Saturday, 29 November 2014

Count Down

What is it? hiya its me!

Colony on the beach doing well

Farne Island Grey Seal pup

Saturday 29th November comments: The colonies are starting to show signs of slowing down as the number of pups born between visits has decreased. Some of the nurseries are starting to show big gaps as successful mothers and pups have departed for the open sea and it won’t be long before it’s all over.

The total number of pups born has reached 1,507 (about 100 up on this time last year) and the ‘pup boom’ elsewhere down the English east coast is showing no sign of relenting as tonight’s latest figures reveal;

Donna Nook: 1,541
Farne Islands 1,507
Blakeney Point 1,420

It’s an impressive number of Grey Seal pups but we haven’t stopped yet…..keep on counting!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Carry On Counting!

Team on the seal pup colonies...

and count me!

Saying hello to an old friend

Forget counting..too tired.

Sunday 23rd November comments: Another busy weekend as the weather allowed us access back onto our favourite place; the Grey Seal nurseries! The team were once again active spraying, counting, weighing, and tagging all the young pups across the Farne Islands and the end result was that we’ve now got an impressive 1,366 pups.

The colonies are now action packed with Bulls fighting, young pups been born, Cow seals protecting youngsters and some pups heading off into the world of independence. The four major seal nurseries on the Farnes include: Staple 425 pups, South Wamses 353 pups, Brownsman 309 pups and North Wamses 213 pups.

Overall we’ve peaked on the Farnes although over the next four to six weeks, we’ll still have another 200 born although it appears to be a bumper year elsewhere so we’ll see what happens. The three major English Grey Seal colonies are now reporting figures of:

Farne Islands (Northumberland) 1,366
Donna Nook (Lincs) 1,220
Blakeney Point (Norfolk) 877

Onwards and upwards, more counting, more seal pups, it’s never dull….

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Counting Weekend

Count me!
Saturday 22nd November comments: We've been back on the seal colonies over the last few days we'll finish counting tomorrow and then I'll bring you a full round up of all the latest Farne Island Grey Seal pup news tomorrow evening on the blog!

Eyes down...

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Winter Wonderland

Feels like winter; winter-plumage Great Northern Diver

Water Rail caught and ringed...having been found in a cupboard

Up to three Black Guillemots now wintering

200+ Purple Sandpipers now wintering across the Farnes
Thursday 20th November comments: The Farnes is a top place of bird migration as migratory birds use the islands as a safe ‘service station’ stop, to refuel, find food and shelter and escape the majority of predators they face elsewhere. As southern bound migrants pour south, others from the north replace them as they head into the UK for the winter from Scandinavia.

The last week or so has seen plenty of birds on the move as turbulent weather systems have played havoc with migratory patterns. On Monday we counted an impressive 104 Pomarine Skuas north (second largest ever Farnes count) and 862 Little Auks alone. Since then things have quietened down although winter Thrushes continue to move with the occasional surprise like a Yellowhammer (scarce on here) discovered yesterday.

Even today more surprise discoveries were made when a Water Rail was found rummaging around our Seal cupboard; not exactly a reed bed and no surprise that it was soon caught, ringed and released unharmed soon after.

Planet Farnes is never dull even when you think it’s starting to settle down…Next stop, back onto our Grey Seal colonies…

Monday, 17 November 2014

Goodbye John Walton

John as a warden on Brownsman

John (far right) in Seahouses during his five year wardening period

John (left) Gloria Shop manageress dressed as a Puffin (!) and Maureen (right)

Half-man, half-Puffin; Johnalways having a laugh

Monday 17th comments: Gone but certainly won’t be forgotten! Today John Walton has retired having served the Farne Islands and the Northumberland coast since 1990. John spent five years as a warden on the Farnes from 1979-83 before moving on to other seasonal countryside jobs in the UK. In the mid-1980’s John returned to the islands for several seasons to undertake the ‘Seal Contract’. The Farne Islands runs deep in his blood and in 1990 John handed the ‘top job’ as the Farne Islands and Northumberland Coast Property Manager.

John and his wife Maureen then moved to Seahouses to overlook planet Farnes… and what a mean feat that has been! The Farnes require round the clock attention and often things do not go to plan. The unpredictability of the weather, sea conditions and general island living cannot be stressed enough. Thankfully when things go wrong we remind ourselves of the many stories John could tell and know that no matter what- John had been there and done it before.

In later years, I took up the day-to-day running of the Farnes whilst he dealt with more managerial work. With his endless knowledge of the Farne Islands and natural history, I could always rely on him for a good chin wag and a few laughs along the way. During one of our infamous calls I interrupted the phone call with a series of expletives that would make even Gordon Ramsey blush; I had just seen a Humpback Whale breach near the islands. As ever John took it with good spirit and just a hint of jealously as we shared another one of those ‘Farnes moments’. During his reign there was certainly many of them!

Maureen didn’t have the opportunity to escape the wrath of the Farne Islands either as the ‘distinctive smell’ of wardens would linger long after they left John’s home office and with the patience of a saint (and a strong stomach) Maureen provided support to John and the demands that were placed on him as our property manager.

For me personally, I have always had John as part of my Farnes family. I started as a seasonal warden in March 2001 (what a mistake that was John!) and since then he’s always been there to guide and advise me. Like any boss/employee relationship we had our ‘moments’ but John always had the ability to make me laugh when the chips were down (and for pointing out my numerous grammar mistakes- of which there were many!)

John departed Seahouses for the final time today after 24 years. The Farnes will not be the same without him it really is the end of an era. John was not only an important figure to the Farne Islands but also to the local community and will be greatly missed. From all of us on the Farnes, we would like to wish John and Maureen all the happiness in the world and we hope you enjoy every minute of your retirement; you deserve it. You can take the boy from the Farnes but you’ll never take the Farnes from the boy. Good luck John!

David Steel, Monday 17th November 2014.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

1,000 and counting!

Hiya! A 3 week old pup, moulted; into a rare colour!

Staple Island looking very busy and full of Seals

Sleep time....

One fat pup, one skinny female

Sunday 15th November comments: It’s been a strange old week as the weather has dominated yet again and we’ve cut off for the majority of it. However by Saturday morning the wind had eased and we gained access to the Seal colonies for the first time since last weekend.

The result was pups galore as this is the peak pupping week on the Farnes and after an-all-day count (and a final count of Brownsman this morning) we had produced another 307 pups. This brings the Farnes total for this autumn to 1,137. That’s a lot of cute pups!!

As for the colonies, Staple Island has become the ‘number one’ nursery with pup totals on the main islands including;

Staple Island 359
Brownsman 258
North Wamses 183
South Wamses 308

Elsewhere it’s starting to ‘kick-off’ down the east of England (colonies further south are about five weeks behind the Farnes) with latest totals of:

Farne Islands: 1,137
Donna Nook: 813
Norfolk coast: 436

So its all go as we enter mid-November!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Farnes Life

Stocked up on Monday for another storm

However getting it to the buildings has its difficulties..

No electricity so still got gas lights!

Even drinking water is carried on

No running water, so water boiled to get hot water... enable us to do dishes...

and plenty of the 'vital' supplies in.
Wednesday 12th November comments: ‘It’s life Jim but not as we know it'.

The Farne Islands; its amazing place for wildlife and an amazing place to visit but what’s it like to live out here? For nine months of the year a small team of rangers live, breath and bleed the Farne Islands and we are now entering our final few weeks of this year’s campaign.

Life on the Farnes can be amazing but challenging, as our working days and daily life is dictated by one major factor; the weather. At this time of year storms and heavy seas are more frequent and being cut off for several days at a time becomes the ‘norm’.

This week alone we’ve been stuck since Monday and that came off the back of a six day storm which marooned us last week. So a lot of planning has to go into island life (especially at this time of year) as with no running water on the islands we have to stock up supplies.

It’s not just water as we need plenty of bottled gas for providing cooking and lights (remember gas lights!?). Add food supplies, fuel for our boats and general work kit and equipment, it takes a lot of organising to ensure everything is sorted and in place for each storm.

As for the team, we’re very use to these storms and life goes on during these storms, as we’ve got work to do and Seal pups to count! After all, this is Planet Farnes and if Carlsberg made islands….

Sunday, 9 November 2014

830 and counting...

Hello! New born Seal pup on the Farnes

Behind in action

Cute isn't the word!

Young pup practising..blowing bubbles

Pup three weeks old, having moulted and now independent!
Sunday 9th November comments: It’s bee a hectic weekend having spent the majority of it on the Grey Seal colonies of the Farne Islands. A total of 315 new pups were counted and sprayed since our previous visit earlier last week bringing our total of births to 830.

It’s an impressive number but we’ve still got some way to go; we believe we are about half-way through the counting so plenty to keep us occupied over the next few weeks.

The top four colonies on the Farnes are now:

South Wamses 257
Staple Island 254
Brownsman 151
North Wamses 144

Onwards and upwards, as this week will bring more births and more counting.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Peaking Pups

Bull seals moving in...would you mess?

Even the cow seals can be feisty!

Whilst the pups just sleep regardless

Saturday 8th November comments: It's been an interesting few days as a northerly, then southerly storm lashed the Farne Islands bringing mountainous seas and we were not going anywhere. However with a high pressure weather system dominating the weekend, we'll be out on the Seal colonies once again to see how many pups have been born since we last visited and what affects the storm has had on those present. 

It'll be interesting to see how the pups have coped especially on the low lying shingle beaches and I suspect they'll be some casualties... However it won't all be bad news but we'll not know until Sunday evening when the count details are sorted. Fingers crossed for some positive news...

Wednesday, 5 November 2014


Little Auk on the sea

One from last year; in the hand!

Wednesday 5th November comments: Little Auks are brilliant. These birds, a member of the Auk family, are incredible and as the name suggest, are little. These birds are smaller than Puffins and are so small they actually feed on plankton rather than fish! So there you go, fact of the day!

These small birds don’t breed in Britain but if we get big northerly winds, huge numbers can be pushed down from the high arctic before readjusting and flying back north. Simple! Its at this moment birds are recorded along the east coast and there is no better place for seeing them than the Farne Islands; after all we stick four miles out to sea!

Today we recorded a plethora of these little fella’s as the day produced a total of 2,921 counted flying north. Other highlights included a good array of wildfowl and an impressive thirteen Pomarine Skua’s (all juveniles).

The Farnes is an impressive place for wildlife and don’t we just know it! Bring on tomorrow…

Today’s highlights:
Sooty Shearwater 1N
Red-throated Diver 26N, 10S
Great Northern Diver 2N, 5S
Brent Goose 5S dark-bellied
Shelduck 1N
Teal 93N
Wigeon 34N
Common Scoter 27N, 34S
**Velvet Scoter 9N, 2S
Goldeneye 23N
Red-breasted Merganser 4N
Long-tailed Duck 1N
Tufted Duck 1N
**Pomarine Skua 12N 1S
Arctic Skua 3N
Great Skua 10N, 5S
**Little Auks 2,921 north
**Black Guillemot 1 lingering

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Puppy Love

Grey Seal pup...they have the cute factor!


You ain't seen me, right!

Mum on guard...

Tuesday 4th November comments: The day’s are short, the nights are long but we’re still out here and we’ve got work to do! Yesterday the team spent the entire day on the Grey Seal colonies of the Farne Islands counting and marking all the newly born pups.

Overall a total of 252 pups were counted yesterday bringing our total to 518 born this autumn. However this is just one third of the expected total as over the next four weeks we hope to count another 1,000.

As for the team, we’ve closed the islands to the public following a very successful summer season but work and island life goes on. We’ll remain out on the Farnes until early December and we’ve got a lot to do before then…counting seal pups for starters! Planet Farnes is alive and well.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Seal Success

It's a hard life...

bath time needed!

Young pup suckling from mum.

Successful Seal Tours last week
Saturday 1st November comments: It’s cranking up. As we welcome in November we know we’ve got some work to do as over the next few weeks we’ll be in the thick of the action on our Grey Seal colonies.

Over the next ten days we’ll see the number of pup births peak on the Farnes and we’ll be counting and marking every single one. Our most recent visit to the colonies on Wednesday produced another 142 new pups bringing the autumns total to 266 born to date on the Farnes.

With several weeks still to go, we’ve got a lot more to count and as usual, we’ll bring you all the news from the islands.