Apart from the sheer spectacle of the wildlife on the Farnes I think the main attraction for most people is to get up close with a puffin. These comical and engaging birds are one of our most popular birds and when you’re virtually surrounded by them its easy to see why.
They’re not sleak and aerodynamic but rather round and pudgy. But their bright colours and incredible beaks mark them out as something special.
The puffin only comes ashore to breed spending the rest of the year floating and feeding out at sea. And their colourful plumage only lasts till their puffling hatches and heads off to sea. They shed the colourful additions to the beak and the triangular shaping around the eye falls off. When out at sea after breeding they’re a very plain bird, but on the Farnes they’re stunning.
They nest in burrows underground laying one egg which hatches around 40 days later. Once hatched the parents begin the continual feeding cycle all new parents go through. They fly out to sea to catch sand eels but unlike the terns are able to collect a proper beak full before returning thanks to a clever expanding section on their beak and ridges which mean they can stack fish without dropping them. Once they have a mouthful they have to run the gauntlet of gulls which try to mob them and make them drop their catch. They may fly round a few times before dashing in close to their burrow and scurrying to safety before the gulls can strike.
Once the puffling fledges it makes its way to the sea and it will be up to four years before it returns to land when it’s ready to breed.
They really are a joy to spend time with but remember to take an extra memory card and charged batteries because you will take hundreds of pictures.
It looks like the local rat may be nest building! I was watching it this week seemingly collecting twigs and dead leaves and scurrying off down its hole. Does this mean more rats on the way?
It has to be spotting a wild otter near where I live. One of those days when I had to drag myself out after a busy day at work when sprawling on the sofa seemed like the best idea.
So glad I went out! Not the greatest photo but the buzz I got when the foliage parted and out strolled an otter was unbelievable.
Bear in mind when I was a kid this river was so polluted it ran all the colours of the rainbow from the stuff dumped in it and was basically dead! Now it teems with fish , kingfishers, dippers, herons and this beauty.
As you make your way up through the Arctic Terns and out on to the top of the island you soon come across a small colony of Sandwich Terns. These are a similar size but are whiter with a black cap which can be raised when under duress into a shaggy crest. For some reason hemmed in together , hassled by gulls and photographers, they always seem to be a little stressed! They have a slim black beak with a yellow tip.
They nest crammed in together for protection and safety and will lay 1-3 eggs. Like the arctic tern as soon as the chicks hatch the parents are continually flying in with single sand eels to feed the growing chicks.
They are one of the earliest returning migrants to the UK generally starting to be spotted around March. Although their migration isn’t as impressive as the Arctic tern they will still cover huge distances with many overwintering as far away as South Africa. There are thought to be around 12.000 breeding pairs in the UK.
Like all terns they are incredible fliers and pull off incredible manoeuvres sometimes with their head the wrong way round.
The final tern seen on the Farne is the Common tern which is more silver with a red beak with a black tip. They also breed in noisy colonies and are graceful fliers and slightly more obvious because of their longer tails which have got them dubbed the “sea swallow”.
Although named Common the breeding numbers of these on the Farnes are much lower than the other two and most of them nest around the lighthouse at the top of the island.
There is one other tern which may be seen fishing around the Farnes but doesn’t breed on the island. This is the Roseate tern of which more later.
It’s taken me a long time to get round to writing about my trip to the Farnes last year but finally the images are all processed!!! I’m going to break the trip down into a number of blogs as I took so many photographs and there is so much interesting wildlife to talk about.
The Farne Islands are just off the coast of Northumberland in the North of England and are a haven for a multitude of sea birds and seals.
The first thing that hits you after you land on the islands is the fishy odour of bird poo, the second will probably be the beak of an Arctic Tern! These fabulous birds nest as close to the path up from the harbour as possible and like any protective parent will try to scare off anyone who gets too close. (Photography expert Steve Race picking up some tips from a local)
It really is a case of minding your feet as you walk while keeping your head covered. All along the side of the path are nests with eggs or chicks and parent birds either feeding or pecking visitors heads.The parent bird will spend a lot of time feeding their chicks as they only ever bring back one fish on each trip. The main food is the sand eel and they will feed themselves and then return with one for the youngsters. They lay between 1 and 3 eggs so will be constantly fishing.It’s hard to believe that when these tiny bundles of fluff fledge and begin to fly that one of their very first trips will be South to winter in the Southern Hemisphere summer close to the Antartic ice! When its parents return to breed again next year they will have covered on average a staggering 40,000 miles the longest migration on the planet. The oldest recorded Arctic Tern was 34 so would have covered in excess of a million miles in its lifetime. Any bird that can do that is welcome to peck my head.My trip to the Farne Islands was a Xmas present from my wife who booked it with Yorkshire Coast Nature. They organise wildlife tours and photography trips around the Yorkshire coast, dales and moors and I would recommend them to anyone with a passion for wildlife. Steve Race is the photography expert and Richard Baines the resident ecologist and between the two of them they are an endless mine of information, tips and facts. It really is like going away with two old friends and coupled with a group of like minded people makes for a very enjoyable fewdays away from the everyday stresses of work and teenage boys.
You can find their website here Yorkshire Coast Nature and I would highly recommend them if you want to see some of the stunning wildlife in this part of the country.
To be perfectly honest rats were never on my list of animals to photograph and in fact they’re not an animal I ever give much thought to. It’s said we’re never more than 12 feet away from a rat but they’re not something you see that often. They also have a bad press and are seen by many as dirty disease riddled pests. Until this week I’d probably have said the same if ever asked about them.
However I’ve changed my mind. Two rats have suddenly appeared foraging around below the feeders I’ve put up at work hoovering up anything the birds drop. At first I wasn’t that impressed they were there but thought why not they’re wildlife and actually they’re really quite photogenic. And they’re cleaning up the place as well.
I’m not too sure what the voles, mice and shrew might think of their new larger neighbours or even if they’re a threat to them, I hope not.
They do carry disease which can be passed to humans so being careful what I touch and good hand cleaning is important if they’re going to stick around.
Happy New Year
I’ve been looking back at some of my favourite pictures and I think this one is it. Hope you like it too.