Friday 30 November 2012

Colony counting continues

Staple Sound looking calm

Welcome home to Brownsman cottage

Bull seal checking out his domain

North Wamses looking a lot quieter

...and second coat pups dreaming of fish

Friday 30th November comments: Today brought a bit of respite from the bitterly cold northerly winds, as the weather eased and the seas calmed. This gave us the window of opportunity to re-enter the seal colonies and check out what has been happening since our last visit, last weekend.

The birth rate has slowed (as expected) whilst some colonies are almost done; the North Wamses feels deserted compared with the thriving metropolis it was a few weeks ago. Once the young pups are old enough to fend for them selves (only three weeks of age), the females depart for the open sea and gradually the young pups also move off, leaving the islands empty for another year.

Today produced 77 new pups bringing our total to an impressive 1,495 with the top four island colonies including:

Staple Island 443
South Wamses 375
Brownsman 319
North Wames 276

This brings our autumn total to 1,495 – an impressive total by the Farnes and are we going to eclipse last years total of 1,555? Time will tell.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Winter Waves

Lindisfarne Castle with the moon backdrop (as seen from Inner Farne)

Inner Farne lighthouse in the winters sun

Quiet and still; Inner Farne today

Closed for the winter; St.Cuthbert's Chapel
Thursday 29th November comments: It’s been an interesting time on the Farnes recently as the northerly backed winds have brought some wild wintry weather (and big seas!) The team have stayed warm (ish) although work has continued including a few outdoor activities (now that was cold!!).

Interestingly the winds have produced some noteworthy movements of winter wildfowl including the return of our ‘resident’ Long-tailed Duck flock on the inner group; now numbering nine in total. We’ve also seen movements of Scaup, Velvet Scoter and Common Scoter amongst others whilst 22 Red-throated Divers and five Great Northern Diver were noteworthy.

The weather is finally due to ease (for a short period) tomorrow which will allow us access into the Seal colonies again, so I’ll bring you the full details, good or bad…

Monday 26 November 2012

Santa's Little Helper

Rare visitor; Little Grebe, 10th for the Farnes

Grey Seals in rough seas

The storm begins
Monday 26th November comments: It’s been a shocker of a day as gale force northerly winds and driving rain have battered the islands restricting any migrant movements (it certainly wasn’t a day to be outside!).

During yesterday’s Farnes festivities, we did have some noteworthy bird highlights including a Little Grebe, a rare visitor to these islands. The bird remained in the ‘kettle’ off Inner Farne all day, representing only the tenth ever record and first since 2008, helping cap truly memorable day. The icing on the Farnesmas cake came in the form of two Waxwings which eventually moved west to join the hoards on the mainland (check out your local berry bushes!).

Today (Monday) brought unrelenting gale force winds and rain with birding virtually impossible so it was an office day for the team. Our only concern is for our Grey Seal pups, as they could be in trouble with these heavy seas but until the wind eases, we won’t know the extent of any damage. However, listening to the shipping forecast this evening, we are not out of the woods yet…

Forth, Tyne, Dogger: North or northeast 5 to 7 occasionally gale force 8.

Time to batten down the hatches!

Sunday 25 November 2012

Merry Farnesmas

Special: Farnesmas jumpers

Farnesmas tree! (for the rare birds)

Pigs in blankets looking good...

Beef looking even better!

Table ready for the dinner

Will's secret Santa (White's Thrush trophy!)

Ciaran enjoying his secret Santa gift

Merry Farnesmas everyone from Andy

Dinner is served
Sunday 25th November comments: Today brought Farnesmas. The team have spent almost nine months on the islands and will be departing these mighty rocks in about a fortnight. Therefore we won’t be here to celebrate Christmas, so we brought everything forward to November 25th and celebrated Farnemas!

We couldn’t celebrate Farnesmas without secret Santa, a tree, decorations, lots of beer and plenty of food (cooked by the ranger experts Bex and Ciaran). And of course, we couldn’t forget Farnemas jumpers…special indeed.

The day was a huge success and the dinner had it all; beef, chicken and vegetables for England, whilst the evening was spent digesting the lot in front of the Muppets Christmas Carol. It was a great day and a nice distraction from work, as tomorrow we’ll be back in to the thick of it with the countdown to leaving now on.

Merry Farnesmas everyone.

Friday 23 November 2012

Boardwalk Begins

Boardwalk construction begins...

Laying the new boardwalk

A little helper looking on

Looking good - the end product
Friday 23rd November comments: Its been a turbulent time recently as the unsettled weather has brought a calm day, followed by a gale followed by a calm day. Today the weather improved from yesterday (gale force southerly winds with rain), as the light winds and bright sunshine were the order of the day!

So the team went about the task of constructing the new boardwalk on Staple Island. The old boardwalk has been removed and the new boardwalk needs completing before we leave – so deadlines are tight! The day was constructive in more ways than one, and hopefully we’ll have everything sorted in the next week or two. We also had a few helpers – second coat seal pups were curious and often wandered into the building site – this is the Farnes after all!

On the bird front, it remains quite with a handful of Red-throated and a few Great Northern Divers lingering whilst the highlight was 5 Snow Buntings flying west towards the mainland.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Pup Parade

Seal pup putting on weight

New born on Brownsman

Mum keeping a watchful eye

Cow and pup together
Wednesday 21st November comments: Its been a good day on the islands as following two days of strong southerly winds, the weather eased and we took full advantage and entered the seal colonies. Thankfully the gales appeared to have done very little damage as seals young and old were well placed and were enjoying the settled weather.

The birth rates on the colonies are gradually slowing, as the peak has past and today brought 103 'new' pups, bringing the islands total to 1,366 born since the first in late September. The ranger team still have a few weeks on the islands so the overall population may yet reach 1,500 but only time will tell.

Birding has been generally quiet recently (as expected in westerly and southerly gales) although a Black Guillemot was discovered today - our first wintering bird back, whilst three Little Auks were seen in Staple Sound - almost 'standard' for the Farne Islands at this time of year.

Monday 19 November 2012

Trusty Timber

The Trusty Van

Local timber yard picking up the wood

Ready to go in Seahouses harbour

On the island...eventually
Monday 19th November comments: People often wonder what the team get up to on the islands at this time of year, as we are now closed to the public, the seabirds have gone and its nearly Christmas. For the island team, work is far from finished as we work closely with the seals but we also do other vital work - management work!

On Saturday we took full advantage of the pleasant weather (and flat seas!) to collect and move out new timber ready for boardwalk replacement. The full operation took all day but we succeeded in achieving our goal and now we are ready. Over the next week or so, we'll be building new boardwalks on two islands (Staple and Inner Farne) so between bouts of Seal work, we'll be kept busy (and warm!). 

However until then, we have a series of strong southerly gales smashing the islands and although we're safe, our Seal pups maybe in trouble...fingers crossed for some good news.

Friday 16 November 2012

Holy Moley

Seal in the grass


Who's that mum?

Second coat pup heading to sea

Its a seal life...second coater enjoying life on the colonies

Such a big change in 3 weeks - a pup now in 2nd coat

Staple Island colony growing in size
Friday 16th November comments: The wind eased again (the week has been dominated by southerly winds) and we re-entered the seal colonies to continue our work. Its action packed now as young pups are still being born with plenty now reaching 'independence'.

Independence for a Seal pup comes just after 3 weeks of age, as they moult their white coat (and become affectionately known as 'moleys') and the mothers return to sea to fatten up after three weeks of lactation. It's an incredible breeding strategy, which works, as our population continues to grow steadily.
Following today's count, we now have an impressive 1,263 pups across the colonies, including our first born on the inner group. The Seal twins have now reached independence as their mother has gone, so we'll keep a close eye on the male twins as they venture into the big world of the North Sea. Good luck boys, good luck.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Winter birding

Red-throated Divers now present in good numbers (Graeme Duncan)

Twite lingering on Inner Farne (Graeme Duncan)

Snow Buntings moving through the islands

Long-tailed Duck for second day off Brownsman (Jamie Coleman)
Wednesday 14th November comments: Winter is here. In birding terms, the Farnes are now entering winter as the last of the autumn migrants move through the islands and wintering birds have arrived for another few months on the rocky outcrops that are the Farne Islands. A small number of Snow Buntings and Twite are now resident whilst winter seaduck include Long-tailed Duck and Common Scoter amongst others.

Interestingly drake Eiders have started displaying again; their courtship displays will continue on throughout the winter period, when most of the pair-bonding takes place. However as we've still got a few more weeks out here, we'll hopefully spring a few more surprises between now and then, and as usual we'll keep you posted along the way. Its time to grab the thermals, temperatures are dropping....

Sunday 11 November 2012


One of our seal twins (David Steel)

Time to check its weight (David Steel)

Healthy at 31kg (David Steel)

Lazy days for our Seal pups (David Steel)

2nd coat pups now spread all over the colonies (David Steel)

Sunday 11th November comments: It’s been a big weekend on the seal colonies on the Farne Islands as the team have been out counting over the two days and we’ve now broken the 1,000 pup barrier! The settled weather allowed us to venture out onto the islands to continue the survey work and with 254 new pups sprayed we have now reached an impressive 1,141 pups.

Staple Island boasts the largest number with 327 pups whilst South Wamses is hot on the heels with a noteworthy 325 pups. Births (and counting) will continue over the next three weeks as we aim to break the 1,500 pup barrier for the second consecutive year.

BIG news about our twins – as both are doing well and are so close to independence as they reach twenty days of age (that mother wants a gold medal!). During this sealing mission and with the help of the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU), a DNA sample has been taken from both pups so we can prove without doubt that we do have a pair of Grey Seal twins – the first ever wild documented occurrence.

Even bigger news – both pups were male! As part of the process, we also took their body weights which are hovering around the 31kg mark – so a healthy return and hopefully they’ll be heading for a huge success. The Farnes has certainly produced some noticeable highlights this year and this is one of them.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Take a bow

Dolphins riding the waves (Bex Outram)

Up close and personal (Bex Outram)

Dolphin delight (Bex Outram)

Showing well (Bex Outram)
Saturday 10th November comments: Today and yesterday, a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins have been seen around the islands, favouring inner sound (between Inner Farne and the mainland). The pod, up to 25 in number, were seen bow riding boats and the ranger team got some spectacular views (and pictures!) The animals followed the boat for around 20 minutes, giving an opportunity to observe both adults and youngsters riding the waves.

It’s been a good late autumn for cetaceans around the Farnes with several sightings of Minke Whales alongside White-beaked and Bottle-nosed Dolphin records. The Farnes provide such a wide variety of life, even at this time of year! Dolphins aren’t necessarily something associated with the North Sea in November, with this sort of wildlife encounter making the Farnes feel more like the Mediterranean!

Today we turned our attentions back to our Grey Seals and tomorrow we’ll bring you the latest colony count and news about our twins. Plenty to report, so tune in…