Tuesday 31 May 2011

Flavour of the East

Black-headed Bunting joy (Ciaran Hatsell)

Showing well (Ciaran Hatsell)

Feeding well on Staple (Ciaran Hatsell)

Tuesday 31st May comments:

What a day.

What is it with me and Buntings on the Farnes?

Several years ago I missed a Black-headed on Inner Farne whilst away on holiday (I haven’t forgotten Mr Parnaby…) whilst a Yellow-breasted escaped us just a few years ago (remember that Mr Moss and Mr Cockram…) and then today happened.

I departed the Farne Islands for the regional National Trust HQ at 08:00 this morning. With poor phone reception, I was out of contact all morning and what a few hours. In that time, I missed over twenty phone calls, hundreds of texts and various other forms of contact as a Black-headed Bunting had been discovered on Staple Island by the team.

The shock discovery was totally unexpected and the team enjoyed great views along with a few visitors. However I was mainland bound and birdless, not been able to enjoy the islands fifth Black-headed (and the Farnes third spring) record of Black-headed Bunting. Regardless the photographs show that it was a cracking bird and well enjoyed by the warden team.

Having suffered a disappointing spring, we’ve now cashed in with Red-breasted Flycatcher, two Spoonbills and now this. Welcome to Planet Farnes. Its brilliant, just brilliant.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Farnes Flicker

Red-breasted Flycatcher on Brownsman (Graeme Duncan)

Showing well (Graeme Duncan)

Thursday 26th May comments: What a month. The breeding season is in full swing, warden’s work is cranking up by the day and visitors continue to increase by the day. However the main talking point has been the weather. The month of May has produced a mixed bag of weather with a dramatic conclusion on Monday as winds peaked at 70mph.

Amazingly the seabirds appeared to have generally got away with it but next time, they might not be as lucky. Where just hoping for calm weather and a successful few months ahead.

On another note, today produced a big surprise as we produced our first noticeable passerine of the spring – a female/immature Red-breasted Flycatcher on Brownsman! The bird arrived late afternoon and showed well to all admiring wardens. Although almost an annual migrant to the islands, this was only our fourth ever spring bird and the first since 1988!

Highlights: Red-breasted Flycatcher 1 on Brownsman, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Redstart.

Breeding bird news: Razorbills now on chicks, Sandwich Tern number low – estimated at only 400 pairs (potentially our lowest ever breeding number).

Monday 23 May 2011

Storm Force 10

Waves over the East Wideopens (William Scott)

Inner Farne Lighthouse cliff - the storm pounds (William Scott)

Sea spray and waves over the island (Andy Denton)

Monday 23rd May (evening) comments:

Oh dear.

It really has been a shocker, as the wind has been off the scale today as the sea has battered and hammered the life out of the Farnes. Amazingly we may have escaped the worst of it as one crucial factor may have saved many nesting seabirds - the wind direction.

An easterly or northerly wind of this magnitude would have decimated the colonies but as its from the west, we may have escaped. When I say 'escaped', we still have experienced losses - we watched one Kittiwake nest being blown off the cliff side and across the island, taking the contents with it. However it could have been a lot, lot worse.

What we need now is some calm weather, preferably two months of it.

Its here...

Monday 23rd May, 15:00 update

The shipping forecast is just in…

Southerly gale force 8 imminent veering southwesterly and increasing storm force 10 soon

...and don't we know it. The Farne Islands are being hammered and it's not about to stop...

Sunday 22 May 2011

Its coming....

Puffins galore - chicks have started hatching (Andy Denton)

Sandwich Tern colony (Andy Denton)

Who are you looking at... (Andy Denton)

Sunday 22nd May comments: Today has brought plenty more activity as our first Kittiwake chicks have hatched whilst a pair of Ringed Plover now have a brood of three chicks to guard against predators. However our attention is now switching to a more serious matter...the weather.

The month of April brought wall-to-wall sunshine and glorious calm flat seas. Then came May. The month has produced a real mixed bag of weather with plenty of rain and unsettled conditions, but now we face another threat – the wind. The forecast over the next few days is severe gale force southerly winds which will bring heavy seas and potentially the loss of many nests on the south facing cliffs. How bad things will be, is any ones guess, but fingers crossed its not as bad as predicted. Here goes...

Thursday 19 May 2011

Farnes action

Guillemot chicks start hatching (Ciaran Hatsell)

Gas cage (nesting) Eider (Ciaran Hatsell)

Chicks away (Ciaran Hatsell)

Wild or feral - today's Barnacle Goose (Ciaran Hatsell)

Thursday 19th May comments: The crazy period is just around the corner and Farnes action continues as chicks have started hatching and the Arctic Terns have intensified attacks against our visitors (and the wardens!). In recent days we've witnessed...

first Guillemot chicks hatch on Staple and Inner Farme

Puffin chicks found today on Inner Farne

Black-headed Gull chicks discovered in the main colony

On the migration front it was a stunning day yesterday (Wednesday) as the peace and quiet of the islands was shattered by an adult HONEY BUZZARD over (it flew over our heads!) before heading towards the mainland (only the 9th Farnes record although all have occurred since the first on 25 September 2000).

Recent highlights: HONEY BUZZARD, Little Gull first-summer, Roseate Tern 3 adults in summer plumage and Mediterranean Gull (second summer).

Monday 16 May 2011

Weather takes a 'tern'

Terns - now on eggs (Jamie Coleman)

A stunner - an adult Mediterranean Gull (Will Scott)

Migrants on the move - a Lesser Whitethroat (Will Scott)

Monday 16th May comments:

The breeding season continues to advance by the day and having been away for a week (hence the lack of updates...), much has changed. The Arctic Terns have now settled in their thousands with the first eggs discovered on 13th May, almost completing the full breeding range of nesting seabirds now on eggs (Common Terns been on eggs since 12th May). More Eider chicks are hatching on a daily basis whilst our first Guillemot chicks will be discovered very soon.

The weather has taken a distinctive turn for the worst with plenty of rain (causing some issues for Puffins) whilst strong wind is making life generally difficult. Staple Island, opened to the public on 1st May but the weather has resulted in almost a daily closure whilst Inner Farne has seen sporadic numbers of visitors. Hopefully everything will settle soon and both the breeding birds and visitors can start enjoying the summer once again.

Whilst away, there were some noticeable highlights on the islands as three different Mediterranean Gulls arrived in the Black-headed Gull colony on the islands and the prospect of potential future breeding has increased. The species only colonised Northumberland a few years ago and maybe the Farnes might be the next step in their UK advancement.

Pick of the days – 8th May highlights:Redstart, Whinchat (5), Sedge Warbler (5), Grasshopper Warbler, Garden Warbler (2), Blackcap (3), Whitethroat (11), Lesser Whitethroat (2), Willow Warbler (25), Chiffchaff (7), Spotted Flycatcher (2) and Pied flycatcher.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Watch your head!

Coming to a head near you...the Arctic's have landed (Graeme Duncan)

Settled and ready to go (Graeme Duncan)

Up close - a female Eider (Graeme Duncan)

Tuesday 10th May comments: Its been another hectic week on the islands although the weather has finally turned and we've had a few closed days - although plenty of summer migrants arrived with the south-easterly weather front.

On the breeding seabird front, the vast number of Arctic Terns which have been roosting nightly with us have finally settled on the islands and it won't be long before they are laying eggs and doing what Arctic's do best - attacking people! The season seems to be rattling along as the first eider chicks have now hatched and more and more Shag chicks are discovered.

On the migrant front, it has been a busy island as both Spotted and Pied Flycatchers have been seen whilst good numbers of common warblers have been noted including our first Grasshopper Warbler of the year.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Final prep!

Black-headed Gull (300+ pairs) now on eggs

Scarce Fiddleneck now flowering

Final strimming before Terns nest

Wednesday 4th May comments: The final preparation work is under way as we are less than one week away from Arctic Terns landing and nesting. The final grass cutting and strimming is been done and thereafter its all over to the Arctic Terns. I'm not sure why we encourage these birds, as all our hard work is rewarded with constant attacks and plenty of bird guano covered clothes!

It all go on the islands although following the rush of the Easter break, visitor numbers have reduced but that won't stay that way for long. On the birding front, it remains quiet although four summer plumage Black-tailed Godwits was a nice discovery and the Swallows are nest building on the Longstone lighthouse.

Monday 2 May 2011

Mighty May

Sunset over the Farne Islands (Graeme Duncan)

Mallard family on pond (Jamie Coleman)

Little Terns - up to 25 at roost (Jamie Coleman)

Lingering Black Redstart for third day (Jamie Coleman)

Swallows breeding back on Longstone (Jamie Coleman)

Monday 2nd May comments: How quick time fly’s when your having fun! Its crazy to think its now May – it only seems a few weeks ago we returned and here we are ready for the Arctic terns to settle! The season advances by the day and since the last update we’ve celebrated our first Kittiwake eggs and our first Shag chick! Alongside this success the first Sandwich Tern eggs have been found whilst Common and Arctic Terns continue to descend onto the islands daily and it won’t be long before they are settling on eggs themselves. More female Eider ducks are nesting whilst the cliff nesting species are more settled, with the majority of Auks now on eggs. On the visitor front, its been an amazing start as we’ve not lost a single day to bad weather in April whilst one or two ex-wardens have visited to say hello.

First egg dates:

Kittiwake 28th April
Razorbill 25th April

Puffin 15th April

Eider 12th April

Guillemot 10th April
Shag 23rd March

Recent bird highlights
Sun 24th Hooded Crow 1 west, Whitethroat (first of the year), Kestrel male and Pink-footed Goose 298 north in one skein

Tues 26th Sparrowhawk female, MARSH HARRIER female west towards the mainland

Fri 29th Manx Shearwater 5N (first of the year), Sparrowhawk male, Greylag Goose 8S, Whimbrel 2S (first of the year) and Tufted Duck 3N

Sat 30th Yellow Wagtail male, Chiffchaff 2, Willow Warbler 5, Black Redstart, Blackcap 3 and Lesser Whitethroat