Sunday, 21 September 2014

Fea-tastic return!

So the eternal optimism was partially rewarded when we returned to the Farnes yesterday. There was a big clear out overnight, but still lingering were some nice migrants including a long-overdue addition to my life list; Red-breasted Flycatcher. It was supported by a single Yellow-browed Warbler, numerous Goldcrests, and 2 Lesser and Common Whitethroat. Not quite the mega haul present on the islands the day before, but a lovely selection of birds none-the-less.

Red-Breasted Flycatcher from the living room window!

Yellow-browed Warbler showing well

And again showing faint crown stripe

Pair of Goldcrest trapped and ringed in the afternoon

This morning it was even quieter, but there was much excitement when news broke of a Fea's Type Petrel heading north from Flamborough at 8.25. We knew it would be a while before it hit the Farnes, but we kept an eye all day and saw 33 Manx Shearwater,  49 Sooty Shearwater and 9 Arctic Skua. As news broke of the Fea's passing Newbiggin we all took our seats and waited. And boy was it worth it!!
Almost exactly two hours later, it was picked up going through Staple Sound, and we were able to watch it for a good minute as it passed, banking heavily and showing its dark underwing contrasting with light belly in near perfect light. What a bird, and what a view! Needless to say we were very very happy afterwards. That was the bird that we really wanted!  

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Troubles of Being a Birder

When I find myself cursing about being on the Farnes (a very very rare occasion), it quickly turns into a sense of being totally unreasonable and I tell myself that I should be ashamed for it is the highest privilege to work and live in such an incredible place. However, on this occasion I found it somewhat more justifiable. The story begins with a broken zodiac engine, happening at a risky time of year. It rendered us boatless for a few days, and clearly the "weather gods" got wind of this (no pun intended) and the winds promptly swung easterly. With no rain, it means that the Outer group is perfectly placed to attract rares, and the Inner group perfectly placed to allow jealous observation. And this is what happened, and within a two day period on Brownsman the team had been joined by two Red Breasted Flys, a Red Backed Shrike, Little and Rustic Bunting and a host of other lovely migrants, while we were blessed with some Scandinavian Robins.... A Corncrake on the West Wides offered some light relief, but it was with some anxiety that we waited for a visitor boat to get out and catch a glimpse of what was a lovely Rustic Bunting on Tuesday. These lovely buntings breed in Northern Europe and Asia and winter down in South East Asia, and this represents the second Farnes record in two years.

Rustic Bunting (Thanks to David Kinchen-Smith for the photo)

I should also mention that on Inner Farne we did have some nice highlights, including a Pied Flycatcher that needed some hair-dryer treatment and a young Redstart trapped and ringed during the day. 

Soggy Pied Fly. Really perked up after a warming blow dry

Look at that tail!! Juvenile Redstart

So feeling very satisfied Lana and I headed for the West coast of Scotland for some lovely family time. Knowing that easterlies were still a-blowing but with things looking like they would be calming down, we thought the risk was minimal... We were wrong. News broke this afternoon of two new arrivals, one a Common Rosefinch, but the other... a Golden Oriole. Now I have seen a few in the UK but to see one on the Farnes would be an amazing experience. And to share a tiny island with a RB Shrike, Little Bunting, Rustic Bunting, Common Rosefinch and Golden Oriole... Need I say more. 

However, this is the way of birding, and something that we all need to learn to deal with at some point. So as I sit here having soaked up some lovely Scottish Sun. with my newly acquired Yellow Fever vaccination certificate for Argentina sitting next to me, looking forward to two more days of luxury running water, I feel very happy, for myself and also for the team enjoying some wonderful birds. I must also add that my eternal optimism (be it good or bad) allows me to believe that when we return on Saturday, all those lovely birds will be there waiting with open arms (or wings)!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

A Barred Surprise!

After rain overnight on Friday, there was an air of expectation yesterday morning that something tasty might have arrived. It didn't take much to find it either, as Lana and I walked up the boardwalk there it was, sat in the sticks in full view, a BARRED WARBLER! It didn't stay there for long unfortunately and went crashing off into the dock where it spent most of the day, occasionally visiting the Elders in the veg patch where I managed to grab a distant picture! These large Sylvia warblers breed right across Central Europe and Central Asia and turn up in fairly good numbers in the East Coast around this time of year. Records are almost always first winter birds migrating south to Eastern Africa for the winter; spring records and adults are extremely rare. The bird gets its name from the heavy barring that adult males have across the breast, somewhat similar to a Sparrowhawk or Peregrine. There was some very faint barring visible on this bird (perhaps not in this poor photo though).

Skulking, always skulking! Typical Barred Warbler behaviour

Later that evening there was some sad news, a Barred Warbler had been found dead by the sticks where we had first seen our bird this morning. However, 30 minutes later another one was found, alive and well. It seems then that two came in overnight and unfortunately, one didn't make it.

Also around was this lovely Whinchat, although it was the only one remaining. The Pied Flycatcher was still around, as were the other common migrants.

Gorgeous bird! Whinchat.

On the Farnes our information centre is somewhat akin to a giant insect trap, and this handy extra feature means that other species are enticed in as well, and this morning I was kept company by this little chap as he flicked around gorging himself on flies.

Sharing my workplace with a Goldcrest.... Could be worse?

Friday, 5 September 2014

Lightly does it easterlies

It felt like summer had returned for a few days this week. We had a lovely few days on the Farnes, but looking outside now at rain and fog it feels like a long time ago. However, the islands have some nice birds at the moment, and this rain brings with it some hope of a few more treats dropping in overnight.
On our day off this week Lana and I had a whistle-stop tour down our local section of Northumberland coast. Firstly Holy Island causeway, where 5 Greenshank, a Bar-wit and many Curlew and Redshanks were on show.

Greenshank showing wonderfully from the car!


Redshank in lovely light

Then it was onto Budle Bay where a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper showed nicely, and onto Low-Newton scrape which was heaving with birds, in particular a lovely Little Stint. We then decided to try for the long-staying Caspian Gull in Amble, which unfortunately wasn't there. However there was a showy Mediterranean Gull with a ring on (possibly a breeder from Coquet).

Med or Caspian? What's the difference eh?

Back on the islands, and as mentioned some nice migrants grace us with their presence at the moment. Between the islands we have 8 Whinchat, 5 Pied Flycatcher, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, a Little Stint and a sprinkling of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and a Whitethroat.

Pied Flycatcher, clearly been messing around in the Dock.

Willow Warbler in the sun

Who is watching who here?

We have also seen the first Song Thrush of the autumn. It won't be long now before thrushes are heading our way in big numbers. This bird, like all the Song Thrushes I have encountered on the islands was very flighty and tricky to photograph. I just managed this shot looking straight into the sun as it paused for a second on a fence.

Flighty Song Thrush

As for our breeding birds, it isn't quite over yet. Possibly the last brood of the year belongs to the Swallows in the chapel on Inner Farne. This is the second brood for these parents, and it won't be long at all before they are flying and winging their way to Africa for the winter!

Begging away.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The Last Session

The final seabird ringing session of the year took place this week involving all the Fulmar chicks on Inner Farne. It won't be long until these guys leave the islands and get their first taste of the ocean, potentially their home for the next 60 years!!!! Fulmar chicks are feared by predators thanks to a special defence mechanism; vomit. If another bird is caught in the firing line of this oily mixture, it destroys the waterproofing of its feathers and can render it unable to fly. For us, it just means a revolting smell that is incredibly difficult to get off your clothes, so pouncing on them quickly is a must.

Fulmar and I

Lana, ringing with a view

As for migrant birds... well. A poorly timed day off saw us miss the first excitement of the Autumn, a Citrine Wagtail. With easterlies hitting we knew there was a risk, but didn't expect it to be that bad!! Having seen two before it wasn't the end of the world, but it is now a gaping hole in my Farnes list. Despite a nice sprinkling of Wrynecks, Pied Flys, Greenish and Icterine Warblers along the east coast, the Citrine Wag had only had a supporting cast of Willow Warblers, Wheatears and a single Whinchat (all lovely in their own right may I add).

Wheatear poses nicely.

Rock Pipit catching the light nicely.

The main highlight for us came from the sea (or over the sea) in the form of a Great Shearwater, a good bird for the east coast and only the 13th record for the Farnes. It showed well but fairly distantly as it made its way through the Inner Sound and continued its way northward. Unfortunately it was way too far away for a photo, but to give you an idea, I've borrowed one from Wikipedia to help set the scene.

So here I am seawatching and sheltering from the NW wind......

And this is almost exactly the image I was seeing through my scope a few minutes later......

Now I must confess that it was a little further away than this, but only a little.. OK quite a bit. Anyway, to keep spirits high in the face of  more less-than-useless Westerly winds, an unusual arrival was found today in the form of a male Southern Hawker dragonfly. This beauty is a bit of a rarity on the islands and is still reasonably local this far north. It was also very posy, unusual for a dragonfly...

Southern Hawker, looking confused as to his whereabouts

And that's all for now. Looking to next weekend, we are due more easterlies and with that hopefully more lovely birds. Until next time, here is a little puzzle. Spot the Willow Warbler.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Bertha batters

As I sit here writing this post, my view from the window is of a big North Sea, swell battering the rocks and juvenile Shags struggling to stand up. Luckily its fairly warm inside, although the window isn't completely wind-proof, from a gusting force 7 anyway. It certainly does not feel like August. These constant westerlies mean quiet days for us, both in bird and human terms, as the islands have been closed today. A single Sand Martin and a Kestrel provided the excitement. However, Roseate Tern numbers are building nicely, up to about 60 now, and they are incredibly showy. These very rare UK breeders nest just down the coast on Coquet Island where they had an excellent year, and we are reaping the rewards.

Juvenile Roseate Tern

Adult Roseate Tern

Juvenile still wanting food
Our other Terns are almost all gone now, and just a few Arctic and Sandwich Terns linger, showing very nicely with the Roseates down by the jetty, sometimes upside down.....

Sandwich Tern shaking off  after a wash

The recent high tides mean that the waders lingering on the islands get pushed up nice and close and make them a lot easier to count. Average numbers from Inner Farne this week have included 200 Turnstone, 20 Dunlin, 10 Purple Sandpipers, a few Redshank and a few Knot, including some lovely adult birds. Nothing as rare as the lovely Stilt Sandpiper that has been at Cresswell Pond recently however, and my photo below really doesn't do it any justice.

Redshank, Turnstone, Dunlin (not playing ball) and a lovely adult Knot.

Stilt Sandpiper with Lapwing

There have been a few nice moths and butterflies around as well. A few vagrant Wall Browns have been on the island, as well as a Painted Lady. Moth highlights have included Willow Beauty and this lovely Angle Shades that was sheltering in the Pele Tower this morning.

Angle Shades

Wall Brown (complete with wall)
Now we just long for these winds to change, to bring us exciting bird, butterflies and moths, before our attention soon turns to these guys.....

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Natural break

It has been a busy few months, but things are finally winding down on the Farnes as our seabirds slowly depart for a long winter at sea. Our attention now begins to turn to migrant birds, butterflies and moths. The Guillemots are long departed now, but I got this snap of an adult male leaving with his chick a few weeks ago. These two will spend 6 weeks together, flightless on the sea before going their separate ways.

Guillemot and Jumpling

Lana and I were also lucky enough to get a visit in to Bass Rock recently, and what a remarkable place. Seeing 150 thousand odd Gannets on a tiny island is truly magical and I can't recommend it enough. There were plenty of young around alongside their parents still looking very fluffy!

Feed me!!!

Adults courting

So back on the Farnes, and our sleep is being hampered somewhat by Storm Petrels. These tiny seabirds are on the move as the young seek out breeding colonies along the coast for future years. This means we can trap them, however they only come inshore at night to avoid predation, and this means setting up nets and staying up until the small hours. We have had a very successful time recently, with good numbers of European Storm Petrels and 3 Leach's Petrels (slightly larger and rarer) caught. These remarkable little birds breed on isolated islands in rocky crevices and sometimes burrows, and have a lifespan of around 30 years, amazing for a bird the size of a Chaffinch.

European Storm Petrel.

Aside from the Stormies, we have had a few Willow Warblers on the islands, as well as some Common and Green Sandpipers. Now we are waiting for the easterlies to come. We have also been busy trapping moths and recording butterflies, and top of the table at the moment are Red Admirals and Garden Tigers, both equally stunning. I also include a picture of a Burnished Brass moth below, as they are lovely and add weight to my opinion that moths are just as, if not nicer, than butterflies.

Garden Tiger Moth

Burnished Brass Moth
Red Admiral rescued from the VC