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.
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.
Driving out yesterday I noticed a giveaway sign that there was some filming going on in town somewhere. I followed the signs and came across the film unit near my old school and pulled over to ask what they were filming. They were filming scenes for a new series of Last Tango in Halifax. It’s not something I’ve watched but my wife enjoys it and I thought I might get a few interesting photographs. The series tells the story of an older couple who lost touch in their teens but find love again in their 70’s through social media and is based on the story of the writers mother.
The crew were shooting driving scenes and were circling the local playing fields with the main characters in an open top car on the back of a film truck. The male lead is played by Derek Jacobi who I watched as a kid in I Claudius and the female lead by Anne Reid who I loved as one of Victoria Woods superb Dinnerladies.
It was tricky to get any great shots because of how the car was mounted on the truck and the reflection off a protective screen and the car windows. However it was fascinating to see how the shots were filmed.
I did get a couple of Derek Jacobi pretending to drive.
And a proper paparazzi type shot of Anne Reid being offered a snack in her car after the shots were completed. I did feel a bit guilty though encroaching on her even from a distance.
Sometimes you see something and some distant memory flickers and you know instantly what it is. This happened in Barbados when I saw my first Frigate bird, even though I’d only ever seen them in books or on TV.
One minute the bird is a dot on the horizon and then seemingly within seconds they are overhead skimming the waves looking for a meal. I did a little research as I had no idea what type of frigate bird they were or even if there was more than one species. There are apparently 5 types and these were the aptly named Magnificent Frigate bird. They soar on thermals and small breezes effortlessly covering huge distances without ever seeming to beat their wings.
They are huge birds with a wingspan up to 90 inches across and a wicked hooked beak which they use to pluck fish from the surface or intimidate other birds into dropping their catch. Females are black with a white chest and head while males are black with an irridescent sheen to their feathers. They also have a red throat which can be expanded like a balloon when they are trying to attract a mate.
Amazingly they never land on water and like the swift can spend days and nights in flight catching a sleep whilst flying. Absolutely stunning to see and their effortless flying skills were a joy to witness. True aerial freedom.
A friend recently bought a new camera and was keen to get out and about and asked me a good place to go. I suggested we could go to Studley Royal as the Red Deer rut is about to happen and if it hadn’t started he’d definitely get some great pictures with his new camera.
Unfortunately for us the deer were very placid with very little rut activity. A couple of the younger stags occasionally tried to get friendly with a female but they weren’t having any of it, and frankly their attempts to dress up their antlers were poor to say the least. It seems we were at least a week or two early.
But the weather was great so the photo opportunities were good and we enjoyed watching some photographers with no idea of field craft or how to approach animals slowly herd the deer in our direction.
As there wasn’t any real action I was keeping my eye out for anything out of the ordinary rather than just photographing the deer.
This young fallow deer was having a great time bouncing off some youthful exuberance.
A young stag decided that if they were good enough for squirrels then acorns were good enough for him.
These two fallow deer passed each other without seeming to notice the other was there, one in shadow the other in the sunshine.
As we were heading back to the car I commented that the big stags were conspicuous by their absence and I was beginning to wonder if something had happened to them when I noticed one all alone resting under a tree. His antlers marked him out as something special and when he wandered away I decided my money would be on him when the rut kicks off properly.
He decided to pause for a drink from a puddle and like a boxer between rounds seemed to swill his mouth. When the bell sounds for the start of the rut I think he’ll be ready.
We seem to be losing famous people by the day at the moment but there was one at the weekend which particularly struck me.
Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave which was made into the film Kes. When it played at the local cinema back in 1969 my Dad took me along to watch and my love affair with birds of prey began. I loved the film, who can forget the bullying games teacher, the scene where our hero gets the cane for no reason and the tragic outcome. If you haven’t seen it please do, you won’t be disappointed but you might struggle with the Yorkshire accents.
Later at school we read the book in English, the whole class waiting the moment when our quite posh English teacher had to read the line “and put his hand in the dog shit”. Imagine a class of 13 year olds hanging on every word and the disappointment when she substituted poo for the offending word!
So in memory of Mr Hines here are a couple more of my recent kestrel shots.
If you live in England you’re probably as sick as I am of the constant wet, grey and miserable weather we’ve been having all Winter long. So when I looked out of the curtains yesterday and the street was almost dry and the sky had a strange blue tint I decided I was off out with the camera whatever happened.
I had decided that the next time I managed to get out I would visit the RSPB reserve at Blacktoft Sands in East Yorkshire as I had read it was a good place to spot Marsh Harriers a bird I’d never seen. Its only an hours drive from home and is different to other reserves I’ve visited in that it’s predominantly a large reed bed with expanses of open water, In front of these lagoons are spacious and dry hides with big windows and unbroken views.
I spent the first hour or so visiting each hide to get the lay of the land and then sat down to photograph a few new birds. The first were a couple of shelducks which are quite large and brightly marked ducks who were hunkered down from the wind on a small island. It took me a while to spot the 6 or 7 snipe sheltering as well and they were soon joined by wigeon and teal trying to get out of the draft.
Moving down to the next hide I finally spotted the marsh harrier hunting low over the reeds looking for an early lunch. They were a long way away and I was willing them to head my way so i could get a decent shot. I had to settle for distant and cropped I’m afraid.
They were though a joy to watch and at one point three were hunting close together.
A fly by from one of my favourite subjects certainly made me smile and some formation flying from some black tailed godwits gave me another new bird I’d not seen before.
An excellent day out and I will be returning again as soon as the rain stops!!
Florence in Italy is the birthplace of the Renaissance, is home to masterpieces of art and architecture and in my opinion some of the best street sign art I’ve ever seen.
I wasn’t that impressed with the so called masterpieces in the Uffizi gallery. Lots of pictures of fat ugly babies painted by people who had obviously never seen a baby!
However on the streets of Florence people have been having a lot of fun with the street signs and we spent hours trying to spot new ones. These are just brilliant.
I recently published a book and a couple of the wonderful people who read my nonsense and like my pictures bought a copy. So thank you very much!
One blogger went beyond the call of duty though and not only bought my book and read it she even offered to correct some of the silly schoolboy errors I’d made. So this is a big thank you to Annette and if you don’t already follow her Why Not! Her blog is My Aberdeen Garden so please have a look, I’m sure she’ll appreciate you dropping in and if you have a book that needs editing I’d highly recommend her.
This pic is just for Annette so no peaking!