Monday 29 April 2013

At Last

First Shag eggs discovered today

Guillemots now on eggs

Eider numbers increasing daily

Sandwich Terns starting to settle

Puffins back in huge numbers
Monday 29th April comments: It’s been some time in coming but at long last we have seabirds incubating eggs. The season has been late, very late and today we discovered both Shag and Guillemot eggs for the first time this season.

This is the latest first Shag eggs since 1994 and a staggering thirty-eight days later than last season’s first egg laying date. The fact we had Shag chicks this time last year indicates just how late things are. Alongside this, it was the latest Guillemot eggs since 2005 and nineteen days later than last season. However we are underway and things are looking up.

Other breeders are starting to show signs of nesting, as small numbers of Eiders are now sitting whilst Puffins and Razorbills won’t be far away from laying. The Terns continue to build including 4 Little Terns, with Sandwich Terns settling on the main colony on Inner Farne.
Migration has been slow due to blocking winds although a male Redstart brought a splash of colour to the islands today whilst small numbers of warblers are filtering through on a daily basis. As we approach May things are just starting to hot up, hopefully just like our weather…

Friday 26 April 2013

Hey There Mr Blue

Seeing blue...

'Blue' Fulmar visits the islands

Puffins back in good numbers...

....and checking out nest burrows

Shags now nest building

Migrant Wheatear checking out the new picnic tables

'White' Wagtails on the move

Staple Island boardwalk under construction...

..and now finished and looking good
Friday 26th April comments: It’s been another mixed week on the islands as the breeding seabirds have returned in numbers but have yet to settle as we still await our first eggs. Interestingly the contrast to last year could not be any different as this time last season we were celebrating our first Shag chicks hatching. This year, we still await our first Shag eggs…

However we expect the season to kick off any day now as copulating, nest building and pair bonding has been observed with several species getting in the swing of spring. So the advice is to get yourself out to see this, because it’s going to be good, very good.

On the migration front, spring migration has been slow although Swallows, House and Sand Martins have been moving through whilst Wheatears, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs have brightened up the dullest of days.

One of the highlights of the week included a ‘blue’ morph Fulmar which arrived amongst our resident Fulmars on Brownsman. ‘Blue’ Fulmars are a ‘northern morph plumage’ of our regular birds and are literally blue! The bird, the first spring ‘blue’ Fulmar on the islands in a decade showed well to a few rangers, briefly landing amongst our breeding Fulmars.

Other highlights included a Hooded Crow, passage Wood Pigeons and a classic Farnes rarity, a Mute Swan! The first Manx Shearwaters have also been seen passing north, always a welcome sight for the avid sea watchers in the team. It’s been slim pickings on the migrant front but it’s always a pleasure to enjoy the wildlife of the islands, a privilege we will never take for granted!

For the Ranger team, the hard work continues as we get ready to open both islands from the 1st of May. With boardwalks nearly built, sheds to be erected, concrete to be laid and birds to monitor, there really is no rest for the wicked! Onwards!!!

Monday 22 April 2013

Puffin celebration

Pair of Puffins on land

Lots of Puffins now present

Tufted Puffin anyone?

Visitors arriving on boardwalk

Copulating at sea

Soon to be surveyed...Puffin burrows
Monday 22nd April comments: Not much to say, but plenty to celebrate as our Puffins are back so a blog full of Puffin photos for Monday morning was the order of the day! However if you want to see the real thing, you must visit! Enjoy.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Eider eggs!

Our first nesting Eider back on land
Sunday 21st April comments: Just a quick update to mention we have discovered our first nesting female Eider of the season. It's great news and the breeding season feels like we've turned the corner. Seabird city here we come.

Puffins Galore!

Look who's back...

Puffins on a cage

...and back in good numbers!

Guillemots return to the clifftops

Oystercatchers displaying

The Churn blow hole on Inner Farne

Sunday 21st April comments: The Farne Islands are back in action. The cold start to spring has resulted in a delayed start to the breeding season but the first fine weather spell this weekend has brought a deluge of seabirds. Puffins galore!

Thousands of Puffins have returned from the open sea and are now looking settled with spring cleaning of burrows expected in the next day or two. Guillemots and Razorbills are present whilst Shags are starting to nest build. Our Terns are still winging their way north from southern oceans although the first Arctic and Common Terns have already arrived whilst the evening roost of Sandwich Terns has peaked at 300.

So at long last, the islands are starting to awaken from their winter slumber and hopefully we’ll be shouting about our first eggs soon. The islands are alive and it feels good.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Ring ring!

A warm welcome! Britain's smallest bird, the Goldcrest.

Wednesday 17th April comments: Bird ringing has been used a tool for learning about the mysteries and wonders of migration for years. It has evolved from primitive forms such as coloured paper and metal rings to more intricate and brilliant technology such as GPS loggers and satellite transmitters.

On the Farnes, we study both the migrant birds that pass through the islands and the breeding birds that can be here for as little as three months. Both of these groups of birds can travel huge distances to be here, with Arctic Terns spending the winter in Antarctic waters and Wheatears taking on monster sub-Saharan migrations to and from their breeding grounds. The work we do out here is extremely interesting and has thrown up some great surprises over the years. 

Arctic Tern ringed ready to get on the wing!

For example, take our Puffins! Some birds ringed on the Farnes have lived to be over thirty years old, we have learned that some birds return to the same burrows every year and that some pairs can mate for life! Our colour ringing studies on Shags have unraveled some patterns of migration previously unknown to us. A lot of Farnes Shags spend the winter up in north-east Scotland and with many of these birds being affected in the recent seabird wrecks, our studies have never been more important.

Shag 'ZFP' originally ringed on the Isle of May now breeding on the Farnes.

Our intensive studies on Arctic Terns have revealed that birds often return to within a few feet of their nest site every year and our oldest birds (again over thirty!) will have totted up over a million miles simply migrating to the Farnes every year from their wintering grounds. Amazing!

Ringing migrant birds can be a great way to track their migrations across the country and all around Europe. A startling discovery last year came in the form of a young female Blackbird caught in one of the buildings sporting a very special piece of jewellery…. A Norwegian metal ring! We know that the thrushes passing through the islands in the autumn are coming from Scandanavia but it was great to get this kind of ‘in the hand’ proof. 

A Scandanavian surprise!

One hell of a journey, our nomadic Blackbirds' map. 

When a bird gets a ring, it’s like giving it an individual passport. It carries a unique code which identifies it as an individual and enables us to build up life histories for birds. It weighs a very small percentage of a birds bodyweight and is the equivalent of us wearing a watch or a ring. It can tell us how long birds live for, give us an insight into population dynamics, explain changes in habitat and climate and ultimately help us to understand birds in more detail.

Brambling passing through on the way to Scandanavia. 
Throughout the year we will be holding ringing demonstrations to try and show people the science behind bird ringing and get people up close and personal with birds. So fingers crossed, next time you pay a visit we might be able to share with you the rare treat of a bird in the hand!

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Happy Birthday Bex!

Ranger Bex in action! 
Bex's best find! Radde's Warbler in 2012!

Bex's picture of her favourite Farnes migrant, the Goldcrest!

Happy Birthday Bex! Every day is special on the Farnes but today gives the team an extra reason to celebrate! Bex, who is now into her third year working on the islands is the birthday girl and as a team we would all like to wish her all the best and many happy returns! Hope you have a great day on the islands and find some birthday birds! 

Monday 15 April 2013

Fantastic Four!

Spring Ouzel! Feeding with Redwing (Andy Denton)

Bonnie lad! Cracking Goldfinch stops over (David Kinchin-Smith)

Our first Willow Warbler of the year (Will Scott)

Black Redstart showing well (David Kinchin-Smith)

Monday 15th April comments: So it’s been a while since our last blog and finally it feels like spring migration is underway! Despite the westerly winds today has been a nice day of birding with some great highlights.

Four firsts for the year were seen today, starting with a House Martin seen early on in the day, just after an immature Glaucous Gull was seen to fly over a Black Redstart! Migration in action!!! Later on another first for the year came in the form of a stunning male Ring Ouzel! The bird was discovered feeding on the dock bank area of Inner Farne, catching plenty of worms and, as many migrant birds do, using the Farnes as a fuelling station before heading north to breed in Scandanavia.

Shortly after that the first Willow Warbler of the year was found fly catching out on the open rocks, along with ten Wheatear! As the team were watching this a brief fly-by sighting of a Sand Martin brought tally to four new birds for the year in one day! An action packed few hours! One of the best things about these birds is that we were able to share them with several very happy visitors!

The rough weather has made for a tough start for our seabirds but they are slowly starting to return to the islands. This evening 195 Sandwich Terns roosted, along with four Common Terns and two Arctic Terns. These birds have come from as far away as Antarctica and it’s great to have them back, even if they will be pecking our heads in a few weeks’ time!!! 

Friday 12 April 2013

Delaying the Laying

Puffins...late breeding?

Guillemots - average egg laying date?

Shags - any ideas or thoughts?

Friday 12th April comments: Tonight we have decided to look at three breeding seabirds, looking at their first egg laying dates and answering the question – are we concerned about this late start?

It’s been some start to the season as sub-zero temperatures and continued onshore winds resulted in above average mortality in March. The weather is yet to improve with the result that Puffins still haven’t settled on the islands (often seen coming and going on a daily basis). The first Puffin eggs have been discovered between 12 April-10 May with an average laying date of 27th April over the last thirty years. Although interestingly, the past six years has seen the first laying date become earlier and earlier, but this date will be checked this spring.

It’s been a tough winter and tough start for our Shags, as high winter mortality and an almost non-start to the season has raised many questions. However looking back, there have been fluctuations each decade although it is evident that the nesting season has become earlier in recent years with the first eggs discovered on 23rd March in the past two years. However this year, we are now expecting a much later date. In conclusion, the average laying date over the last thirty years for Shags has been 12th April.

There is not as much variation for the first egg laying dates compared to the other two species as the first eggs have been discovered between 9th-30 April. However like other nesting birds, there has been a tendency for earlier and earlier laying dates in recent years. The overall average laying date in the previous thirty years is 18th April.

Questions and Answers

Is our seabird breeding season going to be late: YES! For the majority of our early nesting seabirds; Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags;

Why is it late: As a direct result of the weather.

Are we concerned about this late start? NO!

Why: Birds will adjust and settle down in the near future, a late season isn’t always bad news!

Any other concerns? YES!

What are these concerns: We have little concern over the early start to the season although the continued poor weather has certainly effected our seabirds. The seabird wreck along the east coast has concerned us, with Puffins experiencing one of the worst wrecks in fifty years. Shags have also struggled and a big worry is the very low numbers of birds on breeding territories.

Explaining why certain events occur in seabirds colonies is never as straight forward as many believe. So many influencing factors make predicting the effects of a tough winter difficult. One of the most important jobs we do on the Farne Islands is counting and monitoring the delicate and special wildlife that call the islands home. It is more important now than it ever has been to understand the fragile ecosystems surrounding us and our work on the islands could provide the answers to many questions. All we can do now is play the old waiting game and see what this season brings, which will include a full census of our breeding Puffin population. Its going to be an interesting time and we just hope we get some settled weather and a good breeding season for our seabirds.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Better late than never!

You looking at me?


The sad demise of a stunning bird...Shags in serious trouble

Shelduck prospecting

Mallard pairing off and now on eggs

Kittiwakes present but doing very little

Herring Gulls keeping a watchful eye

Thursday 11th April comments: Three weeks in and we thought it would be a good time to review the start of the Farne Islands season. We use the term ‘start’ loosely, as it’s been anything but a start! The weather has dominated proceedings with a continued spell of easterly winds bringing low temperatures and heavy seas.

The resulting effects have seen seabirds struggling, with wrecks reported along the east coast in late March and for some, especially the Shags, compounding what had already been a poor winter for survival. It’s been a tough start and is in complete contrast to the last few years, where mild spring weather has encouraged early starts.

Some great examples of the contrasts are evident, as last year we had Shags on eggs by 23rd March but this year we still await the return of many birds. The blocking winds have also slowed migration as the evening roosts have produced just eight Sandwich terns – by this time last year we boasted over 600… It’s a very strange start, very slow and very cold. Frozen Planet Farnes.

Breeding bird update:

Shelduck: Pair present on Inner Farne daily prospecting.

Eiders: breeding season yet to start, small numbers around the islands displaying.

Cormorant: nest building and present on the two main colonies.

Shag: very few birds present following a poor winter (mortality high) with only slow signs of the breeding season starting.

Kittiwake: Paired up and present in small numbers on the cliff tops

Guillemots and Razorbills: Erratic behaviour with thousands of birds present for short periods but then out to sea and away from the islands for longer periods.

Puffins: spring cleaning of burrows and present occasionally over the last week.

Black-headed Gulls: numbers increasing (up to 600) with aerial displays starting.

Sandwich Tern: the blocking weather front has kept numbers low with a maximum of 8 present – there was 600 in the roost this time last year