Saturday, 18 June 2016

Wet Wet Wet

"Wind and rain are all around us, that's how this season goes." Apologies for that. It seems like a huge cliché to talk about how summer hasn't arrived and it seems to have passed us by, but unfortunately it doesn't stop it being true. The last few weeks have seen the islands spend more days closed than we would like in a whole summer, as young chicks and parents battle against the elements.

Guillemot in the fog. A typical 2016 summer view ©Ed Tooth

Mid-June is pretty much peak time for seabirds on the islands, as all species are at full tilt trying to find food to raise their rapidly growing and ever-hungry young. Adult birds usually only leave their chicks alone when they are old enough to thermoregualte and not need constant brooding, but this year the cold weather has meant that those unattended chicks are perishing. Even Arctic Tern chicks which are being brooded are struggling to survive, as a combination of cold and damp is proving too much to cope with. We desperately need some warmth.

While it is a matter of life and death for the birds, it also causes frustration for visitors and rangers alike. We have to take every precaution when it comes to protecting our seabirds, so when the weather is as poor as it has been recently we have to shut the islands. This is mainly for the Arctic Tern, as it means they can put all their attention into protecting and brooding their eggs and young rather than being disturbed. It also means long days for the rangers, as we are stuck inside when we should be out counting, ringing and showing the public around these amazing islands.

We've been able to grab the odd Puffin that finds its way into our accommodation ©Ed Tooth

In sunnier times, ringing and processing Shag chicks  ©Dan Iceton

Shag in a bag  ©Dan Iceton

We have just about managed to get our cliff counts finished as rough seas stopped play for a total of 8 days, and it came right down to the wire as we started to witness Guillemot chicks leaving the cliffs in their hundreds in recent days. Early signs are that numbers of most species are going to be down on last year, but considering the weather we have had this year that comes as no surprise. 

Our zodiac in happier times, when the sea was calm enough for us to do our sea counts ©Ed Tooth

The good news is that once the islands re-open, visitors can expect to see plenty of chicks. The cliffs are alive with the sound of peeping Guillemot chicks and over half our Arctic Tern now have young at various stages. Add to that Razorbill, Shag, Sandwich Tern and Black-headed Gull chicks, and that is a whole lot of adorable fluff. Anyone visiting the islands will also get the opportunity to look into the underground world of a Puffling. We now have permanent burrow cams on 4 nests, broadcasting live into the visitor centre. We are happy to report that 3 of them now have chicks, all hatched within the last few days. 

Kittiwake chick  ©Dan Iceton

Razorbill and it's chick  ©Dan Iceton

You may have also seen that we have had Springwatch with us for the last few weeks. It was great having Iolo Williams and the team out on the islands, and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. If you did watch then you will know that we have a couple of stories that we will be keeping you up to date with. 

The first is our incredible record-breaking Arctic Tern, that was tagged last year by Dr Chris Redfern and Dr Richard Bevan from Newcastle University. They attached Geo-locators to some of our Arctic Tern last spring, in the hope of tracking their movements over their amazing migrations. We weren't prepared for just how amazing it would turn out to be though. It doesn't seem that long ago that we were celebrating as the first logger was spotted on a returning bird! Once the logger was retrieved a few weeks later it revealed the bird had travelled from the Farne Islands to Antarctica, via West Africa and then back again via the Kerguelen Islands and the Indian Ocean. This bird made a phenomenal 96,000k round trip, the longest migration of any bird ever recorded. Now affectionately know as Arctic Tern number 91 thanks to the monitoring stone allocated to it, we will keep you up-to-date with how the breeding season goes for this special bird. We are now happy to report that the pair have hatched 2 chicks! It is also worth remembering that the other 1600 odd Arctic Terns on the islands make similar, just as spectacular journeys, and we also have another 17 loggers to process data from!      

A rudimentary map of the journey Arctic Tern 91 took! There is a lot of data still to process .

Life becomes a lot busier for Arctic Tern 91 with two chicks to raise  ©Tom Hibbert

The second story involved our log pile Puffin on Brownsman. This pair have come back to nest in this slightly unusual location, under a pile of driftwood in the vegetable garden. It was timed to perfection that on the last night of the programme the chick hatched.

Away from the breeding birds, typically for this time of year migration has slowed a little. Recent highlights came in the arrival of a Quail on Inner Farne and a male Nightjar on Staple on the 13th June, the 24th and 12th records respectively for the islands. We also bagged the first Pied Flyctacher of the season, a stonking and long-overdue male on 7th June and a Storm Petrel seen feeding off Longstone on 3rd June made a nice addition to the year list. A more galling record came in the form of some beautiful photos sent in by a visitor of an Icterine Warbler, taken on Staple on the same morning as the Rosefinch and 2 Red-backed Shrike were present. Retrospective ID from photos is reasonably common, and we are very grateful to the visitor for sending the photos to the county recorder, as this bird represented the first record of the season, and rounds off a rather productive spring migration. 

That's all for now, so if you want to find out how Arctic Tern 91, log pile Puffling and all our other magnificent seabirds get on then stay tuned here and on our Twitter feed @NTFarneIslands. 

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