Sunday 31 March 2013

Wintery Weekend

Fulmar on Brownsman

Shags have started to return

Guillemots back in good numbers

Goodbye: The MV Danio final docks in Port of Blyth
Farnes team visit the outer group of islands

Brent Geese over the islands

Sunday 31st March comments: Its been a productive weekend as the islands finally opened to the public and apart from the wind chill (very cold!!) all went well. The forecast for the foreseeable future looks good, so great news for everyone. The final episode of the MV Danio was finally played out as she berthed in the Port of Blyth, to unload cargo and begin engineer inspections and hopefully this will be the last we hear of her. Its been an epic story but we are pleased it ended well with no major incident.

On the seabird front, the season is finally starting to get underway as Shags, Fulmars and Guillemots have returned although no large numbers of Puffins have arrived...just yet. The blocking north-easterly winds have resulted in very few migrant birds reaching our shores and we still await our first Sandwich Tern (very unusual for us, as we normally have them by 25th-26th March). We also await our first Wheatears and Chiffchaffs (summer migrants) so we await spring with some anticipation.

Highlights: Canada Geese 4, Brent Geese 30 pale bellied individuals, Black Guillemot - one partial summer plumage bird off Brownsman, Peregrine, Merlin, Sparrowhawk, Woodcock 2, Snipe, Goldfinch and Twite - male remains singing on Inner Farne,

Friday 29 March 2013

Farne Islands Open!

First boat landed today; Bobby and Billy

Guillemots returning to clifftops

Seabirds this way - soon to change, Inner Farne

Inner Farne lighthouse

Grey Seal checking our opening times

Team in action; last minute finishing
Friday 29th March comments: It’s been a long time coming but we are finally OPEN to the public. Today brought our first visitor boats as the wind eased and some seabirds returned. After the events of last week, from the Danio to the seabird wreck, it was good to start the season on a positive note. Hopefully we have turned the corner and everyone and everything concerned with the Farne Islands can actually have a good productive season.

Having finally been cleared of the islands on Wednesday evening, the MV Danio finally docked at the Port of Blyth ready for inspection. On the seabird front, thousands of Guillemots have arrived with some returning to clifftops whilst a scattering of Puffins and Razorbills have been noted.

The team have worked tirelessly to have the islands ready and are buzzing for the start of the season. It’s a big year this year, with a full census of the Puffin population (this only occurs once every five years) and so why not join us and find out more. Simply by visiting the Farne Islands d, the sea calmed will help support our conservation work, so make sure you find the time to head out to the ‘Galapagos of the north’.

Opening times 2013:   Sailings daily unless bad weather prevents boats from leaving harbour   Inner Farne 10:00-17:30 all of April   Staple Island 10:00 - 13:30 May, June, July Inner Farne 13:30 - 17:00 May, June, July   Inner Farne 10:00 - 17:30 all of August, September and October

Thursday 28 March 2013

Final moments

It may not look much, but it means a lot, the MV Danio on her way south

The MV Danio (left) heading south at 04:45 pulled by the tug Lomax (right) leaves Farnes waters

Thursday 28th March comments (8am update): Its been a long night and even a longer eleven days, but the MV Danio has eventually gone. The power tug the Lomax pulled the MV Danio clear of the islands and after two miles, ropes were readjusted and eventually the journey south away from Farne waters began. The photos are not great, but it counts, the Danio is clear. It has also been confirmed that no spillage or leakage of any substance was detected during the very successful operation.

Danio Delight

Its not much to look at...but this is the tug (left) and the MV Danio (right) clear of the Farnes

Free and moving away; the MV Danio
Thursday 28th March comments (4am): I can bring everyone some great news as the MV Danio has been successfully recovered from the Farne Islands. During the early hours of this morning (at 03:00) the Ship was pulled clear by the powerful tug Lomax. The Ship is currently (as I write) two miles north of the Farne Islands and being towed to safety to the Port of Blyth, bringing closure to this twelve day ordeal.

It is huge relief that everything has gone smoothly with the operation and I will bring you more news later today. Its a great result for everyone concerned and now we can concentrate on our seabirds. The Danio is gone.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Groundhog Day!

Be careful guys, that's one expensive window!

Phew! Safely removed!

Scrub-a-dub-dub! Will and Ciaran cleaning the benches.

Squeaky clean! Andy working hard cleaning Chapel windows

The Lomax, ready to pull the MV Danio from the rocks!
Wednesday 27th March comments: It’s Groundhog Day! With the weather ensuring we have been island bound since we arrived last Thursday, each day is beginning to take on a similar appearance! However, it’s never dull on the Farnes and there’s always something happening!

The team have been grafting to get the islands ready for a potential opening on Friday (weather dependent!), with everything from scrubbing jetties and benches to rejuvenating the chapel after a winter of gathering dust! It’s important that we work as a team out here as we not only work together every day but live together on a small rock in the middle of the sea!

After the doom and gloom stories of birds washing up on shorelines up and down the east coast, we were all a little relieved today as we saw a small influx of seabirds around the islands. Around two thousand Guillemot and several hundred Kittiwake started to creep closer to the cliffs, hopefully a sign of spring?! It is still snowing mind!

In other news, the excitement of having an eighty metre vessel stuck on the islands may be coming to an end, with a salvage attempt planned for the early hours of tomorrow morning. The crew that are working on the safe removal of the MV Danio are true pros and have handled much bigger vessels at sites all around the world, so fingers crossed for a happy ending to this crazy story! We will keep you up to date with any developments as they happen, so stay tuned to Planet Farnes!

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Tideline Tragedy

A common sight along the beaches of the east coast; a dead Puffin (Dawn Minto)

Yet another casualty (Dawn Minto)

Snow on the islands...the extreme weather continues

Tuesday 26th March comments:  Over the last 24 hours we’ve been receiving reports from up and down the east coast of dead seabirds washing ashore on beaches from as far away as Scarborough and Aberdeen. Since Sunday 17th March a complex weather system has produced strong easterly winds (gale force most days) producing heavy seas and sub-zero temperatures.

The timing could not be any worse, as thousands of seabirds have returned to the southern North Sea to prepare for the new breeding season at colonies like the Farne Islands. Unfortunately this prolonged weather has made feeding difficult and low temperatures have added to the seabird’s woes.

The result is that thin birds, starving, are succumbing to the elements and are now washing ashore along our beaches with the onshore winds. However the picture is slightly clouded as seabirds experience natural winter mortality and unlike recent years, the onshore winds are bringing these birds ashore.

However it’s becoming clear that the weather is having ‘an above average impact’ on our seabirds. Interestingly we are seeing seabirds still in winter plumage around the Farnes, suggesting that their bodies are not up to breeding conditions as moult is delayed.

In summary, the effect of this winter ‘wreck’ may not be known until the vital population counts are made this summer to establish what impact, if any, this weather really has had on our seabirds.

On a final note, many thanks to all the contributors who reported corpses along the beaches of the east coast, especially via Twitter. Without these records, we wouldn’t know the scale of the problem. Thank-you to all and to Dawn Minto for the photos.

Monday 25 March 2013

Struggling seabirds

No seabirds here, rough at sea.
It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it! David painting the toilets!
Resident artist Andy adding a touch of class to the information centre.

Long-tailed Ducks - Phwoar!
Cheeky male twite showing its subtle beauty.

Monday 25th March comments: So, it’s been another cold, wild, windy day on the Farnes and the weather woes just keep on coming. Reports of seabirds washing up on beaches along the coast could mean big problems for our breeding population, but we’ll bring a full update on this tomorrow when the full extent is known.

With these new and worrying reports along with the MV Danio still remaining firmly lodged on the islands; it hasn’t exactly been a quiet start to the season! However, the preparations for the islands opening to the public have continued, with plenty still left to keep the team warm on these baltic spring days. We do it all on the Farnes, from home DIY plumbing to building and maintaining boardwalks, to share this special place with over 40,000 people every year.

Birding highlights have included the continued presence of a singing male Twite, another Little Auk (in summer plumage) seen briefly and a female Peregrine terrorising the local pigeon population! One benefit of this lingering chill has been the suite of wintering wildfowl staying local to the islands. Some cracking Long-tailed Ducks have been gracing us with their presence, with eight seen today, along with a supporting cast of eleven Goldeneye and twenty-eight Common Scoter.

We will bring an update on the seabird situation tomorrow. These are worrying times for the wildlife of the islands and we will be here to monitor their success throughout this summer.

Sunday 24 March 2013

Desperate Danio

Longstone, Brownsman and the MV Danio

Tug waiting to help

Islands remain closed - we open to the public on 29th March!

Sunday 24th March comments: Another day, another gale and another cold team (but we’re happy!). The MV Danio remains in place, solid and fixed to the spot despite the weather as the storm continues to batter the islands. The heavy duty tug remains in place nearby (what an ordeal that must be, with no shelter in this storm) and ready for action when the weather allows (hopefully Tuesday). We’ll keep monitoring the situation and hopefully all will end well, with the removal of the ship.

The wintry weather continues to dominate as gale force easterly winds are bringing some impress mountainous seas and huge swell. Alongside this, the birding still has a ‘wintry feel’ as a Little Auk was seen in Inner Sound and the Glaucous Gull reappeared over the islands; giving the islands an arctic blast. Other highlights included 20 Goldeneye, 6 Long-tailed Duck, Peregrine, Merlin and 2 Woodcock.

So onwards, we’ll continue to battle on and prepare the islands for opening, whenever that may be. Stay tuned for more news and action from the islands, whether it be freezing rangers, the latest news on the MV Danio or an influx of migrant birds; there’s always something happening out here!

Saturday 23 March 2013

Give us a wave!

                                                 Give us a wave! (Bex Outram)
Longstone Lighthouse taking a battering (Will Scott)

Storm time.

Saturday 23rd March comments: Since arriving on Thursday morning our early Farnes experience has been dominated by bitingly cold winds so much so that we’ve not seen the wind drop below gale force. The wind chill has not crept above zero and the raw power of the North Sea has been well and truly felt.

Today very few birds were recorded, although hardy winter ducks including 6 Long-tailed and 13 Goldeneye are braving the elements near Inner Farne. However if you think we have it bad, our thoughts are with the crew of the ‘power’ tug Lomax, who are currently sitting off the islands, riding the storm out and will be doing so for the foreseeable future.

At the moment, this place does not feel like a seabird reserve as very few seabirds are present in complete contrast to this time last year when we had Shags on eggs. What a difference a year makes! To live and work out here is always interesting and this wintry start is certainly proving challenging. It’s time to brace ourselves for another cold night on this rock in the middle of the sea, as we get the islands ready for the arrival of 80,000 seabirds and 40,000 visitors. Think we’re mad? This is planet Farnes.

Highlights: Long-tailed Duck 6, Goldeneye 12, Common Scoter 11, Red-breasted Merganser female, Teal 1, Merlin again, Purple Sandpiper 80, Woodcock 2, Lapwing 1, Skylark 2, Blackbird 8 and Twite.   

Friday 22 March 2013

Huffin' 'n' a Puffin

Big Sea! Lucky it isn't mid-summer! 

Peek-a-whoop! Today's adult Whooper Swan (Bex Outram)

Super Whooper (Bex Outram)

A bunch of scrubbers! The team cleaning the information centre.

A bunch of nutters! The team in good spirits!

Friday 22nd March comments: So it’s been another bitter day on the Farnes as the cold weather just keeps on coming. The islands feel like they are still in the icy grip of winter rather than last year’s glorious start which saw the team getting sunburnt and the seabirds getting down to business!
There are certainly no signs of our seabirds settling down yet as the waves smash against the cliffs and the wind whistles across the island tops. However a glimmer of hope came in the form of the first Puffin of the year discovered bobbing around on a very rough sea, looking decidedly miserable. This faint whiff of summer was swiftly eclipsed by two winter wanderers; a single adult Whooper Swan and a cracking second calendar year Glaucous Gull, reminding us that winter isn’t over just yet!

There is no rest for the wicked as the team braved the conditions to continue getting the islands ready for our first visitors (one week today!). This included a good old fashioned scrub down of the information centre and some other much need TLC to the islands infrastructure. Who knows what the next few days have in store for the team? More snow? More wind? The team are fired and ready for another season on the islands and we’re all hoping we can share the ups and downs of our time on one of Britain’s most amazing seabird colonies. Whatever this year throws at us we’ll handle it in the only way we know how, Farnes style. Bring it on!!!

Thursday 21 March 2013

Whatever the weather

Leaving Gibside, 6am

Loaded with kit

boat filling up

Local media interest...Bex being interviewed
The team in action

A full jetty...

...and later all gone

work to do - visitor centre will need sorting

Dunlin (race anyone?) were on of several highlights

Thursday 21st March comments: The day can be summarised in three words; we made it.

The day commenced just before 6am (in snowy conditions) as the team packed and cleaned the accommodation at Gibside, the National Trust property we have based ourselves at for the past four days. Eventually we were on the road heading north arriving in Seahouses just before 8am.

Then the hard work began, as we moved, carried and lifted everything we needed for island survival for a week or two (everything from LPG gas to food supplies galore). Due to the conditions (the rough sea) it was touch and go whether we would make it to the islands but it also meant we had to leave behind some of the larger items for another day. However crucially we sailed and following a bumpy crossing (not recommended for the faint hearted) we landed and we were back.

However our day wasn’t complete as the kit had to be moved off the jetties, the island scanned for seabirds and the MV Danio monitored. It was a long tiring day and with temperature plummeting, I suspect its also going to be a cold night on the Farnes. But it’s good to be back.

Migrants: Greylag Goose 13, Long-tailed Duck 4, Goldeneye 13, Velvet Scoter male, Lapwing 8, Woodcock 2, Skylark 4, Blackbird 18, Son Thrush 8, Mistle Thrush 2, (unusual for the islands), Dunnock 5 and Twite male still singing.

Highlights: Very few seabirds present (due to the weather) with only a scattering of Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Shags. The breeding season will start later than last year, a direct result of the weather.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Rangers return...maybe

The Farne Islands team return

Rangers at the ready

Deep in in the 'classroom'

but also having a laugh

Shopping trollies full

and the essentials bought!

Thursday 20th March (St.Cuthbert's Day!) comments: It’s been some start to the new season! Expecting a quiet weekend before the start, the events of Saturday ensured we were kept busy in all respects as the cargo ship MV Danio ran aground on the outer group of islands. However more importantly (almost) was the return of the Farnes ranger team.

Over the last three days we have been training (in the 'classroom') covering every aspect of the Farnes job from customer care to what to expect on the islands in 2013. It been good to be back with the team and everyone is looking forward to getting back and hopefully we'll return to the Farnes tomorrow morning (Thursday) if weather allows....

We've also completed the most important job; buying lots of food to survive the first few weeks. When I say a lot, we spent almost £1,200 between eight of us, so we are well stocked and yes, we have a few beers to ensure the nights go well. So tomorrow morning at about 9am, we'll hopefully be heading back to the islands, but nothing is guaranteed as the weather is causing us a few issues, just like a certain Ship on the rocks. It's never dull on planet Farnes...