. Its got the entire North Sea to cross, bringing with it huge swell which will only stop when something’s in the way and I’ve no doubt the Farnes will be battered. As part of the planning, nothing has been taken to chance, as the islands boats and equipment have been moved to a safe zone away from the jetties, because it’s going to get ugly.

Today has seen plenty of sunshine but strong wind, preventing any boats from sailing, and the pattern will continue over the next few days even into the weekend. Despite this the day was brightened by the Bluethroat, present for its second day whilst a female Black Redstart was a reasonable discovery.

Weather: E4-5 occasionally 6, bright and sunny

Highlights: Whimbrel, Bluethroat male present for second day on Brownsman, Black Redstart female on Inner Farne, Lesser Whitethroat 4, Whitethroat 3 and Chiffchaff 5.

Butterflys: Painted Lady on Brownsman – a migrant

Breeding Birds: Eider chicks! The first chicks hatched today on Brownsman – it feels early as we’ve still got plenty to nest, but the early nesters are starting to produce. Over the next 24 hours, she’ll take the young to sea, direct west to the relative safety of the coastal mainland. On Inner Farne a total of 480 pairs on Sandwich Tern have settled in the mina colony along with 13 pairs of Common Tern – so still plenty to come in. Arctic Terns continue to build although nest activity appears slow this year and the first eggs are some days away at this moment.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The air turns blue!

Male Bluethroat, Brownsman
© Joe Cockram, National Trust

Its a cracker...
© Joe Cockram, National Trust
Only on the Farnes...nesting Eider alongside a male Bluethroat
© Joe Cockram, National Trust

No strimming today, Bluethroat stops play

The Inner Farne team arrive by boat...

Birding Farnes: the Farnes team watching the bird near the Brownsman cottage

Wednesday 13th May

This was no typical day on the Farnes. Whilst typing an early morning e-mail in Brownsman cottage, the radio burst into life…”male Bluethroat behind the cottage!!!” (or words to that affect…yes the air turned blue for a few minutes). Joe had been preparing to strim an area of vegetation and was shocked to be eyeballing a male Bluethroat. Moments later, the team on Brownsman had assembled, and watched patiently as it fed out in the open, occasionally peering at the wardens beside it, wondering what all the fuss was about. A quick message relayed over to the Inner Farne team had them scampering across Staple Sound (twitching by Zodiac boat!) and soon the team were together. All eight wardens present enjoyed remarkable views of this cracking little visitor, which proved to be a very tame individual, as at times it fed down to less than eight foot and appeared not to have a care in the world. At one point, it even considered running over my legs and was even too close to focus for Joe’s camera – they don’t get much closer. This was no ordinary bird. This was a Bluethroat on the Farnes. Welcome to birding the Farnes way! The bird remained on the island all day and fed well on various insects and was still present as the sun went down (it’ll probably be in Scandinavia by the time dawn reaches the islands tomorrow morning).

Bluethroat’s are a scarce migrant to the UK (they winter in the southern Mediterranean and Africa region and breed in Scandinavia) although the Farnes has a very good reputation as they are considered an ‘annual’ out here (recorded in 35 of the previous 40 years including incredible peaks of up to 37 in 1993 and 31 in 1987!!!). However one is enough and what a belter! The entire team were buzzing after that and it gives just a flavouring of what may be in store for the rest of the migration season. Role on some more easterlies…

Weather: E 2-4, sunny and warm (yet again! – no sign of rain just yet)

Highlights: Manx Shearwater 1S, Knot 80 including summer plumage individuals, Little Tern 53 in roost, Swallow 21, Sand Martin, Skylark, Wheatear 3, Bluethroat male (2nd year), Grasshopper Warbler 2, Lesser Whitethroat 3, Whitethroat 2, Chiffchaff 4 and Goldfinch.

Breeding Birds: Our attention was elsewhere so very little to report although the Wren nest was discovered on Inner Farne in a stone wall.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Plover chicks on the up!

Adult Ringed Plover with chick on Inner Farne

Stunning: an adult Arctic Tern in flight

Peregrine over the islands this morning

Record shot: yesterdays fly-over Bar-headed Goose
Tuesday 12th May

Our second of easterlies as the wind continued to blow across the north sea, although there was no sign of rain as the sunny conditions kept everything pleasant on the islands. It’s been a remarkably dry start to the season, as the pond on Inner Farne will testify to that – it’s almost dry two months quicker than normal! However the fine weather ensured yet more visitors enjoyed the spectacle of the Farnes and step into an active seabird colony, as both the sights and sounds (and not forgetting the smell) make visiting the islands at this time of year a very enjoyable experience.

As for migrant birds, a few interesting bits dropped in today including a male Pied Flycatcher whilst a stunning male Peregrine was not the most welcome of guests at this time of year! Following the visitor work, we spent the evening scanning the sea for any bird movement and we were rewarded with 32 Manx Shearwater – a reasonable count for us in May whilst a Great Skua powered north. With more easterlies forecast, things will only get better….

Weather: E1-3 with sunny and warm conditions

Highlights: Red-throated Diver 1N, Manx Shearwater 32N, Great Skua 1N, Peregrine male, Teal 3, Common Sandpiper on Brownsman, Whimbrel, Purple Sandpiper 100 on Longstone, Wheatear 2, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat 2, Grasshopper Warbler on Staple, Pied Flycatcher male on Brownsman (first of the year) and Siskin.

Breeding birds: More Shag chicks hatching in nests around the colonies, Sandwich Tern numbers increase yet again, Arctic Terns now displaying and landing at the three main colonies, Shelduck remain evident, Ringed Plover both broods coping well despite the presence of large Gulls.

Farne Islands Year list (number of species seen since 20th March):
Inner Group 107
Outer Group 98
Overall 119

Photographs: just a personal note to my team, especially Joe Cockram for the stunning photos they supply for the blog - nice work lads, keep it up!!

Monday, 11 May 2009

The easterlies are coming...

A stunning Razorbill - the Farnes boast 300+ pairs

Grey Seal - one of last seasons youngsters enjoying the sun

Monday 11th May

Comments: Despite the wind switching to the east (bringing a cooler airflow), the sunny weather ensured it was a very pleasant day with flat seas. It was another good day with more interesting sightings including the islands first Spotted Redshank in three years. The breeding season continues to move along with pace as more birds settle on the islands as birds move onto the islands on a daily basis. Even the satellite islands are seeing increases as three nesting Eiders were found on Longstone – an island without even any vegetation whilst up to 15 Cormorants are nesting on the Big Harcar (away from the normal two nesting colonies). However as the wind has swicthed direction, the birders on the islands are starting to get excited with the promise of potential interesting this space...

Weather: E 1-2 with bright sunny spells

Highlights: Red-throated Diver 1N, Manx Shearwater 11N, Tufted Duck 2 north (pair), Velvet Scoter 2 north (pair - very unseasonal), Spotted Redshank 1 adult on Brownsman, then west over Inner Farne before returning to Brownsman pond from 16:00-21:00 – finally flew west towards the mainland (first record since 2006), Swallow light northerly passage, Lesser Whitethroat 2, Chiffchaff 3 and Whitethroat 1.

Breeding birds: Fulmar pairs return having been away for five days (on honeymoon!), Ringed Plover chicks still growing strong on Inner Farne – both broods doing well, Oystercatcher eggs found on Staple, Shelduck two pairs present on the islands, Kittiwakes continue to nest build, Arctic Terns continue to increase in numbers and Sandwich Terns are now numbering 500+ pairs nesting on Inner Farne (we'll have 1,500+ eventually).

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Sunny Days!

Sunset from the islands - a nice finish to the day

Adam Hick strimming the veg garden - ready for Arctic Terns nesting!

Purple Sandpiper - good numbers counted today

Sunday 10th May

Comments: The summer is on its way!! (honest - I haven’t gone mad). The day was a cracker – flat seas (a rarity recently) and the sun shone and everyone appreciated the fine Sunday on the islands. The team were busy, with yet more strimming, as the Arctic Terns get ever closer to nesting and that vegetation needs taking down a peg or two!! Visitors enjoyed both Staple Island and Inner Farne today - a perfect day for visiting the Farnes.

Weather: W switching E 2-3 with bright sunny weather!

Highlights: Great Northern Diver 1 north high through Staple Sound, Grey Heron 1 on Longstone, Common Scoter 58 north, Sparrowhawk female north, Whimbrel 2, Purple Sandpiper 191, Turnstone 353, Bar-tailed Godwit 30, Dunlin 6, Knot 4, Oystercatcher 149, Little Gull 1st summer lingering, Little Tern 52 at roost, Skylark 1 west, Sand Martin 1, Chiffchaff 1, Sedge Warbler 1 singing again and Jackdaw 2 on tower roof.

Breeding birds: A good day as the seabird colonies advance as we discovered our first Shag chicks today! Oystercatcher eggs discovered on nests at two sites – the first this year, Ringed Plover two broods doing well on Inner Farne and a surprising discovery of a nesting pair on Longstone, Arctic Terns copulating, Sandwich Tern numbers increasing at main colony, Kittiwakes copulating and nest building, Rock Pipit with young on Brownsman, Pied Wagtail young now on Brownsman – its all go for one day!

The week ahead…
As easterly airflow is predicted for the week so watch out for rare and scarce birds arriving on the islands – and a few excited wardens amongst the team! The first Arctic Tern nest scrapes will be made by the end of the week and the first eggs soon after. The wardens are due a rematch against the local Seahouses boatmen (lost 2-4 a few weeks ago) on Wednesday evening although if the forecasts come true, I suspect the match will be postponed due to bad seas!

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Back in Business!

Puffins Galore on Staple Island

One of our breeding Rock Pipits

Oystercatchers displaying
Saturday 9th May

After a slight technical hick-up, normal service is now resumed. The islands have experienced a battering of westerly winds over the last few days including gale force breakers on Friday and we witnessed waves breaking over the top of the island (!!!). Needless to say we didn’t have visitors for a few days. Thankfully today brought visitors (and fresh supplies as well as our post), along with huge numbers of visitors, as the lack of sailings recently ensured a backlog of people wanting to visit. Despite the visitors, it was still a turbulent day at times, with the sea less than pleasant on occasions – a few green faces were seen as they departed the boats!

As for the team, life is starting to get busier on the islands, as we had a complete clear out of the cellar on our ‘days off’, along with other jobs including bird monitoring, more painting of the Pele Tower and strimming of vegetation as we ready the island for the nesting Terns! Its been a few days since we’ve made the mainland so we’re hoping for a rest bite in the weather so we can stock up properly (so fingers crossed!)

As for me – I’m a very happy head warden, as I was celebrating my football team’s promotion through the play-offs the previous evening (my soar head this morning testified the celebration). The mighty Gateshead (a non-league team) claimed victory the previous night (really frustratingly I couldn’t attend as stuck on the islands due to the gale force westerly winds which battered the islands), but they are back in the ‘big time’, reaching the Conference National to play against the ‘big teams’ of Luton Town, Chester City, Oxford United, Mansfield Town and Wrexham amongst others. It was a great achievement by the team, management and supporters – so a big CONGRATULATIONS from this head warden of the Farnes, but just wish I was there to have seen it!

Weather: a wild westerly 7-8 decreasing to 4 – the sea was ‘boiling’ at one stage with a heavy squall passing through the islands.

Bar-headed Goose
– one over Brownsman (but sadly not a wild bird from Asia!), Greylag Goose 62N, Red-breasted Merganser pair, Whimbrel 2, Little Gull 1st summer, Mediterranean Gull 1st summer again with Black-headed Gulls at colony – lingering for second month, Little Tern 50 at roost, Swift 2N and Sedge Warbler 1 for second day singing on Inner Farne.

Breeding Birds:
Eiders – over 100 now nesting on Inner Farne with many hundreds more on the way, Shelduck pair nesting on Inner Farne, Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbill all established on eggs, Arctic Terns settling for second day on the island ready for nest scraping – only a week away from first eggs, Sandwich Tern first eggs discovered in main colony, Common Tern 10 pairs settling on island, Ringed Plover – two pairs on Inner Farne with chicks hatched today!

Monday, 4 May 2009

News Roundup

Monday 4th May
Its been a little while since I wrote (possibly due to the hectic bank holiday weekend) but thought I'd keep you all up to date with some highlights so far from the Farnes season. Normal service will resume shortly!

Breeding Birds:
Shag – nested particularly early this season with well constructed nests seen in mid-March and the first eggs discovered on 1st April. Good numbers nesting on islands.

Cormorant – like its smaller relative (the Shag), its been an early start with three colonies on the Farnes supporting over 100 pairs.

Eider – Pairs continue to invade the islands with the number of nesting females increasing daily. First eggs discovered on 16th April.

Mallard – Two broods of young with females round the islands

Shelduck – the usual returning pair back on Inner Farne – the female being noted going down a nesting hole

Ringed Plover – three pairs nesting on Inner Farne, displaying on Staple and Brownsman

Oystercatcher – pair bonding and territorial disputes observed but no nesting attempts as yet.
Kittiwake – nest building underway but still slow to get going – the species have become late nesters in recent years.

Sandwich Tern – a small number have settled on Inner Farne at the main breeding colony – the first eggs will be discovered soon! Plenty still returning to the islands on a daily basis with up to c1,000 present in evening roost

Arctic Tern – good numbers pouring into the islands on a daily basis with 800+ now present although still two weeks away from nesting. High vocal aerial displays now a common sight above the islands.

Guillemot – Huge numbers now settled on eggs across all the islands and it appears to be looking like another good year. First eggs 19th April.

Razorbill – good numbers nesting including the usual pair on Inner Farne which can be approached by the public to within three feet without a care in the world! First egg discovered on 29th April.

Puffins – Steadily increasing across the islands with thousands now sitting on eggs across all the breeding islands. First eggs discovered on 28th April.

Migrants and first-dates
Sandwich Tern - 28th March
Arctic Tern - 19th April
Little Tern - 25th April
Common Tern - 19th April
Roseate Tern - No records as yet

Common Sandpiper - 2nd May
Swift - No records as yet
Sand Martin - 18th April
Swallow - 10th April
House Martin - 8th April (earliest ever Farnes record)
Yellow Wagtail - 22nd April
Tree Pipit - 25th April
Redstart - 14th April
Whinchat - No records as yet
Wheatear - 21st March (2nd earliest Farnes record)
G’hopper Warbler - 15th April (Farnes earliest ever record)
Sedge Warbler - 1st May
Reed Warbler - 28th April
Lesser Whitethroat - 24th April
Whitethroat - 28th April
Garden Warbler - No records as yet
Blackcap - 7th April
Chiffchaff - 30th March
Willow Warbler - 6th April
Spotted Flycatcher - No records as yet
Pied Flycatcher - No records as yet

Farnes Highlights so far:
Spoonbill 1 north on 19th April
Whooper Swans Good passage during late March
Garganey drake on 27th April in the kettle off Inner Farne - 18th Farne record
Marsh Harrier Female west on 21st April - 17th Farnes record
Hen Harrier ‘ringtail’ east on 25th April - 14th Farnes record
Moorhen 31st March - a rarity out here!
Iceland Gull first-winter on 28th March
Glaucous Gull 22nd March on Knoxes Reef
Mediterranean Gull Lingering first-summer on 7th, 8th, 9th, 12th, 22nd and 24th April

Short-eared Owl singles on 21st March and 1st April
Long-eared Owl roosting all day on Inner Farne on 21st April
Wryneck Staple Island on 30th April
Red-throated Pipit adult on Brownsman on 28th April, 6th Farnes record
Blue-headed’ Wagtail Inner Farne on 22nd April
White’ Wagtail 11th, 16th, 18th, 20th April
Black Redstart 4th-5th April and 14th April
Hooded Crow 31st March over Inner Farne

Other non-bird highlights:
Bottle-nosed Dolphins four south on 22nd April
Porpoise recorded on eight dates, mainly through Inner Sound
Bat sp. One lingering on Inner Farne on 26th April-2nd May