Wednesday 29 June 2011

On the wing

Kittiwakes having a bumper season - young have started to fledge

Nearly there - an Arctic Tern youngster

Wednesday 29th June comments: Another glorious day on the islands and the action continued as a few more Kittiwake youngsters took to the wing for the first time. At present, it appears to be another cracking year for Kittiwakes, our third consecutive year we've enjoyed a bumper crop of young (following a ten year decline).

It's not just the cliffs nesters which are reporting a good season as the first Arctic Tern fledger is only days away from flying and within a few weeks, we'll hopefully be reporting another successful year. A quick study yesterday revealed that two youngsters from the same nest were fed sixteen times in ten minutes - now that is rapid foraging!

Wader passage is gradually increasing with over 200 Knot present on Longstone whilst 23 Black-tailed Godwits flew west over the islands yesterday. Soon we'll have return autumn passage migrants and then the fun will really start!

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Storm clouds lifting

Happy family; Arctic Tern brood (Ciaran Hatsell)

Ready to fledge Cormorants (Ciaran Hatsell)

Moth trapping season - a Ghost Moth (Will Scott)

Adult Black Tern in roost (Andy Denton)

A passing Tall ship (Will Scott)

Tuesday 28th June comments: The Farnes is still just recovering from last weeks sad events and for many, the place will just never be the same. Despite the passing of Billy Shiel, his name will be forever be linked with the islands as his boat company continues to bring thousands of visitors to witness the spectacular seabird reserve that is the Farne Islands.

It’s over a week since the last update and so much has happened. We’ve now got Kittiwake, Puffin, Shag and Cormorant fledglings to boast about whilst the first Sandwich and Arctic Tern chicks are ready to take to the wing. The season continues to produce mixed weather but the results of the breeding season appear to indicate a very successful on. At time of writing, Arctic Terns are fledging (on average) two chicks per nest (not an annual occurrence) although predation by large Gulls is still having an effect in some areas. Large numbers of Guillemots and Razorbills have now gone whilst Eiders have almost completed their breeding season for another year.

The Farnes continues to bring surprise visitors as we discovered another Spoonbill on 15th June whilst an adult Black Tern was seen over several days last week. Roseate Terns have not bred again this year but a pair continue to show well on a daily basis by the main jetties on Inner Farne.

Friday 17 June 2011

Billy Shiel - a legend in his own time

Billy Shiel (John Walton)

Friday 17th June comments: Today has been a sad day for the Farne Islands as it has lost one of its own. News broke early this morning that Billy Shiel had passed away in the early hours of this morning and everyone involved with the islands will be saddened by the news.

John Walton, Farnes Property Manager, writes: Today marks the end of an era – with the passing of Billy Shiel, aged 83, a chapter of Farnes history closes. For well over sixty years his name was synonymous with the islands and, for over forty of those years, he was the Trust’s ‘official’ boatman.

I met Billy in 1979 when I arrived for my first season on the islands – little did I realise that our friendship, and professional relationship, was to last for 33 years. Billy’s ‘Glad Tidings’ were (and are) our lifeline – taking all the kit out at the beginning of the season, and carting it all back in December, trips to the mainland, water supplies, food supplies and, this may come as a surprise to today’s wardens, post!. Mobile ‘phones – unheard of, laptops/Face-book – not even thought of!

Memories of Billy, and his team, are myriad but one will suffice. It was early December in the winter of ’83 and he and his brother came out in the old fishing boat ‘G.T.3’ to bring the team off. I was on Brownsman Island with my team and Billy, with a storm brewing, was in a real dash to get us off – the odd swear word may have passed his lips! We got to Inner Farne to pick up that team and, just as we were about to cast off, he muttered the immortal words ‘I think we’d better have the lifejackets’. ‘Old Jack’, his brother, turned to me and said ‘ah divvn’t want to worry you son, but it’s ownly the second time in 40 years he’s asked for a lifejacket’! I’ve never seen a sea like it, before or since, but Billy got us safely home – the same wasn’t true of our breakfasts!!

Billy was not, of course, a saint – he could be cantankerous, tetchy, and there were days when you just left him alone. He was human – like all of us. The messages that have been coming in today from wardens spread over forty years are all genuinely grateful for having known the man. I’ve heard some brilliant stories – he left some great memories. Can anyone be a ‘legend in their own lifetime’? If so, then Billy would be a contender.

John Walton (Property Manager), David Steel (Head Warden) the entire Farnes team together with National Trust staff and volunteers extend there condolences to Joyce Shiel and her family.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Almost finished

Counting on the outer group with pinnacle in background

1, 2, 3......Ciaran counting

Wez taking notes taken

Sunday 12th June comments: Despite the weather, despite the advanced stages of the breeding season, the counting is almost complete. The cliff counts have been a huge success, the tired team will soon be catching up on sleep and the seabirds of the Farne Islands will have been counted for another year.

Hopefully by the end of this week, we'll have most counts in from the outer islands and then I can start bringing you results. As always wee have some good news and as always, we have some bad....its never dull on a seabird colony and its never dull on the Farne Islands.

Saturday 11 June 2011


Guillemot with chick

Guillemot chick - leaving after 21 days

Saturday 11th June comments: I've said it before but I'll say it again....just how quick is the season progressing? On Friday evening we witnessed a true 'Farnes experience' as hundred's of Guiellemots with 'fledged chicks' departed the cliffs for the open sea.

The chicks, only twenty-one days old (or so) are encouraged to jump from the cliff-tops by their parents (usually the father), so they can whisk them away to the safety of Dogger Bank and beyond, where they will grow flight feathers and become independent. The best time to witness this spectacular event is a few hours before dusk and the first real movement of the season occurred yesterday.

Approximately 1,000 'jumplings' departed Staple and Brownsman indicating a very successful breeding season. It'll now be a matter of weeks before the cliff-tops are bare and all 50,000 Guillemots have departed the islands for another season. It'll be a strange (and quieter) place without them but we wish them good luck and hope they return next year to start all over again. Just how quick is this season going.....

Thursday 9 June 2011


Welcome to the Arctic Tern chick (Wez Smith)

Hatching everywhere

Adults with food (Joe Cockram)

Thursday 9th June comments: Life! In the last few days we’ve had a mass hatching of Arctic Tern chicks across the islands and soon adults will be busy bringing huge quantities of sand-eels for hungry little mouths. It's the same story across the cliff-tops as adults feed hungry youngsters and we even have our first fledglings to report as Guillemot chicks have already started leaving.

On the work front, the wardens continue to count the cliff tops and we reached the half-way stage early this morning, so things progressing well. We'll soon have a clear indication of how the colonies are doing and I'll bring you the news of all the up's and downs from this year's breeding totals.

Although migrants are few and far between at this time of year, we've had three lingering little Gulls including as adult which is entering the Arctic Tern colony on a regular basis and even displaying to us – it’s an impressive site!

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Wardens on tour!

An eastern gem - White-throated Robin (Andy Denton) Team on a wall

Birding from a ladder...

...and a van!

Tuesday 7th June comments: It was no ordinary day on the Farnes yesterday or should I say off it. The day progressed as normal, with a 6am start, a completed cliff-count and then various island work including welcoming lots of visitors. Even the first Arctic Tern chick hatching could not distract from the main event – the Farne Islands tour.

Last night the Farnes were empty. Ten wardens, two cars and several miles later the team arrived in Hartlepool to experience one of the most bizarre twitchers ever. A White-throated Robin, the first ever English record (and only 2nd for UK – a third has been seen on the Isle of Man) was discovered on Hartlepool headland earlier in the day. The keen birders amongst the warden team were keen to go and soon everyone was mainland bound and heading south.

We arrived to be greeted by ladders and scaffolding erect on a van as the bird was showing very well from inside a walled garden. Soon the team were either on the van or up a ladder enjoying fantastic views of this little eastern gem. What a way to see a bird and what a bird! I must comment and say the locals were very friendly, very helpful (thanks for the ladders) and some were even selling sandwich's to my team. Birding, it really is a crazy hobby.

The triumphant team returned to the islands and this morning we were back into the routine, we’ve got birds to count, and plenty of them.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Nest counts continue

The count starts on Brownsman

Ciaran and co counting on Brownsman

Sunday 5th June comments:
The weather has changed yet again, despite me thinking that we had turned the corner. The Brownsman team were up early ready for their nest count day but unfortunately unlike the glorious sunshine from the day before, they were greeted by cold northerly winds.

Despite the drop in temperature, the team completed another day's counting and we have yet another set of results. Disappointingly the results were not as good as we had hoped as breeding Arctic Tern numbers have dropped whilst no Sandwich Terns are present. The results of the nest count on Brownsman:

Arctic Tern 658 pairs (down 421 pairs)

Eider 178 (up 17 pairs)

Oystercatcher 10 pairs (up one pair)

Black-headed Gull 5 pairs (down 21 pairs)

Although our nest counts are complete we still have another nine cliff counts, so still plenty to go - June is never dull on the Farnes!

Friday 3 June 2011

Inner Farne counted!!

03:50 - dawn over the islands and the counting starts

Counted - a Black-headed Gull nest

The lads at work - counting every inch

Intense Sandwich Tern colony count

A happy but very tired Inner Farne team - job complete!

Friday 3rd June comments: Job done. The Inner Farne team of six were up at 4am today and went on to successfully complete an island count of all ground nesting seabirds. The job took all day, as the team eventually finished just after 6pm and although tired, were delighted to have completed the job in one day.

Every nest was counted and logged over the island, from nesting Eiders to every Arctic Tern. The concentration levels remain high throughout the day as one wrong step can result in disaster for a nest and it's made that bit more difficult by our 'friendly' Arctic Terns. With heads well pecked, I suspect the team will have an early night tonight but I have to congratulate them on a job well done.

The job is a real team effort as the Brownsman wardens cover all visitor work (working both Staple Island and Inner Farne all day) and we have great support from Anne Wilson who helps police the islands during this hectic period. And as for a rest...don't be silly, tomorrow we have to do it all over again on Brownsman...

Today's results from Inner Farne only:

Arctic Tern 1,133 pairs (up 23)

Sandwich Tern 453 pairs (down 308)

Common Tern 100 pairs (down 10)

Black-headed Gull 424 pairs(up 83)

Eider 415 pairs (up 22)

Now I need some sleep and tomorrow role on Brownsman.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Cliff counts begin!

Ed, Ciaran and Jack taking it on (David Steel)

Kittiwakes to count (David Steel)

Thursday 2nd June comments: And so it begins.

Today we started just after 6am for a three hour cliff count across all the islands. The process of counting the entire Farne Islands breeding seabird populations is under way...and we have over 80,000 breeding pairs to count. Add in our busiest day of the year for visitors with some bird ringing and monitoring work, its been another busy, busy day on planet Farnes.

However these busy days are just the beginning as tomorrow we start at 4am on Inner Farne to count all the breeding Terns, Eiders and other ground nesting species. That's just five hours away so best get some sleep. We're going to be tired this time tomorrow evening.

Bring it on.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Start of a new month

Another photo of yesterday's Black-headed Bunting (Jamie Coleman)

Puffins feeding chicks galore (Andy Denton)

Arctic Tern nesting in good numbers (Graeme Duncan)

Wednesday 1st June comments: The first day of June…where has time gone! It’s a big date in the diary of any Farne warden as we were due to start (or were due to start) our population counts of the cliffs. However the sea state prevented our first of ten counts, although tomorrow’s forecast suggests we’ll be kicking off early Thursday morning. The counts start just after 06:30 and we’ve got lots to count, and I mean lots.

On the bird front, yesterday’s Black-headed Bunting was sadly not seen despite an extensive early morning start. However a Great Skua and several Manx Shearwaters were some consultation on a seawatch.

The month of June is going to be busy and we hope the weather settles and we can enjoy the month ahead. Bring it on and stick with me - we'll bring you all the news.