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. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The season so far at the Long Nanny site…

For three months of the year the mouth of the Long Nanny, just south of Beadnell, turns into a protected shorebird breeding site. It becomes a temporary home to nesting pairs of Little Tern, Arctic Tern and Ringed Plover, along with a team of Assistant Rangers who monitor the site 24 hours a day.

The site viewed from the Long Nanny bridge © Will Whittington 

Several pairs of Ringed Plover were the first to arrive this year, followed by the team of rangers who moved in at the beginning of May. During the first few weeks we were kept busy setting up the site. Firstly areas of beach are roped off and signs put in place to reduce disturbance, existing fencing is improved and the vegetation is cut back in some of the nesting areas. 

Then everything the rangers need to live on site is put into place: toilet huts are built, tents erected and the solar electricity system connected. As you can imagine living on a remote site with no mains electricity or running water doesn’t come without its problems, but there are many perks as well, the early morning sunrises being one of them.

Sunrise over the site © Rachelle Regan 

The birds and their nests are monitored throughout the season and after a few tense weeks of waiting the first eggs have started to hatch. The first ringed plover chicks can be seen running around on the beach, followed by anxious parents desperately trying to keep their chicks together and within eye sight. The first Arctic Tern chick hatched last week and hopefully will be followed by many more. Currently there are thirteen Little Tern nests and we are expecting the first eggs to hatch in the next few days.

Numbered nest markers ready to go out © Rachelle Regan

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Join us on a working holiday!

On the search for last minute holiday ideas? If you are looking for something a little bit different we might have the solution! Every year the ranger team on the Northumberland Coast host two working holidays and 2016 is no different.

Installing new stock fencing

Thousands of volunteer hours help us to keep the Northumberland Coast special and taking part in a working holiday is a brilliant way to lend a hand. Spend a week working with the rangers in dunes and coastal habitat to help manage this beautiful stretch of coastline. Learn new skills and get stuck into a variety of conservation tasks from scrub clearing and meadow management to path restoration.

Scrub cutting
Although our holidays aren’t advertised in the brochure, we will be hosting two working holidays this year one from the 16th to the 23rd of July and another from the 15th to the 22nd of October. Accommodation is in the wonderful bunkhouse at Cragside estate and we promise a fun-filled and possibly muddy week.

Book your place by ringing the National Trust Working Holiday office on: 0344 800 3099 using the codes below.

Saturday the16th to Saturday the 23rd of July: 16GTP286

Saturday the 15th to Saturday the 22nd of October: 16GTP287


Wednesday, 1 June 2016


As another miserable day of heavy winds and drizzling rain sets in, and the islands are once again closed by the inclement weather, it feels like the perfect time to introduce the ranger team for the 2016 season.
It may seem a little late, given that we moved out here in March, but we’ve been busy blogging about Bluethroats and breeding birds. Introductions can wait when there are so many wildlife highlights to share! But as spring fades away and migration slows down, we finally have the chance. So, with no further ado, meet the team…
Lana Blakely and Ed Tooth, Rangers
Having both spent time on the East-Anglian coast with the RSPB, Ed and Lana began life on the Farnes in 2014, and have been drawn back ever since. Now into their third season and still loving every minute, you will find Ed looking after the outer group and Lana looking after the inner group. They both share a love for Fulmars, world birding and have occasionally been known to twitch rare birds in the UK!
Tom Hibbert, Assistant Ranger
With an Ocean Sciences degree from Bangor University and a background in seabird monitoring, Tom is obsessed with all things feathered. Despite having spent three months measuring turtles and ringing tropicbirds in the Seychelles, Tom is happiest when studying British seabirds. So naturally he was delighted to return for his second season as Assistant Ranger on the Farne Islands.

Sarah Lawrence, Assistant Ranger
Since graduating from Exeter University, Sarah volunteered at ZSL and collected cetacean photo-ID in Iceland before moving to Ísafjörđur to complete her Master’s degree in Coastal and Marine Management. Having spent a season monitoring seabirds on Mingulay in the Outer Hebrides, Sarah is looking forward to experiencing a season on the Farnes.
Diana Guglielmotti, Assistant Ranger
Previously an environmental law trainee, Diana decided to take the leap and transform her passion for conservation into a career. After volunteering and working with seabirds in the far north of Scotland, Diana decided to experience life on the Farne Islands.
Jen Clark, Assistant Ranger
Jen’s love for conservation started when studying Zoology at the University of Glasgow. After graduating Jen spent five years at the RSPB, first on the Somerset Levels showcasing Starling murmurations, then safeguarding the world famous Osprey nest at Loch Garten. Her last stint with the RSPB was on Islay, surveying Chough and counting geese, before returning to the Cairngorms to join the Scottish Wildcat Action team for the winter survey season.  Although at home in the hills, either mountain biking or hiking, Jen is thrilled to swap the trees and mountains of the Cairngorms for the remote island life of the Farnes.
Philippa Pearson, Assistant Ranger
Pip undertook a ten-month traineeship with Durham Wildlife Trust’s Wildground Project, covering a wide range of conservation and habitat management skills with a focus on wildlife friendly grounds maintenance. On the traineeship she achieved a level 2 Diploma in Practical Environmental Conservation Skills. This is her first time working in a coastal environment.
Sophia Jackson, Assistant Ranger
Sophia graduated from Aberystwyth University in 2013, where she studied Environmental Science. Since then she has worked at various seabird colonies around Britain and is finding working and living amongst all the seabirds on the Farne Islands a spectacular experience. Her other main interest also has wings; bats. Sophia surveys and analyses these little creatures of the night. Swimming is her main sports hobby, although she has only gone for one swim off the Farnes so far this year.
Dan Iceton, Assistant Ranger
After graduating from the University of Sheffield in 2014 with an MSc in Zoology, Dan volunteered as a trainee ranger with the National Trust. This led to his job with the Farne Islands team working on Staple island. Swimming is his main sporting interest, and he is hoping to swim off the Farnes as often as possible this summer. Dan has always had a great interest in wildlife and the outdoors, especially the Northumberland coast, making the Farne Islands the perfect place to live and work.
Charlotte Altass, Assistant Ranger
Charlotte joined the Farnes’ ranger team following a BSc in Animal Behaviour in 2014, and an MSc in Applied Marine and Fisheries Ecology from Aberdeen in 2015. Her thesis focussed on the Eider population of the Ythan Estuary, tapping into her interest in seabirds. Outside of university, Charlotte volunteered with the charity Marine Life for several years, assisting with vessel based surveys around the Northumberland coast. Following her MSc, she spent a month offshore helping out on fisheries research surveys with the Scottish government, as well as undertaking more seabird and cetacean surveys around the UK coast, and even travelling further afield to Norway and Sweden.
Harriet Reid, Assistant Ranger
To live on a remote island requires a certain amount of eccentricity, and no ranger represents this more than Harriet. But even whilst she is making noises, pulling silly expressions or randomly singing she is obsessed with nature, trying to understand and experience as much as possible. Her love of immersing herself in her surroundings has led to time spent volunteering at Spurn Point, Yorkshire, and working at the Long Nanny Little Tern site near Beadnell, where rangers camp in the dunes. Her degree is in marine biology, so working on an island covered in breeding seabirds, surrounded by the sea, is ideal. Harriet also enjoys kayaking, Scuba diving, badminton and driving the islands’ Zodiac boat.
Tom Hendry, Assistant Ranger
Tom has a passion for all wildlife and habitats, but he adores seabirds and has previously worked to monitor and protect seabird colonies in Northumberland and the Mediterranean. After studying for a degree in Environmental Management, he volunteered in Iceland, Hungary and sub-Arctic Canada, performing conservation work, before working with Birdlife Malta and the National Trust. He has visited the Farnes from an early age and has loved its rugged landscapes and iconic birds ever since. Living here is something of a dream come true, and Tom is excited to work with the diverse array of seabirds that call the islands home throughout the summer.
So that’s our team! A great eclectic mix of backgrounds and experience, united by a love of nature and a passion for sharing and conserving it. But it wouldn’t be fitting for a Farnes blog to have no mention of birds at all; the sightings log may not have been bursting from its binder these last few weeks, but there have been a few highlights.
After the disappearance of the last Bluethroat, the islands were plunged into a quiet spell for passerines, finally broken by a Common Rosefinch that dropped from the sky to land on Brownsman on the 25thMay. The Rosefinch lingered (often elusively) until the 29th, when it was joined by two Red-backed Shrike! This pair of beauties commuted between Brownsman and Staple throughout the morning, allowing them to be admired by both visitors and rangers alike.
Other interesting records from this relatively quiet period include Great Northern Diver, Manx Shearwater, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart, Sanderling, Short-eared Owl, Wheatear and Gadwall (a pair of which were seen on Inner Farne pond for the second time this season, which is incredible for this less than annual visitor!). We’ve also had our first Roseate Tern sighting of the season, with the occasional bird now appearing amongst the large roost on Inner Farne.
Speaking of terns, all three of our breeding species (Arctic, Common and Sandwich) are now incubating eggs. The courtyard of Inner Farne is once again covered in nests, so if you are visiting please be careful where you walk and remember your hat – it protects your head from both ends of a protective parent!