Friday 31 July 2009

Last day of July

A late straggler - an Arctic Tern ready to feed a chick

Adam enjoying the final day of July
Friday 31st July 2009 comments
It’s the end of July and the Farnes is about to experience a major change. As from tomorrow (1st August), Inner Farne will open its doors all day (the island is only open from 13:30-17:00 during the summer to reduce disturbance to the breeding seabirds). It’s also goodbye to Staple Island for another season, as the island closes its doors, having been open since 1st May but with the disappearance of the Guillemots and Puffins, Staple has lost its major attraction. The next stage for Staple will be the birth of the Grey Seal pups, but that’s not for another three months…

Its also change for the birds of the islands, as focus now switches to the migrants of the Farnes. The seabirds are heading off, having seen one of the most successful breeding seasons of recent years. However small migrant birds will start moving south and start using the islands as a service station, feeding up in the relative safety of the predator-free islands before moving on south to southern Europe and beyond. Its not just small passage migrants we’ll be recording, but also interesting seabirds blown off course, or waders from the high arctic on passage, or hopefully an odd rarity or two (just to quicken the pulse!). For the birders on the islands, its now autumn (but yes, its still summer).

However it’s still July and we’ve still got breeding seabirds on the islands, as Shags have young, Fulmars have small youngsters (they’ll not fledge until late August) and we’ve still got a few Puffin to see, but only just.

Highlights: Cuckoo – a juvenile (our second of the year) arrived on Inner Farne this morning and spent fifteen minutes on the island before departing west, Wheatear 1 – out first autumn returnee, Swallow 6 south.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

The Puffins have just left the building...

Gone but not forgotten

Goodbye for another year
Wednesday 29th July comments:
Goodbye and good luck. Tuesday 28th July was no ordinary day on the islands as all appeared well by mid-afternoon, but only a few hours later, they were gone. Almost the entire population of the Farne Island Puffins have gone and that is it. You won’t see them on the islands, you won’t see them at sea, they’ve gone and their not coming back (well for this year at least!).

Puffins are true ‘seabirds’ as they spend as little time as possible on land, so they come in, breed, raise a chick and leave, all within four months. The first Puffin egg was discovered on the Farnes on 28th April and here we are, only 92 days later and they’ve gone. It’s the same all over the UK, the ‘comical little fella’s’ have departed and will spend the next eight months out at sea, not returning to land. It’s a hardy life for a bird which is no bigger than a bag of sugar, but a reasonably successful one. Although there has been no full population censes this year, the season has been excellent as huge numbers of chicks have fledged and this is the end.

However for those visiting in the next few weeks, don’t be disappointed, we’ve got a few late stragglers, probably about 500 remain, but be quick, as they’ll be going soon! Its change elsewhere as well, as the Sandwich Terns, youngsters and parents have now completely moved away from the island ‘top’ – giving it a 'bare' feeling and certainly a lot quieter. The Arctic Terns are also on their way whilst the Guillemots and Razorbills have gone. Its also only a few days away before we open Inner Farne all day and we say goodbye to Staple Island for another season – blimey, where has time gone. It’s the ever changing face of a seabird colony and the Farne Islands.

Saturday 25 July 2009

Kitts on the wing

Look I can fly: a Kittiwake chick takes flight for the first time

Adult Kittiwake taking care of youngster

I'll show you how its done; adult Kittiwake in flight
Saturday 25th July comments:
Everyday brings more exciting news from the islands and its great to reveal that the pair of breeding Roseate Terns are now parents, as one of the eggs has hatched, so they’ll be full of busy finding food for the next few weeks. It’s also great news that we’ve actually got two pairs of Roseate Terns nesting, the first time we’ve had more than one pair since 2000!! Also despite appearing not to be sitting on their eggs, the Swallows have hatched five youngsters, so it’s all go on the islands.

Elsewhere more Kittiwake young are now flying – it’s a great sight following several years of dismal breeding failures, so fingers crossed it’s a step in the right direction for a bird in serious decline. Otherwise its business as usual as the Puffins remain (and showing very well) but be warned, it won’t last, they’ll all be gone, very, very soon…

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Getting ready to go

Puffins with Brownsman in the back-ground - ready to go!

Puffin chick - not many remain, almost all gone

A welcome sight - fledged Arctic Tern chicks on Inner Farne pathway

Wednesday 22 July comments:
The seabird breeding season is approaching its final furlong. Apart from Fulmars, every other breeding species has free flying fledged young and where on our way to celebrating one of the best seabird breeding seasons we’ve ever witnessed. Sandeels galore continue to be caught by eager-eyed parents with hungry chicks whilst the weather continues to hold, but only just. A few more weeks and we’ll see the end game as birds will depart the rocky shores of the Farnes for wintering grounds which will range from the huge expanse of the North Sea to as far as the southern hemisphere. If anyone wants to see Puffins, you’ve not got long left – take it from me, their getting ready, ready to leave… watch this space.

As usual, visitors continue to arrive on a daily basis to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells (!) of the islands, whilst the warden team are coming to the end of monitoring as the birds depart. It won’t be long before we start work on vegetation management and the Grey Seals will be giving birth…well not just yet, but where it time going!

Dr Richard Bevan was with us again today, as we caught more adult Puffins to fix small ‘geo-locators’ too for the research we have been running this summer (and winter – hopefully). We also had a visit from ex-head warden Robin Harvey, now at Minsmere (always good to see an ex-warden, especially Rob who was a top Farnes warden) and ‘Kezia’, a Farnes blog fan who enjoyed her first ever visit to the islands.

Breeding birds: Guillemots and Razorbills have now all but gone (only a very small handful remain from the 40,000+ pairs we had), Puffins are grouping and showing amazingly well – it’s the best sight I’ve seen as ranks upon ranks of birds sit around the island ‘tops’. However don’t be fooled, the reason behind this, is because they are preparing to leave and not return until next spring, so be warned! The Ringed Plover family of four on Inner Farne are well on the way to fledging, whilst Oystercatcher young can be seen in flight across several islands. Arctic and Sandwich Tern are now producing huge numbers of fledged young and many have moved away from nest sites and onto roost sites along the rocky areas of the island – its an impressive sight at the evening roost! At long last, the first Kittiwake young are now flying and their season looks likes its been reasonable despite the recent weather,

Highlights: male Crossbill on Inner Farne today – our first in three years and part of the invasion which is happening down the east coast – expect more records to follow! Peregrine – a wandering juvenile, Grasshopper Warbler on Brownsman on 20th – migrants have started moving!

Butterflies: A good numbers of common residents as well as a small number of Painted Ladies and a Small Copper on Brownsman today

Cetaceans: two Bottle-nosed Dolphins seen the wardens from a Zodiac boat on 18th July is the only record of note recently

Saturday 18 July 2009

Lucky...this time.

Grim on Saturday

Pounding in from the north...
Shag family sticking together

Saturday 18th July comments:
We got lucky, very lucky… the past 24 hours has seen the worst weather the islands have experienced since we returned in late March. Strong northerly winds backed with continuous driving rain, non-stop for 24 hours has seen the islands go from parched, to waterlogged. The ponds, bone dry since late April, are now awash and flooding, Puffins burrows are saturated and water is streaming off the island tops.

If this weather had of struck just two weeks ago, it would have been catastrophic for our breeding seabirds. Thankfully the majority of Puffin chicks have fledged, Guillemots have long gone and the tern chicks are like ‘mini-adults’ and withstood the forces of nature. We did, as expected, have some casualties, but these were just very small in number and we’re thankful it wasn’t worse. Hopefully the wind will ease and the rain will disappear so we can get back on track and enjoy the summer weather. Role on Sunday...

Friday 17 July 2009

Rainy days

Young Arctic Tern chick ready to go!

Gone but not forgotten - a few Eiders linger

Adult Kittiwake with chick
Friday 17th July comments:
The season marches on and we’ve hit another weather ‘snag’ as today has brought continuous rain and increasing wind, so sadly no visitors. Where now at the end game and fingers crossed (once again – we always hope for good weather out here!), the poor weather won’t continue for too long.

As the season progresses, our personnel changes and Stuart, our Farnes researcher departed the islands yesterday after a six week stay. Stuart has contributed a huge amount to the study of the Farne seabirds this year, especially Arctic Terns and also encouraged the lads to help in the ringing process. He’s been a great help and fitted in well with the team and the lifestyle of living on a rock in the North Sea. So many thanks Stuart, thanks for all the hard work.

It’s not only Stuart moving on, as it’s the time of year when wardens depart for well earned short holidays and Jason is off to some far flung destination, in the hunt for….birds. You can take a Farnes warden off the Farnes, but you can’t take the Farnes out of a Farnes warden.

Breeding birds: Fulmar chicks continue to hatch across the colonies whilst large numbers of Shag chicks are fledging and Cormorants have been very successful. Oystercatcher chicks are now flying whilst at least nine Ringed Plover chicks appear to be well on the way to fledging – a good number for the Farnes! Yet more Arctic, Common and Sandwich Tern chicks fledge on a daily basis – the islands are inundated with flying Tern chicks – it’s a great sight! The Roseate Terns continue to incubate but will the weather be there undoing? The majority of Guillemots and Razorbills have now gone – the cliffs are bare and it’s a very strange and silent sight. The Puffins have been gathering momentum and it’s only a matter of time before we’ll see them leave and when they leave, they go, all at once and before the end of July, so watch this space.

Highlights: Still quiet although waders have started moving through with recent count of Turnstone 165, Knot 76, Purple Sandpiper 52, Curlew 37, Whimbrel 1, Dunlin 5, Redshank 24 and Common Sandpiper 2.

Monday 13 July 2009

Guille's on the up!

Guillemot with food

Family bliss: adult and chick

'Yellow-billed' Guillemot - one of three birds on the islands
Monday 13th July comments:
The season continues to go from strength to strength and the good news is that other North Sea seabird colonies appear to be reporting ‘good seasons’ as far north as Shetland, so things looking good! At present, all seabirds are doing well on the Farnes and we are on the verge of some stunning results, so long as the weather maintains itself.

The first of the population results are now complete and we’ve had an increase of Guillemots across the islands, rising from 43,864 individuals to 48,126 individuals (about 32,244 breeding pairs). As Guillemots do not construct nests (they tuck their single egg under their feet), we have to count the population as ‘individuals’ rather than pairs – because we can’t see the nest to confirm a breeding pair. Therefore most Guillemot populations are given as ‘individuals’ as apposed to breeding pairs. However the main focus is the general population trend and it’s increasing – the Farnes only boasted 3,787 only thirty years ago, so it’s been a huge increase in such a short space of time.

A close relative of the Guillemot, the Razorbill (and vastly outnumbered by its commoner cousin) is also reporting an increase in numbers this year, but only just! The breeding population now stands at 332 pairs, compared to 326 from last year and only 29 pairs in 1979! So things looking good and both species are reporting good numbers of fledged young so a brilliant year all round.

Away from the breeding seabirds, the weather has settled and visitor boats are now sailing again after a four day absence. The sea late last week was ‘monstrous’ and eventually we reopened to the public on Sunday. The week ahead appears to be very settled, which will benefit the birds and the visitors alike. Its not long now before all the Guillemots and Razorbills have gone for another season and the Puffins won’t be far behind them. We’re now entering the ‘end game’ of the breeding season and things will change once again.

Highlights: The Farnes 12th ever Cory’s Shearwater moved north off the islands on Saturday 11th July. The bird was tracked moving through Staple Sound before heading out eastwards to the open sea. The same evening seawatch produced over 102 Manx Shearwater and the first Sooty Shearwater of the autumn. The month of July witnesses a noticeable influx of waders to the islands and the WeBs counts will reveal more, with increases in Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper and Knot amongst others.

Breeding Birds: It’s turning out to be one of the best seasons ever, as huge numbers of young are now fledging. Fulmar have chicks (they’ll not fledge young until late August), young Kittiwakes are on the verge of flying whilst everything else has seen the first fledglings take to the air. Its an exciting time but we’ve still got plenty more to report.

Saturday 11 July 2009

Cory's Flyby

Saturday 11th July comments

Major news... CORY'S SHEARWATER flew north past the Scarcars and then Staple Sound at 20:02 this evening - suspected to be the same individual seen further south at Newbiggin at 18:30. More news to follow

Latest Sightings

Friday 10th July latest sightings:

Seawatching: Manx Shearwater 174N, Great Skua 5N, Artcic Skua 2N

Waders: Redshank 9, Knot 57, Sanderling 1 summer plumage adult, Turnstone 72, Purple Sandpiper 12, Dunlin 4 and Common Sandpiper 1

Thursday 9 July 2009

Kittiwake Trouble

Kittiwake cliff on Brownsman

A young Kittiwake nearly ready to fledge

Two small youngsters, still some weeks away from fledgling

Thursday 9th July comments:
It’s never easy for seabirds as theren is always something happening. This time our attention focuses back on the weather. The shipping forecast said it all…

Forth Tyne Dogger: NW 6-7 occasionally gale 8 increasing to severe gale force 9. Rough to very rough.


The north-north west gale started yesterday and it’s continued throughout today bringing huge seas and massive swell from the north. It resulted in no visitor boats sailing and therefore as a team, we're cut off (bad news for Tim who wanted to take a short break away from the islands). It also brings trouble. Although the majority of seabirds will escape this spell of poor weather, it’s not that simple for the nesting Kittiwakes.
Their strategy of nesting late this season and often far down the cliff faces, may prove their downfall. Kittiwakes have been in trouble on the Farnes and many other North Sea seabird colonies for the past decade and the last thing they need is another poor season. But, if their not careful, there going to get one. To date, the season has been good for them, as Kittiwakes have been finding plenty of Sandeels and raising healthy chicks and another two weeks of good weather would have seen a happy ending to a season. However the big seas and swell have started washing away nests, as single swipes from large waves lick the base of cliffs and smash nest and contents into the boiling sea. No mercy and nothing will stop the destruction unless the wind calms. We need calm weather otherwise we'll have another bad season for the Kittiwakes to report. Keep those fingers crossed.
Doom and gloom? Well not quite, the majority of cliffs have been protected as the wind is coming from the wrong direction to hurt us badly, but watch this space, we've still got a few crucial weeks to go...

Seawatching 8th July: Manx Shearwater 37N, Storm Petrel 1N at 21:00, Tufted Duck 1N, Arctic Skua 1S, Great Skua 2N and Little Gull 2 adult North

Seawatching 9th July: Manx Shearwater 18N, Tufted Duck 4N, Great Skua 1N

Others: Bar-tailed Godwit 6, Knot 47, Oystercatcher 127, Dunlin 8, Roseate Tern 6.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

The future's bright, the future's Rosy

Look who's back....Roseate in flight

No mistaking...Roseate Tern on the Farnes

It’s been a great season so far and things have just got better. A pair of Roseate Terns arrived late last month and following displaying and nest scrapping behaviour, the pair have settled and laid two eggs on the islands. The success is the first confirmed breeding in three years on the Farnes, following the breeding pair of 2004-06. Roseate Terns were once a common feature of the islands, with 100 pairs breeding in 1961 but a slow and steady decline saw the species become extinct as a breeder on the islands in 2002. The decline was mirrored in other British seabird colonies and the population dropped to below 100 nationally.

In recent years on the Farnes, birds have appeared annually but it’s been a frustrating period in Farnes history, as they have failed to breed in 2002-03 and 2007-08. However the late arrival of our pair is typical of a species which nest very late in the summer. The UK appears to experience a ‘three wave’ affect, as birds turn up in mid-May, early June and late June and this third wave of breeders has brought the pair to the islands. We can now celebrate the new arrivals and hopefully our population can start to increase from here.

As well as good news from here, nearby Coquet Island is reporting an impressive 86 nesting pairs (no public access) whilst one or two pairs are being reported from at least two other British localities. More news to follow on this great success - lets hope the weather maintains itself for our latest arrivals.

Monday 6 July 2009

Auks on the march

Flying high - an Arctic Tern chick on the wing for the first time

I want to fly- still some time to go for this young Arctic Tern chick

On the move - Guillemot with chick
Monday 6th July comments
As the month of July develops, we’ll see a big change on the islands as chicks start fledging and the cliffs and islands will slowly and surely become empty of breeding birds. However we’ve still got a long way to go before we reach that point. Its business as usual for the team, following another hectic week with all the media attention we received and the glorious weather which resulted in yet more visitors. The summer has been good so far, as we’ve escaped the worst of it and the end result could be amazing – we’re heading for a good year, fingers crossed.

Breeding birds: The auks march on as Puffin chicks are leaving every evening (we’re discovering handfuls every evening in the buildings and all successfully released!), huge gaps are now appearing on the cliff ledges as the number of Guillemots and Razorbills reduce as they head off with their youngsters into the depths of North Sea.

- stop press – just had an adult Puffin fly into my office whilst I’m writing this – OUCH blood now pouring from my finger as it bit me, upon release – thanks for that!

As for other breeding birds, its flying time!! Small numbers of young Arctic Terns are now flying with many more to follow, Sandwich Terns – over 50 chicks have fledged (so far) and chicks have hatched on the satellite colony on Brownsman, Kittiwake chicks continue to grow in size and strength – not long now before we’ll have our first fledger and fledged Shag chick numbers are increasing by the day.

So far its been an amazing season and if we can get away with another few weeks of good weather, we’ll be reporting an excellent season. Fingers crossed.

Butterflies: A noticeable increase of Painted Ladies and Red Admirals, whilst a Ringlet seen near the lighthouse is a rare visitor to these shores

: Our second Hummingbird Hawkmoth of the year graced Inner Farne for two days whilst the trap is producing good numbers of Bright-line Brown-eyes and

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Techno Puffins

Adult Puffin (by David Still)
Dr Richard Bevan releasing a Puffin back into its burrow (by Barry Pells)

Tagging a Puffin (by Barry Pells)

Wednesday 1st July comments:

Press release by National Trust Farne Islands:

Technology brought in to solve the Puffin puzzle
New research starting this summer will aim to explain why puffin numbers have fallen so dramatically in the last five years by using GPS technology to track their movements. Puffins living on the Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast, will be tagged with GPS transmitters – a world first for these birds – in order to shed new light on puffin movement and behaviour. The tags, which are glued onto the birds’ feathers and fall off after several days, will help map their movements to find out where they go to fish, how they get there (either directly or do they hunt en route for sand eels) and what they do on arrival.

David Steel, National Trust Head Warden on the Farne Islands, said: “This has become the case of the disappearing puffins. Young puffins are successfully fledging each year and it would seem that their staple food, the sand eel is in good supply, but they’re just not coming back to the islands. This research, including further counts, is designed to shed some light on what is happening.”

A team of researchers from Newcastle University will work with National Trust wardens on Brownsman Island on the Farnes to tag and ring puffins. Further detailed puffin counts will take place on four of the island. Further work will be carried out using time-depth recorders on the Farne Island puffins. These devices provide information on diving behaviour, such as how often they dive and how deep, and sea temperatures. This information will help in understanding how puffins might be affected by climate change and possible changes in sea temperatures. A survey of the breeding pairs of puffins carried out on eight of the Farne Islands in the summer of 2008 found that numbers were down by one third compared to the previous survey in 2003.

In mid July, before the puffins depart the islands for winter, geolocators will be attached to a leg ring on some of the birds. When the data is collected from returning puffins the following year it will provide an outline of the birds’ movements while they wintered at sea. Dr Richard Bevan of Newcastle University said: “Technological developments now mean that we’re getting closer to finding the pieces of the jigsaw to help solve the puffin puzzle. The new data will help explain what the puffins are doing when they’re on the Farne Islands and hopefully then help us to understand why numbers have declined so dramatically.”