23rd. Marie, Sam and I had days pencilled on the calendar this week for a trip to the Farne Islands. As today promised to possibly offer the best of a bad lot of weather we decided to set off. When we arrived at Seahouses (Brown Hare seen on the journey) at about 8.30am and entered the chill air under darkened skies I had to remind myself that it was summer. I’d thought perhaps that I had put on far too many layers of clothing, but I needn’t have worried as I was still feeling the cold. I’ve certainly spent warmer winter days on the coast. Anyway with uninspiring weather and a rather choppy looking sea I was not at all surprised that on arrival at B Shiels kiosk we were told there were to be no boats going out to the Outer Farnes this morning. Our all day trip was changed to an afternoon trip to Inner Farne with assurances that we would have plenty of time on the island and be able to view the outer islands by boat. It sounded a very good deal we altered our booking accordingly and decided to fill the morning in with a trip to the Little Tern Colony at Long Nanny.
Instead of walking from Beadnell we drove to Newton by the Sea and walked from there. The air was still cold when we set off, but very gradually temperatures lifted, my own temperature being helped by the brisk walk. We were impressed by the numbers of Skylarks along the way and also the botanical interest. I know this walk well, but I confess I’ve never visited the Little Tern Colony prior to today. Redshank and Shelduck were seen along the way. We were the first visitors of the day, accompanied by a couple who were visiting from Cambridgeshire and who also had been planning to go on the all day Farne Islands trip. They mentioned that they had visited the Farne Islands yesterday, but had had to get of the island quickly because of deteriorating weather and explained that someone had fallen and injured themselves. We were soon watching large numbers of Arctic Terns and managing to pick out a few Little Terns in flight and on the nests raised by boxes so as to protect from high tides. A flock of twenty Red-breasted Mergansers flew north over the sea as we watched. We had a chance to talk to one of the wardens and use the telescope provided. Having had great sightings of Little Terns at the Durham colony I had expected much the same here, but it’s different and you really do need the telescope if you want a good sighting of the Little Terns on the nests.
When I asked about pair numbers (twenty-one pairs at present) it seemed that the birds have not been doing so well this year and we heard about predation and other problems. Problems have been caused by Stoats, Foxes and Badgers and then of course you can add too, the poor weather conditions, tides and human disturbance. I understand that Arctic Terns, thought to have been in a state of anxiety from disturbance had attacked and killed Little Tern chicks. Although predation from other birds was not discussed I know that too can be a serious problem. All in all it must be a very frustrating business for the wardens. I was told that attempts are made to catch the Stoats and remove them to another area but I didn’t get the chance to ask about other control of predators. Whilst we were at the site we had our sighting of the day, an Otter running along the beach near the Ringed Plovers and eventually entering the sea.
Once back in Seahouses we visited a café for a hot drink before making for the departure point on Glad Tidings. No doubt because of lack of boats leaving in the morning, folk were flocking down there in great numbers.
Arctic Tern chick
As we waited to board the boat I made an error in answering the call for a party of three, as we were squeezed onto the boat like sardines into a can. I was asked to sit in a space which barely had enough room for a small child! In short I found the outward boat trip unpleasant and I can’t help feel that there is a growing ‘squeeze ‘em in and rake it in' philosophy. I realise it is not the done thing to criticise this operation, but I feel strongly that these trips ought to be amazing experiences for folk, some who may only ever visit once and this would be aided by just adopting a bit more thought about the matter. I’ll certainly give some thought to the firm I use the next time. That’s my groan over and I have to say, everyone I spoke to seemed to be having a great day and I remember speaking to folk from Kent, Cheshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk as well as some more local people. Plenty of Grey Seals to watch too.
Kittiwake with chick
On a positive note we were given almost four hours on Inner Farne, so it was well worth the landing fee and being on Inner Farne is always a great experience if just to watch the different reactions to the Arctic Terns. Yesterday we had the ‘ah, look at me I don’t need a hat’ type who perhaps changed his mind slightly when dive bombed by an Arctic Tern which crapped on his head, and the folk who react as if they are being targeted by Stuka aircraft. Then of course there is the occasional photographer, not content to be close to the birds, but who feels the need to constantly harass them by practically having the waving lens down the throat of birds.
We had a great afternoon watching and photographing the birds, admiring the views over to Bamburgh Castle and Lindisfarne and being warmed up by the sun under now blue skies. The return journey was rather more pleasant that the outward one and we were met in the harbour by a creche of Eider Ducks. Not much I can tell you about the birds that isn’t very well known, so I’ll just put up some images.
Customary image of Sam with Arctic Tern on head.