Friday, 13 May 2016

It's All Kicking Off

Mid-may on the islands is always an exciting time of year; the seabirds are all back and we are fast approaching having all our species on eggs. It's not all about the seabirds though, as May also brings with it the excitement of migration.

First, an update on the seabirds. Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags are all on eggs, and some of the latter on chicks! The Kittiwakes will not be far behind, and we expect to see them on eggs any day now. Incubation periods for these birds range from 30 to 40 days, so come mid June the cliffs will be covered in seabird chicks. With all this action on the cliffs, it means its a great time of year to visit, especially as in the next few days we also expect to see our first Arctic tern eggs!

Razorbill incubating. Not the most comfortable-looking of positions ©Ed Tooth

Guillemot tending to it's egg ©Ed Tooth

Proud Shag with 3 prehistoric looking chicks ©Ed Tooth

Speaking of Arctic Terns, these magnificent wanderers are well and truly back, and in recent days have been creating their nest scrapes ready for imminent egg laying. You may remember that last year we put some geolocators on the Terns, so we could track their movements over the winter. We are very excited to report that we have seen at least 4 of them back on the islands. Now all we have to do is catch them again!

Arctic Tern sporting geolocator number 9 ©Ed Tooth

We are also pleased to report that our habitat trial plots are being well used at present. We set up a number of shingle and sand plots around Inner Farne and Brownsman to see if the Arctic Terns would use them. For us, it's a way of controlling the rampant vegetation effectively, and for them it's hopefully some ideal new nesting habitat. Our Sandwich and Common Tern are also back and days away from egg laying, and when combined with the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, they make central meadow a noisy and crowded place.

Arctic Terns displaying on the new shingle plots ©Ed Tooth

And we can't forget the Farnes favorite, the Puffin. Most of the occupied burrows now have eggs, and above ground the islands are littered with thousands of theses colorful little characters. Puffin cam is also proving a hit in the visitor center. Three out of the four cameras are beaming live footage of incubating Puffins, and we are keeping all our fingers and toes crossed that in around a month, visitors will be able to get a unique insight into the underground world of a Puffling! We have also spotted our first Eider ducklings of the year, and the islands are now home to hundreds of dedicated females sitting tight on their clutches of eggs.

Puffin cam in action

Nesting Eider lying low ©Ed Tooth

Away from the seabirds, it has been an exciting week on the islands for migratory birds. Each spring the rangers constantly check the weather forecast, hoping to see easterly winds pop up. In the last few days an easterly airflow from the continent made all our dreams come true, and we enjoyed a fantastic few days birding. The accolade of star bird goes to the Thrush Nightingale that was found on Brownsman on the 10th, the eastern European equivalent of our own Nightingale. There was a frantic dash for the boat as rangers took turns visiting Brownsman to get fantastic views of this rare vagrant. It represents only the 4th record for the islands and the 11th for Northumberland. Running a close second was not one, not two but THREE Bluethroat that visited the islands. A strong supporting cast including Gadwall, Black Tern, Iceland Gull, Marsh Harrier, Tree Pipit, 3 Spotted Flycatcher, 5 Redstart, 2 Black Redstart, 11 Wheatear, Garden Warbler, 10 Blackcap, 4 Lesser Whitethroat, 6 Whitethroat, 2 Sedge Warbler and a Grasshopper Warbler has made for some very happy rangers this week.  

Star bird! Thrush Nightingale ©Ed Tooth

Stonking male Redstart ©Ed Tooth

Grasshopper Warbler putting in a rare appearance out in the open ©Ed Tooth

One of the three Bluethroat to visit the islands ©Charlotte Altass

With more easterlies forecast for next week, and tens of thousands of seabirds present daily, now is surely the time to visit. So grab your Tern hat and binoculars and come and see us!

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