Monday 21 September 2009

Look who's back...

Monday 21st September comments:
The weekend produced mixed weather, as Saturday brought a spot of rain strong southerly winds, whilst Sunday was as good as we could have hoped for mid-September- plenty of sunshine and calm conditions. The resulting weather brought very little in the form of migrant birds although our first Pink-footed Geese started moving west towards the mainland, as they migrate to wintering grounds in deepest north Norfolk. Otherwise a very quiet few days and even quieter for the team, as we've now lost Paul and Joe.
However one noticeable visitor reappeared around the islands on Saturday - the monster returned, as the Humpback Whale was seen again!! Just after midday, reports started filtering out that the beast had been seen off Newton Point (about four miles south of here) and as we waited, the animal moved north, eventually reaching Crumstone just after 3pm. However it then went quiet and no-doubt disappeared back into the depths of the North Sea. It'll be interesting to see if the animal lingers and what a sight that would be for the daily visitor! Otherwise all quiet and the first seal pup can't be too far away...

Thursday 17 September 2009

Leaving day

Joe with his trusty camera - the blog will miss his photos!

Paul at his best - in a zodiac boat

Thursday 17th September comments:
It’s been an eventful week on the islands, as we’ve experienced huge whales, rare birds and some stunning weather. However today was a sadder day, as we said goodbye to two members of the team. With the autumn well on its way the island team is reduced as warden’s move onto pastures new.

Today Joe Cockram and Paul McDonald said goodbye to the Farnes after a great season, having spent the previous six months living and working on the islands. Both lads brought a lot to the Farnes and I’m certain neither one will forget an amazing experience. Joe will start at Bournemouth University in the very near future and we wish him well – it’ll certainly be very different to island life. Paul will begin a year’s adventure touring Canada, so I’m certain island life will probably have trained him well for the wilderness of North America.

We wish them both all the very best and, lads, if your reading this, a big thank-you for all your hard work and great company. Despite there departure, I’m sure they’ll be back in the future and already we look forward to their return. Tonight the atmosphere has been subdued, they’ll be missed.

Highlights: Common Rosefinch present for its fourth day on the islands, otherwise very quiet for migrant birds.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Whale of a time...

Tail fluke of a monster - Humpback Whale (phots by Julie Forrest)

Humpback off the Farnes, on Monday 13th September (photos by Julie Forrest)

Wednesday 16th September comments:
Following the euphoria of Monday evening, the following few days have been more settled as most of the migrant birds departed overnight with no sign of the Black-headed Bunting on Tuesday morning. The only bird of interest lingering for a second day was the Common Rosefinch, which moved from Longstone to nearby Brownsman.

On the cetacean front, following the spectacular sightings of the Humpback Whale and Risso’s Dolphins, things were back to normal, although photographs of the whale have now emerged. Julie Forrest, a local diver, was lucky enough to be onboard Glad Tidings, when the whale was originally discovered. Many thanks to her for forwarding the photographs – I superb record shot of an impressive beast in Farnes waters. For those who witnessed the whale, it will long stay in the memory.

Otherwise the islands remain quiet, as small numbers of visitors arrive daily and the team await the first Seal Pup of the year – it’s surely just around the corner…

Monday 14 September 2009

No Bunting Mistake

Black-headed Bunting, Brownsman (by Joe Cockram)
One step forward, the Bunting on a Brownsman wall (by Joe Cockram)

Proof I was there - me and the Bunting (nice one Joe!)

Bluethroat, Staple Island (by Joe Cockram)

Barred Warbler, Staple Island
Monday 14th September comments:
The Farnes had just experienced a noteworthy day the previous day as a Humpback Whale was discovered north of the islands, the first ever encounter with the islands. Today was just as interesting, in fact for the birders amongst us, even better!!!

Following a very quiet start, a Barred Warbler was discovered on Staple Island before three Risso Dolphins quickened the pulse. This was only the fourth ever Farnes record of this large scar-headed dolphin, as three animals moved south through Staple Sound allowing good views for the wardens.

However this was just the beginning. Myself and Jason decided to leave Inner Farne and meet up with the Brownsman wardens (Joe and Adam) and take a look at the very showy Barred Warbler. The bird, a big gem, showed well but seconds later, we were distracted as a Bluethroat graced our presence. Here we were, on an island in the North Sea, watching Bluethroat and Barred Warbler – another good day for the Farnes. However things just got better.

Onto the furthest easterly island, Longstone and following the discovery of a few migrants including the autumns first Goldcrest feeding in seaweed (this is the Farnes after all), we discovered a Common Rosefinch. What a crazy few hours. Eventually after some celebrating, we headed back to Brownsman to take a look at some more of Joe’s quality photographs.

However the day wasn’t finished as the four birders headed up to Brownsman cottage, and then it happened. A bird sprung from the vegetation onto a wall and BANG, a Black-headed Bunting!! All four birders stopped, disbelieving and watching, looking at the bird. It was a Black-headed Bunting, a very rare eastern migrant which should be heading to Asia but is now on the Farne Islands!! This represents the fifth Farnes record and after some great views, note taking and photos, the lads celebrated. The Farnes strikes and what an amazing few hours. Something the four of us will not forget. Black-headed Bunting. Whatever next….role on tomorrow.

Bye bye Whale

Monday 14th September comments:

Latest news: no sign of Humpback Whale day (sadly) but news breaking of photographs taken by a diver on the visitor boat which originally found it. I'm currently tracking them down, so watch this space - or the blog, as photos will be published!!!

Migrants: Barred Warbler on Staple Island today with a scattering of migrants - more news will follow tonight!

Sunday 13 September 2009

There she blows!

Sunday 13th September comments:
This was no ordinary day on the Farnes. The islands have been going through a lean spell whilst other east coast headlines having been cashing in on some interesting bird migrants. But this wasn’t a day about birds, as the headlines were stolen by a cetacean. Just after midday, William Shiel (Glad Tidings) phoned me to tell me he had just seen a Humpback whale near Longstone Island. In complete disbelief, the shock stopped me in my tracks but then pandemonium was let loose as the warden team raced to the top of Pele Tower to start scanning for the whale.

After a few frustrating minutes (during which time the animal was showing well to a visitor boat within the area), the animal revealed itself. First a column of water from its blow hole followed by a show of its tail fluke as it dived deep into Farnes waters.

Then nothing. Nothing at all...

The hundreds of Gannets remained overhead, swirling above the animal but we couldn’t see it, but that was all about to change. In true spectacular style, the animal started breaching, flinging its huge body into the air before smashing down onto the North Sea with a huge crash, bang, wallop. WHAT a sight. The animal, in excess of twelve metres, was then seen for over an hour breaching and feeding just north of the islands as it plunged the depths for fish.

Humpback Whales are rarely seen within the North Sea although numbers of the North Atlantic populations appear to be on the increase following years of decline and sightings from the west coast are becoming increasingly regular, but this was the North Sea. More recently, an animal spent late summer around the Shetland Isles and it is feasible the same animal could be involved - this is the first record for the Farnes and first in modern day history for the north-east of England. This was a staggering sighting.

I did tell you that this was no ordinary day. Humpback Whale off the Farne Islands – who would have thought!

Seawatching: Red-necked Grebe 1N, Gannet 1,585N (one hour count), Brent Goose 14N (pale bellied), Teal 9N, Wigeon 8N, Manx Shearwater 191N, Sooty Shearwater 32N, Great Skua 5N and Arctic Skua 3N.

Sunday 6 September 2009

It's a Cory's!

Distant but distinctive: Farnes 13th Cory's Shearwater (by Joe Cockram)

Cory's Shearwater heads north, Farne Islands
Saturday 5th September comments:
It’s not been a great start to the month for those wishing to visit the islands, following two open days, Saturday proved to be the third consecutive day we were closed, as the beefy North-westerly winds had whipped up enough swell to prevent boats from sailing. However we should be back open for business tomorrow (Sunday) but with rain forecast, it'll probably be grim (as they say).

It was another interesting day for sightings, as eyes were trained on seabird movement as the majority of migrants including yesterdays Icterine Warbler, had departed. The morning produced the biggest surge of records as a few hundred Manx Shearwaters were recorded, alongside the occasional Sooty Shearwater, but then news broke of a Cory’s Shearwater off Newbiggin-by-the-sea, flying north at 09:40 (Newbiggin lies about 20 miles south of the Farnes). Within the hour, the team were celebrating the successful sighting of the Farnes 13th Cory's Shearwater, as it skirted north around the islands, close to Inner Farne and then Brownsman (and was seen by the majority of wardens).

Even Joe managed to grab a few snap shots of the bird, certainly the first time we've ever had a photographed Cory's off the Farnes and probably Northumberland!! Interestingly the bird was seen soon after at nearby St.Abb's Head at 11:30 and was then possibly the same bird recorded off Fife Ness late in the afternoon.

Seawatching: Cory’s Shearwater north at 11:00 (second this season), Manx Shearwater 297, Sooty Shearwater 5N, Velvet Scoter 3N, Common Scoter 9N, Teal 50N, Great Skua 5N and Arctic Skua 2.

Highlights: Common Sandpiper 2, Greenshank, Snipe 2W, Meadow Pipits 35, Robin, Wheatear 18, Willow Warbler 10, Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, Sedge Warbler 2 and Whitethroat.

Saturday 5 September 2009

An Icky Day

Icterine Warbler, Brownsman (by Joe Cockram)

Icterine showing well - Brownsman (by Joe Cockram)

Friday 4th September comments:
The day was almost a repeat of the previous, as a north-westerly wind blasted the islands and once again, we were closed to visitors. However the rain moved on and it allowed the birders on the island to find more migrant birds including a stunning Icterine Warbler - the first this year (a rare visitor - although almost annual on the Farnes - from the near-continent). However its not all about birding, as the team painted the bathroom on Inner Farne and caught with paperwork - the results are showing its been a stunning breeding season the islands, but more of that later.
Seawatching: Red-throated Diver 1S, Sooty Shearwater 3N, Manx Shearwater 29N, Teal 15N 32S, Wigeon 7N, Arctic Skua 16S, Great Skua 3N 3S.

Others: Grey Heron 3, Dunlin 5, Snipe 2, Greenshank, Whimbrel, Golden Plover 310 on Longstone, Common Sandpiper 4, Tree Pipit, Redstart male for second day, Whinchat 1 on Staple, Wheatear 8, Willow Warbler 8, Icterine Warbler - 1 on Brownsman, first this year, Garden Warbler 2, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler 2, Whitethroat 2 and Spotted Flycatcher.

Thursday 3 September 2009

Cross over

Thursday 3rd September comments:
Driving rain with a hint of easterly wind was an ideal way to start the day – honest! As a birder, it’s the ideal conditions at this time of year as migrant birds will descend onto the islands, blown off course or seeking shelter whilst migrating to southern climes. The birds will use the islands as a ‘service station’ and the warden team will be happy as they discover and identify the brief avian visitors to the islands.

Sadly the weather resulted in no visitor boats sailing (no surprise!) but it’s been a great summer for visitors, so one day of closure won’t go a miss! The day brought good passage of Teal with a light scattering of migrants, which is little we could say about the weather, as the wind increased to gale force by mid-day with plenty of rain galore!

Highlights: Sooty Shearwater 3N, Manx Shearwater 40N, Teal 894N, Wigeon 17N, Common Scoter 26N, Tufted Duck 1N, Goosander male, Snipe 28 west, Greenshank, Golden Plover 5, Ruff 5, Dunlin 8, Whimbrel 1, Arctic Skua 4N 3S, Great Skua 3, Arctic Tern 17N, Sandwich Tern – steady passage south, Swallow 248N, Sand Martin 2N, Redstart male, Wheatear 7, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler 2, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat 4, Willow Warbler 9, Pied Flycatcher and Spotted Flycatcher.

Wednesday 2nd September comments:

Highlights: Peregrine, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Whimbrel 2, Sandwich Tern 43S, Wheatear 34, Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Whitethroat 5, Blackcap male, Willow Warbler 14, Spotted Flycatcher 2, Crossbill 5 flew west at 18:00 – only our second sighting of the year.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Westerly winds

Tuesday 1st September comments:

Welcome to September. Time is ticking along as we say goodbye to another month and we are well and truly in autumn now (well by birding terms anyway). The islands remain quiet, as the westerly winds continue to dominate, with very little to report. A light passage of Swallows and House Martins this morning was as good as it got, but hopefully this month will bring some excitement and the first Grey Seal pup of the year, so hopefully plenty to report.

The islands will remain open throughout September and for the first time, all of October, so we'll not be bored and I'll keep you all up-to-date with Farnes news.