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.
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.
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.
Looking back through some photo’s from our travels I came across a couple of menu errors which had made me chuckle at the time.
One is from Rome and the other from a restaurant just off the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Just goes to show you can’t trust Google translate or your spellcheck.
The treats behind the glass of a Parisian delicatessen.
I don’t know if you’re anything like me but I love looking at the stats I get on my blog every day.
But mainly I love the map showing where my visitors have come from. I have a degree in Geography which apart from my love of the subject hasn’t really helped me in my career. I went to study geography for no other reason than my passion for it.
I love rivers, and glaciated valleys, tors, roche moutonees, ribbon lakes, ox bow lakes and hanging valleys. The names resonate and the study of how they were formed sucks me in.
How can you not love volcanoes, the raw power, the unpredictability and the danger. The shifting patterns of the weather and its effect on the land.
Maps are just beautiful. I can spend hours studying an atlas, I get lost, literally in the topography, the names and all the history they can suggest.
And the map on my blog stats has become a little bit of excitement during the day. Just to see where people live who have read the nonsense I write gives me a buzz. And seeing a new country appear is special every time.
So thank you for stopping by and if you know someone who lives in an out of the way country give them a nudge and get them to appear on my map.
I was born and bred in Yorkshire and after twenty years living away I moved back about 12 years ago for various reasons. Although we live in an old and run down former mill town in West Yorkshire we are very close to some of the most beautiful parts of the world. If I travel an hour or so West I can be on the coast, however that would be Lancashire and no-one goes there! If I travel East an hour or so I can be by the sea In Whitby, Sands End or Filey. South I can visit the Peak District in Derbyshire but if I travel North I’m in God’s backyard, the Yorkshire Dales.
Ribblehead viaduct is on the Settle to Carlisle rail line beloved by rail enthusiast the world over. Its a fabulous piece of architecture whether you’re a train buff or not and with a Swaledale sheep sauntering into view as iconically Yorkshire as you can get.
The Dales are full of wildlife from leaping salmon in the Ribble, peregrines nesting on Malham Cove, red deer on the moors to birds just grabbing a bite to eat.
There are also a lot of waterfalls in the Dales and one of the most impressive is Hardraw Force reputed to be the highest single drop waterfall in England. Not only is the Force an impressive sight it has to be in the strangest location because to get to it you have to go through the village pub. It doesn’t get much better than grabbing a pint of local ale and marvelling at a hundred foot high waterfall.
Its noisy, wet and muddy but definitely somewhere to take family and friends when they come to visit. And many of you will already have seen the Force without realising it. Its where Maid Marion spied on Robin Hood (Kevin Costner) in Prince of Thieves. If you can’t get enough of this movie Aysgarth Falls, about 30 minutes drive away, is where Robin fought Little John in the river.
Simple to see really why they call it God’s Own Country