Tuesday 30 October 2012

Fight Night

Fight of the bulls (David Steel)

No mercy (David Steel)

The fight continues (David Steel)

Would you mess? (David Steel)

Great Skua meets Grey Seal (Bex Outram)

Stranger in the camp (Bex Outram)

Wednesday 30th October comments: The seal colonies are becoming action packed and nothing comes bigger or stronger than bull seals. At almost 40 stone, they are muscular monsters not to be messed with. In the last week or two, more and more bulls have arrived on the colonies, to claim their spots and protect a harem of cow seals. However it’s not that easy on England’s largest Grey Seal colony, things never are as the fighting has begun.

Bull seals have to defend their territories on the islands and at times that means fighting off rival males. Bigger is better, as the strongest and biggest bull seals take supremacy but the young bulls don’t give up easily as they take the older bulls on, head-to-head. The fights are graphic, bloody and not for the fainthearted. Thankfully they never end in death but the battles take their toll as adult males don’t live as long as females, due to all the battling they do in their lifetime. It’s not easy being a Grey Seal!

On the bird front, small numbers of Little Auks were seen today whilst a Waxwing flew over calling heading towards the mainland. The most interesting record of the day involved a young Great Skua which lingered on the Seal colonies for the day on the prowl for food. The bird was fairly tame as it walked amongst the breeding Grey Seals bold as brass, tucking in to all sorts including the Seals afterbirth!

Things are really starting to kick off with the Seals and we’ll have our next count completed in a couple of days (if the weather allows!) and I’ll bring you the full details once complete (and watch out for news of our twins tomorrow on the blog!). With over 1000 pups still to be born on the Farnes, it’s crunch time!

Monday 29 October 2012

Tails of the unexpected

Balls of fluff - Long-tailed Tit (Graeme Duncan)

Rare and delightful (Graeme Duncan)

On the move, Long-tailed Tits (Graeme Duncan)
Monday 29th October comments: It’s been another exciting period on the Farnes as the wind switched bringing with it invaders from the north. On Sunday Brownsman was alive with the calls of Long-tailed Tits – six to be precise, as they descended into the vegetation around the cottage.

These ‘balls of fluff’ are rare on the Farnes, having been recorded in only ten years since they were first recorded on the islands in 1965. These delightful visitors eventually departed west, reaching Inner Farne later in the day. Alongside these, two Waxwings flew west, part of an ever increasing national influx – watch those berry bushes near you!
However today has been dominated by one species; the Little Auk. The north winds have pushed good numbers into the southern North Sea and the team spent the majority of the day counting them as they flew north. The day total reached almost 5,000 – an impressive total and sight by any standards. Over the next few days, we suspect we’ll be seeing a few more on the sea, so if you’re visiting, keep those eyes peeled.

Today’s highlights: Great Northern Diver 6, Black-throated Diver 1N, Red-throated Diver 9N, Manx Shearwater 1N, Shelduck 5N, Common Scoter 591, Goldeneye 3N, Teal 22N, Wigeon 53N, Peregrine, Merlin 2, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Woodcock 3, Little Auks 4,903N, Puffin 6N, Little Gull 5 N, various common migrants including Chiffchaff 4, Blackcap 3 and Twite 2.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Dovekie Days

Little Auk on the Farnes

Saturday 27th October comments: The Little Auk (also known as a Dovekie) breeds in the high arctic and is half the size of a Puffin (yes that small!). During the late autumn and winter, if the winds blow from the north, the east coast of the UK can witness huge movements as many thousands are blown down into the southern North Sea. The Farnes are one of the best localities in the UK to witness these small plankton eaters, as small numbers winter around the islands every year. However in some good years, we’ve recorded huge numbers and currently hold the British record for the most number seen in a day!

As the winds from the north increased (bringing snow showers and plummeting temperatures) our first Dovekies of the year were recorded alongside good numbers of wildfowl. With the real winter feel of the day, other northern delights included Long-tailed Ducks, Goldeneye and Red-necked Grebes. So we were all surprised when the inner group discovered a Garganey; a bird which should be in Africa now, but where not sure who was in more shock – the team for discovering it or the Garganey for being in a snow blizzard on the Farnes in late October….

Friday 26th October highlights: Red-throated Diver 2n, Great Northern Diver 1N, Brent Goose 1N, Red-necked Grebe 1, Pintail 2N, Long-tailed Duck 3N, Teal 15N, Wigeon 292N, Mallard 55N, Garganey 1N, Velvet Scoter 3N, Common Scoter 651N, Goldeneye 21N, Red-breasted Merganser 2N, Little Auk 16N, Great Skua 4N. Also on land: Yellow-browed Warbler still present along with a scattering of winter thrushes.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Double Trouble

First ever Grey Seal pup twins? Maybe... (David Steel)

Double trouble (David Steel)

Twins on Brownsman (David Steel)

A relaxed mother looking content (David Steel)

Wednesday 24th October comments: The Farne Islands have produced some ‘show stoppers’ this year but maybe non more so than the story we bring tonight.

Over the weekend, a lone heavily pregnant cow seal was discovered on the secluded south beach of Brownsman, near the jetty. Nothing too unusual about that (especially at this time of year), but by Monday morning all that had changed. The female, still on the secluded beach, and still by herself, had given birth but to our surprise, not to one pup but possibly to two.

On the small rocky beach, two pups were together, wet and bloody, with the mother in attendance. It was evident that both had just been born and with no other female in this area of the island, we started to suspect we may have a twin birth. Over the next 24hours, we’ve monitoring the two pups (and mum) and circumstantial evidence suggests what we suspect, we have got a Grey Seal with twins.

How unusual?

Although it’s early in the research, reports suggest that it has not being recorded before in Grey Seals as it's so costly for a female to have enough reserves for two pups. Interestingly it is biologically possible and may just be so rare as to not have been observed before in the wild. Until now. As well as monitoring progress, we’ll hopefully take some DNA samples to confirm genetically but if it’s what we suspect, this may be something very unique for one of our Grey Seals of the Farne Islands.

On the bird front today, the islands continued their rich vain of form as a Pallas’s Warbler was discovered on Inner Farne to go alongside our Radde’s Warbler (for third day), Little Bunting (for third day), Yellow-browed Warbler 2, Water Rail and four Ring Ouzels amongst others. Its just never dull…

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Olive backing a winner

Double trouble - TWO Olive-backed Pipits (Will Scott)

Showing well; Olive-backed Pipit (Will Scott)

Still present; Little Bunting (Graeme Duncan)

Yesterday's ringed bird (David Steel)

Our 6th Red-breasted Flycatcher of the year (Graeme Duncan)

Rare on Farnes - Yellowhammer (David Steel)

Tuesday 23rd October comments:
…and tomorrow arrived and we were not disappointed!
It’s been another electrifying day on the Farnes as migrant birds arrived from the east throughout the day. The Radde’s Warbler and Little Bunting remained from yesterday whilst huge numbers of winter Thrushes continued to move west over the islands. As each hour past, the action came thick and fast as a Yellow-browed Warbler was discovered with a Red-breasted Flycatcher also new in.

However the day’s headlines were snatched by not one, but two Olive-backed Pipits on Inner Farne; both together! These Siberian visitors were only added to the Farnes list as recently as 2001 but we’ve entertained five since including an individual on Brownsman last week. The birding has been brilliant, although the team are exhausted as they fit the counting around all there other work and with the prospect of even more to come tomorrow, we could be making even more headlines.
Noticeable highlights:
  •  Long-eared Owl 3
  • Olive-backed Pipit 2 together on Inner Farne
  • Radde’s Warbler still present for second day
  • Yellow-browed Warbler 1 on Inner Farne
  • Red-breasted Flycatcher on Brownsman
  • Little Bunting 1 for second day on Brownsman
Today’s Totals: Sparrowhawk, Kestrel 1 male, Merlin 1, Purple Sandpiper 112, Snipe 7, Woodcock 24, Long-eared Owl 3, Short-eared Owl 2, Skylark 9, Meadow Pipit 2, OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT 2 on Inner Farne, Dunnock 7, Robin 120, Black Redstart 2, Redwing 1,500, Fieldfare 579, Song Thrush 105, Blackbird 260, Ring Ouzel 4, Mistle Thrush 1 (first of the year) Chiffchaff 31, Blackcap 6, RADDE'S WARBLER 1 for second day, YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER 1, Goldcrest 150, RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER 1, Pied Flycatcher 1, Brambling 33, Siskin 2, Chaffinch 15, Yellowhammer (first of the year) LITTLE BUNTING 1 for second day and Snow Bunting 1.

Monday 22 October 2012

Not a Radde Little day!

Farnes Style: Radde's Warbler on the Chapel roof (Bex Outram)
Showing well... (Bex Outram)

Check out the peach undertail coverts! (Bex Outram)
Little Bunting in the hand (David Steel)
One in the hand is worth two....  (David Steel)

Check out the finer points of the ID (David Steel)

Monday 22nd October comments: It’s been some day with some outstanding highlights as the Farnes have been doing what they do best – producing some ornithological magic. As dawn was breaking, the calls of hundreds of Thrushes could be heard in the air as birds were moving from their summer Scandinavia breeding grounds to winter in the UK. As the Farnes jut out into the North Sea, the thrushes use the islands as a gateway to the mainland, as they filter through the islands before dispersing across the country. It’s a crossing they undertake every autumn and the Farnes are always at the forefront of these east coast arrivals.

The vast majority of birds were Redwing with reasonable numbers of Fieldfare, Song Thrush and Blackbird. However the easterly backed winds did not finish there, as the day went on to produce some noticeable highlights including four Short-eared Owls, our first Long-eared Owl of the autumn, a lingering Barred Warbler and plenty of Goldcrests and other such common migrants.

However in typical Farnes style we went on to produce something even better. On a routine bird ringing session, a Little Bunting was discovered nestled in the net. The first island record since September 2010 was duly ringed and processed before being released. Even this major highlight was then eclipsed, as Inner Farne burst into life…a Radde’s Warbler, the Farnes third ever! Soon all rangers were assembled on the island and were enjoying great views of the bird. The previous two occurred in 2004 and 1999, so its been some time since we’ve enjoyed one of these Siberian gems. With more east winds forecast, what will tomorrow bring….

Today’s Totals: Peregrine 2, Sparrowhawk 1, Kestrel 1 male, Merlin 1, Lapwing 9, Snipe 5, Woodcock 5, Long-eared Owl 1 (first of the year), Short-eared Owl 4, Goldcrest 70, Skylark 8, RADDES WARBLER 1 (3rd for the Farnes!) Chiffchaff 7, Barred Warbler lingering, Blackcap 2, Blackbird 282, Fieldfare 570, Song Thrush 41, Redwing 3504!, Spotted Flycatcher 1, Robin 24, Black Redstart 2, Meadow Pipit 3, Brambling 17, Lesser Redpoll 3, Linnet 2, Siskin 1, LITTLE BUNTING 1 (caught and ringed!)

Sunday 21 October 2012

Dolphin Day

Dolphins on the move...(Ciaran Hatsell)

Up to 100 seen today off the north Northumberland coast (Ciaran Hatsell)

Wave action.... (Ciaran Hatsell)

Sunday 21st October comments: I say it often and will repeat myself again, but this place is stunning! The Farnes produced some magic today!

Throughout the day we basked in glorious sunshine with very little wind and we are getting better weather now than we did all summer! It wasn’t just the weather which was impressive as just after 8am the team discovered a pod of White-beaked Dolphins just off Bamburgh travelling south. Gradually over the following hour, the animals moved south with up to 100 reported down the coast.

The views were spectacular (from our zodiac inflatable boat) as a mixed group of White-beaked and Bottle-nosed Dolphins played in the surf, occasionally breaching fully out of the sea. The Farnes has produced some spectacular sights this year and this is up there with the best. Dolphins are impressive at the best of times, but off the north Northumberland coast? This sort of sight is more commonplace in areas like the Mediterranean! Then again, I shouldn’t be too surprised; this is planet Farnes after all.

In other island news, the team have been back out on the Seal colonies counting, but more news on that tomorrow. ‘Barry’ our Barred Warbler remained on Inner Farne although was eclipsed (in Farne terms) by a pair of Gadwall (yes, rarer than Barred Warblers!). Every day is different on the islands, which is what makes Farnes is so great; you never know what’s round the next corner!

Saturday 20 October 2012

Puppy love

Saying hello to the world! Little bundle of joy on Staple Island (Ciaran Hatsell)

Dreaming of Fish... (Ciaran Hatsell)

He's a big lad! Bull seal keeping an eye on things (Ciaran Hatsell)
Saturday 20th October comments: It’s that time of year again. The seal season is now in full swing, with pups popping out on every corner of the islands. The latest count stands at 112 pups born this autumn and it’s been great to share some of them with you! There have been three days of the Seal Tours on Staple Island so far and it’s been a fantastic opportunity to share our pups with the world and educate people on the work we do out here at this time of year.

The tours run right up until the end of October (weather depending) and if you’re thinking of coming out, please come dressed for the occasion! The terrain on Staple is unstable and good sturdy walking boots or wellies and waterproofs are essential. If you are interested in the tour please contact Glad Tidings Booking office on 01665 720308. 

Our pups are rapidly putting on weight, drinking around two and a half litres of rich, fatty milk each day in preparation for life in the North Sea. The pups will be fed for just three weeks before they are ready to make their first journey into the big wide world. As soon as a pup moults its first white coat it will become completely independent, learning how to fish and how to be a grey seal all by itself! Life isn't easy out here! 

We will be out counting and spraying the seals again tomorrow so we’ll keep you up to date with the latest comings and goings from England’s largest Grey Seal colony. With well over 1000 pups still to be born on the islands before the end of the season, it’s all about to kick off!

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Off with your head!

What you lookin at?! Great Grey Killer (Graeme Duncan)

White-winged assassin (Graeme Duncan)

When a Shrike meets a Song Thrush (Ciaran Hatsell)

Off with your head! Henry the 8th Shrike Butchers Robin (Bex Outram)
Tuesday 16th October comments: The winds battered the islands today, the tiles danced on the roof and the birds took cover. As did the Ranger team! The easterlies pounded every corner of the islands, with most bird hunkering down in any bit of shelter they could find. The horrendous weather didn't seem to bother the Great Grey Shrike too much as it remained into its' 2nd day and continued to cause havoc.

Amazingly, this plucky little killer managed to take out a Song Thrush, a bird which is around the same size! Having only ringed the Thrush yesterday, it’s a shame it didn’t get far, but at the moment it’s a Shrike eat migrant world out there! It just underlines how fearless and aggressive these birds are, well capable of punching well above their weight! A Ring Ouzel was among a few new arrivals today and the long staying Turtle Dove dubbed 'Terry' is incredibly still here! The bird has been present since the 25th September and is becoming a real fixture on Inner Farne. Terry should be on his way to the Sahara right now so he better get a move on! And stay away from our Great Grey killer!

In other news, our first seal pup of the year on Brownsman Island was discovered today and we’ll be heading out in the next few days for another count. Excitingly, Rocky has now departed the islands to start his first year as a Grey Seal. He’ll be tried and tested and hopefully back in the near future, wish him luck everyone!

Monday 15 October 2012

The Brownsman Butcher!

The beast from the east! (Graeme Duncan)
Beautiful but deadly, Shrike on the lookout (Graeme Duncan)
OUCH! The Brownsman Butcher tucking in (Graeme Duncan)
Blood on your face! But is it Robin, Goldcrest or Black Redstart? (Graeme Duncan)

Big Fella! North-western type Redpoll on Brownsman (Ciaran Hatsell)

The polls are in! (Laura Shearer)

Monday 15th October comments: S.O.S. Our birds are under siege!! The hunt is well and truly on. Today on the Farnes saw some incredible moments. Small numbers of migrants are still lingering after making landfall a couple of days and after feeding, sheltering and resting up on the island, today they were tested. 

More or less the first bird of the day was a splendid juvenile Great Grey Shrike found on Brownsman Island. This was great news for the Ranger team who all enjoyed cracking views of this bruiser of a bird. They don’t call them butcher birds for nothing! The bird was almost immediately on the hunt after arriving, seen to catch and devour a Goldcrest. Next on the menu was a migrant Robin which met its untimely demise and had its head ripped clean off after being skewered ‘kebab style’ on a stick. Impressive stuff! The Shrike was caught, ringed and released and then just carried on killing! It continued to eat at least one more Goldcrest and a Black Redstart! Shrikes are great value for money and incredibly efficient hunters, with even this youngster able to eat its way through the Bird Guide!

If this wasn’t enough to get the migrants running scared, a Male Kestrel and a Merlin were also hunting around the islands. Whilst stood in the kitchen, a Robin was watched seemingly trying to get through the window, panicking and fluttering against the glass. After a couple of seconds.....WHACK! A Merlin smashed the Robin against the glass and took off with the bird in its talons. It’s a tough life if you’re a migrant bird and with all these predators on the prowl, it just got tougher!!!

A very interesting Redpoll was also caught on the islands, exhibiting some features of a North-western type bird. An absolute beast of a bird with a wing length of 75mm, it’s certainly worth checking out all Redpolls we get in future!

Yet another action packed day on the islands and with the winds switching to the east and Seal Tours beginning this week, it’s an exciting time to be on the Farne Islands! 

Sunday 14 October 2012

Staple Seals

Say hello to our first Staple Island seal pup! (Laura Shearer)
Tiny but mighty! Goldcrest showing well (Bex Outram)

Sunday 14th October comments: It’s been another interesting day on the Islands with plenty going on. This morning saw the team out seal counting for the third time, this time recording 19 new births across the islands. The total now stands at 37 pups born. Things are hotting up and it won’t be long until there are little white bundles of joy everywhere! Our first pup on Staple Island is doing well and we’ll hopefully be able to share it with you very soon. The sailing to Staple is completely weather dependent and as you can imagine at this time of year, the weather doesn’t always read the script!

 If you are planning on coming on the seal tours, please remember to wear suitable and sturdy footwear, waterproofs and be ready for some difficult terrain. The tours will be guided by National Trust Rangers and it should be a great opportunity to see Grey Seals and their pups. Please also keep an eye on the weather and check with the Glad Tidings booking office before coming out on 01665 720308.

In other news, we’re still seeing lots of migrant birds on the islands with good numbers of Goldcrests still present with over 45 recorded today. These incredible birds fly hundreds of miles across the North Sea on their migration south and weigh exactly the same as a 20 pence piece (5.1grams)! AMAZING! The Farne Islands are often the first land these birds see after leaving Scandanavia, so we do our best to provide them with a place to shelter and rest up before they carry on. Unfortunately not all birds make their final destination. Incredibly, a Great-Spotted Woodpecker was found dead in the middle of the seal colony today, representing the first record since 2004; definitely ranking as one of the most bizarre places to find a woodpecker! It just shows the harsh realities of life on the wing, what a place to end up after coming so far!

So, the seals are pupping, the birds are passing through and it’s all go on the islands. If there’s one thing to be sure of, it’s that it's never dull on the Farnes!!

Saturday 13 October 2012

Staple Island seal tours

A quick blog update here to let you all know that we have our first seal pup on Staple Island. This means that from tomorrow (14th October), tours shall (weather permitting) be running to the island.

So hopefully see you all soon watching some of our beautiful white pups!

Friday 12 October 2012


Bramblings and a Blackbird decorating our 'artificial tree' (Graeme Duncan)

Grubs up! Olive-backed Pipit devouring a Red Admiral Butterfly (Graeme Duncan)

Not so skulky now! (Graeme Duncan)

Showing well (at times!) Farnes 5th Olive-backed Pipit (Graeme Duncan)

Cheeky Red-breasted Flycatcher (Graeme Duncan)

Black and white class (Graeme Duncan)

Just one of over 1000 Redwing seen today! (Graeme Duncan)

From Norway with love! Today's Nomadic Blackbird (Graeme Duncan)

Friday 12th October comments: WOW! What a day it’s been on the Farnes. We woke early this morning with high hopes after strong overnight south-easterlies and several buckets full of rain. Little did we know what was about to happen!

Opening the front door it was apparent that birds had arrived on the islands. Eight Blackbirds, a Song Thrush, a Red-breasted Flycatcher (5th of the year!), two Redstarts and 300 Redwing overhead were all seen before leaving the house! Throughout the morning birds continued to pass through, with some spectacular overhead movement of Thrushes and Finches. This is what birding on the Farnes is all about. Everywhere we looked birds, birds and more birds!

There were some great birds today and the sheer spectacle of migration was truly awe-inspiring, but the star of the show has to be a cracking Olive-backed Pipit discovered on Brownsman early afternoon! This skulking Pipit breeds in Siberia and Russia and the sighting today represents only the 5th record for the Farne Islands and amazingly the 3rd record in three years! To many people this may look like a ‘wee brown job’, but to us crazy birders it is a subtle Siberian gem! The bird showed very well at times and was finding plenty of food, seen to demolish a Red Admiral Butterfly, a Cranefly, a Silver Y moth and a worm! Pretty good going!

Another highlight today was a Blackbird caught in one of the buildings carrying a Norwegian ring on its leg! We know that the majority of the Thrushes we get at this time of year are coming from Scandinavia and further afield but it’s great to actually get this kind of proof.

It’s always difficult to sum up how enjoyable days like this are on the Islands, watching wild birds migrating in huge numbers and simply recording them has to be one of the greatest joys in life! All in all, a great day of birding on the Farnes and hopefully a sign of things to come for the rest of October!

Todays Totals: Wigeon 182, Common Scoter 99N, Peregrine 1 female (killed at least on Redwing!), Jack Snipe 1, Woodcock 5 (first of the autumn), Short-eared Owl 3, Goldcrest 56+, Chiffchaff 9, Willow Warbler 7, Blackcap 6, Garden Warbler 1, Reed Warbler 2, Ring Ouzel 4, Blackbird 352, Song Thrush 1124, Redwing 1271, Robin 22, Red-breasted Flycatcher (1st winter caught and ringed), Black Redstart 7, Redstart 11, Olive-backed Pipit 1 BEAUTY!, Brambling 114, Snow Bunting 1, Reed Bunting 3.