Monday 26 April 2010

Weekend magic

Marsh Harrier over - a record shot

Sunday 25th Highlights:
It’s been a cracking few days over the weekend as the breeding season has intensified and summer migrants continued to pour through the islands including an impressive two Marsh Harriers. The first Black-headed Gull eggs were discovered whilst nesting Eiders have increased in numbers. The auks have completely settled with vast numbers of Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins on eggs. The Terns continue to increase daily with Sandwich Terns as vocal as ever as they display over the islands whilst Arctic and Common Terns are starting to creep back.

The migrant front brought a deluge of summer migrants including two Marsh Harriers – an impressive sight anywhere never mind a seabird colony! However the ‘bird of the day’ award went to a very confiding Grasshopper Warbler which decided not to fly away despite two wardens (on hands and knees) approaching within 2 feet of it! On a personal note, the award for 'getting away with it' went to my football team Gateshead, who (somehow) managed to escape relegation on the final day of the season in the Conference on goal difference - by just three goals. What a weekend I've had...

Sunday 25th April Highlights: MARSH HARRIER 2 - female west at 10:00 over the inner group, then ANOTHER over at 17:30. The second bird was raggedy-winged indicating a different individual to the bird seen earlier in the day. These represent the 20th & 21st Farne Island records. Also Common Sandpiper (first of year), Sandwich Tern 730, Arctic Tern 6, Common Tern 12, Tree Pipit (first of year), Redstart female (first of year), Wheatear 8, Blackbird, Dunnock 3, Grasshopper Warbler 2 (first of year), Sedge Warbler (first of year), Lesser Whitethroat 2 (first of year), Whitethroat 3 (first of year), Willow Warbler 15, Chiffchaff 3 and Blackcap 3.

Saturday 24th April Highlights: Shelduck 2, Teal 2N, Red0-breasted Merganser 1N, Red-throated Diver 2S, Golden Plover 1 summer plumage bird, Redshank 63, Dunlin 2, Whimbrel 1 on Ladies Path (first of year), Common Tern 12, Arctic Tern 4, Sandwich Tern ca 600, Sand Martin 2N, Wheatear 7, Redwing, Fieldfare 3, Blackbird, Dunnock 2, Robin, Willow Warbler 13, Chiffchaff 2, Blackcap 2, Carrion Crow 17 east together, Goldfinch and Common Redpoll 1 lingering on Brownsman.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Flood gates open

Wheatears on the move

Willow Warblers arrive in good numbers
Friday 23rd April comments:
Move aside seabirds, it was the turn of the summer migrants as the day proved fruitful and somewhat unexpected. Following a series of ‘blocking’ northerly airflow's, the wind eased and switched directions and in they came. First a few Willow Warblers, then more, followed by a scattering of Wheatears with a reasonable supporting cast. The islands had livened up (not that they need livening up!) with singing Willow Warblers although a late Redwing reminded us that we had only just said goodbye to winter.

The seabirds continue to settle with ever increasing Sandwich Terns (up to 380 now) whilst our old friend; the Arctic Tern has finally arrived, as six were seen over Inner Farne. It won’t be long before they are pecking our heads again, and I can’t wait…honest.

Highlights: Pink-footed Goose 60N, Greylag Goose 1N, Red-throated Diver 12N, Red-breasted Merganser 7N, Teal 5N, Common Scoter 80 Inner Sound, Shelduck 7N, Swallow 25N, Sand Martin 10N, Wheatear 18, Blackbird 2, Redwing (late), Dunnock 2, Willow Warbler 28, Chiffchaff 2 and Blackcap 2.

Wednesday 21 April 2010


Grace Parnaby says hello to our breeding birds

On show - a nesting Shag on nest with egg

Our first Razorbill eggs
Wednesday 21st April comments:
It’s been all go as the hectic pace of island life continues. The rapid start to the season continues as the first Razorbill eggs were discovered yesterday – the earliest ever in Farnes history and another record broken. Despite the quick start we’re still waiting the arrival of some birds, most noticeably the Arctic Tern, although it’s only a matter of time.

The number of pairs of Puffins and Guillemots on eggs has increased again and as the Sandwich Terns settle in the main colony, it may be only a matter of days before we report those! On a sad note, the Ringed Plover nest was predated, with the chief suspect being an Oystercatcher, but thankfully (and as expected) the Plovers are having another go.

Monday proved to be a proud day for one ex-warden of the islands as St.Cuthbert’s Chapel on Inner Farne welcomed some special guests, as friends and family of David (ex-Farne warden from 2003-04) and Susannah Parnaby visited the islands for a blessing of their daughter; Grace. The short service, delivered by local vicar Jane Wood, was well received and although we do have several services a year, its only our second blessing in modern history. Following the service, Grace was introduced to the breeding seabirds of the islands and I’m sure she’ll be back with her family in future years.

On a personal note, a well-known BBC politics show phoned me asking for comments on the Liberal Democrats chances at the up-and-coming general election. Slightly confused, I inquired why they wanted comments from the head warden of the Farne Islands – before they realised I wasn’t Lord David Steel…..not yet anyway.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Its all go!

Puffins now on eggs!

First Eider duck eggs discovered

Sandwich terns settling early
Sunday 18th April comments:
Take it from me – the seabirds have started early and I mean early. The generally settled weather has allowed birds to arrive early and to get on with the business of breeding. We’ve had Shags on eggs since late March, the earliest ever Guillemot eggs and now we’ve now gone one better – Puffins on eggs! The early start has even brought Sandwich terns onto the island, inspecting nest sites – some two weeks before we expect that behaviour. I’m not sure what is going on, but we’ll blame climate change or too much ash in the atmosphere. Regardless of what is happening – it’s been a strange start to the 2010 season – let’s just hope the birds don’t regret the decision to start early in the near future.

Shag 28th March (earliest since 1997)
Ringed Plover 15th April
Guillemot 11th April (earliest ever!)
Eider 17th April
Puffin 18th April (earliest since 1993)

It remains quiet on the migration front with light scatterings of Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers moving through the islands. A male Ring Ouzel graced Inner Farne yesterday whilst the female Sparrowhawk reappeared, but lets hope she does not linger for too long!

Thursday 15 April 2010

Eggs keep coming!

Hello Puffins - Mediterranean Gull introducing itself to the locals
(by Mark Breaks)

Pair bonding Kittiwakes (by Mark Breaks)

Chiffchaff's on the move
Thursday 15th April comments:
The (reasonably) fine weather continued although with a slight chill in the air as the light wind was moving in from the north (which was bringing volcanic ash from Iceland apparently!). The breeding seabirds continued to come and go, with Shags well settled, Guillemots laying eggs but the real stars; the Puffins, continued to remain elusive (on occasions). However the major discovery of the day was the first Ringed Plover eggs of the year, on the beach on Inner Farne. The number of Sandwich Terns in the evening roost continues to increase daily (as shown below) and the first Arctic Tern will only be days away.
Sandwich Tern roost counts on the Farnes in April:
3rd – 6
4th – 26
6th – 75
10th – 94
13th – 128
14th - 131

Interestingly, the Mediterranean Gulls remain including at least one second-summer bird lingering in the large Black-headed Gull colony. Otherwise it’s quiet on the migration front with just a smattering of passerines.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Mediterranean days

Second-summer Mediterranean Gull over the islands

Guillemot now eggs

Monday 12th April comments:
The fine, settled weather continued and at times, the North Sea resembled a pond – it was that calm. The breeding birds have continued to settle and the early start to the season continued – we’ve now got Guillemot on eggs! The first Guillemot eggs were seen on the cliffs of Inner Farne – some seventeen days earlier than two years ago! However more unexplainable was the lack of Puffins – the entire population departed for the open sea, disappointing the visiting public in the process. Despite the absence, it was still a very pleasant day to be on the islands.

On the migration front, the number of Mediterranean Gulls has increased – we’ve now got four with two second-summer birds (potential breeders). Other birds of note included a male Velvet Scoter through Inner Sound (with the lingering large Common Scoter flock) and some impressive Corvud passage.

Saturday 10 April 2010

Summer on the way

Having a gossip - Fulmar's on the cliff tops

Puffins galore

Saturday 10th April comments:
Its been an excellent week as high pressure has dominated over northern England, resulting in warm sunny conditions with very little wind. The breeding seabirds of the Farnes have responded well and with summer on its way, it business as usual.
The Auks - Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins all seem very settled, whilst Kittiwakes have started nest building. Shags seem content with their early start and Cormorants are on eggs on the main colonies on the East Widesopens and North Wamses. The pleasant week has also encouraged the first prospecting Eiders whilst Ringed Plover display daily over the beaches. Sandwich Terns have now peaked over 100 in the roost whilst the first Arctic Tern is surely only days away.
Interesting a second-summer Mediterranean Gull has settled in the main Black-headed Gull colony on Inner Farne and will it attract a mate? This delightful Gull is gradually colonising the UK with the first confirmed breeding in Northumberland last year - are we about to add it to our long list of breeding birds? The islands are also supporting a first-winter 'Med Gull' as well, so its keeping the resident warden team entertained. Speaking of the team, the new lads are settling in well and already we're in practice for the annual football games - loosing both last season (2-4 and 3-4) still sticks in the throat a bit.
On the migration front, meadow pipits and Skylarks have been moving north whilst the female Sparrowhawk (a scarce bird on the Farnes) remains with us but will soon move off. Raptors in general are scarce on the islands (we have no breeding raptors) although we're watching those skies, as Ospreys are heading north. Its never dull out here, especially at this moment. Role on the summer.

Monday 5 April 2010

Windy weekend

Puffins up close on the Farnes

Razorbills mating
Monday 5th April comments:
It’s been a mixed weekend – a typical bank holiday weekend for the Farnes – we’ve had some good weather and we’ve had some poor weather – in fact we were closed today! The breeding birds have performed well during the open days, with vast numbers of Guillemots, Puffins and Shags on display. However the strong winds of today pushed them back off to sea, so the erratic behaviour continues.

Breeding birds: Shags on eggs, Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins all seen copulating, Black-headed Gulls inspecting the main nesting colony, Kittiwakes on cliff ledges, Mallards five females on nests on Inner Farne.

Recent Highlights
Saturday 3rd Highlights: Red-throated Diver 4N, Sparrowhawk female, Black Redstart 6, Blackcap male, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff 2 and Lesser Redpoll.

Sunday 4th Highlights
: Black-throated Diver summer-plumage adult north, Red-throated Diver 2N, Canada Goose 2N, Swallow 2N (first of the spring), Black Redstart 3 including one singing and Chiffchaff.

Monday 5th Highlights: Mediterranean Gull first-winter, Sandwich Tern 37 in evening roost, Sparrowhawk female, Black Redstart 2 and Chiffchaff.

Friday 2 April 2010

Welcome Back!

Bluethroat, Inner Farne - comments welcome!
Friday 2nd April Comments:
The start of April heralds the start of the visitor season as Inner Farne is now open to the public. Following yesterdays wash out – bad weather stopped play, we welcomed out first (but not last!) visitor boats of the season. It’s always great to meet and greet people and share the brilliance that is the Farne Islands.

However there was one thing missing today – our breeding birds (they hadn’t read the script). The poor weather of recent days has pushed the majority of our seabirds far out to sea but they’ll be back, but when I’m not sure. This is typical seabird behaviour as they won’t settle until mid-April, but some already have – some Shags are now on four eggs whilst at least five female Mallards are on eggs!

On the migrant front, several Black Redstarts remained whilst Snow Bunting and Wood Pigeon were other noticeable highlights (remember Wood Pigeons are scarce out here!). However the bird of the day – the Bluethroat was re-found. Having been extremely elusive on its first day (Wednesday), the bird wasn’t seen at all yesterday (in poor conditions) and we thought it had gone. However it was rediscovered today but once again, proved very, very elusive (it was hard work). This will go down as one of the most elusive Bluethroat’s ever seen on the Farnes as even seeing the bird in binoculars was difficult, never mind capturing photos. The racial identification and even sexing of the bird is proving topical (it’s tricky!), so any comments would be welcome from Marks photos – good work Mark for capturing these images!