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