Monday 30 November 2009

Tystie day

A Farnes speciality in winter - a Black Guillemot near Brownsman

Smart - the first-winter in flight

Monday 30th November comments:
Another day of strong winds from the north and there was even a threat of snow, although it never arrived, not yet anyway. The team were confined to the cottage today as we made progress on various bits of work and reflected on the overnight storms. The cottage was battered and although a few tiles had become dislodged, this place is built to last, so no lasting problems.

The outcome of the storms on the Grey Seal pup population remains unknown as the weather prevented us from accessing the colonies, but that may change tomorrow with the changing of the weather. Today seawatching brought only a handful of noticeable passage birds although their was a stunning surprise - a Leach’s Petrel showed well near Brownsman as it pattered its way north across the raging sea.

Highlights: Red-throated Diver 2N, Great Northern Diver 2N, Black-throated Diver 1S, Red-necked Grebe 2, Leach’s Petrel 1N at 15:30 in staple sound, very close to Brownsman, Black Guillemot 2 in staple sound including a first-winter on the sea near Brownsman.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Tought times ahead

Helpless - a seal pup in trouble

Looking on - a concerned female

Sunday 29th November comments:
Storm force by name, storm force by nature. The Farnes have been battered today, as the northerly winds arrived, hammering everything in its sight, with big breakers smashing over the islands. Anything or anyone wouldn’t take this beast on, it had intent as temperatures plummeted and the sea grew in size and force. It’s back to business, the hard way.

With food, water and gas supplies in plentiful supply, our attention now focuses on the Grey Seals but it’s not going to be easy. The northerly storms will claim pup lives, but that’s what we expect at this time of year – it more the survival of the fattest than the fittest, but if pups can get away from the rocky shorelines, they’ll stand a chance. If they don’t, they’ll just become another Farne Islands statistic. We won’t know the extent of the damage until we enter the colonies, but looking at the forecast, that’s probably going to be mid-week.

The northerly backed wind also produced some reasonable sea passage including a lingering Storm Petrel, which spent over four hours feeding just offshore in the lea of Brownsman – a delightful sight in the chaos of the North Sea. We also had five Black Guillemots and four Puffins.

Highlights: Storm Petrel 1 lingering for four hours off Brownsman, Sooty Shearwater 2N (late!), Great Northern Diver 2, Black-throated Diver 2N, Wigeon 13 on the pond, Velvet Scoter 1N, Long-tailed Duck 6N, Black Guillemot 5N, Little Auk 1N, Puffin 4N and Guillemot/Razorbill – good numbers moving north.

Cetaceans: Porpoise 1 breaching in Inner Sound.

Saturday 28 November 2009

The tempest is coming

Not a care in the world - a Grey Seal pup on the Farnes

Saturday 28th November comments:
It’s been a whirlwind 24hours as the seas have calmed, we’ve been to the mainland and life now goes on as normal on the Farnes. Its now back to the real business of monitoring the Grey Seal population and living on the islands for another week at least…

I’ve now been on the islands for nine years and part of the job appeal is being part of the local Seahouses community and today was such a welcome ‘home’, as people greeted and welcomed our return to the mainland. During the season, I can’t walk down the main street without someone asking how the seabirds, seals or wardens are coping on the islands and today was no different. I should also thank those who sent messages of support – where out of the troubles and it was great to know people cared for our wellbeing. However this is the Farnes, its back to work, we’ve got a job to do.

So we’re stocked up again – thanks to William Shiel for supplies of water/gas/fuel (and the shower wasn’t bad either). The wind is going to return and the shipping forecast flashed a warning…

Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger: Becoming cyclonic in southeast Dogger later, otherwise mainly northerly or northeasterly 5 or 6 increasing 6 to gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later except in Cromarty. Rough or very rough.

This will be big, it’s got the entire North Sea to cross and the Grey Seals will have some problems. How bad things will get for them is anyone’s guess, I’ll keep you posted but fear the worst… the tempest is coming.

Friday 27 November 2009

Mainland beckons...

Seal pup with the mighty Longstone in the background

Heading to shore - the lads in the Zodiac
Friday 27th November comments:
What a difference a day makes. Having been marooned on the islands for some time, it was a huge welcome relief when the sea allowed departure from Brownsman as our Zodiac headed west, mainland bound.

However it wasn’t all straight forward, as only three could make the journey due to weight restrictions in the choppy sea, so myself and Adam Scott remained behind to fight another day, as we had work to do. The band of three, Adam Hick, Davy Still and Jason Moss arrived on the mainland just after 10am with great relief and even the staff in the Co-op cheered at their arrival. The wait was over, stock supplies were replenished and we’ll eat like kings tonight. However myself and Adam Scott have to wait a bit longer but where due in tomorrow and that long awaited shower will be the first port of call...

Its also never that simple. The weather system has changed for the week ahead and we’re now looking at a serious north-easterly storm brewing, ready to batter the islands for a few days from Sunday. Although myself and my team will be fine in our cosy cottage on Brownsman with good food supplies, the same can not be said about the Seal pups. It really will be a matter of life and death for them and hold onto your hats, things are about to get interesting...

Thursday 26 November 2009

Food glorious food

Food glorious food

Stop press...

Just got this lovely photo sent to me by my good friend and ex-Farnes warden Alex Ash... I dont understand, what is this? Where's the kelp, lentils and Seal milk?

Deal or No Deal?

Dinner? maybe...

Given a wide berth - a Bull Seal checks out the Brownsman cottage

Back in action - the team on the Northern Hares

Thursday 26th November 2009 comments:
Day fifteen and we had two options. The sea had calmed for a few hours to allow a quick trip to Seahouses or were we going to visit the Seal colonies to see exactly what had been happening out there? True to the spirit of the Farnes and the dedication of the team, we took the latter option.

Madness? Possibly. Crazy? Certainly. It may have been those kelp crisps affecting us from yesterday or just the desire to get the job done. Either way, we didn’t go to Seahouses and by midday, the strong westerly winds had returned and we weren’t going anywhere. People have asked how we have been stuck for so long, but to get an 18ft Zodiac inflatable boat across the North Sea from Brownsman to the mainland to get some shopping and return safely, takes time. At this time of year the weather and the sea state can change instantly and we can’t take chances, you only get one with the North Sea.

So the mainland remains distant but we’re not too worried, the weather looks good for the weekend and hopefully, if our calculations have worked, we’ll be off and celebrating in a pub. If not, then Seal milk might just be on the menu…

Its been a while since we were on the seal colonies, especially the South and North Wamses, and its early days but we’ve certainly had some casualties in the storms. The Farne mortality rate is always high, up to 50% of pups do not make independence and looking at the state of the colonies, we’re heading towards that figure for this season. The strong winds and big seas have seen youngsters washed away but only time will tell, once numbers have been crunched. Its a harsh world out here, for wardens and seals alike.
Farnes Seal pup population to date:
North Wamses 269
South Wamses 393
Northern Hares 69
Longstone 4
Big Harcar 6
Nameless Rock 1
Brownsman 140
Staple Island 315
Island total: 1,197
So with the Seal work complete, our attention returns towards the mainland. Will our gamble have paid off? Deal or no deal...

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Game on

Kelp crisps - just don't ask Kelp collection - just don't try this at home!

Wednesday 25th November comments:

Welcome back, but we’ve been nowhere. The gale force winds have remained with us and it’s been an endless week of gales or strong winds. The mainland seems a distant memory as we approach a whopping fourteen days since we last seen a shop or a pub. The milk has gone, the margarine tub is empty and I can’t recall what beer looks like, never mind tastes like. I’m not sure if it’s the sign of the times, but the kelp crisps and lentils are currently being cooked…

Gradually supplies are running low as the storms batter us from all angles but team morale remains good as we discuss the if/when we’ll escape. We’ve even started to discuss what we’ll do first when we touch mainland soil – a pint of beer is near the top of most lists (and probably a shower…). Everything is being rationed as it’s not over yet, not by any stretch. As I type, the kelp crisps have arrived – crikey – don’t try this at home, only one word sums them up – vile!

The forecast looks bleak tomorrow and looking at the weekend, Saturday looks interesting…northerly storms. Where not out of this yet, not by any stretch. We’re heading to day fifteen. Game on.

Friday 20 November 2009

No let up

Friday 20th November comments:
The day brought glorious sunshine and calmer conditions, but this wasn’t our lucky day, we weren’t escaping and that was that. The wind remained defiant and no boats could sail, so very little chance of making it off the islands. The ‘white horses’ remained and the big waves continued to pound the Farnes - we can only but stare at the distant mainland – it may as well be fifty miles as apposed to three. Where going to have to hang on a bit longer.

Despite the perilous situation we find ourselves in, the team remain upbeat and morale is high and as usual, we just got on with work. Today saw Jason paint the hallway of the cottage, Davy constructed a new fenceline within the confines of the vegetable garden and the two Adam’s had a huge clear-out of the works shed. Life goes on and some day soon, we’ll get off…maybe.

Tomorrow we’ll celebrate Jason’s birthday, but its going to be no ordinary birthday – a lack of cake or pressies may make things a little different and I suspect the postman won’t make it either, so not even any birthday cards (and lets not even discuss beer). Welcome to storm season, where heading into day ten.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Payback time

Storm time

Thursday 19th November comments:
It’s the first time I’ve written the blog with a troubled mind. This time it’s not about the seabirds or the Seals, it’s about me and my team. This autumn I’ve been blasé about the weather, as we’ve had the occasional storm, but it’s blown through within a matter of days. But not this time, it's payback time.

Mother Nature has coming calling and don’t we know it. The team were last on the mainland on Wednesday – last Wednesday, now some eight days ago. I can handle the lack of fresh milk or bread and even forgive the team for eating all the biscuits, but things are looking bleak.

The radio crackled in the front room…

Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger: South or southwest 6 to gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later. Rough or very rough. Occasional rain. Moderate or good, occasionally poor.

That isn’t good. The stormy weather has been with us for some time, but surely it’s going to reside to allow vital supplies and even grab an opportunity to check on the Grey Seals? No, no its not. A quick check of the internet reveals a depressing sight – gales until Tuesday at the earliest. I can’t bring myself to tell the team and my stomach is rumbling, I’m hungry…

Sunday 15 November 2009

Life goes on

'Hiya' - a seal pup introducing itself

No longer white - a 'second coat' pup on Brownsman

Team in action - Davy and Adam in action marking a seal pup
Sunday 15th November comments:
It’s been a turbulent few days although we avoided the big storms which lashed southern England although we were whipped by the tail end of it. A calm spell on Friday allowed us access to the Seal colonies once again and things are looking good. We’ve broken the 900 barrier and I’m glad to report that mortality is lower than average (for second year running) although one big northerly blast could change all of that.

The team are working hard with various projects around the islands although boardwalk building has become a bit trickier due to the presence of pupping Seals – one mother has taken up residence on a new section – it’ll test the durability of it at least! Otherwise life goes on, and we'll continue monitoring the populations and counting any migrant birds which move through.
Highlights: birding is quiet although 3 Snow Buntings are lingering alongside a small flock of Twite. Otherwise the typical wintering birds including Red-necked Grebe and Black Guillemots - but more of that tomorrow

Grey Seal pup population: population counts so far
North Wamses 238
South Wamses 357
Longstone 1
Brownsman 64
Staple Island 199
Northern Hares 48

Total 907

Monday 9 November 2009

Counting continues

Waving goodnight; Seal pup at dusk

Not a care in the world - a Farnes Seal pup

Watching us - a mother Grey Seal

Monday 9th November comments:
Its been an excellent few days as fine weather and calm seas have been the order of the day and this allowed the team to enter the Seal colonies once again to count and tag the pups born on the islands. The number born on a daily basis continues to increase and after the weekend counting, we were almost on 700 and things are looking good.
Last seasons star pups, Archie, Lucky and Nemo will all be one year old now and Seals around the Farnes are doing well at this moment - although a change in the weather can and will change all of that, so fingers crossed for some calm weather. As for migrant birds, its all quiet on the islands as migration starts coming to a slow end.
Grey Seal pup population: population counts so far
North Wamses 204
South Wamses 283
Longstone 1
Brownsman 40
Staple Island 133
Northern Hares 29

Total 690

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Fight club

Stand clear: Bull seals fight it out
(more top photos from Davy Still - standing well clear!)

Welcome to fight club

Young and innocent - a Seal pup looks on

Wednesday 4th November comments:
November is now upon us and the islands are now officially closed to visitors although visitors boats do ‘sail around’ showing people the breeding Grey Seals and their pups. The final few days of October and the opening few day of November were dominated by one thing – the weather. However following several days of strong winds, yesterday and today brought a refreshing change – a clam spell of weather!

The weather window allowed the team to access the Seal colonies and we’ve now peaked at 506 – an impressive number but with plenty more to follow. Both days were spent marking, tagging and counting the pups, both dead and alive. Thankfully, the number of dead remains low and we hope to keep it that way. However life as a small seal pup can be brutal, as we witnessed a bull seal, defending his territory, just throw a pup across the colonies like a rag doll. Thankfully the pup survived although rather shocked and dazed. As for the bulls, there is some serious fights starting and its best to stay clear, these guys don’t mess and it can get bloody.

On the migration front, the Richard’s Pipits finally departed the islands on 30th October having been here since 11th October – no surprise that it broke all previous Farne records for lingering Richards Pipits. The island avifauna has also changed as a lingering flock of Snow Buntings (up to 21) reminds us that winter is almost upon us whilst Twite and Linnet are present daily. One disturbing sight today involved a few oiled Guillemots around the islands – we’re hoping its not a serious issue and we’ll keep a very close eye on this situation.

Highlights: Red-necked Grebe 1 lingering, Teal 48 on Knoxes Reef, Woodcock 1 Skylark 6 over, Black Redstart 2 first-year birds lingering, Chiffchaff 1, Blackcap male and female, Twite 20, Linnet 40, Snow Bunting 21 lingering.

Grey Seal pup population: population counts so far
North Wamses 174
South Wamses 226
Longstone 1
Brownsman 21
Staple Island 73
Northern Hares 11

Total 506