Farne Islands

Head’s up :-) Bespoke Farne Islands Safari 27/06/19

by on Jul.01, 2019, under Farne Islands

Thursday was a Farne Islands Safari, and after we cancelled Wednesday’s 4hr pelagic due to the rather lumpy sea I was pleased to see that it was nice and calm as I collected Peter and Jan from Newbiggin…

A Kestrel perched obligingly on a telegraph pole as we headed up the coast and our first stop, for Arctic and Little Terns, produced an unexpected Spotted Redshank and a Ringed Plover as well as an extraordinary number of Common Blue butterflies and a good number of Painted Ladies over the incredible carpet of Bloody Cranesbill in the dunes with Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting and Stonechat all along the walk.

After having our picnic on the beach at Beadnell we headed to Seahouses and discovered that parking spaces were in short supply so we parked on the edge of the town and walked down to the harbour where Eiders were on the water with well-grown young, for our sailing on board Glad Tidings. Rafts of Puffins on the water scattered ahead of the boats heading towards the islands as lines of Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin headed back to their hungry chicks. Gannets soared past as Grey Seals lazed on the rocks, Cormorants and Shags dried their wings in heraldic pose, Fulmars skirted the clifftops, the onomatopoeic cries of Kittiwakes echoed in the rocky gullies and the stiff breeze spared us the ‘experience’ of the unmistakable aroma of a seabird colony 🙂

Landing on Inner Farne we walked along the boardwalk, where the Arctic Terns were less aggressive than just a week earlier, tern chicks were starting to extend and flap their still developing wings, Black-headed Gulls were mobbing Puffins as they tried to get back to their burrows, and the pufflings waiting inside, Common and Sandwich Terns kept themselves to themselves (something we should all be grateful for, particularly in the case of Sandwich Tern!) and I mentioned that halfway along one stretch of boardwalk there would probably be an Arctic Tern that would approach you but not attack, and would adopt your head as perch if you stood still. Sure enough, the tern behaved just as predicted and landed on Jan’s head 🙂

After the short journey back to the mainland we headed back down the coast with a brief stop to admire an Avocet close to the road 🙂

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About tern :-) Farne Islands Safari 20/06/19

by on Jun.21, 2019, under Farne Islands

Yesterday was an opportunity to head to ‘the Galapagos of the North‘ and I collected Ruth D from Newbiggin then Ruth S and Margaret from Seahouses before heading a few miles down the coast for a morning walk to the Long Nanny…

With brilliantly coloured Common Blue butterflies, some very worn Painted Ladies and a Cinnabar moth in the middle of the track, the dunes were a stunning carpet of Bloody Cranesbill, studded with Pyramidal and Northern Marsh Orchids. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and with the breeze carrying sound out to sea, we were almost at the tern colony before we heard them. Little Terns were sitting quietly on the sand and Arctic Terns were feeding chicks just a few metres away from us. As each adult tern arrived with food, every chick it passed over raised a wide-open beak in hope of being fed 😉

After a picnic lunch on the beach (“winning at life” in the words of Ruth S), it was time to head to Seahouses and board Glad Tidings III for the sailing to Inner Farne. I first did that trip with Sarah while were students at Newcastle Uni in the late 90’s, and there’s still the same sense of wonder as you leave the harbour with it’s creches of Eider and head the short distance to the islands…

First there’s an occasional Guillemot or Puffin sitting on the sea or flying past. Within a few minutes there are rafts of auks on the water and the air is filled with lines of Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot returning from foraging trips, or heading out to sea, as Kittiwakes shriek their name from precipitous cliff ledges, Gannets soar by effortlessly, Grey Seals laze on the rocks and the smell, the indescribable smell of a colony of seabirds that have an almost entirely fish-based diet, hits you for the first time 😉

Once your visual, auditory and olfactory senses have all been given a good hammering it’s time for the final assault. Sandwich and Common Terns are relatively peaceful, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Shags are apparently indifferent to humans standing just a few feet way from their nest sites, Black-headed Gulls reserve their menace for kletoparasitism of the island’s Puffins who have become rather adept at flying straight into burrow entrances and the Puffins themselves wander across the boardwalk in front of you or poke their heads out of burrows and have a look at you as you walk past.

Arctic Terns though, they’re a different kettle of fish-eating aggression altogether. Occasionally you’ll get a loud chattering warning, some of them will jab at your hands from fence-post perches if you’re getting too close to the edge of the boardwalk or if you have the temerity to lift a camera to take a photograph of them and some will just decide to perch on your head, giving themselves a ‘king of the castle’ view of their nest. Then there are the ones that relentlessly swoop and peck at your head/hat/ears/sunglasses. Wear a hat and keep moving 🙂

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…and more dolphins; Farne Islands Safari 15/07/17

by on Jul.17, 2017, under Farne Islands

I’d collected Alice and Jonathan from Waren Mill and headed south along the coast at the start of our Farne Islands safari.  A dreich drizzly morning still produced Little and Arctic Terns, Meadow Pipit and Skylark and, after lunch we we driving between Bamburgh and Seahouses when Jonathan spotted dolphins between the mainland and the islands.  The journey around the islands and landing on Inner Farne produced all of the usual suspects; Grey Seal, Gannet, Shag, Cormorant, Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns and the entertaining sight of lots of Arctic Tern chicks sitting in the middle of the boardwalk.

The journey back to Seahouses brought probably the best wildlife of the day though, as a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins played around the boats that were heading to and from the harbour 🙂

Our Farne Islands safari on Saturday 15th July produced a spectacular and unexpected ending as a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins appeared around the boat

Our Farne Islands safari on Saturday 15th July produced a spectacular and unexpected ending as a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins appeared around the boat

Our Farne Islands safari on Saturday 15th July produced a spectacular and unexpected ending as a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins appeared around the boat

Our Farne Islands safari on Saturday 15th July produced a spectacular and unexpected ending as a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins appeared around the boat

Our Farne Islands safari on Saturday 15th July produced a spectacular and unexpected ending as a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins appeared around the boat

We’ve finished our Farne Islands trips for this year, but we’ve still got plenty of opportunities to encounter dolphins on our 4hr and 10hr pelagic wildlife trips.  Give us a call on 01670 827465 for more details or to book your place now 🙂

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Contrast and compare; Bespoke Photography holiday 02-05/07/17

by on Jul.06, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Northumberland Coast

I collected Joy from Morpeth railway station ahead of two days enjoying the best photographic opportunities that the Northumberland coast has to offer in early July, and I outlined the plan for the next two days as we drove to The Swan.  Like last week’s Birdwatching magazine reader holiday, the forecast suggested that Monday would be ok…

Monday 03/07/17

An early start saw us boarding the St Cuthbert III and heading towards the Farne Islands.  Landing on Staple Island was an interesting experience, as the swell was washing against the landing platform, and once on the island Joy demonstrated an excellent eye for spotting a photographic opportunity.  Puffin, Shag, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and Fulmar all posed in front of the lens and I took a few shots with my dSLR as Joy has been thinking about upgrading from her bridge camera to something a bit heavier 🙂  Crossing to Inner Farne early afternoon brought the birds that aren’t present on Staple; Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns.  Lots more photographs and by late afternoon we were on our way back to Seahouses and then south along the coast.

Tuesday 04/07/17

The forecast had suggested rain from late morning onwards, so waking up at 06:00 and hearing it hammering down on our roof came as an unpleasant surprise.  A tour of the best birdwatching spots on the Northumberland coast, from Bamburgh to Cresswell, brought Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns, Sedge Warbler, Rock Pipit, Lapwing, Curlew, Sand Martin, Swallow and Swift and, surprisingly for the middle of the day in July, Otters at two separate sites 🙂

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Seabird Spectacular; Birdwatching magazine Reader Holiday 25-28/06/17

by on Jun.29, 2017, under Coquet Island, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands

Day 1 25/06/17

After collecting Malcolm, and then John, from Alnmouth railway station we headed to Seahouses and the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of a short break concentrating on the seabirds of the Northumberland coast.  Nigel, Janice and Cliff and Lesley had already arrived and at dinner we discussed the plan for the next two days.  I’d brought our Farne Islands day forward from Tuesday to Monday, and moved Coquet Island and Druridge Bay to Tuesday, and had my fingers crossed that it was the right decision…

Day 2 26/06/17

We boarded Glad Tidings IV after breakfast and headed across to Staple Island at the start of an all-day trip to the Farne Islands.  Staple doesn’t have any breeding terns, and has fewer visitors than Inner Farne, so is altogether a much more relaxed experience 🙂  Puffins, Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills, Rock Pipits and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were all coming and going as, just north of the island, Gannets were plunging into the sea.  Transferring across to Inner Farne for the afternoon, we made our way past Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns and up to Lighthouse Point  where, alongside Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags and Kittiwakes, Rock Pipits were carrying food into nests tucked away out of sight in narrow crevices in the cliff face.  At the base of the cliffs the water was so clear that we could watch Guillemot, including a parent joined by a jumpling as we watched, and Razorbill as they swam with slow-motion effort under the water.  Back on the mainland we walked along the edge of the rising tide and watched Little Terns, Dunlin and Ringed Plover as Meadow Pipits song-flighted from the dunes and a maelstrom of Arctic Terns responded to marauding Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls and a real bonus bird came in the form of a 2cy Glaucous Gull.

Day 3 27/06/17

I woke up to the sound of a stiff breeze and rain, and breathed a sigh of relief that we’d moved our Farne Islands day to Monday.  We headed south along the coast towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and our first stop was to look for 3 Spoonbills which had been reported.  Just before we reached them, Nigel spotted a Cuckoo perched on a tree protector and we quickly found the Spoonbills.  Next stop was for a bird that’s straightforward to find in Northumberland during the winter, but a rare thing indeed in breeding plumage in late June.  The Slavonian Grebe was asleep, tucked up against the wind and rain but soon roused itself from slumber and started feeding.  Sedge and Reed Warblers were playing hide-and-seek with us in reedbeds, Tree Sparrows were feeding on the paths ahead of us and we spent some time watching an entertaining dispute between a Little Gull and a 1st summer Arctic Tern.  The tern seemed to have a case of angry little man syndrome and, as well as persistently harassing the gull, it took umbrage at the presence of Avocet, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Carrion Crow and ShelduckBlack-tailed Godwits were probing in the shallows, Curlew were in newly-mown fields and the air was filled with Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts.  Soon after lunch the weather deteriorated and as we could hear the sea crashing against the shore is was obvious that our planned sailing around Coquet Island wouldn’t be happening.  There’s always the telescope though, and although distant, we could identify Roseate Terns as Bar-tailed Godwits pottered along the shoreline below us.  As Great Crested Grebes somehow managed to look elegant even in the stiffening breeze and increasingly heavy rain we headed back to Seahouses.

Day 4 28/06/17

After breakfast together, everyone headed their separate ways.  I dropped Malcolm and John back at Alnmouth, and then I was on my way to a physio appointment – really not as much fun as watching Northumberland’s stunning wildlife 🙂

We’ll be adding more holiday dates to our online calendar in the next week, so make sure you book your place early before they’re all gone!

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Bombardment; Bespoke Farne Islands Safari 22/06/17

by on Jun.29, 2017, under Farne Islands

Here at NEWT we love all of the trips that we run; whether we’re searching for Black Grouse and Ring Ouzels in the hills of the North Pennines and the Cheviot Valleys, Otters in the rivers and pools of southeast Northumberland, scarce migrants on Holy Island, Goshawk and Red Squirrel in Kielder or whales, dolphins and seabirds on a pelagic trip out onto the North Sea – the thrill of the chase and the pleasure of spending that time with our clients, who are always really lovely people, makes every day different and a joy.  The trip I haven’t mentioned yet is the one that really should be one everybody’s bucket list…

I collected Malcolm and Carole from Seahouses and we headed south along the coast to visit the Arctic and Little Tern colony.  The weather was a bit drizzly, but Skylark and Meadow Pipit were song-flighting above dense areas of Bloody Cranesbill and by lunchtime we were on the dunes overlooking the Farne Islands, the sea looked calm and the weather was improving 🙂  The journey across to the islands on St Cuthbert II was soon accompanied by Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Gannets then we were soon across at the inner group and Grey Seals lazing on the rocks and watching our boat.  This far into the breeding season the seabird colony is well-ripened, and a really assault on your sense of smell as the loud cries of Kittiwake and the persistent low grumbling of Guillemots start to overwhelm your hearing as Cormorants watch sentinel-like from nearby islets.  Landing on Inner Farne brought excellent close views of nesting Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Shag and Kittiwake, once we’d made it through the barrage of attacks by Arctic Terns as we made our way towards Lighthouse Point.  Common and Sandwich Terns nest a little bit further from the boardwalk than the feisty Arctics and don’t pester visitors, which is a real bonus in the case of Sandwich Tern given the size of their beaks 😉

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Wet and windy; Farne Islands Safari 15/06/17

by on Jun.19, 2017, under Farne Islands

I collected Richard and Chris, Anne and Howard and Paul and Julie from Seahouses and we headed a little way down the coast to visit the Arctic and Little Tern colony before heading back to Seahouses for a trip across to Inner Farne

The dunes were a hive of activity in the warm sunshine; Common Blue butterflies, Yellow Shell, Cinnabar and burnet moths and an impressive display of our county flower, Bloody Cranesbill, before we reached the terns.  After lunch it was time to board Glad Tidings and head towards the ‘Galapagos of the North’.  Eiders were escorting their chicks around the harbour and the first Puffins and Guillemots were sitting on the sea just out of the pier ends.  As we approached the islands, in a strengthening breeze, the number of birds increased dramatically  with lines of Guillemot and Puffin, and the odd Razorbill, streaming back to their nests and hungry chicks.  Gannets soared by and the sound, and smell, of a cliff full of Kittiwakes was an all-out assault on the senses.  Grey Seals were lazing on the rocks and we landed on Inner Farne with it’s remarkably obliging Shags, Guillemots, Puffins and Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns.

What can we say about the Farne Islands?  If you haven’t already visited them, start making your plans 🙂

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The departed; Farne Islands Bespoke Birdwatching 30/07/16

by on Aug.02, 2016, under Farne Islands

The Farne islands in late June are a chaotic place; huge numbers of birds on all of the cliff faces and around the boardwalks.  Late July is a very different experience though…

I collected Ruth and Ann from Ponteland and we drove across to the coast before heading north for a day of bespoke beginners birdwatching, culminating in a trip across to Inner FarneCurlew, Redshank and a stunningly orange Black-tailed Godwit were all in the shallows as a female Red-breasted Merganser appeared to be delivering flying lessons to her little black-and-white ducklings who were still way too small to get airborne.  Sailing across to the islands after lunch we soon encountered rafts of Puffins and Guillemots, Grey Seals were lazing in the surf and the vertiginous seabird colonies were now reduced to only Kittiwake and Shag.  Landing on Inner farne, Puffins were whizzing by with beaks filled with small fish, and weren’t subject to the kleptoparasitic attention of Black-headed Gulls, in stark contrast to just a few weeks ago.  Terns were represented by single Arctic and Common Terns carrying fish to small chicks and a pair of Sandwich Terns engaged in courtship flight as a Lesser Black-backed Gull gave us a malevolent stare from the wall around the lighthouse.

A great day out with really lovely clients, and now I know what make and model of car Ann drives I can give her a wave when I’m cycling through Ponteland on a Sunday morning 🙂

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“I’m really scared of birds”; Farne Islands Safari 30/06/16

by on Jul.05, 2016, under Farne Islands

In late June, a big part of the Farne Islands experience is the aerial bombardment you’re subjected to as Arctic Terns defend their eggs and chicks…

I collected John from Bedlington, Colin and Martin from Morpeth and then Sue from Old Swarland (for her 4th trip with NEWT).  A breezy but warm morning brought Curlew, Yellowhammer, Grey Seal, Shelduck and a Brown Hare running though short vegetation right on the shoreline.  After lunch overlooking the Farne Islands we boarded the St Cuthbert and headed out of Seahouses Harbour.  We were soon being passed by Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Gannets and soon the unmistakeable sound, and smell, of the seabird colony reached the boat.  Landing on Inner Farne brought the expected mob of angry terns and we watched the tiny beak of an Arctic Tern chick as it chipped way at the eggshell surrounding it.  Fulmars arced along the cliff tops, Kittiwakes were hanging on the strong breeze just a few metres away from us, Sandwich and Common Terns flew by without molesting us and Puffins peeked from their burrows.  As we walked through the courtyard a lady walked by in the other direction; head down, hood pulled up and explaining to her friends how she’s really scared of birds.  Inner Farne probably wasn’t the best choice of visitor attraction then…

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Never trust a weather forecast; Farne Islands Safari 15/06/16

by on Jun.16, 2016, under Farne Islands

With a Farne Islands Safari on Wedneday, I’d been keeping an even closer eye than usual on the weather forecast and particularly the forecast sea state and swell height.  1m waves, strong NE winds and heavy rain wasn’t the most promising of forecasts…

I collected Paul and Rose from the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel and we headed north of Seahouses for a few hours birdwatching before our sailing across to the Farnes.   A singing Reed Bunting was eventually located, and finally came out obligingly into the open, as Meadow Pipits displayed overhead and Sand Martins hawked back and forth low over the water.  Gulls aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Herring all lined up obligingly next to each other for a mini-ID masterclass.  A Shoveler escorted her ten ducklings across the pool as Coots fed young, Moorhens crept around in bankside rushes, Lapwing roosted in nearby fields and a Skylark, just a tiny dark speck against the clouds overhead, sounded inconceivably loud at the height it had reached.

Sitting and eating lunch overlooking the islands, the one thing that was really obvious was that the sea was calm, it wasn’t really windy and it wasn’t raining – so much for those forecasts then 🙂  We boarded Glad Tidings VII and headed towards the inner group of islands.  Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were all heading back to their nests with food, Grey Seals were lazing around on the rocks and the sound, and smell, of the islands intensified.  The onomatopaeic calls of Kittiwake echoed off the cliffs and a leucistic Guillemot caught my eye as it sat on the rocks amongst all of it’s regular-coloured relatives.

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Once we landed on Inner Farne, the Puffins took centre stage.  We watched as they headed back towards their burrows, only to be harried by Black-headed Gulls.  One Puffin dropped it’s load of small fish right next to us, it’s wingbeats whirring audibly just over our heads as it tried to evade it’s pursuers.  Large, ungainly, and very, very fluffy Shag chicks had grown to big to be contained in their nests and the grumpy moaning of the assembled auks added to the wall of sound.  Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns were all tending eggs or chicks, with the Arctic Terns being as feisty as ever, and a couple of them taking a particular dislike to Rose’s hat!  As we walked back down the jetty to sail back to the mainland, Rose’s sharp eyes spotted one of those birds that are so cryptic in some habitats as a Ringed Plover dashed around between pebbles and rocks on the shore line.

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