Saturday, 25 April 2015

It's That Time of Year!

The sun is still shining today, and spring has very much arrived on the islands. And with this, signs of breeding are popping up all over the place. Everything is at different stages at the moment, so here is a run-down of what's what on the islands at the moment! Starting at the top, the cliff nesting species.

Shags are often the first species we see laying eggs here, and this year has been no exception. The first eggs were discovered on the 2nd of April, and more and more are appearing every day. Shags are particularly nest-proud, and will pinch anything to make their nests more impressive. Last year we lost gloves, rope and a broom to a shags nests!

Shag chicks imminent! 

Elsewhere on the cliffs, we have had our first Guillemot eggs of the year and it certainly won't be long until we find our first Kittiwake and Razorbill ones too. Guillemot's are the densest nesting species of bird on the planet, and as such they can often be seen having scraps with others as they pass through the colony to get to their own small patch. They are also wonderfully affectionate, not only to their partner but also their close neighbours, and allopreening can regularly be seen mainly serving to keep the number of ticks in the colony at bay. It won't be long now until the cliffs of the Farnes are permanently crammed with some 25,000 of them on eggs.

That is one handsome bird! Razorbill

The closer you get, the better they look!

Equally as lovely; Guillemot.

Elsewhere on the islands, Fulmars are now almost consistently on their nest sites, and Puffins are on the islands daily in their thousands, cleaning out their burrows ready for another season. Fulmars are the bird I most enjoy watching in the air, their effortless soaring along the cliffs never ceases to amaze me. On land they are far less graceful though. It's strange to think that the chicks we saw these birds rear last year won't return to land for at least another 5 years, if not longer! As for the Puffins, they certainly win the prize as the most popular bird for visitors to the islands and I can understand why; they are endearing. However, I can also tell you from first hand experience that they can be vicious when they want to be! Looks can be deceiving....

Master of the air (not here though). Fulmar

Wonderful, just blooming wonderful. Puffins

In amongst the rapidly growing vegetation of the islands Eiders are now coming up and starting to settle. We have at least 12 nests on the Inner Farne at present, with this female sitting on a "jumbo clutch" of no less than 8 eggs! Eiders are a delight to monitor; in order to count their eggs we simply lift them gently up off the nest, have a quick count and pop them down again, and generally they don't seem to mind! As for the males, having fulfilled their duties, they are now starting to gather in groups just off the islands ready for a summer of bobbing around on the sea.

Can you spot her?

Close up of the female Eider sitting on 8 eggs!

Less camouflage, more outrageously attractive   

Elsewhere and making lots of noise, the Sandwich Terns are well and truly back in force, with a roost count last night of some 750 birds. In amongst them and always slightly later to return are a handful of Arctic Terns. The peace of the islands is soon to be shattered.... In the mean time, the Rock Pipits parachuting and Pied Wagtails singing can still be just about heard over the Terns, as they undertake their courtship rituals. And last but not least, our Mallards. We generally get plenty of nests but not many chicks survive unfortunately. This particularly savvy female has utilised our gas cage as the ultimate defence for her nest!

Male Pied Wagtail. This individual has been busy collecting nest material over the last few days

Nothing will get to this female Mallard in there.

And that completes the round up for this entry. The coming week involves more upheaval as myself and 4 others move ourselves to Brownsman for the breading season, and before we know it there will be chicks everywhere. I for one can't wait!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

It's Been a While

A busy start to the new season on the Farnes has meant little time for blogging, but now we are settled in and well into the swing of things. It's been a funny old start, with a mixture of very late arrivals and very early ones. The season started with a bang, as our first day on the islands produced a Stonechat. After a severe winter in 2010, this species suffered a population crash; something they are known to be susceptible to. This resulted in a once annual bird becoming a scarcity, our record in March being the first since October 2013. All we can hope is that this is a sign of a population recovery for these lovely little birds.

Stonechat on Inner Farne

The following day we were treated to great views of a Red-necked Grebe, another bird that is often tricky to come by on the Farnes. It spent a good 15 minutes in the Kettle around the jetty before drifting south. After this, things rather slowed down. We had to wait until the 10th April, a full 12 days later than last year, for our first Wheatear of the year. This was swiftly followed by our first Chiffchaff (21 days later than last year), Willow Warbler, Swallow, Blackcap and Brambling as the islands were graced with some wonderful weather. An unexpected arrival during this spell was a single Little Tern seen to go to roost on Knoxes Reef. This represents the earliest ever record for the Farnes, beating the previous one by a full 8 days!

During the quiet spell, our attention was held by this pair of Mediterranean Gulls which were displaying and settling on Central Meadow in the Black-headed Gull colony. This would represent a first breeding record for the islands should they decide to stick around.

Courting Mediterranean Gulls. Possibly a Farnes first.

Inner Farne lighthouse in glorious sun

Wheatear on the beach!

This about covers the migrant side of goings on on the islands, apart from a bit of excitement on the gull front. A 1st winter Glaucous Gull was discovered off the North Rocks of Inner Farne on the 15th. This was a good record after a blank year last year, and things got even better when the following evening a 3cy bird was discovered in the roost on Knoxes Reef. Then to our amazement, the 2cy bird returned on the 17th and showed beautifully on Ladies Path from the living room window. Marvellous stuff!

Guillemot... "What a lovely Gull!" Glaucous Gull.... "What a lovely pair of Guillemot!"

That wraps up the latest migrant news from the islands as I sit in the living room window with glorious sun beaming through. On a final note, we were treated to spectacular aurora display on Thursday night, and I snapped this photo of the Pele tower nicely backlit.

Aurora on the Farnes

Next up (in a few days hopefully), the breeders!!

Cuthbert's Gut is filling up.....