Monday, 30 December 2013

Phal-uva day

Grey Phalarope on the Farnes...

Not a great photo but you can see what it is!

Proof it was the Farnes!

blurred but distinctive
29th December comments: We took our time, but with just three days of 2013 left, we bagged ourselves the final ‘new’ bird of the year. Whilst out around the islands, a large feeding group of Black-headed Gulls and Kittiwakes was discovered in Staple Sound which had lured in a first-winter Little Gull (a scarce visitor to the islands) but also something else…

Amongst this feeding throng, a small wading bird cut into view and dropped down onto the sea resulting in only one thing; a Grey Phalarope. These small specialist wading birds feed from the surface of the sea and the Farnes are one of the best localities in the UK for them. The islands have boasted annual records since 1999 and we even had six together on the sea in 2011 (getting greedy!)

However having broken the record this year for the total number of bird species recorded (we’ve recorded 192 species; three more than the record) we had failed to connect with a Grey Phalarope….until now! So we left it late, but it completes a phenomenal year for the islands with a total of 193 species recorded (including three ‘new’ for the islands. However in three days time we’ll welcome 2014 and we’ll be starting all over again…..bring it on!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas

From all the Farne Islands team; wishing everyone a very...


...and thank-you for following and supporting the Farne Islands. It's been a wonderful year and I hope everyone is putting 'visit the Farne Islands in 2014' on their wish lists! Best wishes to everyone from David and the Team.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Thank-you Team Farnes

'The Class of 2013'

Top birders Will (left) and Ciaran (right)

Thank-you to Laura, Bex and Graeme

Smiles all round Sam, David and Andy

Jonathan looking chilled

Tuesday 17th December comments: The dust has settled, the islands are quiet and the team have now settled into mainland life. Central heating, running water, flushing toilets and Internet signal are now just some of the 'luxuiries' the team have now got and I suspect I would struggle to persuade them to return to the islands at this very minute in time.

However I would just like to thank the 'Class of 2013' as it has been an incredibly tough but hugely rewarding season. From mid-March the team have worked hard, putting everything into the Farnes which has made it the success it has become.

From record numbers of visitors to the Puffin census, from the endless media work to the long hours; I thank each and everyone of you. We've had some great times (the Hoopoe day will live long in the memory) and its been such a memorable season. It's been a real privilege to live and work with you all this year and as a head ranger, I couldn't ask anything more of you. 

Thank you to each and every one of you; Graeme, Sam, Bex, Laura, Ciaran, Will, David, Jonathan and Andy. You did the Farne Islands proud. Enjoy your rest (and those warm showers!)

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Final Goodbye's

The team out celebrating

Will; the best pool player in the world...possibly

Dr Chris Redfern and John Walton thanking the team

Boatmen Bill Holland (Standing) and Archie Dawson

Bes with her award (the Golden Duck awards)

Car's packed and ready to go

Goodbye to David as the team depart
Thursday 12th December comments: Following the island escape and the Ivory Gull sensation, the team celebrated the Farnes 2013 season in some style, as (more than) a few drinks were sunk on Saturday evening.

As ever a few of the local boatmen joined us, whilst the annual ‘awards’ were handed out (less said about that the better!) and the team reminisced about the season just gone. It’s been an amazing year, with lots of highs to celebrate and the team can be proud of their efforts.

Following the evenings celebrations, the team gradually surface (with a few sore heads and tired faces amongst them) and then the goodbye’s began. Gradually the team departed for their wintering grounds from as far away as Hertfordshire to Preston to Sheffield and Edinburgh. Even poor Will had a three day epic return to his native Isles of Scilly, but I’m glad to report everyone made it safe and well.

So where does that leave us? Over the forthcoming weeks, I’ll be bringing you all the highlights from the Farnes so don’t go anywhere…tune in…

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

It'll be all white on the night

Arctic Stunner...Ivory Gull in Seahouses (Ian Fisher)

Not a bad view (Ian Fisher)

Farnes team enjoying the moment

Checking out the Ivory
Tuesday 10th December comments: So we had made it. The team reached Seahouses early on Saturday morning but the cleaning up operation was only just beginning. It’s a big job on our final day as we take everything off the islands ready for servicing, recycling or storing; it all has a home to go to!

It was during this move that I received a phone call from local birder Ian whilst I was in Seahouses harbour. The conversation went a bit like this…

“are you watching it?” enquired an inquisitive Ian on the telephone

“watching what” came my reply

“the Ivory Gull”

Stunned silence. “WHAT Ivory Gull!!?”

The bird had been discovered on nearby Seahouses Golf Course and moments later the entire Farnes ranger team had descended onto the nearby course to be confronted by a stunning first-winter Ivory Gull. These birds are very rare visitors from the high arctic and for most of us present; it was a ‘new’ bird. The team enjoyed some stunning views (down to 15m) although incredibly a second bird arrived later that afternoon.

It was a fitting way to finish what has been an incredible season and what luck we have had. Escaped the Farnes and within an hour, watching an Ivory Gull. It doesn’t get much better!

So there was even more to celebrate in Seahouses…to be continued….

Monday, 9 December 2013

Lift Off!

8am on Saturday...our final boat arrives

Army of rangers and boatmen load the boat

...and say goodbye to Farnes 2013

celebrations begin

WHAT a season!

Mainland bound...a boat full

Hard work begins in Seahouses

Moving day continues

Monday 9th December comments: Goodbye Farnes 2013. Saturday morning arrived and the team were up early (6am to be precise and it was still pitch dark) but departure day had arrived. The jetties were stacked, the final clean complete and the doors locked. We were ready to leave.

As dawn broke, the boat arrived first at Brownsman, then Inner Farne to collect the team and kit before eventually backing out of the Inner Farne jetty at 08:38 and that was it. The Farnes season was over. We’ve accomplished some great successes this season; the seabirds had a remarkable summer, Puffins are up, record numbers of people visited and the ranger team were outstanding. However it was time to say goodbye.

After a short journey through Inner Sound and after much rejoicing celebration, we reached the mainland. The hard work began here as we still had the small matter of moving all the kit into winter storage, sort through all the rubbish and recycling and ensure everything was accounted for. However things never go smoothly and we had one more final twist to our day but more on that tomorrow...

Friday, 6 December 2013

Storming Finish

Getting off? really? The sea state at 3pm today... (David Steel)

Packed for winter (David Steel)

Personal stuff ready to go (David Steel)

Get ready, mainland here we come (David Steel)

Cellar of the Pele Tower all packed

Cleaning continues
Friday 6th December comments: This is it. We arrived on the islands in a south-easterly storm on 21st March and since then we have been living, working and breathing the Farne Islands. It’s been an eventful season, at times intense but as enjoyable as ever. The summer was stunning, the media coverage outstanding and the team brilliant.

Today we had two missions. To continue packing ready for leaving and a quick Seal count to try and estimate what damage had been caused by the storm surge of the previous day.

And the result? Rather more surprising than we had hoped. The two major colonies of Brownsman and Staple experienced no losses as all pups were accounted for. The protective cow seals had somehow managed to push their pups to safety, up the banks and away from danger. It was an incredible result considering the conditions. However it wasn’t all good news as the small outer-islands have experienced losses but that was expected considering the weather we’ve just had.

So that is that. All packed, all ready. Tomorrow is the big day. Just after 8am we are hoping that William Shiel and crew will be arriving on Brownsman, then Inner Farne and taking the team west to the mainland.

Or so we hope…

The ‘storm surge of the century’ smashed the islands yesterday and the residual swell is still monstrous. We have a small weather window early morning and that is our only escape, but will we make it? Its touch and go to say the least, as Mother Nature may just have one final, evil twist. Mainland here we come. Maybe.

Thursday, 5 December 2013


Staying clear of the chaos; Grey Seal on Brownsman (Ciaran Hatsell)

Staple and Brownsman being smashed (Ciaran Hatsell)

Tickets please. Inner Farne ticket area under water (David Steel)

View of South Wamses; the shingle beach with pups has gone (Ciaran Hatsell)

Knoxes Reef gone, and the pups with it (Will Scott)

Jetties gone on Inner Farne (David Steel)

Inner Farne beach gone; 'dock bank' breached (David Kinchin-smith)

Can I come in? (Ciaran Hatsell)
Thursday 5th December comments: We won’t forget it and we’ll be talking about it for some time to come. The biggest storm surge in 60 years has just battered the east coast and we were in it, almost up to our necks.

As dawn broke across the Farnes, the wind was already reaching in excess of 60mph from the north-west which remained constant throughout the day. To make matters worse the high tide at 4pm brought a storm surge which pushed the sea level two meters above the expected high tide line. This was a storm of epic proportions!

The team were safe, generally the islands were safe (they’ve had a lot thrown at them in their time) but there was no hiding for our Grey Seal pups. The low lying islands like Knoxes Reef, North Wamses and Northern Hares were awash and there was nothing we could do.

The loss of the life will be high, but it could have been worse, a lot worse. The pupping season is almost over and if this had happened just four weeks earlier, we would have had a real nightmare on our hands.

So the Seals have had a tough time, the islands have been battered and it’s not even over. We have another day of big tides and predicted swell, and we are hoping to leave for the winter on Saturday. This is not over by any stretch and don’t we know it!

The Storm

Breaking news: 

Today's Farne Islands weather report - A more lighthearted take on the day's storm with hosts Andy Puffin and Gloria Kittiwake, and field reporter Ronnie Razorbill.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The calm before…

St.Cuthbert's Chapel main stain glass window

All shut down for the winter

Recycling ready for the mainland

Final water supply arrives

Seal count continues

Thursday weather. Oh boy. Windy!

Tuesday 3rd December comments: Welcome to the crunch. It’s the teams final week on the Farnes as we prepared for the mainland and close down the islands. It’s a big week with some big jobs as packing up for the winter is no easy task.

Everything from closing down the buildings, to moving rubbish and recycling off the Farnes has to be co-ordinated and organised. The team take full advantage of every minute of daylight available as things needing sorting.

Today we even squeezed a seal mission in, to count the latest number of pups born since our last visit. A total of 69 were discovered bringing our autumn total to 1,487 pups. It’s been another busy season and our population looks stable. The last count will be done on Friday as we depart the islands on Saturday……Or will we?!

It’s never that straight forward on the islands. All eyes are now glancing at the weather, as early reports indicate there is a serious storm about to batter us. We have been stuck for days in the past and nearly ran out of food in one year.


You bet. Seven rangers, two miles of sea, one big storm. Game on.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Happy Farnesmas

The Farnes team celebrating Farnesmas...complete with jumpers!

A few beers to share

The food ready for cooking by top chefs Ciaran and Bex

Chestnuts with sprouts on the menu

The lamb slow cooked and looking good

Enjoying the meal

Showing off presents - Will with his new phone cover
Sunday 1st December comments: Our last Sunday on the islands was celebrated in style as the team enjoyed ‘Farnesmas’, our version of Christmas; after all we won’t be here on Christmas day (we hope!!).

So following last years tradition, a full roast dinner complete with lamb, chicken and even roast chestnuts with sprouts were cooked whilst Christmas jumpers were the dress code. Even ‘Secret Santa presents’ were bought with the team delivering some top gifts; from Bridled Tern iPhone covers to ranger calendars, we had it all.

The day was a huge success and very enjoyable, but tomorrow we return to action, as we have seals to count, boardwalks to construct and the Farne Islands to pack down. This is it, the final week is here. Bring it on.