Bird Watching Magazine Reader Holiday Day 1: 07/07/2011

by on Jul.11, 2011, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland

I met with Geoff and Jenny, Roy and Lorraine & David and Linda on the Wednesday evening in the bar of the Bamburgh Castle Inn and, after introductions and drinks, we went upstairs to the conservatory for dinner.  A steady stream of Gannets was heading north and I outlined the plan for the coming days; modified in light of the weather forecast!

An 06:30 start on Thursday morning appealed to three of the group, so we set off to walk around Seahouses Harbour and along to the golf course.  Lorraine had dreamt the night before that we found a Bluethroat.  Not just any Bluethroat though; a Fork-tailed Bluethroat (something that doesn’t exist…although we spent the rest of the holiday looking for one!).  The heavy swell and breaking waves gave the sea an imposing look, and the strong, cold southeasterly wind and dark clouds all around added to the atmosphere.  With high tide approaching, wading birds were concentrated onto just a few exposed rocks; among the Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Curlews were a single Ringed Plover and 5 summer-plumaged Knot, their peachy-orange underparts showing why, in some parts of the world, they’re known as Red Knot.  A Whimbrel flew by and Linnets, Pied Wagtails, Rock Pipits and a reeling Grasshopper Warbler were all added to the day list and we headed back to the inn, and breakfast.  No less than 6 Rock Pipits were outside the window during breakfast and an all too brief probable Hummingbird Hawkmoth whizzed by.

The main question was whether our all-day birdwatching trip to the Farne Islands with Glad Tidings would go ahead; the weather forecast wasn’t promising, and the sea looked foreboding.  I was optimistic though – by our planned departure time the tide would be ebbing and should take off some of the swell.  Sure enough, we boarded Glad Tidings III just after 10am and headed towards the islands.  Gannets soared majestically above the swell, Puffins raced by on whirring wings and our passage wader list grew with the addition of Grey Plover and Purple SandpiperGrey Seals bobbed around, watching as we passed by on our way to Staple Island.  Enjoyment of the breeding auks, Shags, Kittwakes and Oystercatchers was enhanced by the wild feeling of the islands, as waves smashed into the cliffs and fountained high above the birds.  Transferring to Inner Farne at 1pm, we were the first group onto the island for the day.  The Arctic Terns gave us their usual warm welcome and we spent the afternoon enjoying the fascinating bird behaviour that can be witnessed at close range.  The group were keen to fix the separation criteria for Common and Arctic Terns firmly in mind, so we spent some time looking carefully at lots of birds and considering individual variation.  We spent a lot of time watching Puffins as well; not an identification problem, but endearing and fascinating!  With mobs of Black-headed Gulls waiting to rob the adult Puffins as they return with beaks filled with Sand eels, the Puffins have quickly developed strategies to deal with this; circling back out over the sea until the gulls have moved away from your burrow is an obvious one, but the one that is most fascinating involves a Puffin running into another  bird’s burrow, waiting until the gulls have moved and then running to another burrow – sometimes visiting as many as 5 or 6 sanctuaries before reaching their own chick.  In an increasingly heavy swell, the journey back to the mainland was quite an experience.

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