Saturday, 7 June 2014

Farne Islands part 2 (other birds, and honorary birds)

The most notorious Farnes bird is the Arctic Tern, because of its habit of doing stuff like this. On Inner Farne, protective headwear is a must as they will peck you and their bills are SHARP. There are many pairs nesting on the path up from the jetty, many more around the loos and visitor centre, and others here and there elsewhere on the island. Some nest very close to the path. As you approach, they give you the hard stare, and begin to make their hard clacking alarm call, and then they may lift off and hover around your head, periodically swooping and pecking at the top of your head. They don't seem to go for faces, thankfully. You can't really blame them for taking against the heavy-footed humans stomping along right next to their precious eggs, and naturally people wonder if it is cruel to allow visitors onto the islands as they clearly stress the birds. However, the presence of human visitors does also help the terns, by discouraging gulls. The terns that nest closest to the path have higher breeding productivity, because they suffer lower predation.

This lady seemed to have the knack of tern-appeasing as the bird preferred to use her as a perch rather than savage her. Both she and the tern seemed happy to pose at length for photos.

The terns' aerial skill as they lined up their attacks made it relatively easy to catch flight photos.

Away from the immediate proximity of the nests, the terns were still fearless, but happily engaged in more sedate behaviours.

With no binoculars (I know, I know, I don't deserve to call myself a birder) I would never have found the distant Roseate Terns on the beach. A pair, but apparently not a pair ready to breed, they were keeping company with the Arctics.

I also didn't manage any good photos of the few Sandwich Terns around Inner Farne.

The large gulls are the most predatory things on the islands - one Herring Gull had snatched a chick (any ideas what it was?) from some unguarded nest. The Lesser Black-back was loitering near Puffin burrows.

The most numerous gull here, though, poses no threat to the other seabirds, and in fact this one seems a bit overawed by its Guillemot neighbour. There are Kittiwakes on both islands, fitting into the gaps between the auks. Most pairs still seemed to be at the nesting material-collecting stage.

This Kittiwake is overflying a seemingly endless sea of Guillemots.

In fact Guillemots outnumber Kittiwakes by about 10 to one, but Kittiwakes make a disproportionately large contribution to the noise levels here. A pair reuniting after one has been at sea are particularly vocal, their onomatopoeic calls carrying far above the low growly purrs of the auks.

I could photograph these gulls all day, they are so beautiful. This one is busy making itself even more beautiful.

Another cliff-nester here in good numbers is the Shag. These seemed to be at multiple stages in the breeding process, some tending well-grown chicks and others, like this one, still busily gathering furnishings for their nests.

One of the Shags nearest the path seemed to be sitting tight but then stood up to reveal this naked little frog of a chick. There was also an unhatched egg under her, so this baby may only be a few hours old.

Another proud parent, with two larger though no less gawky offspring.

A pair of Shags, doing some mutual preening and, by the looks of it, also sharing some startling gossip.

Only three passerine species breed on the Farnes. The Pied Wagtail is one of them (the others are Rock Pipit and Swallow).

Eiders nest on both of the islands we visited. The vols also informed me that there's a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers somewhere, and that Shovelers are nesting here for the first time this year. And Mallards are also on the breeding list. But Eiders are the most abundant duck species here and we saw several sitting females, plus these two with their brand-new ducklings.

Gannets, however, do not breed on the Farnes. But we still saw a few from the boats.

Fulmars are here, but in low numbers, just a couple of hundred pairs. I also saw them from the beach at Seahouses.

And now the 'honorary birds' - Grey Seals, which were around all the islands, swimming or chilling out on tiny rocky islets. The lone animal was relaxing on the shore of Inner Farne on both days we visited - what a hard life. The one on the left of the bottom pic though looks like it has had a hard life, going by its scarred muzzle.

I did bring a landscape lens with me and even remembered to use it a few times. Here's a view across Staple island to finish this post - and we'll be back on the mainland for part 3.

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