Fat and content - a second coat pup (Graeme Duncan)
Mother and pup (David Andrews)
Snow white (David Andrews)
Only three weeks old... (David Andrews)
Home sweet home, from the cottage window (David Andrews)
The dust has settled, the seals have been counted and its all over foe another year. The Farne grey Seals population experienced a good autumn (for numbers born) but I suspect once all the numbers are crunched, we will (as expected) have lost a few - we run at a loss of 50% in normal years. The final island-by-island totals include:
The season may be over but I've still got plenty to update you all on. A good starting point would be the team - we've been out there since early March and we've welcomed over 45,000 visitors, 183 different bird species, 80,000 breeding seabirds and not forgetting over 1,400 Seal pups. We've had our 'up's and down's along the way, but a big THANK YOU to all the team for another good year - I hope you all enjoyed and you'll all remember the Farnes - its an amazing place but made even better by the people who take care of it. I wish everyone luck and hopefully some of you will return for another year on the islands. So from this head warden, thank-you and enjoy the winter.
Seahouses Harbour like you never seen before - snow galore!
Monday 6th December comments: What an epic. Little did we ever imagine that we would be leaving the islands for the winter in heavy snow! The final few weeks have been cold and bitter at times although we’ve got on with the job and even managed to find some interesting birds – the Stone Curlew was the most outrageous!
Departure day finally arrived on Saturday and as usual, Brownsman was evacuated and everything and everyone was moved to the jetties awaiting the final boat to take us west, to the mainland. The season has had its moments, the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, but at long last, we were leaving.
Having dodged the Grey Seals, the boat arrived on time to collect us and away we went to the frozen wasteland that was the mainland. I’ve never seen snow in Seahouses harbour and the place was covered, so it made life a bit harder but soon the team were in action, moving equipment, sorting recycling and storing boats for the winter.
Eventually the dust (well snow) settled and the team relaxed to celebrate into the small hours of Sunday morning in Seahouses. The season is over and the wardens have gone. Long live the Farnes.
However that not the end of the story. Keep reading as I’ll bring a team roundup, a seal roundup and much more very soon.
Pure brilliance - a sketch sent over by John Steele capturing the moment
Snapping from Brownsman - Stone Curlew (honest!!) on South Wamses (Graeme Duncan)
Wardens in action, Jason and Steely taking shelter (Graeme Duncan)
Wednesday 1st December comments: We see some strange and wonderful things out on the Farnes, but today even made the most optimistic warden gasp in disbelief.
Picture the scene; a cold icy easterly wind blowing for the umpteenth day, snow blizzards coming and going, solid icy ground and marauding Grey Seals on Brownsman. Welcome to 1st December.
So why, oh why did we have a Stone Curlew arrive on the islands?
Stone Curlews breed in southern England in small numbers and usually migrate out of the country by late autumn. The species is a real rarity to Northumberland and the last Farnes record dates back to 1950 when an individual was killed against the Longstone Lighthouse.
This morning resident warden Jason flushed a bird from the vegetable garden on Brownsman, which flew over to the nearby South Wamses. There it remained, amongst Grey Seals on a shingle bank for the majority of the day, much to the delight of the island warden team. What a crazy bird. This bird should be nowhere near the Farnes, or Northumberland, or the North-east come to think about it. We’ll never know where this has come from, but the weird world of the Farnes continues to throw up surprises. Now how does that song go…on the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me….a Stone Curlew on a seal beach…
Looking west towards the mainland - Bamburgh Castle covered in snow
A new born pup in the snow (Graeme Duncan)
Moulting pup in the snow (Jason Moss)
Sunday 27th November comments: You know its cold when the beach freezes. Not only that, snow forms. Its that cold. The north-east has been blasted with arctic winds bringing plenty of the white stuff with it and we’ve not escaped. The Seals have been covered, the islands dusted and the wardens are cold (but happy!).
So what’s it like on the Farnes at this time of year? Well today we ventured over to Inner Farne to finally 'close' that particular island down. In the process, we were caught in a blizzard but we survived and got on with work. We also checked out the new born Seal pups on the inner group before eventually heading back to Brownsman. We finished the day by moving various bits of equipment from the cottage to the jetty, which is no easy feat with several adult Seals and pups along the route (never mind the freezing conditions). Regardless we made it back to the cottage just before dark to settle down for the evening.
So how cold was it? Well my right hand needed warm water pouring over it before it would open – painful and cold and maybe we pushed it a bit today but mission accomplished. Now we can settle down on Brownsman and get back to the Seal colonies, in the snow...
A Seal pup on Brownsman with Longstone in background (David Andrews)
You looking at me? Seal pup up close (Graeme Duncan)
Thursday 25th November comments: It’s been an interesting time for the Grey Seals on the islands as unlike the previous year, we’ve had some serious storms from the north and east (bringing with it, some huge swell). As well as cold temperatures (not that Seals are bothered about cold temperatures!) but the seas have been mountainous. Although its early days, we’ve certainly lost Seal pups but we expect that on these small rocky islands, as nature can be a cruel mistress.
Despite the weather (ranging from biting northerly winds to sleet and hail), the team have got on with work and we've been active on the colonies. At one point, we took shelter behind a rock face from a sleet storm and were joined by two Seal pups - we couldn't blame them, its was horrendous. Regardless we;'re still not finished and I would not be surprised if we even got snow over the next few days, its that cold!
Latest pup populations…
South Wamses 389 Staple Island 327 Brownsman 296 North Wamses 269 Northern Hares 31 Big Harcar 3 Longstone 1 Total 1,276
Farnes seventh record - a Woodlark on Inner Farne (Ian Fisher)
Looking a bit wet, Woodlark showing well (Ian Fisher)
Woodlark (Ian Fisher)
A lingering Black Guillemot (Graeme Duncan)
A good autumn for Common Redpolls on the islands (Ian Fisher)
Sunday 21st November comments: It’s the late autumn and we’re still on the islands. We’ve got just over two weeks remaining before we head back to the mainland for the winter but before then, we’ve got a job to do. The stormy season is truly upon us and trips to the mainland have become few and far between. However this isn’t anything new at this time of year and we’ll focus on the Grey Seal colonies over the next few weeks before we eventually move off.
The past week has been generally quiet for birds although Auks have been the noticeable exception. Good numbers of Guillemots and Razorbills have returned to Farnes waters whilst Little Auks are being recorded daily, with at least one Black Guillemot lingering.
Friday witnessed a flurry of migrants as easterly winds produced late passage with the pick of the bunch involving a confiding Woodlark, representing the seventh Farnes record. The bird showed well on Saturday for an admiring group of keen Northumberland birders and at one stage, came within 8ft of the admiring crowd! The bird appeared to be reacting to a camera shutter lenses and once in position at the feet of the birders, decided to start singing in ‘sub-song’! Yet another strange and wonderful visitor to these extraordinary islands.
Other birds of note included several Common Redpolls (it’s been a good autumn for them) along with both Short-eared and Long-eared Owls. Also of note was three late Chiffchaffs, a scattering of Woodcock and reasonable numbers of Thrushes moving west towards the mainland. The Seal colonies continue to go from strength, with over 1,000 pups although I’ll bring you all the news and updates over the next few days. The winter is almost upon us and you don’t need to remind us out here – its definitely cold!!!
Tuesday 9th November comments: Its been an epic day as the storm raged and the sea boiled, whilst the warden team stood back and admired the chaos around them. The North Sea is the last place anything or anyone wants to be at this moment in time and for those newly born Seal pups, they must wonder what kind of crazy world they have been born into. Its a fact of nature and the brutal realism of the Farnes, but not all will make it but we'll not know the extent of the damage until we return to the colonies, but that may be some time....the gales continue....
On a positive note, passage of seabirds kept us entertained with good numbers of Little Auks alongside a few other noticeable highlights, including a returning wintering Black Guillemot and our first Glaucous Gull of the autumn. However the star bird of the day was a little Siberian waif, a Pallas's Warbler, which graced Inner Farne. the bird, found early in the morning, is our second of the year and 17th ever.
Tuesday 9th November highlights: Little Auk 1,731 south, Great Northern Diver 2N, Red-necked Grebe, Sooty Shearwater 4N, Common Scoter 226N, Velvet Scoter 8N, Scaup 8N, Long-tailed Duck 20N, Tufted Duck 1N, Goldeneye 5N, Goosander 1N, Red-breasted Merganser 3N, Great Skua 5N, Arctic Skua 1N, Little Gull 1 south, Glaucous Gull immature, Black Guillemot 1N, Merlin 2, Peregrine 2, Woodcock 7, Chiffchaff 2, Pallas's Warbler 1 on Inner Farne all day – our second this year! and Common Redpoll 2
Monday 8th November highlights: Long-tailed Skua 1 juvenile north (a late individual), Little Auk 6N, 13S, Goldeneye 15N, Long-tailed Duck 14N, Woodcock 7 and Jack Snipe.
Staple Island with a difference... (Graeme Duncan)
Keeping pup safe - a mother on Brownsman with Longstone in background (Graeme Duncan)
Monday 8th November comments: If you've seen the forecast, you know what is happening. For those who haven't, look away. Its fright night.
Its storm season and this one is brutal and it couldn't be happening at a worse time. The wind cranked up to 'storm force' overnight from the south-east and by dawn, the sea was raging. Mother Nature was moving through the gears and the Farnes were feeling the full affect. The storm raged all day and the forecast isn't pretty. The radio crackled into life as darkness fell...
"Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover; easterly backing northeasterly 6 to gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later. Rough or very rough, but high for a time. Rain or squally showers"
I'm not sure what 'high' means, but it doesn't sound good. We're in for a rough ride this week, there is no doubting that. As for the Seal pups, well, we've got trouble ahead....
Saturday 6th November comments: Its been a quiet period on the Farnes in recent days although the islands eventually closed to the public at the end of October, albeit on a disappointing note, as we were only open twice during the entire half-tern period (the weather really is 'king' out here).
The team having been working hard as ever, from digging ponds to closing down the islands, ready for the winter (its that time of year again). We've also been active in the Grey Seals colonies counting new born pups, which have increased significantly in number since I last put an entry on the blog. The predominately westerly winds have brought very little in the way of bird migrants, but that may change next week as they are forecasting big easterly gales. However if those huge storms do materialise (expected Monday-Tuesday) the Grey Seal pups won't be finding life as easy as it has been...watch this space...
Cow seal basking in the sun on Brownsman (David Andrews)
Wednesday 27th October comments: It’s been another difficult period as the weather continues to play havoc with daily life on the islands. In recent weeks, we’ve hardly seen the mainland and today brought yet more strong winds (from the west) although thankfully the forecast is set to improve over the forthcoming days.
On the Seal colonies, everything is well and we’ve now reached 200 pups with plenty more to come. On the bird migration front, there are huge numbers of Waxwings arriving in the country from Scandinavia, with huge numbers seen (c4,000 in Scotland alone yesterday). Its one of the largest and earliest invasions on record and we’ve had a few in recent days as they move west too the mainland.
Recent Highlights :
Wed 27th Oct: Little Auk 185N, Grey Phalarope one on the sea in Staple Sound, Jack Snipe, Iceland Gull first winter over Knoxes Reef, Merlin, Peregrine 2, Sparrowhawk
Tues 26th Oct: Waxwing 16 west during the day, Woodcock 6
A moody sea against the backdrop of the Longstone Lighthouse
Saturday 23rd October comments: The forecasters got this one right. The stormy weather arrived, hammering the islands during the small hours of Friday night and as dawn broke on Saturday, we were greeted by heavy seas and constant drizzle. The islands, as expected, remained closed to the public (a great start to the half-term!) although eyes were trained on the sea, as a good number of Little Auks were logged flying north.
As for the Grey Seals and their pups, they just got on with business as usual, finding shelter away from the worst of the weather and keeping those pups safe from the moody sea. It'll be some time before we get a chance to inspect the colonies and until then, we'll be keeping safe and warm ourselves.
Today's highlights: Little Auk 118 north, Sooty Shearwater 39N, Manx Shearwater 2N, Great Northern Diver 1N along with a small scattering migrants including Woodcock.
Yawn - Seal pup saying hello to the world (Graeme Duncan) Our first second-coat pup - success (already!)
Friday 22nd October comments: we made it onto the Seal colonies early this morning although with a mountainous sea, we didn't stay for long. The islands have remained closed to visitors since Monday and things are not about to improve - the forecast for the weekend is brutal - these early born youngsters are going to be in for a torrid time. Hold on to your hats, the storms of the autumn are about to kick-off and for some old timers, its a case of here we go again...
Away from the impending chaos, the seal colonies were full of life this morning, with the islands boasting over 110 pups, the majority on the North and South Wamses with a light scattering on Brownsman and Staple Island. Time appears to be slipping by quickly as we even discovered our first 'second-coat' pup - success already and we've only just begun! We also witnessed a youngster from previous seasons, in amongst the adults on the colonies - Archie? Lucky? - maybe but regardless, all was well with the Farne Islands Grey Seals for the time being.
My island now - a Bull seal saying hello to Jason (Graeme Duncan)
fight club - two bull seals getting to know each other (Graeme Duncan)
Double trouble - a Meadow Pipit flies for its life against two Merlins (Graeme Duncan)
Thursday 21st October comments:
Tomorrow we’ll start the process of counting the young, logging the dead and watching the trials and tribulations of the Grey Seal colony on the Farne Islands. The team are poised and ready, and so are the Seals – the pups have started to be born and we’ll soon be in the thick of the action.
However it’s been a frustrating time on the islands as strong winds from the north (we weren’t expecting it!), have prevented movement to the colonies (we’ve been cut off since Monday). However the wind is expected to ease tomorrow and so our seal mission will begin and as usual, I’ll bring you all the news.
Due to the switch in wind direction, only small numbers of migrants birds are passing although things have become a little more deadly for them, as the islands now boast resident Merlin and Peregines. Its interesting to watch the change in the seasons as Eider ducks are starting to display again whilst Long-tailed Ducks and Goldeneye have returned to winter around the islands in small numbers. Its all change once again and it won't be long before those clocks go back and the dark nights set in...