Summer on the Farne Islands

Puffin

Precarious pipit

As the rain and temperature fall, further bending the already berry-laden rowan I’ve just parked under, I’m wondering whether that’s it for summer this year.

Mind, what a summer it’s been! Rarely have we had such good weather in continuous dollops. It’s certainly made up for the very cold start to the year, which saw a lot of wildlife delaying its breeding behaviour. Particularly notable were the sea birds of the Farne Islands, many of which were more than a month late. It’s these sea birds I’d like to concentrate on in this post because I’ve journeyed to the Farnes eight times this year – sometimes with clients on workshops and others by myself or with my children. As you’ll see, there aren’t just birds at the Farne Islands!

Seals lounging in front of Longstone Lighthouse

Oddly, the first stars of the show on visit 1 were not sea birds at all, but a pair of intrepid rock pipits, which had set up a nest under the boardwalk on Inner Farne near the lighthouse. Flitting back and forth despite countless visitors’ unsuspecting feet, the industrious couple brought all manner of insects back to the brood while the wardens sectioned off their part of the path. As far as I’m aware, the chicks fledged successfully.

Evening guillemot colony

Bottlenose dolphin playing with the catamaran

A truly awesome encounter

Visit 2, 3 and 4 were with a full group of clients each. I don’t take many pics while I have a workshop so that I can concentrate on tuition, but I couldn’t resist firing off a few at least; the conditions were fantastic for photography most of the time. The birds and seals were on good form and after a long day out on the first outing, we were followed home by two pods of bottlenose dolphins which came to play with the boat. Simply magical. They even posed in front of Bamburgh Castle for us.

Jumpling guillemot and parent

Ruffled razorbill

Shagtastic

Scratch it

Waaaaaahhh!!!

Gull feeding frenzy – mostly herring gulls with a great black-backed gull

Common scoters

Juvenile gannet

Arctic tern with fish

Manx shearwaters

Splash – a lesser black-backed gull takes off

Trip 5 was one for my own photography and amongst the oodles of puffins, razorbills and guillemots there were lots of cute ‘jumplings’: baby guillemots taking their first plunge as they fledge off the cliffs into the open seas. There are tens of thousands of guillemots on the Farne Islands – what a noise – and smell! Later in the trip, razorbills were being buffeted by the high winds up the lighthouse cliffs, which made for some unusual portraits. And lastly, I tried some flash-lit shags, which I think really brings out those luminous green eyes.

Visits 6, 7 and 8 were also for my own photography and resulted in some shots I didn’t already have. There’s always something new to be found at the Farnes: it’s reassuring to know how diverse the wildlife is throughout the season and a trip to the islands is never wasted, even if it’s pouring down.

One of the trips was an evening looking for minke whales. We didn’t see any, but I managed to snaffle some manx shearwater and common scoter shots and we saw a harbour porpoise on the way back. No whales, but good opportunities to photograph the regiments of gulls and gannets that passed by.

Part of my mission for visits 6 & 7 was to get two of the more rare visitors to the Farnes: the roseate terns and the ‘mega’ twitch, the bridled tern. I’ll blog about those separately in a while.

The weather may be damp and dull and the summer may well be gasping its last breaths, but the swallows are still swooping about and chirruping happily. I’ve spent a fair bit of the summer photographing them in the UK and France this year, so that’s where the next blog post will take us.

In the meantime, if you’d like a copy of my book, “Wildlife of the Farne Islands”, you can get one here.

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K

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