Tag: Farne Islands

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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Farne Islands 04/07/2011

by on Jul.06, 2011, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland

By Monday morning, our car could almost have driven itself to Seahouses 🙂  I collected John and Anthea from their holiday accommodation at St Cuthbert’s House and we had a tour of the North Northumberland coast before boarding Glad Tidings IV and sailing to Inner Farne.  The tern colony was as wonderful as ever.  I felt a little bit let down though, as not one of the terns managed to hit my head!  Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns were all studied to fix identification criteria firmly in mind and Puffins were, as always, well appreciated.  The hour on the islands passed in no time at all, and soon we were heading back across to Seahouses.  The Farne Islands are still one of the most extraordinary places I’ve ever visited, and that I get to visit them with such nice clients is a real joy.

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Winter birdwatching around the Farnes

by on Dec.12, 2010, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Holy Island, Northumberland

After postponing our Seal and Seaduck Special last Saturday (sea conditions were ideal, but it would have been really irresponsible to encourage anyone to drive on Northumberland’s roads at the time) we arrived at Seahouses Harbour yesterday morning ready for our final boat trip of the year.

Everyone was well wrapped-up and we were soon boarding Glad Tidings VI.  As we sailed out of the harbour a veritable battery of long lenses was produced in readiness for the anticipated wildlife.  With a skipper and crewman with excellent eyesight and wildlife-spotting skills, 2 NEWT guides, and clients with sharp eyes as well, the boat was soon being manouvered to offer the best possible opportunities to view or photograph the wildlife.  After 13 years of organising offshore wildlife trips we know the importance of the skipper to the success (or otherwise…) of the trip and, with Craig and William, we were in excellent hands.

The first half of the trip concentrated on the Farne Islands themselves.  A lot of the Grey Seals had well-grown pups, quite a few of the adults were moulting and there were a couple of cow seals still heavily pregnant.

Grey Seal, Offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland, 11/12/2010

Grey Seal

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seal and the Longstone Lighthouse

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seals

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seals

Shags were sitting around on the islands, Little Auks were bobbing about like corks in the increasing swell, and we had a brief view of a Black Guillemot as it flew from Gun Rock towards Inner Farne.  Heading north we enjoyed the sunny (but cold) weather and scoured the sea just south of Holy Island.  Plenty of Eider were sitting around, along with a pair of Scaup and several Red-breasted Mergansers but a Slavonian Grebe near Guile Point proved elusive.  Red-throated and Great Northern Divers were seen but in much smaller numbers than we would normally expect.  The journey back down the coast featured one of our favourite birds; Long-tailed Ducks were sitting around in groups of 10-15 and offering some excellent photo opportunities.

Long-tailed Ducks on an offshore birdwatching trip, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Long-tailed Ducks

30 or 40 Common Scoters proved a bit more skittish and didn’t come near the boat.  2 Gannets were a bit of a surprise before we returned to the harbour.

Although the wildlife was very obliging perhaps the best thing about the day was the truly beautiful lighting conditions, a real bonus for wildlife photography and something that all of the photographers on board commented on.  We can’t control the light, or the weather, but we keep taking clients to the right places at the right time…

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Talking birdwatching

by on Dec.09, 2010, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, North Pennines

Woodcock are continuing to feature in our birdwatching at the moment.  Martin saw two more yesterday; one flying ahead of the car as he drove through Ashington and another one flying over our house, as Lee from G&S Organics was delivering our weekly groceries.

Yesterday evening we were out and about again.  This time it wasn’t a nocturnal birdwatching trip but a much more sociable occasion, meeting up with a friend for a meal and a few drinks.

Nick was already in the pub, with a pint of Guinness in hand, when we arrived.  The conversation through the evening focused primarily on raptors; a real obsession for all three of us.  He didn’t make it to this year’s North of England Raptor Conference so we filled him in on the highlights.  As our discussions covered population ecology, persecution, identification and migration patterns, the time raced by and soon we were driving back through the snowy wastes of Northumberland.  Unsurprisingly, most of our discussion had focussed on the Hen Harrier; probably the most persecuted raptor in Britain.  Our study area covers twelve 10km squares in southwest Northumberland, notable for having no breeding Hen Harriers, although a vast amount of suitable habitat.  There’s a lack of Peregrines as well, although at one site they can often be seen displaying in the early spring…

On our North Pennines tours, the lack of raptors is often commented on by our clients.  When we explain the reasons, and back this up with our own observations and experiences from the harrier nest we monitored in North Tynedale, we’re generally met with looks of incredulity, horror or dismay.  Who knows, maybe 2011 will be the year when the Hen Harrier starts to make a comeback on the moors of Northern England?  Don’t hold your breath though…

Now, after a morning which Martin spent being interviewed for the BBC Politics Show (which will be shown at 12:00 on Sunday 11th December), it’s time to process another batch of Gift Voucher orders and finalise details for this Saturday’s boat trip around the Farne Islands and Holy Island.  Gift Vouchers are an ideal present, and our final boat trip of the year looks like being a really good one, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to book.

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To intervene in nature…or not?

by on Oct.29, 2010, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

We were watching Autumnwatch yesterday evening and one discussion between the presenters, concerning intervention when you’re filming/photographing an animal in distress, was particularly pertinent to the mini-safari that Martin led earlier yesterday evening…but back to that later in this post.

The half-term week was busy, as expected, and included some fantastic wildlife watching; Salmon leaping up a weir on the River Coquet, Starlings massing and swirling above a coastal reedbed before dropping to roost, 2000+ Pink-footed Geese filling the sky overhead, as they left their feeding sites and headed for the overnight safety of the water, and Grey Seals around the Farne Islands as they approach the height of their breeding season.

Yesterday brought an evening mini-safari in southeast Northumberland.  Damp gloomy conditions and increasingly glowering clouds weren’t making things look too promising.  Our walk along the River Blyth produced a Nuthatch, and a Kingfisher called as it flew along the swollen, muddy river.  Two birdwatching gems, but quality rather than quantity was the order of the evening.  A Sparrowhawk provided some entertainment as it swooped repeatedly down towards the trees, flushing flocks of Woodpigeon with each descent, before finally vanishing into the canopy.  We continued our walk and, as we rounded a bend in the path, we found the reason for the Sparrowhawk’s disappearance; flapping lamely in the undergrowth was a Woodpigeon with a nasty head wound.  The predator had presumably flushed as we approached.  We’ve seen similar before and the question from clients is always “what are we going to do?”.  The answer may seem quite cold and heartless but we do nothing.  The pigeon was mortally wounded and would provide a meal either for the hawk or possibly a Red Fox would come along and make off with it.  Nature really is ‘red in tooth and claw’ and we shouldn’t interfere in the everyday life (and death) of our wildlife where we can avoid doing so.

Our next destination was what is rapidly becoming our favourite Badger sett.  As we watched quietly (and we really have to congratulate the 6-year old in our group for remaining so very quiet) over the open area close to the sett, a Red Fox crossed the track ahead of us, we could hear scuffling in the undergrowth and then two stripy black-and-white faces appeared out of the gloom.  After a withering stare in our direction the two cubs trotted along the hillside and were joined by a third before vanishing into the night.  The final leg of the trip was a search for owls.  Local knowledge paid off, as the ghostly figure of a Barn Owl floated through the beam of our headlights just where we expected it to.  There was still time for more wildlife though and the application of our bat detector revealed a Common Pipistrelle feeding on the rich bounty of moths.  After the recent frosts it was good to find bats still active, and our final event for this October is a Bat Walk at Bamburgh Castle tomorrow evening.  Give us a call on 01670 827465 to book your place for what should be an evening of family fun.

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Frenetic Friday

by on Oct.23, 2010, under Choppington Woods, Farne Islands, North Sea, Northumberland

Yesterday involved a real mixture of my favourite places, and a wide range of activities.

Starting just after 07:00 I checked the 12 Longworth traps that we set on pre-bait in Choppington Woods earlier in the week.  With 9 of the 12 having been emptied of food, the small mammals we’re interested in had obviously found the bait.  The one slight problem was that initially I could only find 11 traps!  Despite having a GPS location for each, and marking adjacent vegetation with tags, it took 20 minutes to locate one of them.  Veronica Carnell, who is supervising me while I gain sufficient experience to run a trapping programme on my own, had warned me that this would happen 🙂

Then I had a short drive across to Blyth for the second day of the Netgain regional hub meeting.  It’s been incredibly educational to listen to the views and concerns of other stakeholders, who don’t necessarily approach things from a conservation point of view.  Equally, it was impressive to see such wide and varied viewpoints coalescing into a concensus by the end of the meeting.  Although I have an interest in the project from a nature tourism angle, my main input was on the distribution and seasonality of cetaceans and seabirds off the Northumberland coast.  The protection of the marine habitat is so important to us that, as a business, we’ll keep making my time available for Netgain meetings until the conclusion of the project.

After the meeting I drove to Seahouses and collected a journalist from the Edinburgh Evening News, for a trip across to the Farne Islands.  We occasionally run press trips where the journalist will be accompanied by wife/husband/partner, but 2 adults, a 6-year old, a 3-year old and a baby was pretty much a first (apart from a guy from a local paper in Cumbria who managed to blag a free holiday, for himself and his family, from accommodation providers, activity providers and attractions in Northumberland in 2008…and then never wrote the article that was used as the hook for getting all the freebies – ah well, live and learn).  The trip across to the Farnes was everything I would expect in late October; breezy, cold and a fantastic wildlife experience.  The Grey Seal pups were predictably cute, and at least 3 Peregrines were hunting the Feral Pigeons that live on the islands.  We’ve got a Seal Safari next Friday, which includes a trip around the Farne Islands (weather permitting), a Landrover safari and picnic so give us a call on 01670 827465 for more details or to book (especially if you are a family – it’s 1/2 term week so we’re offering generous discounts on family bookings).  With 5 trips out with clients over the next 5 days (including 2 days where we’re fully booked already) it’s going to be  a busy week.

All of that would have a been a busy day…but there was one thing left, and it was something that I was really looking forward to.  As Newcastle University graduates, myself and Sarah both have an emotional attachment to the Hancock Museum (or Great North Museum:Hancock as it’s now named…but you won’t find either of us, or many other local naturalists, calling it that).  So, yesterday evening I felt quite honoured to be standing in the Clore Learning Centre at the museum giving a lecture about the Northeast Cetacean Project to the Natural History Society of Northumbria.  With an attendance of over 100 at the lecture it’s a subject that people are really interested by.  One of the question asked at the end of the talk was “how will the data be used?  what value does it have?”.  Which took us nicely back round the loop to the day and a half of Netgain meetings.

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Birdwatching by boat off the Northumberland coast

by on Sep.13, 2010, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Now, you shouldn’t need to read too many of my blog posts to realise that seabirds and cetaceans occupy a special place in my heart, and that I’m in my element once I’m on a boat off the Northumberland coast.

Saturday was our annual ‘Whale and Dolphin Cruise’ on Glad Tidings V, out of Seahouses.  With 36 participants, including the other NEWT guides (Sarah and Andy), all safely on board we set off down the coast.  We were soon enjoying views of two Arctic Skuas and then panic on the deck as our eagle-eyed skipper spotted two Sooty Shearwaters off to one side and everyone rushed to see them.  These ocean wanderers are one of the great sights of pelagic seabirding in the North Sea at this time of the year.  For one participant though the real excitement was the bird sitting beside the shearwaters; a Puffin 🙂  It’s a few weeks too late to see them at their breeding colonies, but I’d told Sam that we had a good chance of coming across one.  Throughout the day we found a few more, as well as plenty of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots  and a few Razorbills.  Perhaps the best entertainment of the day was provided by several feeding groups of Gannets, throwing fountains of water into the air as they hit the sea.  There was clearly a lot of fish for them to eat, and it was real mystery to myself, Sarah, Andy and John that there were no cetaceans feeding in the same areas.  Oh well, if they weren’t so mysterious it wouldn’t be such an adrenaline rush when we do find them I suppose.  A lone Manx Shearwater avoided the boat, as they tend to do, and we headed northwards to the Farne Islands, hoping to see the White-tailed Eagle that has been there for the last week.  We were in radio contact with other boats so we knew it had just killed a Shag and was eating it.  As we neared the islands our one cetacean for the day appeared, a Harbour Porpoise just to one side of the wake of the boat.  Just as we arrived, the eagle crept into a cleft between a grassy bank and some rocks so only one or two people managed to get a glimpse of it’s head as it dropped out of sight.  Grey Seals were playing, splashing and racing around and we headed back into the harbour, after a marathon effort by our skipper and everyone on board.  We’ve already set the date for the 2011 Whale and Dolphin Cruise – Saturday September 10th so put it in your diaries and give us a call on 01670 827465 to book your place.

Blue skies, calm sea, what more could you wish for?

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Wildlife photography in focus

by on Jun.22, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

After a busy week I was looking forward to a couple of days catching up on admin and housework (no, really, I was looking forward to doing some housework…).  Then, on Saturday morning, the ‘phone rang and we took a booking for Sunday; a photographer visting the area was frustrated by the weather leading to sailing cancellations (Farne Islands, Isle of May, Coquet Island) so could we take him out and show him some of the better locations for wildlife and birdwatching photography in southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay?

We pride ourselves on being flexible so a meeting point was arranged, camera kit was cleaned, memory cards loaded, batteries charged.  Some excellent views of Red Squirrel, so close that only head shots were possible, were followed by a few hours in the birdwatching mecca that is Druridge Bay.

Here are a few of my favourite images from Sunday and Monday.

Banded Demoiselle, River Blyth, Northumberland 20/06/2010

Ruff, with a ruff, Druridge Pools, Northumberland 21/06/2010

Sand Martin, Druridge Pools, Northumberland 21/06/2010

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Landscape photography and birdwatching on the Northumberland coast

by on Jun.19, 2010, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Photography

This has been one of our busiest weeks since we started NEWT, and I’ve only just got around to finding the time to sit in our office and blog about the last few days.

Tuesday saw Mike, one of our returning clients, coming for his second day out with NEWT, including some photography tuition in the Northumberland Coast AONB and a birdwatching trip across to the Farne Islands.

After a session on exposure theory, covering topics such as exposure values, ND filters and average metering (the bane of photographers everywhere) and a bit of practice with slow shutter speeds to creatively blur the rising tide it was time to head across to Inner Farne.

No matter how many times I visit the Farne Islands, I’m always awestruck by just how good the experience is;  Grey Seals, Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns, Eiders, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills all offer excellent photo opportunities so plenty of memory cards are a must.

Common Guillemots (including a 'bridled' Guillemot) after a successful fishing trip


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The dawning of the “season”

by on May.05, 2010, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Lee Moor Farm, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

After a cold, wet day surveying one of our inland tetrads for the Bird Atlas, we had a very early start on Sunday for our Dawn Chorus walk at Lee Moor Farm.  Ian was, as always, an entertaining host for the event and we walked around the farm, enjoying the songs of Willow Warbler, Song Thrush and Sedge Warbler, excellent views of Brown Hare and Roe Deer and then a delicious breakfast.  Our next event at Lee Moor is a bat walk, moth trapping demonstration and BBQ on Saturday May 15th.

Monday saw us out on Atlas work again, this time much closer to home as we are covering the tetrads that are immediately north and south of our house.  The highlight was a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, and the closest Tree Sparrows to home that we’ve found so far.

Yesterday was our first Farne Islands Safari of the year.  With excellent views of Sandwich, Common and Arctic terns, Eiders, Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Shags, Gannets, a very obliging Wheatear and Grey Seals it was everything we would expect the Farnes to be.  There’s a good reason that the islands will be the venue for days out with 3 of our photography clients over the next few weeks.

Now, it’s Wednesday morning and I’m just packing the Landy ready for a migrant hunt on Lindisfarne with 2 of our returning clients.  Wish us luck 🙂

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