Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Farne Islands Roundup

This year the National Trust celebrated 90 years of looking after the Farne Islands and as the rangers prepare to leave their island home for the winter season, here is a quick look at the highs and lows of 2015.

The major success story has been that of the Guillemots, which had another record year as numbers hit 53,461 individuals. The Farnes is a safe haven for them to breed and the surrounding sea provides a plentiful supply of sand eels for them to feed their chicks. Numbers continue to go up and up with this species, and as recently as 2002 it was half that number (25,498)! Shags also faired well. Following poor weather in 2013 the population crashed, but they have experienced two good breeding seasons since and  we should see the population start to recover nicely. This year productivity was 1.67 chicks fledged per breeding pair, compared to the 5 year mean of 1.71.

A bazaar of Guillemots                                                                © Chris Lockyer

The ringing programme continued this year with over 200 Shags being fitted with a darvik ring; a coloured ring readable in the field featuring 3 letters. If you are out and about on the North East coast this winter and spot a Shag with one of these rings please send us the data! We are trying to learn where our Shags spend their winters.

It’s not all about seabirds. Pied Wagtails and Swallows had record years, with 9 recorded Pied Wagtail nests and 11 Swallow nests. The swallows have now taken up residence in St Cuthbert’s chapel, our visitor centre, two store rooms and the Longstone Lighthouse.

Puffins                                                                                   © Ed Tooth

Sadly it wasn’t good news for all species this year. It was a notably windy season and the islands were battered by two major storms. The main damage was done when 31.5mm of rain fell over two days in early July, when most of the islands breeding species were sitting on chicks. Puffin burrows were flooded, Kittiwake nests were washed clean off the cliffs and many Tern chicks died in the rain. Puffin productivity fell from 0.91 chicks fledged per breeding pair (5 year mean) to just 0.46. Arctic Terns  also suffered. As surface feeders they rely on calm waters to be able to feed, and this coupled with the usual predation pressure they face proved too much, and productivity was just 0.21 chicks fledged per breeding pair (5 year mean 0.65).

The team on the islands battled through the weather to carry out their annual monitoring programme. This year a record number of Arctic Tern nests (1332) were monitored. Arctic Terns were also fitted with Geo-locaters, which we hope to recover from them next year to discover more about their migration routes. The seal monitoring programme is still ongoing and the rangers are hoping to reach 1800 pups by the end of December. 

Arctic Tern and chick                                   © Chris Lockyer
It was a brilliant year for cetaceans with 157 separate sightings. A basking shark and 30 sightings of White-beaked Dolphin were the undoubted highlights. The sighting of a Surf Scoter flying over the islands was another highpoint. This American sea duck is rare in British waters, and it was only the second time one has been seen on the islands.

The rangers are getting ready to shut the islands down for the winter season. The Zodiac boats are sent for their annual service on the mainland, machinery goes in for repair and the ranger team enjoy a well deserved rest before they start preparations for the 2016 season. 

Special thanks to Ed Tooth and Chris Lockyer for image permissions

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