Monday, 18 May 2015

Another Farne Islands Favourite - The Eider

Credit:  Wynona Legg

With the breeding season now fully underway on the Farne Islands there is no better time to come and visit. In an earlier posting on the blog we wrote about the Puffin, but the Puffin is just one of the amazing birds on the islands. Rhian Davies, one of the Farne's Assistant Rangers, now looks at another popular species, the Eider, known locally as the Cuddy Duck.

"The striking looks of the male eider and the close proximity of nesting females to the paths on the Farne Islands, make these ducks a firm favourite here.

"From a distance, the male common eider (Somateria mollissima) appears mainly black and white. With closer study you will notice the olive green markings running down the back of the neck. The breast feathers are a flushed pinky peach and the beak a yellowy green wedge.

Credit: S Lee

"In contrast female eiders are a cryptic pattern of browns. They could be mistaken for an entirely different species compared to the male, but note the body shape. Both female and male are appropriately buoyant looking for a duck that spends most of its time at sea and have an obvious wedge shaped face.

"The need for the female to be so well camouflaged becomes apparent now in the breeding season. She will spend 25 to 28 days incubating the eggs in a nest on the ground. The main form of protection for the eggs from predators such as herring gulls is to keep them hidden, which her camouflage allows her to do.

"Eider nests are especially cosy due to the use of the female’s downy feathers to line them. It is widely believed that female eiders pluck the feathers from themselves, but it has been suggested that they actually simply shed them. This is thought to be as a result of a change in hormone levels after mating, which stimulates the feathers to moult.

"After the last egg has been laid the female will not leave the nest unless disturbed. She survives on her body fat and the odd insect she can forage from the area immediately around where she is sat.

"We are lucky on the Farne Islands to gain such close views of these birds. Many females choose to nest close to the path as the passage of people keeps potential predators away from the nests. This proximity must be treated with respect so when stopping to look or photograph the nests please do so at a short distance so as not to disturb them. Many of the eggs are getting close to hatching so you may be lucky enough to spot the ducklings heading to sea too in the coming days."

For information about visiting the islands, see . You can follow all the hatching news, including that of the eiders, via the rangers' updates on Twitter @NTFarneIslands

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Supperclubs Return to Lindisfarne Castle

Credit: Wiesia Bojko

We are pleased to announce two dates for our renowned supperclub experiences at Lindisfarne Castle this summer, in collaboration with Newcastle food enthusiast and champion Anna Hedworth, aka @the_grazer.

Credit: Wiesia Bojko
The National Trust started working with Anna in 2013, keen to offer unique and different experiences at our places along the coast. Anna's successful ventures in Newcastle, operating supperclubs in interesting venues, and more latterly opening her own business, The Cook House, in the Ouseburn area of the city, make her one of the leading figures promoting good and interesting food in the north. Her passion for the subject and her great tasting dishes led us into discussions about working together, The National Trust providing some unique and exclusive venues for her food experiences. In the last two years we have held a number of sell-out supperclub events with Anna at both Lindisfarne Castle and in the intimate setting of St Cuthbert's Chapel on Inner Farne - great food in memorable settings.

Credit: Wiesia Bojko

"Working with the National Trust is a really exciting venture for me," says Anna, "and an amazing opportunity for people to have a very unique experience. I am providing the food and supperclub experience while the Trust are providing such an amazing venue - it's a potent mix that will create some unforgettable evenings of entertainment and great food." 

Credit: Wiesia Bojko

Limited to just 20 places each night, the supperclubs bring together people from across the country, to share tasty dishes at a long table, following a special behind the scenes tour of the host property, with our staff.

Tickets are now on sale for this year's two events at Lindisfarne. Full details including dates and menu, can be found on Anna's website 

Tickets can be booked by telephoning Lindisfarne Castle on 01289 389902 - a highly recommended event and a different way to enjoy one the north's most iconic castles.

Click here for further information on visiting Lindisfarne Castle . 

Anna's popular food blog can be seen at

Credit: Wiesia  Bojko

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Update from the Farne Islands #2 / 2015

A Break in the Weather, Brownsman Island Credit: S Lee

Now up to our full complement of seasonal Rangers for the summer,  last Friday saw the team divide in two to be able to staff and monitor both Inner Farne and Brownsman and Staple Islands. The trip to Brownsman with a boat load of kit was a wet and bitterly cold affair, but no sooner was the lugging and heaving through hail all done, the sun came out and promised a glorious afternoon ahead. This was short-lived as further bad weather set in over the weekend, restricting visitor access to the islands over the following days. A few windows in the weather though enabled limited opening on Inner Farne giving opportunities for visitors to land and see the increasing numbers of birds, many posting some great images on social media of the Puffins, Guillemots, Shags and Razorbills.

Misty View from the Top of the Pele Tower Credit Wynona Legg

Here's a few highlights of the last few days from the Rangers:

1st May: Arctic Terns, Swallow, Manx Shearwater and Merlin spotted on Brownsman.

2nd May: 22 Little Terns in the roost as well as hundreds of Arctic and Sandwich Terns. On Brownsman the return of a pair of Puffins was noted, unusual in their habit of nesting above ground rather than in a burrow.

3rd May: A busy day. The Arctic Terns landed to settle in the Chapel courtyard on Inner Farne. On Brownsman the poor weather and south-easterly wind was bringing birds in thick and fast. White Wagtail, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Tree Pipit, Chaffinch, Meadow Pipit, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Glaucous Gull and Collared Dove were all noted. 

4th May: A pair of nesting Mallard on Inner Farne hatch 9 ducklings and the first Shag chicks are spotted.

Despite the weather the team have been active across the islands with the monitoring, hoping the weather will settle to be able to open the islands more fully to visitors and share the latest news. 

Nesting Eider Credit: S Lee

Sketches of Eider  Credit: Wynona Legg

May and June are some of the best months for visiting the islands  as the breeding season is in full swing. If planning a visit it is worth having a look at our website . And don't forget, you can share your experiences and pictures of your visit with us on Twitter, @NTFarneIslands and @Northumb_Coast .