Thursday 29 August 2013

Shear Numbers

Sooty Shearwater with its smaller relatives Manx Shearwaters (David Kinchin-smith)

Sooty Shearwater with Manx Shearwaters (David Kinchin-smith)

Manx Shearwater - one of 1,000! (Bex Outram)

Present daily and so impressive (Bex Outram)

Thursday 29th August comments: The settled weather has remained and yet again we have more to shout about. The majority of migrants have now departed to continue their journey south, although our Cuckoo remains as it fattens up on the islands’ abundant supply of caterpillars.

Our attention was once again focused on the sea and the impressive numbers of Manx Shearwaters which have been present in recent days. An early morning seawatch revealed a stunning Farnes record count of 1,008 in one large ‘super-flock’ in Inner Sound, with two Balearic and a single Sooty Shearwater also in attendance.

It’s hard to explain why we have these unprecedented numbers around Farnes’ waters at this moment, although we suspect it is linked to the huge amount of food in the adjacent sea. As well as the ‘Manxies’, over 1,000 Gannets were feeding around the islands which is an impressive sight by any standards. Yet more evidence of how important the Farne Islands and the surrounding waters are to our national seabirds.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Second Helpings

2nd this year; Greenish Warbler arrives on Brownsman (Ciaran Hatsell)

Still present; Balearic Shearwater (Ciaran Hatsell)

A rare Mediterranean visitor; Balearic Shearwater (David Kinchin-smith)

Plenty of Manx Shearwater's (Ciaran Hatsell) 

..and our 2nd cuckoo of the year is still with us (David Steel)

Wednesday 28th August comments: Another day and another impressive array of arrivals. The morning began with over 800 Manx Shearwaters and 31 Sooty Shearwaters, and that was all before 9am! Chuck in a scattering of migrant birds and the lingering Cuckoo (for its third day on Inner Farne), it was a bright start to another day on the Farnes.

Not long after breakfast a Greenish Warbler was found on Brownsman; the same bird as seen at the weekend? No! This individual was unringed, indicating a new arrival (our second of the year) and adding to the collection of east coast arrivals.

And we weren’t finished there! The large number of Manx Shearwaters brought one of the lingering Balearic Shearwaters into Inner Sound between Inner Farne and the mainland, whilst a pod of Harbour Porpoise added to the scene. Finally, the Citrine Wagtail which was discovered yesterday (our second this year) was rediscovered, completing another stunning morning.

So why not come out and share this with us? With daily bird ringing demonstrations, birds coming and going and the chance of a cetacean or two, why not visit and enjoy one of the finest nature reserves in Europe.  

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Make Mine a Double

Lightning strikes twice: second Citrine Wagtail of the year (Graeme Duncan)

Feeding on the rocks; Citrine Wagtail (Graeme Duncan)

Farnes 5th record (Ciaran Hatsell)
Tuesday 27th August comments: Today proved that lightning can strike twice! Having waited ten years for a Citrine Wagtail (which duly arrived last Friday), the Farnes struck gold again, with another!

With a light south-easterly wind blowing overnight, the anticipation of new migrant arrivals was soon realised as a piercing call of a Citrine Wagtail was heard as it flew past Brownsman cottage. Much to the relief of the resident ranger team, the bird was soon relocated on nearby rocks and showed well over the following thirty minutes or so. Thereafter the bird moved onto Staple Island and the team went about their daily work, but amazingly the bird reappeared at dusk, as it was seen going to roost with over thirty Pied Wagtails.

Other highlights included the Cuckoo on Inner Farne for its second day, good numbers of Manx Shearwaters lingering whilst the Balearic Shearwaters were reported again today. Another good day on the Farne Islands!

Monday 26 August 2013

We're on the Bal!

Balearic Shearwater on the sea off the islands (Graeme Duncan)

First ever to be photographed on the islands? (Graeme Duncan)

Balearic....Manx...Balearic A great combo (Ciaran Hatsell)

Monday 26th August comments: It’s been another good day on the Farnes with yet more unexpected twists. Following the arrival of lots of common migrants (with a few goodies mixed in), there was a general clear-out overnight with the Greenish, Icterine and Rosefinch all gone.

However the Farnes being the Farnes, they still produced. A late afternoon Cuckoo on Inner Farne might have stole the headlines (a scarce bird out here) until two unexpected Mediterranean visitors arrived.

Over the last week or so, unprecedented numbers of Manx Shearwaters have been lingering in large feeding parties and 986 were counted this morning – an impressive haul by any standards. However this super flock produced the star of the show as not one, but two Balearic Shearwaters were found loafing near the outer group.

Balearic Shearwaters are a critically-endangered seabird which breed in the Mediterranean but head north to the Bay of Biscay to moult in late summer. At this time, small numbers usually penetrate the North Sea during this period and the Farnes have had almost annual records over the last twenty years or so.

However to see not one, but two on the sea in a flock of Manx Shearwaters was special and there is even a suggestion that these birds were the first ever photographed from the islands. We’ll not dispute the claim and we’ll not dispute it was another magic moment for Planet Farnes.  

Sunday 25 August 2013

Catch of the day!

Fogbound! Islands shrouded in dense fog (David Steel)
Sedge Warbler in the hand (Graeme Duncan)
Trans-Saharan traveller! Sedge Warbler head detail (Graeme Duncan)
The green machine showing it's subtle beauty (Graeme Duncan)
Heads up! The Farnes 11th Greenish Warbler (Graeme Duncan)
Ring added, will it be caught again?! (Graeme Duncan)
Icterine Warbler showing well! (David Steel)
Rosefinch still present and feeding up (Ciaran Hatsell)
Sunday 25th August comments: It’s been another foggy day on Planet Farnes, but the light winds have allowed us to do some bird ringing.

We ring birds for many reasons, from something as simple as learning how long birds live for to tracking birds on amazing migrations across the globe. Ringing has been used as a conservation tool for over 100 years now and we are still learning things every day!

Today saw good numbers of Willow Warbler caught along with a Sedge Warbler, several Rock Pipits and a Pied Flycatcher. Amongst the Willow Warblers was a very special bird, as the team approached the nets, there it was...... The Greenish Warbler!! It was very nice to see this bird a little closer and study the plumage details in the hand. The bird was carrying a little bit of fat and had a healthy weight. There is certainly plenty of food about on the islands at the moment with caterpillars creeping out of every nook and cranny and flies everywhere!

The bird, like many others, is using the islands as a fuel stop, feeding as much as it can before it heads off to wintering grounds in India. Good luck little fella!

The team also had more migrant birds coming in, with yet another surprise in the form of an Icterine Warbler found on the West Wideopens this evening. The beauty of birdwatching on the Farnes is that you never know what will turn up next! Come out and enjoy some migrants with the team as weather permitting, we’ll be doing ringing demonstrations all autumn. 

Saturday 24 August 2013

Green Machine!

The little Green Machine! (Ciaran Hatsell)

Playing hide and seek! (Ciaran Hatsell)

Eastern Gem, wouldn't stay still! (Ciaran Hatsell)

Awful record shot of the Common Rosefinch! (Ciaran Hatsell)

Tree Pipit showing well, on the cottage roof! (Ciaran Hatsell)

Garden Warbler stops for a rest! (Ciaran Hatsell)

Grasshopper Warbler Farnes style, not a reedbed in sight! (Ciaran Hatsell)

Pied Flycatcher perches up (Ciaran Hatsell)

Spotted Flycatcher showing well (Bex Outram)

Another shot of yesterdays Citrine Wagtail! (David Steel)
Saturday 24th August 2013 comments: And then, they came!

The last two days have seen a deluge of migrant birds invading the Farnes, from the common to the rare, it’s been something for everyone to enjoy. Both Rangers and visitors alike have been experiencing the miracles of migration, as light easterly winds and rain brought birds to the islands.

It all started yesterday with a stunning Citrine Wagtail found on Inner Farne, the fourth ever record for the islands! A good omen. If that wasn’t enough, this morning then saw the discovery of a fantastic Greenish Warbler on Brownsman Island, which was found feeding amongst seaweed, bouncing around the island like a tennis ball! It was very active and just wouldn’t say still, finding plenty of food and fuelling up before a long migration south. The bird represents just the 11th record for the islands and the second in two years for this eastern gem.

In addition to this a great variety of migrants were present on the islands, including several that were caught and ringed as part of ringing demonstrations happening on the islands throughout the autumn. We’ll blog about these soon!

To cap off the fall, a Common Rosefinch was discovered on Brownsman late evening, the first since 2011 and a cherry on top of a nice migrant cake! With more light winds forecast, who knows what will happen next?! Keep your eyes on Planet Farnes, it’s about to go intergalactic!

Today’s Totals: Greenish Warbler 1, Common Rosefinch 1, Pied Flycatcher 8, Spotted Flycatcher 3, Redstart 1, Whinchat 8, Garden Warbler 5, Whitethroat 1,  Grasshopper Warbler 1, Willow Warbler 19, Tree Pipit 4, Wheatear 5. 

Friday 23 August 2013

A Tail of the Unexpected!

First-winter Citrine Wagtail (David Kinchin-smith)

Showing well at times (David Kinchin-smith)

On the rocks (David Kinchin-smith)
Only fourth island record

Friday 23rd August comments: At this time of year anything can happen on the Farne Islands. More often than not, it can be quiet and the peace and tranquillity has its own appeal. However if the weather (more to the point, the wind) turns to a certain direction (anything with east in it), then migrant birds can appear and descend on the islands.

Today was one of those days and an early morning round of the islands revealed a scattering of migrants, with a real highlight; a Citrine Wagtail. The bird, a rare migrant to the British Isles from Russia and beyond, was discovered on Inner Farne and remained until mid-afternoon. It was a very welcome addition for the year and represents only the fourth Farnes record following individuals in October 2003, September 2000 and September 1989.

Alongside this, a good scattering of common migrants were grounded including two Grasshopper Warblers, Reed Warbler, two Pied Flycatchers, two Redstarts and Tree Pipit amongts others. With promising forecasts, the weekend could be good and with visitor boats landing, you can come along and get involved. You'll not be disappointed! 

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Shear Delight

Lift off! Manx Shearwater (Ciaran Hatsell)

Showing well.... (Ciaran Hatsell)

Great views (Ciaran Hatsell)

An impressive number (Bex Outram)

Coming in to land (David Kinchin-smith)

Great views of a great bird (David Kinchin-smith)
Tuesday 20th August comments: The Farnes is a magnet for seabirds and in late summer we attract good numbers of Manx Shearwaters on passage. These ‘tubenoses’ don’t breed on the Farnes (they are west coast breeders) but over the last few days, good numbers have been reported locally. 

After sightings of several hundred on the sea yesterday, the team took to the water in their trusty Zodiac boats and soon were surrounded by Manx Shearwaters. The birds were in one large feeding flock, plunge diving in search of food and it was some seabird spectacular. Over 300 were counted with a final estimate of 400 birds on the sea. Impressive by any standards! The record count for the Farnes is just over 700 birds, so this is quite a significant sighting!

Manx Shearwaters are incredible birds, living for over 50 years and flying thousands of miles every year. They cover incredible distances on migration, breeding in Wales and wintering off the coasts of Brazil and Argentina! Similar to Puffins, they nest in burrows, the chicks leave at night and head out to sea. However, instead of floating around in the Atlantic, they head straight to South America!

It is an honour and a privilege to share our waters with these stunning birds, so hopefully they’ll stay around longer for everyone to enjoy. Several Harbour Porpoise were feeding around the large flock of Shearwaters, adding to the incredible spectacle. With the food supply around the islands the best we have ever seen, the Farnes are increasingly becoming one of the most important places in Britain for seabirds. Let them feed! 

Sunday 18 August 2013

On the Move

Willow Warblers on the move south

Purple Sandpipers returning from the high north

Black-tailed Godwits moving through

Dunlin feeding on Brownsman pond
Sunday 18th August comments: The month of August brings changes to the Farnes as our breeding seabirds gradually depart but are replaced by migratory birds heading south for the winter. The Farnes act as an important ‘service station’ with everything from Goldcrests to Willow Warblers taking advantage as they ‘fuel up’ on juicy caterpillars, insects and much more.

A good example was seen on the islands yesterday with almost 30 Willow Warbler, Redstart, Sedge Warbler and Blackcap all discovered taking advantage of the available food source. It’s not just passerines on the move, as waders are also filtering through from the high arctic with Black-tailed Godwits, Purple Sandpipers and Dunlin gracing the islands. Even the Bridled Tern reappeared for two days last week, so anything is possible.

As autumn migration picks up, we’ll be on hand to show people the birds that make this place special and with bird ringing demonstrations planned, it’ll be well worth a visit… 

Friday 16 August 2013

Cormorant crash

A strong and healthy Cormorant chick


Ringing team in action

Friday 16th August: As the breeding season starts drawing to a close, we’ve started crunching numbers, chewing data and discovering exactly what the season has brought for our breeding seabirds. Over the next few weeks we'll bring you a review of the main breeding species and tonight we'll start with the Cormorants.

Cormorants have nested on the Farne Islands for centuries although unlike their smaller cousins; the Shags, Cormorants are very wary birds and nest well away from people. The Farnes support three small colonies as birds next on  the East Wideopens, North Wamses and Big Harcar. As with all the breeding seabirds this year, the season started late as low temperatures and heavy seas resulted in the first nesting attempts in mid-April.

To make matters worse, this year saw the lowest breeding total on the islands since records began with only 87 pairs nesting (a drop of 48 pairs from last year). This decline continues the recent trend with over 280 pairs nesting as recent as the mid-1990's. The reasons behind the decline are not clear, although poor breeding success and persecution are suspected.

Despite the small numbers nesting, breeding success was relatively good and for the first time in over thirty years, the team gained access and ringed a small number. Hopefully this research will allow us to start to piece together what exactly is happening to our population. Overall the final term report would read 'a reasonable season but could do better'.