Thursday, 31 May 2012

Jubliee Bunting

Cracker - male Rustic Bunting on Inner Farne (Graeme Duncan)

Showing well - Rustic Bunting (Bex Outram)

Thursday 31st May comments: WHAT a day. Yes I keep saying this, but yet again a new arrival eclipsed the previous days sighting, but this was special, very special. The day began in the usual manner (rain and wind has now become the ‘usual’ this year) but everything was about to change.

News was breaking that the team had found a male Rustic Bunting – a stunning bird in many ways. However business comes first (professional to the last) and following a meeting on Staple Island, we were soon on Inner Farne enjoying great views of the bird.

Rustic Buntings originate from northern Europe and have only occurred in four previous occasions on the Farnes – the last was seventeen years ago! So this bird was special and more so because it was a male. It is difficult to give an idea of how amazing this bird is, not only because of its’ rarity status but purely because of its’ sheer unadulterated beauty! It also helped that the bird performed so well, feeding on open rocks until dusk, giving great views and even allowing a handful of Northumberland birders the chance to see the first Rustic in the County since the late 1990’s. WHAT. A. BIRD!!!!

For migrant birds, this is by far the best spring for some time on the islands, it is certainly the best I have spent here and this is my 12th year! However the euphoria was slightly dampened by the heavy rainfall which fell during the night. The Puffins are back in trouble, serious trouble, but more to follow…

Rustic Rush

Male Rustic Bunting on Inner Farne today (Bex Outram) 

Showing well....male Rustic Bunting (Bex Outram)

Thursday 31st May comments: Just a brief afternoon update (more to follow tonight) but a male RUSTIC BUNTING was discovered on Inner Farne and is still showing well as I type! This stunning visitor is very rare (our first since 1995) and has been admired by all the staff and a few visitors today. If the bird is still present tomorrow, your welcome to visit to see it (boats sail from midday). I'll update in full later tonight but until then, enjoy the first photos...


Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Bowled Over

The cars being prepared at Seahouses harbour

Bowling Green twitch - birders in action 

'Steely' in action - public work even at twitches 

A happy team at Hartlepool having successfully twitched the Orphean Warbler

Wednesday 30th May comments: Hartlepool headland, the 33rd Farne Island (or so it is becoming). Yesterday during visiting hours, the birders amongst the ranger team received news that Britains' 6th Orphean Warbler had been discovered at Hartlepool Headland (about 1.5hrs south of the Farnes). After a brief discussion it was decided those amongst the team who were interested, would set off south after work to view this rare visitor.

This time last year, we had a very similar experience as we went to Hartlepool Headland for another very rare bird; a White-throated Robin. Little did we expect to be heading south to the same venue, almost one year on to do it all over again. However soon after 6:30pm, the ranger team arrived complete with scopes and bins to join a reasonable sized crowd on a bowling green at Hartlepool. You couldn't make it up but this really was happening.  

This bizarre setting must have been even more strange for the Orphean Warbler, which originates from the warmer climes of the southern Mediterranean. However soon after everyone was enjoying good views of this unique visitor and following the great success, a very happy team returned to the Farnes to celebrate another Hartlepool success. So watch out Hartlepool, same time, same place, a new mega rarity in 2013; the Farnes Rangers are coming!!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Stand up and be counted!

Rangers in action -counting the seabird populations (David Steel) 

In full counting mode (David Steel) 

Its not easy counting those nesting birds... (David Steel) 

Pair of Roseate Terns lingering (Laura Shearer) 

Noisy neighbours at it again (Graeme Duncan)

Tuesday 29th May comments: And so it begins. The busy period is now upon us as the team have started the mammoth task of counting all the seabird populations across the islands. Over the next few weeks, we'll be counting no fewer than 82,000 pairs of birds, so it'll keep us busy and off the streets. This morning the count began at 06:00, something we'll repeat for some time to come.

If I was a betting man, a quick assessment (and I have been wrong before!) the cliff nesters (Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Shags) appear to be breeding in good numbers although I suspect both Eider and Arctic Terns 'on the ground' have dropped in number. But all will be revealed soon. 

Interestingly a pair of Roseate Terns are lingering raising hopes of a potential breeding attempt, whilst our Shelduck numbers have increased with at least three pairs nesting. The next few weeks should reveal a lot more and as ever, I'll be bringing you the news.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Short-toed Delight

Short-toed delight (Graeme Duncan) 

Short-toed Lark on Brownsman (Graeme Duncan) 

One very interesting Red-breasted Flycatcher (Will Scott)

Red-breasted Flycatcher on Brownsman (Andy Denton) 

Second spring Wood Sandpiper (Bex Outram)

Sunday 27th May comments: It’s just been one of those crazy hectic days on the Farnes (but we don't expect anything less out here). The team were celebrating their first 'full' week (the weather didn't close us this week) although it was slightly dampened by the thick fog which remained all day (whilst everywhere else basked in glorious sunshine!). Regardless the show went on and both visitors and seabirds have been enjoying the fine, settled weather which has been dominating recently.
However with easterly winds, the focus went back to the migrant birds... Yesterday Brownsman pulled in a first-summer male Red-breasted Flycatcher, the second this spring (and a very interesting bird…) whilst the nearby pond witnessed both Wood and Common Sandpipers together. It’s been a cracking spring for rare and unusual migrants and today went even one better…

Today the islands have been shrouded in thick fog and late afternoon the boys on the outer group discovered a little gem – a Short-toed Lark. This southern European species has only occurred on the Farnes on eight previous occasions (the last record was in 2001) and although the bird was flighty, it showed well for all admiring rangers. The day wasn’t complete with the Mediterranean theme, as a Little Egret was noted over Inner Farne as dusk approached.

So warm hot weather, flat seas, seabirds doing well and rare migrant birds still coming in – we can’t ask for anything more!

Saturday, 26 May 2012


Puffins enjoying the sun (at long last!) 

Guillemots on a flat sea 

 Eider ducklings continue to appear

1, 2, 3...the population counts will begin... 

Visitors enjoying Staple Island (and the weather!)

Saturday 26th May comments: It really does feel like we have turned the corner. The sun has been shining all week, the sea has been flat and we couldn't have asked for anything more. Following almost seven weeks of unsettled weather (which felt like an eternity), we are on the verge of completing our first 'seven day' week without being closed. It's been that bad. However were all enjoying the settled conditions and long may it continue.

For the ranger team, we are about to go into 'over-drive'. As the seabird breeding started in earnest in mid-March, we are pulling forward the counting of the populations and we begin Monday. What does this mean? The team will be starting at 6am for two consecutive weeks, counting all nesting seabirds which breed on the islands...all 82,000 pairs. This is on top of the usual work (visitors, monitoring, research, ringing, and management work to name but a few) so we'll be working flat out. However it's all for a great cause and if you get the chance, come and visit to see it all happening.

During this period, we'll also be checking the Puffins to see what effect it had on Brownsman where I suspect I'll be bringing you bad news. However the Farnes will always continue to surprise me so fingers crossed and watch this space.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Sunny Seabirds

Bird strike with a difference...

Incoming adult Arctic Tern

Kittiwake in flight 

Pair of Eiders 

Thrift in flower 

Inner Farne's Icterine Warbler showing well

Thursday 24th May comments: What is going on? Four days of good weather (albeit thick fog at times today) but we feel blessed and a bit sun burnt. The seabirds have responded well to the good weather and at long last it feels the breeding season is going in the right direction.

A flash-back to the previous few weeks came in the form of an Icterine Warbler on Inner Farne, otherwise migrant birds were few and far between. The Farnes are splendid place to visit and looking at the forecast, we are in for a good few weeks of splendid weather and long may it continue!  

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Chick Fest!

Hiya! First Guillemot chicks (Sian Richards) 

Shag with small young (Bex Outram) 

Explain please? Razorbill egg under Eider!! (Bex Outram)

Wednesday 23rd May comments: The weather appears to have ‘terned’ the corner (sorry for the bad pun). However we’re experiencing some mild settled weather with sunshine – just what the seabirds ordered. The visitors are enjoying their time on the islands, the rangers are loving the sun and the seabirds are doing what they do best – getting on with the business of raising young.

The islands are slowly and surely becoming a very active colony as more young are hatching. Shags have young, the first Guillemot chicks have hatched and the major news, Puffins chicks have hatched. It’ll still be a few weeks before we are at peak time but it’s good to be moving in the right direction. One of the most bizarre things we have discovered is a Razorbill egg being incubated by a female Eider. Now I have no idea what is going on there so answers on a postcard please.
For the ranger team this also means a busy time and we are not far away from those 6am starts and population counts. Oh yes, 50,000 Guillemots to count, here we come... On the migrant front, at least one Bluethroat and the Icterine Warbler remain so there is a lot happening on the islands at this moment.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Hungry Hippos

Yellow mellow Icterine Warbler (Andy Denton) 

No trees to hide in - Icterine showing well (Will Scott) 

Our second Cuckoo of the spring 

Lesser Whitethroat feeding around gas bottles on Longstone (Will Scott)

Monday 21st May comments:Today I was going to blog about the newly hatched chicks on the Farnes but that was thrown out of the window by the afternoon’s arrivals. The wind remains in the east but the sea was flat which enabled the boats to land and visitors to enjoy the islands (it looks a great forecast for the week!). However it was the direction of the wind which intrigued the rangers as east winds bring birds. So just when everything was ticking along smoothly, birds started dropping in – rare birds!

The Farnes acts as a major north-south highway for migrant birds and more often or not, a few rare or oddities arrive. As late afternoon approached, a female Bluethroat was discovered on Brownsman and soon after, two more female Bluethroats were found – together on Longstone End (one of the most easterly points on the islands). The Farnes was kicking off.

It’s been a great spring so far, as this was our fifth Bluethroat and throw in Red-breasted Flycatcher, Red-backed Shrike, Great Grey Shrike and Wryneck (6+) you start getting the idea. It hasn’t been dull.

However our day wasn’t finished as mist descended and a stunning Icterine Warbler was discovered – a belting bird showing well on open rocks alongside a Cuckoo (the second of the spring). The birders in the team have not been disappointed and tomorrow, I will try to update you on the breeding birds, but then again anything is possible. Stay tuned.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Winds from the east and a helpless beast!

Grey Seal with netting around its neck (David Steel) 

Freedom - released with net cut off (David Steel) 

Ranger Ciaran holding some of the netting (David Steel) 

'White' Wagtail on Staple Island

Saturday 19th May comments: 40 stone of pure blubber, muscle and hyped up aggression. Say hello to a bull Grey Seal on the Farnes.

As we arrived on Staple Island we were greeted by a seal with fishing net around its head. Following a review of the situation we swiftly went back to Brownsman to collect a few items and returned a few minutes later to take it on...

To take on an adult seal takes skill, timing and a bit of experience (having done this before) and one thing we would recommend: don’t try this at home! After a few minutes (with three grown men pinning the animal down) we cut away the netting and released our friend back into the North Sea. Although it wasn’t too grateful, we knew we probably had just saved its life. Just a typical working day for the Farne Island ranger team.

The weather appears to have weakened and the low front is disappearing quicker than we thought – which is good news. However it came too late for our young Pied Wagtails in their nest, as they all succumbed to the rain yesterday as all were found dead this morning. A sad end and yet more victims of this terrible weather. On the passage migrant front, there had been a huge clear out over night as all our star birds had departed and moved on. Highlights of the day included several lingering migrants with the summer plumage Black Guillemot returning to the kettle just off Inner Farne.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Shrike it lucky

Nice but deadly...male Red-backed Shrike (Bex Outram) 

Always showing well male Red-backed Shrike (Bex Outram) 

No hiding, no mistake; male Bluethroat (Andy Denton) 

Bluethroat Farnes style (Bex Outram) 

Striking Flycatcher; Red-breasted Flycatcher (Will Scott) 

Second consecutive spring Red-breasted Flycatchers (Bex Outram) 

All three Flycatchers in the same gully - 1st summer male Pied Flycatcher (Will Scott) 

Happy Birthday ranger Andy Denton

Friday 18th May comments: It’s turning into a hell of a year out here on the Farnes. The weather has been a huge talking point as it has affected everything on here this year and today was no different as yet more heavy rain overnight and throughout the day continues to cause our Puffins problems. I haven’t given up yet, but these ‘stripy nosed seabirds’ are struggling and only when we carry out detailed surveys in June will we find out the true extent of the damage. Be warned, it’s not going to be good.

There has been a silver lining with this weather as the island experienced yet another ‘fall;’ of birds today with three noticeable highlights. Mid-morning a cracking male Red-backed Shrike was discovered in the vegetable garden on Inner Farne and moments later an immaculate male Bluethroat flitted up the path showing well to all the rangers. This is birding Farne style.

Our day continued to produce as our second consecutive spring Red-breasted Flycatcher (1st summer individual) was found in the same gully as a male Pied and Spotted Flycatcher – all three flycatchers together! It’s been another great day for migrant birds and not a bad way for resident ranger Andy Denton to celebrate his birthday – happy birthday Andy, top birds on a top day.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Gardening Greats

The 'Nunnington Four'; Nigel, Nick, Mark and Gary (David Steel) 

Rubble removed (David Steel) 

The hard work begins (David Steel) 

Ground cleared and ready to plant (David Steel) 

 Mark sorting the fruit trees (David Steel)
Taking shape - the veg garden transformed (David Steel) 

Plants at the ready (David Steel)

Nick planting onions (David Steel) 

The final touch - Grey Starling (Da vid Steel)

Wednesday 16th May comments: A ranger’s life on the Farnes is never dull. We live and work together for nine months of the year, without running water or mains electricity and home comforts are few and far between. However a team of experts have been transforming a small piece of Inner Farne to help improve life on the Farnes.

The gardening team from Nunnington Hall (National Trust) in North Yorkshire have been working hard to restore one of our vegetable gardens on Inner Farne. The team arrived yesterday following a very turbulent crossing (a heavy sea was running) and they have worked their socks off since.

During that period they weeded, dug and removed almost ¾ ton of rubble before constructing, planting and watering the garden to bring the place to life. It means so much to the resident ranger team as we will have fresh fruit and veg in the future as well as taking pride in having a restored vegetable garden.

This could not have happened without the great work and support of the ‘Nunnington Four’ who made everything possible and worked so hard: Nick Frazer, Mark Gerrand-Jones, Nigel Dunn and Gary Talbot. A big thank you from the all the Farnes team! It was a job well done and something that will go a long way in improving island life. To the Nunnington team: we salute you, a small patch of the Farne Islands off the north Northumberland coast is now yours. Thank you!