Wednesday 15 June 2016

Roseate Terns

The Roseate Tern has been on my wanted list for some time so I planned to take a cruise around RSPB Coquet Island, dependent of course on a successful outcome on the Farnes. The island is an RSPB reserve about one mile off Amble, Northumberland. It is home to a colony of nesting Roseate Terns and Coquet now holds 90 per cent of the UK's population.

As far as I know the only way to get close is by booking a trip on Dave Gray's Puffin Cruises out of Amble. Now most people who know me understand that I am most parsimonious when it comes to handing out endorsements and recommendations. However,  I have to say that the one hour cruise with Captain Dave and Chief Officer Dicky has to be one of the best £8 of birding investments I have made.

Oddly enough on this cruise you don't pay until you are on the way back. Rumour in the local hostelries says that if you don't see a Rosy then you don't have to pay. The same rumour mongers tell you that Dave has never had to give a refund - because he has never failed to find one. Well, I am a completely satisfied customer.

The day dawned a bit damp but I stuck to the plan and not only booked on the 1100 boat but the 1200 as well. I had nothing else planned for the day and as it happened the weather improved dramatically during the second trip. Nothing better than insurance.

I didn't have a clear strategy so when we approached the nesting colony I just fired off as many record shots as I could then searched with the bins. Well I managed to pick one up fairly quickly and subsequent analysis of the photos showed that there was one in the first frame. The nest boxes are clearly numbered and as other birders on the boat spotted the birds they called out the number. In the end  "55", "41" and "69" started to sound like some odd form of "birding bingo"

Nice to have the company of John whose world list is in excess of 4500 but he had never seen a Rosy, great to share the moment.

The boat gets you close enough
"Bird bingo" on a what looks like a building site

Six - possibly seven.

Two rings a good ID clue

Some birds still slightly pink

I spotted a mixed flock of birds bathing...

...huge embarrassment as I miscalled a Sarnie.

On the second run we managed to pick up a bird on the rocks in front of the colony, still a fair way off but I was happy to have it as a record shot. 

Lots of other birds are present, Puffins of course, Arctic, Sandwich and Common Terns along with Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Black-headed Gulls. Plus, of course, loads of seals coming close to the boat.

Well if you are in the area and have a hankering to see a Roseate Tern then give it a go - you won't regret it

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Arctic Terns


The second port of call on Billy Shiel's all day birding trip is Inner Farne, home of the now famous Arctic Terns. As everyone knows as soon as you set foot ashore you are assailed by some fairly angry birds, resentful of your intrusion. Also that you require a stout hat to protect your head from well directed pecks, amazingly some people were unaware of this and suffered the consequences. During my visit I discovered that the birds reserve their most vicious response for the wardens, who wear hooded jackets rather than hats. 

Now there has to be some discomfort in the knowledge that you are disturbing the breeding time of such a delicate species, however, the footfall is limited to 400 visitors a day and each visit raises £8, some of which must filter back to benefit the birds. Also, so I am reliably informed, the presence of humans deters the predator species and affords some protection, in fact the Lesser Black-backed Gulls appeared to be absent, the threat coming from the Black-headed Gulls which are nesting in close proximity.

Whilst photographing the birds from the boardwalk I was pleased to have a companion that had a penchant for my new Tilley hat, unfortunately he christened it with a large streak of poo. Not only that, he managed to hit my jumper, trousers, shirt and a well aimed deposit down my neck. All this was offset by being near to a very photogenic subject.

The 59,650 mile record breaker with its journey to its winter home
in the Weddell Sea before returning to the Farne Islands.

Lots of youngsters...



...with more on the way.

If you visit Inner Farne - bring a hat - it makes a good perch.


The sun came out and afforded an opportunity for some in flight shots.

Finally, as I sat in the warm sunshine, waiting for the boat, this Ringed Plover acted out its "broken wing" routine right in front of me. Unfortunately I couldn't locate the reported two chicks in the shingle.


I visited the Farne Islands a couple of years ago and although I had a great time the photographs were not as good as I expected. So, a return visit was in order. When I planned my trip way back in January I had no idea that BBC Springwatch would be doing programmes on the islands. Consequently there has been a bit of a bounce factor and numbers for the boat trips have rocketed. The National Trust and the boat operators must be rubbing their hands with glee. Couple high demand with poor weather and that meant a backlog of visitors had built up. Persistent rain meant that the NT had closed the islands for a few days, I heard people saying that a bit of rain wouldn't put them off  - as I understand it, the NT close the islands because visitor disturbance is inevitable and birds vacate their nests leaving their eggs and chicks open to the elements - risking chilling.

 I had booked before going north and I was on the all day birding trip leaving at 0930, not only that, as we reached Staple Island the sea fret or haar cleared and we even saw the sun on occasion. On Staple I only wanted to capture Puffins so with two hours to spend I hunkered down next to some obliging birds and filled my boots as they say.

There is always a reception committee

Never sure who is watching whom

Having satisfied my requirements for posing birds I had some spare time to attempt some in flight shots - not entirely successful as the light was a bit on the low side. Probably means that I will have to go again - what a shame!.

Of course predation is rife and top of the food chain is the Lesser Black-backed Gull. Not only are they constantly nest raiding but they also chase the Puffins making them give up their hard won Sand Eels.

Waiting patiently for an incoming Puffin

Herring Gull nest provided a snack
Eider Duck nest just two feet from the predated Herring Gull nest

Couldn't resist snapping this parent and youngster - guess "Shaggy" would be an apt name.