Farne Islands

Over there, no over there, what about over there?; Otter Safari 08/06/16

by on Jun.09, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Farne Islands

One of the things I love about leading tours for NEWT is that almost all of our clients enjoy watching all wildlife.  No matter what the particular target species is during a tour, there’s always plenty to hold the attention while we search for that target.

I collected Jo from Church Point for what turned out to be a one-to-one birdwatching and otter safari afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland (our other participants had cancelled on Tuesday…).  As is often the case wildlife watching was steady during the afternoon, with an interesting ID comparison between Black-headed Gull and Bonaparte’s Gull, but the evening, and falling light levels, brought the best of the day.  A lone Avocet was voicing it’s displeasure at something – it isn’t always certain what, Avocets are just generally noisy and feisty – a distant whirring resolved into the drumming of a Common Snipe almost directly overhead, Curlew were calling over the marshes as a Brown Hare loped by and an obliging Barn Owl quartered grassland in front of us, periodically dropping into the vegetation but reappearing without prey until it was finally driven away by the attention of couple of Carrion Crows.  Small flocks of, mainly juvenile, Starling began gathering until there were several thousand whirling around us, their wing beats like the arrival of a storm.  My attention was on a group of Tufted Ducks though – alert, looking nervous and constantly lifting their heads to look around the water.  I pointed them out to Jo and said I was confident that they’d seen an Otter close by.  20 minutes later and there it was 🙂  We watched it for an hour before it slipped from view.  Then it reappeared and I gave directions “over to the right, next to that Mute Swan“…just as Jo spotted one away to our left, and a third one in front of us!  Three Otters in an atmospheric cloud-heavy dusk and a second Barn Owl carrying prey low over the ground made for an exciting end to the day 🙂

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Dolphins; Farne Islands Bespoke Photography 07/06/16

by on Jun.09, 2016, under Farne Islands

Tuesday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for a long time, a bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands, for the parents of one of our Seal Safari clients from back in 2009.

I arrived in Seahouse to collect Jill, Pete, Liz and Bernie and we had a couple of hours on the coast before heading back to the harbour and boarding Glad Tidings.  We were only just out of the harbour when the skipper slowed the boat almost to a halt…as a group of 5 Bottlenose Dolphins passed across our bow 🙂  We watched as they had a quick fly-by of another boat that was leaving the harbour and then they were gone.

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As lines of Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot passed by, there was a notable change in the weather.  Blue skies and sunshine were replaced by cloud and falling temperatures, and a heavy mist was shrouding the islands.  The Farne Islands are a surreal place as it is, but when some of the islands were just dark shapes in the mist they took on a whole different persona.  The loud cries of Kittiwake echoed around the gullies, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Tern were all incubating eggs or chicks, a handsome male Red-breasted Merganser was sitting on the water just off the Inner Farne jetty and the whirling parade of Puffins carrying fish back to their nests was the focus of everyone’s attention, although female Common Eider sitting motionless on nests with small ducklings were greatly appreciated too.

With the first rain drops beginning to spatter on the car windscreen just after we returned to dry land we headed along the coast so I could reveal some of the better spots for wildife photography; what’s there? what time of day? what time of year?  Then it was time to head back to Seahouses.  Are the Farnes the best wildlife experience you can enjoy in England? Britain? the world? Possibly…

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Birds in Flight; Bespoke Photography 19/06/15

by on Jun.26, 2015, under Farne Islands

Our Bespoke Photography ‘Birds in Flight’ workshop was a day out for Max and Nigel – Max’s prize for winning the ‘Young Person’s’ category at last years North East Wildlife Photography Awards.
We met up at Newbiggin and drove up the coast to Seahouses.  Before sailing across to the islands, we had a session covering ‘birds in flight’ techniques and camera settings, with Kittiwakes and Fulmars as the guinea pigs for Max to practice various techniques.  In a stiff breeze, the birds were proving quite challenging – passing a few feet above our heads into the breeze and then racing back with the wind at their tails 🙂  Once on St Cuthbert II we were soon surrounded by an almost limitless supply of photographic subjects; Grey Seal, Shag, Cormorant, Razorbill, Guillemot, Gannet, Puffin, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns and, the most surprising sight of the day, a Rock Pipit dripping with water and holding a small fish!  It was a great day out with two talented photographers, and I’m hoping to see more of Max’s images displayed at the wildlife photography awards evening on July 9th 🙂

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Birds in Flight; Farne Islands Bespoke Photography Workshop 07/06/2015

by on Jun.10, 2015, under Farne Islands

Sunday dawned bright and breezy, but thankfully not quite so breezy as Saturday…

I arrived in Seahouses and met Greg, John and Lee for their bespoke Farne Islands photography workshop.  We were booked on an afternoon sailing to Inner Farne, but we started on the clifftops around Seahouses, practicing techniques for photographing birds in flight.  Kittiwakes and Fulmars make great subjects for practicing techniques, prior to landing on Inner Farne – which is a little bit more hectic 🙂

Sailing on Glad Tidings IV we were soon surrounded by Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Grey Seals.  The cliffs were a hive of activity and once we landed on Inner Farne we braved the Arctic Terns as we explored the varied photo opportunities that the island offers.  ‘Puffin with beakful of sandeels’ was top of the photography target list for the day, and that was soon ticked off, before we enjoyed an extended stay on the island before leaving on the last boat of the day.

Our Farne Islands Beginners Photography Workshops on June 28th and July 11th still have spaces available so give us a call on 01670 827465 to book your place, or get in touch if you’d like a bespoke photography day 🙂

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Wind tunnel; North Pennines Safari 06/06/2015

by on Jun.10, 2015, under Farne Islands, North Pennines

When I arrived at Waren Mill to collect Kevin and Chris, things weren’t looking promising for our planned Farne Islands Safari.  We drove down to the sea at Bamburgh and a quick look told me all I needed to know; there really was no chance of boats sailing out of Seahouses with the frothy white sea being driven by a strengthening southwesterly breeze.  A quick discussion revealed a few species that Chris hasn’t seen yet, and we headed southwest towards the North Pennines to try and catch up with a couple of those.

Ring Ouzel was first up on our revised ‘shopping list’ and we got out of the car, only to discover that it was now so windy that standing upright was a challenge!  We were close to a nest site, and I’ve spent enough years there to know that the birds feed in an area of short grass and clumps of rush just below the narrow secluded valley where they nest.  A couple of minutes later I was scanning along the line of a drystone wall – and a male Ring Ouzel hopped out from behind a clump of rush 🙂  After a few minutes, enjoying good views of the ‘Mountain Blackbird’ as he crossed the rough pasture, we continued on our way.  Curlew, Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Lapwing and a Woodcock, contentedly digging worms out of the earth, were all seen as we headed towards the next species on Chris’s target list.  Black Grouse can be a difficult bird to find in the middle of the day, but I knew where I would expect them to be, and Kevin quickly spotted a dark head, with the tell-tale huge red eyebrow, poking up from the dense grassland.  More Black Grouse followed and we headed across to the coast in search of a third lifer for Chris.  The howling wind appeared to be driving a storm in our direction, and we just managed to find a Roseate Tern before the first rain drops started pattering on our heads 🙂

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Divebombed; Farne Islands Safari 03/06/2015

by on Jun.04, 2015, under Farne Islands

Wednesday’s weather was a complete contrast to Tuesday as I collected Mike and Janet from Dunstan Steads.  This was their second trip with NEWT, after a Lindisfarne trip last November, and today we were heading across to the Farne Islands.

Starting on dry land, we watched Grey Seals lazing in the sunshine as Skylarks soared overhead, Sandwich Terns plunged into the sea and Gannets soared by on the gentle breeze.  Crossing to the islands on St Cuthbert II, we soon had streams of Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills passing by as Grey Seals popped their heads up out of the water around us and Kittiwakes called their name around the cliffs.  Once landed on Inner Farne we came under attack by the feisty Arctic Terns 🙂  Common Terns and Sandwich Terns kept themselves to themselves as Black-headed Gulls attempted to rob any Puffins that flew back in with fish, Common Eider and Shags continued incubating eggs and brooding chicks, apparently unconcerned by the presence of so many people, and amidst the mayhem and noise of the tern colony one call stood out.  ‘Choo-it, choo-it’ grabbed the attention as a ghostly Roseate Tern flew around the lighthouse and then off towards the mainland, and we had another four encounters with this beautiful species befopre we departed for the mainland 🙂

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Feeding frenzy; Farne Islands Safari 26/05/2015

by on May.28, 2015, under Farne Islands

Tuesday was our first landing trip to the Farne Islands this year, with the breeding season well underway for some species, and only just getting started for others.

I collected Sally, Ian, Ben and Hannah from Waren Mill (you’d be surprised at how well hidden a holiday cottage can be in such a small village…) and we headed up the coast towards Holy Island for the first part of our day out, soon encountering Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Common BuzzardGrey Seals were ‘bottling’ offshore, Whitethroat were singing their scratchy warble from the tops of hawthorn bushes, Brown Hares were chasing each other in and out of dense crops and a group of Sandwich Terns feeding close to the shore were joined by a single Little Tern.

After lunch it was time to head across to the islands, onboard Glad Tidings IV, and we soon had lines of Guillemots flying past, Gannets soaring effortlessly by, Puffins on the water close to the boat, Ben and Hannah spotting jellyfish in the clear still water and the extraordinary experience of the cliffs on Staple Island, up close and personal with the sight, sound, and smell of a seabird colony.  Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags may be the staple (sorry, please excuse the pun!) fare of the islands precipitous cliffs, and Grey Seals always grab the attention of everyone on board, but the highlight for many of our clients over the last seven and a half years has been landing on Inner Farne.  Female Common Eiders, easily overlooked as they sit quietly on their nests, are remarkably approachable and Puffins are a firm favourite, particularly with clients who are taking photographs, but there’s little to compare with being dive-bombed by an angry Arctic Tern 🙂  Ben had his camera with him, so we spent a while watching the behaviour of the Puffins, determining what they were about to do just before they did it (the secret to great wildlife photography…) and Ben was soon taking some impressive flight shots as birds flew back towards their burrows after fishing forays out to sea.  After returning to the mainland, passing dense groups of terns and Kittiwakes as they plunged into shoals of small fish, we spent some time scanning the mudflats of Budle Bay, as Eiders with ducklings swan along the Waren Burn and Curlew probed in the soft gooey mud.

Always an impressive day out – we’ve lived up here for over 20 years and still marvel at the stunning wildlife spectacle of a trip to the Farnes each time we head across there.  It’s Thursday now, so we’d like to say “Happy Birthday Hannah” 🙂

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“I really love otters”; Bespoke Otter Safari 10-11/04/2015

by on Apr.14, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Southeast Northumberland

Friday and Saturday saw a two day bespoke safari for Fran and Georgia, arranged by their mum back in early December.

I collected the girls from The Swan and we headed towards Druridge Bay.  We weren’t too far along the road when Georgia asked if we’d seen any Otters recently.  I told them about Thursday’s sightings, and there was an obvious raising of excitement levels in the car…and, with typical wildlife unpredictability, we managed to get right through Friday without an Otter sighting 🙁  Dippers zipping back and forth along the River Blyth were entertaining, a drake Garganey on the Wansbeck was stunning, Little Egrets and Avocets were elegant, but of the sinuous stealthy predator there was no sign.  We returned to The Swan and I started revising our plans for Saturday…

Saturday 05:00 and I stumble sleepily to the bathroom.  There’s one thing I really don’t want to hear, and that’s a howling gale.  This wasn’t looking promising; our plan for the day was a Seal Cruise around the Farne Islands, and then more time searching for Otters, and neither of those would be helped by the hoolie that I could hear whistling through the trees in our garden.  We arrived in Seahouses for our sailing on Glad Tidings V, and the sea was looking ever so slightly lumpy.  We did manage to sail though, and were rewarded with Cormorant, Shag, Guillemot, Eider, Kittiwake and the two stars of the morning – Puffin and Grey Seal.  Back on dry land we resumed the search for Otters, and the wind strengthened so that we could hear an eerie whistling around trees, bridges and us!  With a wind chill factor taking temperatures down to bone-chilling, and a hail storm pinging ice off our heads, we were having to suffer for our wildlife…and still no Otters.  Sarah was out and about checking other locations and sending regular texts to let me know where she’d checked.  Our final backup plan was an 06:00 start on Sunday, but I don’t think anyone was really too keen on that idea.

18:30 and the wind shifted from west to southwest and weakened slightly, the sun came out and I started to feel more optimistic.  I had one decision left to make though, and that was which of our two options for sunset to go for…

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Sealed; Bespoke North Northumberland Coast Safari 22/08/2014

by on Aug.25, 2014, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After some poor sea conditions recently, things looked more promising for Friday’s trip; a seal cruise around the Farne Islands, followed by a few hours of birdwatching along the North Northumberland coast.  A change is as good as a rest, and the North Northumberland coast is quite a change from the sand dunes and coastal pools of Druridge Bay 🙂

I collected Anne-Marie, Dave, Melanie and Mike from the Queen’s Head in Berwick and we drove to Seahouses for our sailing on Glad Tidings V, which thankfully was fairly smooth, and featured plenty of wildlife.  Gannets were soaring by, Kittiwakes were still on their cliff-edge nest sites in good numbers as Fulmars arced over them, Grey Seals were hauled out on rocks and bobbing around in the water, two Common Guillemots were still sitting on the rocks, Cormorants and Shags were drying their wings in the stiff breeze, Sandwich Terns called as they flew back to the islands and, unexpectedly, five Puffins were seen with beakfuls of fish.  Photographing Puffins in flight can be a challenge on land, with lots of birds to choose from, and a bird appearing unexpectedly at sea is an even harder proposition but Anne-Marie and Melanie responded with lightning fast reflexes to capture these late breeding birds.

Back on dry land we had our lunch in the impressive shadow of Bamburgh Castle, as Eiders bobbed around just beyond the breaking surf, and then we explored the coast as the tide fell.  Little Egrets have become a frequent feature of our coastal trips, and two birds flew by at quite close range.  Dozens of Grey Seals could be seen ‘bottling’ at high tide and then, as the water receded, exposing patches of mud, we started encountering waders.  Redshank, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin  and Oystercatcher were joined by Knot, Ruff and Greenshank as more Little Egrets, and a flock of Teal, flew by.

Heading back to Berwick we could see poor weather to the north and to the east, and I got caught in some heavy rain as I drove south on the way home, but we’d had a day where the only water that landed on us was the spray from the bow of the boat 🙂

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Challenge; Farne Islands Photography 20/07/14

by on Jul.28, 2014, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland

Our rearranged Farne Islands photography workshop was a second day out with NEWT for Bryan, and a chance for him to take on the challenge of Puffins in flight 😉  We sailed across to the islands on Glad Tidings IV (returning at the end of the afternoon on St Cuthbert III), and amidst the chaos of Arctic, Sandwich and Common Terns, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags we worked on camera settings for action photography, but also on the elusive, almost instinctive skills that need to be developed to capture flight photographs of such a fast moving target.  At one point we swapped cameras, with Bryan taking on the physical challenge of the substantial lump of kit that is a Nikon D300s and 70-200mm f2.8 lens 🙂  As he settled into a smooth panning action, aided by the weight of my camera/lens, and began taking the shot at just the right time, he switched back to his camera with Puffin after Puffin captured through the lens, and I grabbed a couple of shots myself 🙂

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