Monday 14 December 2009

A splash of colour

Stunning male Bluethroat on Brownsman in mid-May

As rare as they come - a Black-headed Bunting in mid-September

A rarity on the Farnes - a Moorhen with Puffins!

Eastern promise - a summer-plumage Red-throated Pipit
Your can't see me - a Barred Warbler on Staple Island

Five Yellow-browed Warblers graced the islands this year

Monday 14th December comments:
The festive period is upon us and to continue the overview of the season, I though I'd bring you a splash of colour with some of the bird highlights of the year. It was another good year for the range of migrants which were recorded on the Farne Islands, as 178 were recorded with the outer group edging the inner group by 159 to 158 for the total number of species seen. Without doubt, three stunning highlights captured the headlines, as the islands boasted only their second ever (and twelfth English) record of Lanceolated Warbler in late September, with fifth Fea’s Petrel and Black-headed Bunting, all three worthy contenders for ‘bird of the year’.

Although spring passage was disappointing compared with the previous season’s impressive showing, the islands produced their sixth and seventh Red-throated Pipits, both on Brownsman in late April and mid-May respectively. As well as the outstanding rarities, other birds of note included Spoonbill, Balearic Shearwater (2), Cory’s Shearwater (3), Leaches Petrel, Storm Petrel (10), Garganey, Osprey, Marsh Harrier (3), Hen Harrier, Quail (2),Wood Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Grey Phalarope, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Mediterranean Gull (4), Sabine’s Gull, Long-eared Owl, Wryneck, Cuckoo (3), ‘Blue-headed’ Wagtail (2), Richard’s Pipit (2), Bluethroat (2), Barred Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler (5), Red-breasted Flycatcher (2), Firecrest (4), Red-backed Shrike, Hooded Crow, Common Rosefinch, Common Redpoll, Crossbill (6) and Ortolan Bunting. I'm sure a lot of east coast locations would be proud of such a list!

Friday 11 December 2009

Seabird Breeding Season 2009

At last a good year for Kittiwakes

Sandwich Terns galore

A brilliant season for Shags

Record numbers now breeding - Guillemots galore

Friday 11th December comments:
The 2009 breeding season on the Farnes was one of the best in modern history and overall productivity revealed ‘best returns’ for several species in over a decade or more. The influencing factors during the year included the weather, remained settled throughout the breeding season whilst food supply was excellent, verging on brilliant. Sand-eels of good size and age were in abundance whilst the problematic Snake Pipe-fish was almost non-existence. Overall the season was excellent with very few complaints.

Seabird Breeding Figures 2009
Shelduck 1 pair
RB Merganser 1 pair
Eider 681 pairs
Fulmar 258 pairs
Cormorant 141 pairs
Shag 838 pairs
Oystercatcher 38 pairs
Ringed Plover 9 pairs
Kittiwake 3,699 pairs
Sandwich Tern 1,415 pairs
Common Tern 98 pairs
Arctic Tern 2,198 pairs
Guillemot 48,126 ind
Razorbill 332 pairs
Puffins 36,835 pairs
Swallow 1 pair
Rock Pipit 25 pairs
Pied Wagtail 6 pairs
Wren 1 pairs

Some shinning examples included:
Kittiwake – best productivity since 1996 – 702 chicks fledged from 593 nests (compared with 202 fledged chicks from 616 nests last year!)

Shag – best productivity since 1992 – 499 chicks fledged from 333 nests

2 pairs of Roseate Tern on Brownsman although sadly both failed. Away from the ‘norm’, Wrens bred for only second time, Red-breasted Merganser for fourth consecutive year and Swallows bred for first time since 1997.
So there you go - a good season and a repeat next year would do very nicely. As we departed the islands last weekend, we did notice that Shags had breeding crests and Eiders were displaying, as after all, its only three months before it all start again...

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Seal pups

Just having a look - a Farnes Grey Seal pup

Who are you?

Valuable milk for a new born pup

Only three weeks old but looking very different

Bulls will be bulls - fighting in the surf
Tuesday 8th December comments:
It was another roller coaster ride for the Grey Seal population on the Farnes. The first Seal pup of the autumn was discovered on the South Wamses on 4th October, and thereafter the ‘seal pupping season’ was underway. Numbers were slow to begin with, as the islands had produced only twenty-six pups by 18th October, although numbers started to increase thereafter. A total of ten islands were utilised, with South Wamses regaining its crown as the number one colony on the Farnes, having been outstripped by Staple Island the previous year.

The autumns weather was reasonably kind, although a series of westerly gales in mid-November brought a few problems. However just when we thought we had escaped the worst, a northerly storm battered the islands in late November resulting in the greatest loss of pups off the north edge of the islands. Although it’s early days, the mortality rate will be pushing 50% of pups which never made it to the crucial independent age of three weeks. This may appear high, but in Farnes terms, it’s just another average year.

Seal Pup Births 2009:
South Wamses 413
Staple Island 367
North Wamses 277
Brownsman 170
Northern Hares 87
Longstone 11
Knoxes Reef 9
Big Harcar 7
West Wideopens 4
Nameless Rock 1

Total: 1,346

Monday 7 December 2009

Departure Day

Belongings ready to go - goodbye to Brownsman

Waiting in the wings - Glad Tidings 6 ready to pick us up

Bedraggled but happy - the team on board heading west

The clean up operation - boats being sorted

Monday 7th December comments:
Morning arrived early on Saturday as the team were active by 06:30, making final preparations for the big day – we were leaving. The wind had rattled the cottage for one final time during the small hours but hopes were high for a final retreat. Darkness disguised the fact that there was a stiff southerly breeze with white tops, but we weren’t going to let that stand in our way, not this time.

The team worked hard as dawn broke over Brownsman, as the islands were packed for the winter and we were ready. The driving rain made things unpleasant and the fact the boat couldn’t get to our jetty due to the southerly swell, resulted in a scramble down a cliff face and shuttle runs with out trusty Zodiac inflatable. Eventually the job was complete, Adam and myself were the last two standing on Brownsman, as we waved goodbye for another season.

Once safely across the Sounds, we returned to Seahouses just before 11am, with the final sort underway. Recycling was sorted, the boats pressured hosed down, various equipment off for service and eventually the team could relax and start enjoying the comforts of the mainland. In true Farnes tradition, the team stayed in a local hotel and celebrated into the small hours. The hangovers may have been long, but it’s been a cracking season and everyone connected with the islands should be congratulated on a brilliant nine months.

Over the course of the next five days, I’ll be bringing you the highs and lows of the season, starting tomorrow with the first story – the Grey Seals, so don't go anywhere.

Friday 4 December 2009

Saying Goodbye...maybe

Grey Seal Pup of the Farne Islands

Friday 4th December comments:
It’s been a long tough week on the Farnes, as work has been non-stop and it’s kept the team busy. And why you may ask? It’s that time of year - where leaving, its time to head west to the mainland and depart the islands for the winter.

The year has flown by, having landed on the rocky outcrop which is known as the Farne Island on 20th March, we’ve lived, breathed and slept the Farnes ever since. We’ve seen and had it all – storms, sunshine, thousands of visitors, vast numbers of seabirds, migrant birds, rare birds, huge whales and let’s not forget the Grey Seals. However it’s almost over for another season and we’ve been busy preparing for the big day.

The big day should arrive tomorrow morning as where scheduled to be picked up, however it’s never that simple with the Farnes and its 50-50 whether we escape – another south-easterly weather front is about to hit us, but can we escape in time? I’ll reveal all with a complete round-up, including those important final Grey Seal numbers and a round-up of the season on Monday. Keep those fingers crossed for our final escape.

It’s time to say goodbye…maybe.