Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Winging it

Pufflings already heading out to the open sea

Sandwich Terns getting itchy feet and preparing to leave

Arctic Tern chicks get their last feed before heading down to the other end of the planet!

Tuesday 31st July comments: It’s still all go on the islands, with the remaining breeding birds giving that one final push to get their chicks ready for their first flight. The birds on the Farnes have an epic journey ahead of them, with many of them covering thousands of miles, over turbulent seas and through stormy skies.

The Guillemots and Razorbills that have spent the past few months clinging to the cliff faces are now well on their way out to their favourite wintering spots in offshore waters of the North Sea, the chicks now able to fend for themselves and feeding off the local catch! The Puffins, already off the islands and in the water, will similarly soon be heading out into the open ocean, some even heading around the north of Scotland into the north Atlantic.

But our hardest-going fliers have to be our terns. Our Sandwich Terns are getting restless, flying back and forth over the island with their chicks closely following, and they’ll soon be heading down to west Africa to spend our winter in the warmth! Our Arctic Terns, however, will be heading even further down the west coast of Africa all the way to Antarctica, chasing the eternal sun to spend the southern summer down in the rich Southern Ocean.  This includes our chicks, hatched only a month and a half ago, who will be learning the route en-route from their knowledgeable parents.

And then in 8 months time, they’ll all be back again to try once more out on these productive islands.  It really is an amazing feat of nature, and one that we, and you, can enjoy every year on Planet Farne!

Friday, 27 July 2012

Wade a minute...

Turnstone showing in good numbers (Ciaran Hatsell)

Doing well - two of our resident ringed plover chicks (Ciaran Hatsell)

Dunlin with a difference - any suggestions of where this beauty has come from?

Friday 27th July comments: So, as the breeding season slowly but surely comes to an end (still several species feeding young including Puffins, but hurry up!), our attentions turn elsewhere as we look at other wild and wonderful things surrounding the Farne Islands.

At this time of year we start to notice a big increase in the number of wading birds around the islands, with huge congregations of birds like Golden Plover, Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone becoming regular fixtures on our rocky coastline. Some of these birds are returning from breeding as far north as Greenland and even Arctic Canada, some epic over-sea migrations see them finally touch down on the mighty Farnes. In the last week we have seen several species such as Curlew, Whimbrel, Black and Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Redshank, Dunlin, Purple Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper (Phew!). All these birds are specially adapted to exploit different food sources, waders really are a diverse and fascinating family of birds!

It’s also getting into the best time to see that rare British breeder the Roseate Tern, as family parties start to congregate in the Tern roosts by the jetty; ask a Ranger and we’ll do our best to pick one out for you! With Butterfly numbers building, a great variety of moths on show and a tank full of marine creepy crawlies from Hermit Crabs to Starfish, it really is a great time to visit the Farnes!

This weekend the island are also taking part in the country-wide Seawatch event this Saturday and Sunday, so why not come out and see what you can spot with us?! Will it be a Minke Whale? A Porpoise? Or even a pod of Dolphins? Ladies and Gentlemen, grab your telescopes, let the seawatch begin!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Under the sea

A brittlestar works its way across the rocks
Two beautiful Polycera quadrilineata nudibranchs

Don't worry, it's only an inch long - A Caprellid skeleton shrimp waits for passing food

Wednesday 25th July comments: Where would our seabirds be without the sea? It’s not just the bird life around the islands that is amazing, the critters that live under the waves can be equally interesting too, and I’m not just talking about seals!

The rocky-shore life around the Farnes is particularly rich, with numerous Sea Hares (actually a type of sea slug), nudibranchs, limpets, starfish, crabs, and other marine invertebrates all calling these vibrant waters home not to mention the fish! Strange mantis-like skeleton shrimp cling to the algae, grabbing passing food particles with oversized claws, and barnacles waft their modified legs to filter feed.

This August, the ranger team will be scouring the rocks at low tide to show you some of these marvellous creatures up close, to give you an idea of just how rich the wildlife of the Farnes waters is.

The team is also looking forward to their big seawatch this weekend as part of the National Whale and Dolphin Watch, organised by the Seawatch Foundation. The team shall set up a constant vigil of the farnes waters from Friday 27th till Sunday 29th July, looking out for cetaceans (and of course any birds that may pass too...) With the Farnes being one of the best seawatching spots on the Northumberland coast, you’re welcome to come along join in, either with your own scope or with one that we’ve set up, and we hope to see you there!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Moth Mayhem

Farnes breeder; Garden Tiger 

Monster moth: Poplar Hawk-moth 

Antler Moth 

Angle Shades 

Small magpie

Sunday 22nd July comments: Its not all about birds on the Farne Islands as this time of year heralds the start of other recording; most noticeably Lepidoptera. It appears we're heading for a bad year for butterflies, but moth recording has taken off and already we’ve had some impressive discoveries.

Lead by resident ranger Will Scott, a good number of impressive moths have been caught and identified (everything is released unharmed after counting), and with some potentially good weather on the horizon August could yet bring even more surprises.

As part of the August visitor activities on the islands, we’ll be opening the moth traps during visitor hours to show people some of the goodies we have caught overnight. As the ranger motto goes; “if it moves, we record it”.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Mother Carey's Chickens

Nets being set ready for evening bird ringing 

Nets ready across pic-nic site on Inner Farne 

Sound system ready 

Bingo - our first Storm Petrel caught, ringed and released unharmed (Will Scott) 

White rump on display

Saturday 21st July comments: It was a late night last night as the team went about ringing a very special seabird; the Storm Petrel. These little nocturnal flyers are seen in small numbers down the English east coast with the nearest breeding colonies as far away as Shetland and the northern isles. However nocturnal tape luring can bring birds close to shore and with the aid of mist nets and a tape lure, birds are caught on annual basis in small numbers. Last night, three Storm Petrels were caught and ringed on Inner Farne between 1-2am and hopefully a few more will be trapped over the next few weeks. It's seawatch time.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Seawatch season begins

Good day for Great Skua's

Friday 20th July comments: The seawatch season is upon us. Following yesterdays strong northerly winds, the wind eased although the swell remained (but boats sailed) and as a result a large number of Shearwaters moved north off the islands. Throughout the day the team logged and recorded various seabirds on the move with the main highlights including two Pomarine Skuas and over 400 Manx Shearwaters.

It was a great day with the sun beating down - not a bad start to the seawatching season. Over the next two months, many more seabirds will be recorded and the rangers will be on duty to show anyone the variety of birds the islands record.  

Today's Totals: 462 Manx Shearwater, 7 Sooty Shearwater, 14 Great Skuas, 13 Arctic Skuas, 2 Pomarine Skuas, 165 Common Scoter, 3 Velvet Scoter and Tufted Duck. Also Roseate Tern, 10 Knot, 13 Dunlin and  230 Turnstone.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Radio Link Broadcast

Quick update, BBC Radio Newcastle (iPlayer) link to todays Farne Islands broadcast. Click and listen - its interesting and funny. Enjoy!


Radio Newcastle come to town

BBC radio Newcastle: producer Jo with presenter Jonathan Miles 

Jonathan chatting to the team 

 Live on air; head ranger David Steel

Dr Richard Bevan put through his paces 

Local boat operator William Shiel does not escape

Tuesday 17th July comments: Today has been a busy one as BBC Radio Newcastle visited the Farnes to broadcast live between 10am and midday bringing the listeners news, views and life from the Farnes Islands. Presenter Jonathan Miles worked his magic as he interviewed a number of people on the islands including several rangers, Farnes historian Anne Wilson, scientist Richard Bevan, local boat operator William Shiel and Coast and Marine officer (and of course ex-warden!) John Walton.

It was a fun, entertaining morning which brought the world of the Farnes to the front rooms of several hundred thousands listeners across the north-east and beyond. Once I have discovered the link to the iPlayer, I will ensure its put onto the blog for everyone to listen (just ignore my opening lines - was stumped by the question!).

I hope for those who listened, you enjoyed and for those waiting to listen, its a good laugh. The strange and wonderful world of the Farne Islands continues to entertain. Welcome to Planet Farnes.

Farnes live

Tuesday 17th July comments: Get ready! BBC Radio Newcastle live from the Farnes this monring, from 10-12 with presenter Jonathan Miles.

Click: http://tunein.com/program/?ProgramId=181437&StationId=18219

Start listening!!!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Amazing Aurora

Stunning: Northern Lights off the Farne Islands at 01:00 with Longstone lighthouse (David Steel)

Dance of the lights (David Steel)

Longstone Lighthouse with the aurora (David Steel)

Monday 16th July comments: (this is one very early update - its just gone 01:15 but well worth the update). The Northern Lights have been showing well across northern England tonight and just after midnight, we started to see them off the islands. With no light pollution and no cloud cover, the aurora  performed well for the rangers sitting out on the observatory deck. It was an amazing show as the spikes raced across the skies and as I type, more have appeared, so heading back out. What a show. 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Unusual Ouzel

New born Arctic Tern chick (Jack Ibbotson) 

Behind bars - Arctic Tern chick nearly ready to fledge (Jack Ibbotson) 

Ciaran ringing Oystercatcher chick...

...and nearly fledged Ringed Plover chick

Sunday 15th July comments: The Farnes breeding season continued to advance by the day and plenty more chicks are now flying especially Sandwich and Arctic Tern chicks. There has also been good news on the wader front this year as both Ringed Plover and Oystercatchers have fared reasonably well with chicks fledging from several islands (and plenty ringed as photos show above).

Passage waders have started moving back through the islands as Purple Sandpipers are now evident once again with Redshanks, Golden Plovers and Turnstone in a supporting role. However the most interesting sighting of the day came on the form of a Ring Ouzel on Brownsman - a very unseasonable record (the first ever July record on the islands) as birds have started dispersing from upland breeding grounds.

The weather appears to have settled and the team are looking forward to the broadcast by Radio Newcastle on Tuesday, but I'll bring you more details in the near future.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Farne Islands Live...

BBC Radio Newcastle live and exclusive next Tuesday...

 National Trust Arctic Terns on show

Live from Inner Farne 

Broadcasting from the Lighthouse cottage on Inner Farne 

Listen to life on the Farnes on Tuesday

Friday 13th July comments: So you can’t get enough of the Farne Islands? Well, next Tuesday (17th July) we have BBC Radio Newcastle broadcasting live from the islands between 10am-12pm that day. Presenter Jonathan Miles will be talking to the rangers who live and work on the islands and covering everything from island life to the highs and lows of the season.

I’m sure it will be a great event and well worth listening to. I’ll keep you posted with frequencies and online details nearer the time. I’ll also be tweeting throughout that morning, so plenty of Farnes coverage come Tuesday. However the day relies on one thing…the weather! So watch this space and fingers crossed for some good weather and flat seas, but I’ve been saying that all season...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The islands are a changing...

Summer 2012 on the Farnes. Storm clouds gather (a typical scene) 

Kittiwake chicks now on the wing in good numbers 

Sandwich Terns still in attendance 

Cute factor - Ringed Plover chicks going well (normally suffer from heavy predation)

Tuesday 10th July comments: It’s been an interesting start to July although in terms of weather, not much different to May or June! However we are gradually seeing a change on the islands as the end of the seabird breeding season is nigh.

The vast majority of Guillemots and razorbills have now gone, departed for the open sea having had a successful breeding season. Young Shags and Kittiwakes are fledging by their hundreds whilst eiders have long gone. The terns are not far behind in the race to leave, as young Arctic, Common and Sandwich Tern young are on the wing.

That doesn’t leave much – mainly the Puffins and following their poor breeding season (they’ve suffered the most out of all the seabirds), it won’t be long before they depart. The change in the islands will be more noticeable in August although still an exciting time, as today’s Bottle-nosed Dolphin will testify.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Glorious rain

Huge numbers of Puffins still present 

Kittiwake feeding chicks 

Sandeels galore: its been an excellent year for food 

Migrant Silver-Y moths moving through the islands in large numbers 

Flowers blooming on Inner Farne 

'The Churn' doing its thing...

Monday 9th July comments: The weather continues to challenge the resident's of the islands, as both the seabirds and the rangers are starting to feel the effect of the dismal summer. Our weather records indicated we've had 47mm of rain this month alone, with the average rainfall for July standing at 52mm. It's been that bad.

Despite the weather, the food supply has been exceptional with the seabirds still producing thousands of young but we'll see what the final results are in the next few weeks. On a brighter note, we had some great results from the population figures, but I'll bring news of that soon. However before that, heading back outside...umbrella anyone?

Friday, 6 July 2012

Scientific Farnes

A 24 hours GPS track from a Brownsman Kittiwake (taken last week) reveals interesting movements 

Bird ringing provides valuable data

The importance of biometrics - a Puffin having its head measured  

Dr Chris Redfern leading with adult Arctic Tern 

Night time Storm Petrel ringing 

Monitoring Eiders

Friday 6th July comments: Away from the usual reporting of daily life on the islands, I’ve decided to bring you news about some of the work we do behind the scenes on the islands. Despite the weather’s best efforts we’ve had another busy summer. The ranger team has worked tirelessly with the visitors and seabirds to keep the islands open and running smoothly and to conduct scientific research.

Monitoring over 2,000 pairs of seabirds allows us to gauge the successes and failures of the breeding season. We do this primarily by directly counting the vast breeding seabird populations on the islands alongside ringing (including taking important biometric data) and tag birds with GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and TDR (Time Depth Recorders) devises. Alongside this we study food supplies and feeding ranges to collect information about the lives of our breeding seabirds.

It can feel like 24/7 job on occasions but the immense amount of valuable data collected enables us to have a better understanding and helps inform our decisions about the conservation of such special sites in future years. The Farnes is one of the most important seabird colonies in Britain and it’s our job to keep it that way.