Thursday, 29 October 2015

'Dicing with death' on the Farne Islands

The breeding birds are long gone but there is still plenty to do for the team on the Farne Islands. As they prepare to close the Islands to visitors for the winter season, the rangers are adjusting to exciting yet potentially hazardous seal pup monitoring. Lana, one of the Islands rangers lets us know how the team are getting on. 
'I am happy to report that there have been very few close calls so far and all our limbs are still intact however the phrase ‘dicing with death’ does come to mind when dealing with some of the more possessed pinnipeds. The process involves five or more of the rangers covering the islands counting the already sprayed pups and searching for unmarked pups.  When an unmarked pup is found three rangers distract the females whilst the sprayer dyes the pup’s tail being careful to avoid the pup’s eyes.  Spraying expeditions are carried out every four days to ensure we don’t become overwhelmed by new births and that we don’t compromise the welfare of the pups by causing a detrimental amount of disturbance.  So far we have sprayed approximately 60 pups in a range of dye colours.'

Day old seal pup on Staple Island.                                                                                  ©Tom Hibbert

'As well as seals to entertain us we’ve been kept busy counting the migratory birds that use the Farnes as a much needed rest stop.  In the last couple of weeks we’ve had good passage of Thrush (Blackbird, Song thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare) heading through, with numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare hitting the thousands (1197 and 1321 respectively), as well as an impressive count of 148 Brambling. 2015 has also been a good year for Short-eared owl sightings with a peak count of 8 (possibly more!) on the 16th Oct.  This matches the record count of 8 on 13th Oct 2011 for this lovely bird.  During this time we had a large influx of Goldcrests with up to 60 birds counted on one day.    We had great views of these trusting little birds, the highlight being a group of 5 cuddling up together to keep warm whilst roosting in a Greater Burdock.  Last, but by no means the least was a lovely surprise in the form of a Dusky Warbler on the 16th, representing the 8th record for the islands and making it two years on the trot for this lovely little “Sibe” warbler.  Good views were had by all.

This time of year also sees us carrying out lots of maintenance work that couldn’t be done during the breeding season.  We have just had 3 tons of wood delivered to Inner Farne to carry out important boardwalk repairs. On the habitat management side of things, lots of strimming and nettle removal has been carried out in preparation of the breeding birds returning next year.  We hope that by opening up areas formerly taken over by nettle we can create additional nesting areas for Sandwich, Common and Arctic who require a short sward height to nest successfully.'

3 tons of wood being transported over to the islands!                                                                  ©Ed Tooth
'After our last opening day on 1st November, the next few weeks will see us replacing large sections of the boardwalk in preparation for next seasons visitors.  Seal pup monitoring will hit its peak in the first couple of weeks in November so it will be all hands on deck for the ranger team!  Watch this space for further updates on how the seal season progresses.'

Friday, 16 October 2015

The Long Nanny Breeding Season

Winter seems to be upon us here on the coast and as we welcome the arrival of our wintering birds, the ranger team have been reflecting on the summer breeding season.

The Terns that breed on the Long Nanny site near Beadnell had a difficult season. After the first egg was laid on the 18th of May, unseasonable weather, strong tides and a good number of predators led to heavy losses for some species. The stoat and her kittens were the dominant predator, remaining throughout the season and causing breeding Terns to abandon entire areas of the site despite the rangers’ best efforts to protect them.

© National Trust

Arctic Terns had a tough year, raising only 40-50 fledglings. This may have contributed to the dramatic inter-species conflict that occurred between Little Terns and Arctic Terns; with Arctic Terns observed attacking and killing Little Tern chicks; most likely resulting from the loss of their own broods.

Despite this the 27 pairs of Little Terns were successful in fledging a minimum of 14 chicks and Ringed Plovers, who also breed on the Long Nanny spit, raised between 12 and 17 fledglings.

© National Trust
The site was finally collapsed on the 3rd August assisted by a willing team of volunteers helping to bring in hundreds of metres of rope and electric fencing that had been protecting the Terns while they had been breeding on the beach. After a few days, the only signs that we were ever there is the hut, which remains throughout the winter, and the bare patches in the dunes where the rangers’ tents were pitched.

© Jane Lancaster

We would like to say a massive thank you to the team of rangers and volunteers who were essential in the protection of these delicate birds as they monitored the site 24/7, working in all weathers. The rangers also welcomed visitors to the site, answering questions and pointing out the different breeding bird species. They were also instrumental in informing beach-goers about the reason for the restricted access at certain points on the beach (reinforced with fencing and signs) and to explain to dog-walkers the importance of keeping their dog at heel or on the lead when near the terns.

© Victoria Knight

The National Trust’s Long Nanny Tern site is part of the EU LIFE Little Tern project, which is a partnership of organisations working together to ensure the Little Tern’s long-term future! Although our Terns have finished breeding and left for their wintering grounds, if you are interested in volunteering with us next year to protect these special birds please email the National Trust:

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Nation's Ode to the Coast

The Nation’s Ode to the Coast has been unveiled, a poem written for the nation with verses inspired by the public’s memories of what makes our coast so special. The British public helped Dr. John Cooper Clarke finish the nation's poem by sharing over 11,500 contributions of why they #love the coast.

The National Trust’s Neptune Coastline campaign is one of the longest running environmental campaigns in Western Europe and has resulted in the charity managing 775 miles of coast, equating to almost 10% of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s coastline.

Friday, 2 October 2015

First seal pup of the season

The first seal pup of the year has been born on the Farne Islands, marking the start of this year’s annual seal count by the Islands’ resident Rangers. 

© National Trust

Every year, over 1500 pups are born on the islands, which is one of the largest Atlantic grey seal colonies in England with a population estimated at 5000

The breeding season for seals on the Farnes sometimes starts as early as mid-September with the majority of pups being born in October and November. Although the pups can swim at an early age they don’t normally leave the breeding colony until they have been weaned and moulted their white coats.

© National Trust