Sunday 23 January 2011

January visit

Inner Farne Pele Tower standing strong

Baron and bleak - Inner Farne mid-January

Winter victim - Oystercatcher (ringed!) found dead on Inner Farne

Saturday 22nd January comments:
The late January period brought a rest bite in the weather (and more importantly the sea state) allowing access to the islands. It was the first visit of 2011 and I suspect not the last but it was good to catch up with them, just to check for any storm damage and to see the general shape of the place. The islands can look very desolate at this time of year, with no breeding birds and a lack of any serious vegetation although it wasn’t as quiet as expected…

Good numbers of Guillemots were loafing about the waters with ‘several thousand’ on the cliff ledges of Staple Island. Its typical behaviour at this time of year as birds will come and go with fine weather during January-March but where still some way off the breeding season. As well as the Guillemots, Fulmars were present in reasonable numbers whilst Shag’s were already showing off their summer plumage crests. However it’s still early days and despite the flurry of activity, the islands remained quiet apart from the odd over-wintering Wren. On a sad note – I discovered a dead Oystercatcher on Inner Farne, a victim of the winter although the bird was bearing a ring so should bring some interesting data.

The only birds of real note were the wintering wildfowl on Knoxes Reef with a pair of Gadwall (a scarce visitor to the islands) with over 150 Mallards (this pair have been here since early November last year). Alongside this 61 Wigeon, 18 Teal and 12 Goldeneye which made up the reasonable haul of ducks.

I’ll hopefully return in the forthcoming weeks and will keep you posted.

Friday 14 January 2011

Against the odds

Fighting fit - a Seal pup on Brownsman (David Andrews)

Skinny but alive - one of three Seal pups in Holland

Farne Press release:
Seal pups makes incredible journey and survive

Three young grey seal pups born on the National Trust’s Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast have been discovered hundreds of miles away on a Dutch beach. The first of the ‘Farne Island three’ was found on the 13 December 2010 and was less than three weeks old when it made the 350 mile journey. After being found by a member of the public it was taken to a seal rescue centre in Holland.

Pups two and three were found on the 6 and 7 January 2011 and were taken to the same centre. All of the seal pups are recovering well and will be released back into the wild once they have put on enough weight; and they could potentially return home to the Farne Islands or another UK colony.

David Steel, National Trust Head Warden for the Farne Islands, said: “This is a remarkable tale of determination and survival in the turbulent waters of the North Sea. For three young grey seal pups to make it through such an ordeal is amazing.” Late November and early December saw easterly winds and stormy seas around the Farne Islands which would have played a part in sweeping the seal pups far out into the sea.

More than 1300 pups are born each year on the Farne Islands. Although grey seal pups can swim at an early age they don’t normally leave the breeding colony until they have weaned and moulted their white coats.

The colours are rotated during every colony count; two of the seals had blue dye putting their birth around 30 November, and the third pup had yellow dye, putting its birth date at around mid November. Home to one of the largest grey seal colonies in England the Islands are also famous for its hundred thousand seabirds including puffins. In 2008 otter prints were discovered on Brownsman Island after the mammal braved the swirls and tides of the area around the Farne Islands.

David Steel added: “The two pups with the blue dye would have still been dependent on their parents and the third pup would have only just gained its independence when they began their mammoth journey. Young pups have been discovered along the Northumberland coastline but this a real rarity.”

Tagging and survey work on grey seals has been taking place on the Farne Islands since the early 1950s – the longest running study of grey seals in the world – and the place where seal tagging was pioneered. The survival rate of grey seals in the stormy sea around the Islands is low with more than 45 per cent of pups not surviving the winter months.