Last week I fulfilled a lifetime goal and visited the Farne Islands during the sea bird breeding season. Given how close these islands are to home it’s inexcusable really that I had never been before but now that I have, it is likely to be a trip that is regularly repeated.
I boarded the Serenity II around 10 am and we were soon out to sea. Almost immediately there were parties of Puffins and Guillemots flying north and south across the boat’s path, as well as small groups of Gannets making their way north.
Nothing prepares you for the sight or the sounds or the smell of the Farne Islands and when we arrived on Staple Island I was bowled over. The sheer numbers of Guillemots, Shags and Puffins is staggering. At this time of year the islands are home to 87,000 pairs of breeding birds, making them one of the most important British sea bird colonies.
The levels of activity are what I found especially dizzying, with birds flying back on to or off of the islands. Inner Farne was just as impressive as Staple Island, if not more cacophonous, with thousands of Arctic Terns calling and mobbing any clumsy human that came too close!
To really appreciate the beauty of the islands and the sea bird colony, you have to see them with your own eyes. The pictures below are some of the hundreds I took but they do not compare to the real thing.
A reptilian-looking Shag – the name is nothing to snigger at; it was given because of the slight crest the birds develop during the breeding season.
These Shags were demonstrating some pair bonding activity, with the male preening and stroking the back of the female’s neck.
One of the shots everyone is after when they visit the Farnes at this time of year – Puffin with sand eels.
Another Puffin, close to its burrow.
One of my favourite birds, the Kittiwake. I noticed that these were happy to share the cliffs with the Guillemots, Shags and Razorbills but they also seemed to have their own spaces where there were only Kittiwakes nesting. This was also true of the gulls and the Fulmars.
Not so numerous as the Guillemots, the Razorbills were nevertheless very photogenic birds. Really beautiful in black and white…
And very tough looking!
I thought the bridled or spectacled Guillemots looked fantastic – apparently only some have these markings, probably as a result of a genetic mutation.
The Arctic Terns were fierce but given the proximity of their nests and their chicks to the paths, it’s not difficult to understand why.