Saturday, 31 March 2012

Nearly there

Calm seas around Inner Farne

Male Wheatear on the move (Andy Denton)

Drake Mallard - one female now sitting on 14 eggs! (Andy Denton)

Boardwalk work - getting ready for visitors

St.Cuthbert's Chapel being cleaned

Saturday 31st March comments: We've been here one week and its been a stunner. The weather has been perfect (sun burnt in March - who would have thought?) and the team have worked had to prepare for our grand opening on Sunday 1st April. The seabirds have got off to a great start (Shag and Mallards already on eggs) and we've had some good migrant birds already (Marsh Harrier, Hooded Crow, Black Redstart and Med Gulls amongst others).

Yesterday we continued to finish the preparation of the island, as the boardwalks were sorted and the fence lines repaired. Birding was quiet although our second Hooded Crow of the year drifted over Inner Farne before heading west towards the mainland. So this is it. One final day of work (and some time off - the team deserve a break) and then come Sunday morning, we'll be open! Bring it on.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Hello boys!

The first Puffins checking out burrows (Will Scott)

first Puffins rafting (Will Scott)

My fish is bigger than yours - Guillemots return (Will Scott)

Keeping a watchful eye - Fisheries patrol (Will Scott)

Wednesday 28th March comments: The team are entering the final few days of preparation work, but what a few days - we've even 'caught the sun' - sun burnt rangers in March on the Farnes - unbelievable!!

Anyway work continues to get the islands ready and the auks have returned - both large numbers of Guillemots and Puffins returned to the islands today having been absent for a few days. Its usual behaviour at this time of the year and it won't be long before they are settled and nesting! On the wildlife front, more butterflies have emerged from winter hibernation whilst birds continue to move through the islands, especially finches including Lesser Redpoll's, Greenfinch's and Siskin's.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A Good Start

Female Black Redstart caught in visitor centre (Will Scott)

Merlin found dead - starved during the winter (Ciaran Hatsell)

First Shag egg on clifftops (Ciaran Hatsell)

Grey Seal keeping watch (Ciaran Hatsell)

Tuesday 27th March comments: The rangers are now back on the islands and are preparing the place ready for the grand opening on Sunday 1st April. The winter dust covers are down, the buildings open and the cleaning has commenced. The jetties have been scrubbed (a big job!) and we edge ever closer to having the place ready.

On the seabird front, several pairs of Shags are now sitting on eggs, although the auks have become elusive (as expected at this time of year) and very little activity has been noted in other nesting species. On the migrant front, birds continue to be seen with two Mediterranean Gulls and a Little Gull were noticeable highlights in the evening roost. However that was all eclipsed by a MARSH HARRIER which drifted over the islands this morning - the 21st Farnes record and our earliest ever! It's been a great start and the weather has been kind - long may it continue.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Opening begins

Winter shutters off St.Cuthbert's chapel are removed

Visitor centre information boards put up

Cleaning continues

Lesser Celandine blooming on Inner Farne

Late afternoon flyover - Whooper Swans

Sunday 25th March comments: Another day and another day of sorting and cleaning. The opening up process of sorting Inner Farne continues as we get ready for our grand opening on 1st April. St.Cuthbert’s Chapel was opened and cleaned (the winter shutters were removed) and the visitor centre was sorted. We’ve still got plenty to complete before next Sunday including boardwalk repairs and jetty scrubbing but that will wait for another day.

Although seabirds were very few (no sign of any Guillemots and very few Puffins) but the foggy conditions brought in a good array of migrants including our first Wheatear and Chiffchaffs of the year.

Highlights: Whooper Swan 18N, Canada Goose, Goldeneye female, Common Scoter 15, Gadwall 2, Shoveler 2, Wigeon 6, Merlin 2, Sparrowhawk 2, Mediterranean Gull 1st summer, Sandwich Tern 8, Wood Pigeon, Grey Wagtail 1 west, Black Redstart female, Song Thrush, Wheatear female (first of the year), Hooded Crow 1 over Brownsman, Jackdaw 2, Chiffchaff 4 (first of the year), Goldcrest 10, Linnet 2, Siskin 13W, Brambling and Greenfinch

Butterflies: Small Tortoiseshell 2 – first of the year

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Rangers return

Departure from Seahouses - Cars been packed

Just a bit! - the boat packed
Rangers return - approach to Inner Farne

Jetty full - the hard work of moving begins!

The team lifting begins

Welcome home - Inner Farne Pele Tower

Friday 23rd March comments: It was some day! The rangers have returned to the islands having spent the week training for the new season. On (a glorious)Friday morning the team moved into action as everything needed for a forthcoming season was moved from various locations to the harbour at Seahouses, before being packed onto a waiting boat. The kit included everything (almost the kitchen sink!) as we had food, water, gas, zodiac boats and engines, generators, water pumps, clothing, bedding, boardwalk timber and a lot, lot more to move out to the islands. Eventually the boat was full, the rangers boarded and we sailed back to the islands where we'll live for the next nine months.

Following a brief crossing we landed on Inner Farne and we were back. We then had the job of moving everything into its rightful place and eventually as dusk arrived we were finished. Following a few celebratory whiskeys, the tired team had an early night and day one was complete.

Bird highlights during the day included the discovery of our first Shag eggs, whilst both Puffins and Guillemots were present in huge numbers. Migrants were few and far between although four Siskin flying west and a pair of Gadwall was noteworthy.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

It's time to go

It's ranger time

Whooper Swans over the islands (Will Scott)

Bex and Will fire training

Fire practice

Thursday 22nd March comments: This is it, the wait is over. We've spent the last four days mainland bound, covering everything anyone would need for a season on the Farnes. The rangers are kitted up and ready to go and tomorrow morning we'll be sailing out of Seahouses harbour and heading back home. The rangers have just left the mainland.

Over the next week, we'll be preparing the islands for our grand opening - on 1st April - and then getting on with the business in hand. The rangers can't wait -so much so, a spot of early morning birding from the mainland revealed a herd of Whooper Swans flying north over the islands. It's time we got back and started the serious work. Farne Islands here we come and your all welcome along for the ride.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Training begins

Boats and equipment being prepared for the islands

Roseate Tern boxes and boardwalk timber ready for Friday

Formal training with the team

Tuesday 20th March comments: So the season has begun. The rangers returned to Seahouses on Sunday and we've now completed two days of training as well as preapring various kit and equipment for the islands. We won't sail to the Farnes until Friday with further training planned, including fire fighting and customer care amongst others. A lot of work goes in behind the scenes on the Farnes, but it is well worth it and on Friday we'll sail to start life back on the islands.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

And so it begins....

Dawn of a new season

Preparing for the season - Inner Farne

Brownsman cottage and old lighthouse

Sunday 18th March comments: Today marks a very significant day in the Farnes calender as it's the start of a new season. The rangers are travelling from far and wide, from Preston and Nottingham to as far away as Solihull and Hertfordshire. We've even got one member of staff heading up from the Isles of Scilly!

Today we'll be meeting and catching-up, having not seen each other since early December (I'm sure a beer or two tonight will be in order). This week we'll be mainland bound, using Seahouses as a base whilst we train and prepare for the forthcoming season. Then on Friday 23rd March (weather permitting!) we'll be sailing back to the islands to start the season for real. Here we go again...

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Early start?

Early start - Shag on nest

Impressive crest!

Lots of Shags but nothing much else

Thursday 15th March comments: It's been a very mild start to March and the settled weather continues as flat seas and sunny conditions enticed me out to the islands for a brief check of the Farnes. The visit brought a scattering of Puffins and Razorbills (although Guillemots were not present) whilst kittiwakes remain in small numbers. However a good number of Shags have built large nest structures and it appears where heading for another early start to the season (mirroring the previous two seasons). The ranger team return to the islands next week and then I'll be bringing you regular updates of the breeding season.

Highlights: Gadwall pair in the kettle off Inner Farne (scarce visitor to Farnes), Barnacle Goose 6N, Canada Goose pair on Inner Farne, Peregrine female, Lapwing 1 by pond, Skylark 1 over, Robin 3, Wren 3, Blackbird 1 and Goldcrest 2 (early migrants).

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

9,000 miles to go...

Stunning - adult Sandwich Tern

Tuesday 13th March comments: Just getting news that one of our Sandwich Terns has been sighted at some salt works near Swakopmund, Namibia!! The bird was seen only a few days ago having been ringed originally as a chick on Inner Farne on 25 June 2005. The bird was present in a roost of 170 birds and was discovered by Mark Boorman and reported to the BTO in the UK. The bird is currently 8,979km away from the Farnes, so it's got some travelling to do in the next few weeks!

Sandwich Terns spend the winter in West Africa and soon will be winging their way back north - this bird has some 9,000kn to cover before returning to the islands to breed this summer. This is yet another great example of the value of bird ringing and as we get more results, I'll keep you informed.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Puffins in Farne Waters

Monday 12th March comments: Look who's back! Following a visit to Seahouses today, I was informed by several boatmen that the first Puffins have arrived back into 'Farnes waters' (as predicted two months ago!). Up to eight were seen around the Farnes yesterday although these early returnees have yet to sample life back on the islands.

It'll be some time before the birds set foot back on the islands (the birds last touched land eight months ago - yes they really have been at sea since August). Puffins will gather in numbers over the next few weeks and then eventually in late March, will touch-down on the breeding colonies and life of the Farnes Puffins will begin. I'm delighted the birds are returning but what kind of winter it has been for them is unclear, as only time will tell. Fingers crossed it's been a good one and we have plenty of birds to report when the rangers arrive next week.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Further prep.

Eye-eye - A Shag up close

Not long before the first migrants arrive -like this a stunning Wheatear

Saturday 10th March comments: The seaons preparations continue as we are only a week away from the return of the Rangers to Seahouses for pre-season training. In under two weeks we'll be sailing to the islands and getting everything ready for the big kick-off on 1st April when we'll open our doors to the visitors.

For those who are considering a trip out in early April, won't be disappointed as there will be plenty to see. The seabird breeding season will just have kicked-off with thousands of Guillemots and Puffins coming and going on a daily basis, checking out old nest sites and getting use to life back on land (having spent the winter at sea).

If the season follows the trend of recent years, we'll have Shag's on eggs, whilst Kittiwakes will be present in good numbers. If the weather remains settled, the first Sandwich Terns will be arriving whilst migrant birds like Wheatear's and Chiffchaff's will start moving through the Farnes on their northward migration.

It's an exciting time of year to visit but if you can't visit - don't worry - just keep following the blog as I'll bring you island life throughout the year.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

On the way

Small numbers of Guillemots on clifftops (Anne Wilson)

Small numbers of Kittiwakes back (Anne Wilson)

Clean and ready to go - Inner Farne west cliff (Anne Wilson)

Brownsman cottage looking good (Anne Wilson)

Saturday 3rd March comments: The fine weather and great start to early spring continues and the Farnes has a big month ahead. March will see good numbers of seabirds return including Puffins, some birds will even be on eggs by the end of the month whilst the rangers will be back in residence mid-month.

News from the islands yesterday included small numbers of Guillemots back on the cliff ledges, Shags and Cormorants present in good numbers, Kittiwakes have returned to Farne's waters whilst Razorbill are present. Further out to sea, Gannets are moving north whilst large numbers of Auks are waiting to head back to the islands later this month. The season has started.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Bird Ringing

Puffin ringing - bill biometrics been taken

Shag 'darvic' ring (readable in the field)

Night time Storm Petrel ringing

Thursday 1st March comments: Just like many other seabird reserves, the Farne Islands has an important bird ringing scheme in operation, led by Dr Chris Redfern, myself and the ranger team on the islands. During the summer months, a range of scientific data is collected from Arctic Tern biometrics to Puffin weights and Shag wing lengths. This data collected feeds into a national database organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Over the years some interesting results have been produced and this winter was no different, as Farne ringed birds have been reported far and wide. Some of the highlights reported this winter include:

  • Shag chick ringed on Brownsman in 1982 was found dead in Eastbourne, East Sussex in September 2011 (an unusual southerly movement for this species)

  • Shag chick ringed on Staple Island on 12 June 1981 was found dead in Fife on 16 June 2011 - this exceeds the current UK longevity record for a Shag by just over a month

  • Puffin ringed on Brownsman in 1981 was found locally in Northumberland in April 2011

  • Fulmar chick ringed on Brownsman in August 2010 was recovered dead on the shoreline at Texel, Holland after a period of violent weather on 25 May 2011

  • Other interesting news has included reports of three Kittiwakes discovered breeding elsewhere having been ringed on the Farnes. These sites included Isle of Scilly, Anglesey and Denmark!

  • Ringed Plover ringed as a chick on Brownsman in June 2010 was recovered at Beadnell on 30 April 2011 as a result of predation by a Gull.