Tuesday, 26 April 2016

With Fronds Like These...

The waters around the Farne Islands are rich in marine life, and by undertaking regular surveys of the creatures found around our shores we can gain an insight into the health of this enigmatic environment.

The recent Super Moon has given us an excellent chance to do this, and we’ve had a fantastic time embarking on team rock pool adventures. A Super Moon is when the moon is closer to the earth than usual (there are 6 this year), which causes larger than usual tides. We have taken full advantage of these extremely low tides and discovered a diverse range of fauna on the Inner Farne shore. One of our highlights was a nudibranch – a Common Grey Sea Slug (Aeolidia papillosa). It’s an odd looking thing, covered in cerata, which are fleshy appendages that look like fur. This sea slug feeds on anemones, but it doesn’t stop there. The Grey Sea Slug goes the extra mile and ingeniously steals the stinging defence of its anemone prey! Rather than digesting the stinging cells, the sea slug absorbs them and moves them up to the tips of its cerata, giving the sea slug its very own stinging defence.
Common Grey Sea Slug (Aeolidia papillosa) ©Lana Blakely
Common Sunstar (Crossaster papposus) ©Lana Blakely
Velvet Swimming Crab (Necora puber): the largest swimming crab in British waters ©Lana Blakely
Orange-clubbed Sea Slug (Limacia clavigera) ©Lana Blakely
Blue-rayed Limpet (Patina pellucida) ©Lana Blakely

But it isn’t just the rock pools we’ve been keeping an eye on. The breeding season has been rapidly building momentum, and the cliffs are bustling with seabirds. The island is once again filled with a cacophony of sounds, with the distinctive calls of Kittiwakes cutting through the hum of thousands of Guillemots. Puffins are busily reaffirming pair bonds after a long winter, tapping beaks with their partners before tending to their burrows. We’ve also been busy, successfully installing cameras in four Puffin burrows; now you can get a rare glimpse of their underground behaviour on a television in our Information Centre.
Puffin Cam
But the recent stormy weather has taken a toll. Over the last few days gale force winds have driven huge waves against the island’s north rocks, forcing birds off of the cliffs, including nesting Shags. Our Sandwich Tern roost, which had been growing daily, dropped from a peak of 523 birds to around 350 in just a few days. Fortunately numbers have been building again, and counts of Common and Arctic Tern amongst them have increased to double figures, so hopefully we will soon be back to our full complement of a few thousand terns. One species that hasn’t been put off is the Eider, with new nests appearing almost daily, tucked safely against piles of vegetation on the island’s central meadow.
Eider Duck on Nest ©Tom Hibbert

As well as slowing the onset of the breeding season, these strong northerly winds have also put the brakes on spring migration. Despite an initial mini-influx of migrants, including a small fall of Chiffchaff on the 11th April (12 birds across Inner Farne), our first Willow Warbler (10th April) and some fantastic views of Black Redstart, it has been a quiet few weeks. The majority of highlights have all been at sea, with long hours of mostly unproductive seawatching resulting in the occasional island scarcity. Recent additions to the year list have included Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Tufted Duck, Velvet Scoter, Goldeneye and Gadwall. This last is a real rarity, with the pair seen flying north likely to be the only record of the year.
We’ve also had some success with our gull roost. Dragging ourselves from the warmth of the tower to stand in a freezing wind, slowly picking our way through hundreds of gulls, isn’t always easy, but it can be very rewarding. In the last few weeks we have recorded up to 4 Iceland Gull and 3 Mediterranean Gull. One Med Gull was a first-winter bird (born last year) with a red Darvic ring on one leg; by reading the unique code on this ring we were able to discover that it had been ringed as a chick in Poland in June 2015 – over 800 miles from the Farnes!
Polish-ringed Mediterranean Gull
However, the star of the year so far is a bird that none of the rangers anticipated. On the 6th April a commotion amongst the gulls drew our attention to an Egyptian Goose on the south rocks of Inner Farne. This represents the first official record of this species for the Farne Islands! There are seven previous records from the nineteenth century, but these were all classed as escapees, as the species was not yet established in Britain.
Egyptian Goose

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Drumroll Please......

Yesterday was a momentous day for all on and associated with the islands. The 5th April 2016 has been added to the history books as it was on this day that the chapel cross was erected again, after a 16 year absence. It was also a great day for migrant birds, but more on that later. 

The chapel with it's new cross and a beautiful double rainbow ©Ed Tooth

St Cuthbert's chapel has stood on the Inner Farne since the 12th century, and is an internationally important Grade 1 listed building for its role in hosting many monks and pilgrims who helped spread Christianity in Northumberland and beyond. In the 1840s it was restored by Archdeacon Charles Thorpe and it was at this time that we believe the old cross was put on the chapel. There it stood for 160 years until the winter of 2000 when in severe gales it was blown from the top of the chapel and destroyed.

We set up a donations box in the chapel and raised the money necessary to get a new cross sculpted and erected. For this we owe a huge thanks to every one of you who donated. If it wasn't for your generosity then there would still be no cross. We also owe a big thank you to David Edwick, who sculpted the new cross and helped us fit it. And a final thanks to Nick Lewis, the house steward from Lindisfarne who helped get the cross up.

Once we had it, it was just a case of getting a not-so-windy day and getting it up in place. So yesterday the scaffolding arrived, as did David and the work was underway. It took just half a day to have the cross up and we must say the chapel now looks complete again!

David and Nick carefully lower the cross into place

Then it was important to make sure it was straight

Then the last bit of resin was applied to keep it secure

And finally... Nick and David happy to see the cross erected at last  ©Anne Wilson

Alongside the excitement about the cross, there was excitement about migrant birds as well. A light south-easterly wind on the 4th brought in some new birds for the year, including a male Blackcap, Brambling, 4 Black Redstart (2 on Inner Farne and 2 on Brownsman) and our first Swallow of the year. On the 5th we found an early Sand Martin cruising over Big Harcar, and a stunning male Ring Ouzel arrived on top meadow on Inner Farne and showed very well for a few hours. There has also been a strong supporting cast of 6 Wheatear, 14 Goldcrest and 8 Chiffchaff.

Male Ring Ouzel  ©Tom Hendry

Black Redstart  ©Tom Hendry

As for breeding birds, the Sandiwch Tern roost is building nicely and last night stood at 79 birds. They can now be seen calling and courting over the islands, while on land the Puffins are coming in their thousands and spring-cleaning their burrows. Guillemots have been notable in their absence from the cliffs in the last few days, but Kittiwakes are on land and nest-building and we are finding new Shag eggs every day, and now have at least 3 Mallard nests on the islands. It won't be long now until the first Eider nest is found!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Brand New Running Routes!

National Trust and ACTIVE Northumberland have joined forces to create three new running routes on the Northumberland Coast. The signposted routes are fixed distance and easy to follow, put in place to encourage more people to get outdoors and get active. Starting from Low Newton by the Sea, Craster and Dunstan Steads the routes run through the Northumberland Coast National Trust Property and give runners the opportunity to escape the pavements, swapping tarmac for coastal footpaths.

“These new routes will take runners through some of my favourite spots on the Northumberland Coast” says Kate Bradshaw one of the National Trust rangers on the Northumberland Coast. “Whether running, jogging or walking we want to encourage as many people as possible to explore and enjoy our wonderful coastline.”

© Kate Bradshaw
The routes are different lengths: 3 miles, 2 miles and 1 mile, and are designed to be used by runners of all abilities. The 3-2-1 project is part of Run England’s plan to make it easier for anyone to get running. Jane Hardy from ACTIVE Northumberland says “You don’t have to be a runner to enjoy the routes. They are for everybody, no matter what your speed or running experience.”

Over the winter season red arrow waymark disks have started to appear in coastal locations in preparation for the launch of these routes. Each route has a clearly marked start and finish point and ‘Run England 3-2-1’ arrows signpost the route along the way. They are easy to follow paths and are an incredible way to explore the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding National Beauty.

There will be a launch event for each route during April and May. This will give people the opportunity to join National Trust and Active Northumberland staff to run or jog each route. Starting with the one mile route, an event will be held every fortnight to launch each route. “These events will be free and all are welcome, no matter what your running ability”, says Kate Bradshaw. “After the launch events a regular running group will run the three mile route on Thursday nights. So if you are bored of pounding pavements, or simply want to start running, why not join us at one of the launch events?”

For more details of the launch events please visit the What’s On? page: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/embleton-and-newton-links