Taking a trip out to the Farne Islands wasn't originally on my list of things to do during my week in Northumberland. Yes I know that it's an excellent place to view many species of Seabirds up close but it's also swamped by tourists as well as lots of birders and toggers and birding in crowds isn't really my bag. It's also administered by the National Trust for whom I have very little affection. However, having not been able to book on the much quieter Coquet Island round tour until Friday and with the weather, having been very unsettled, which could always put the kibosh on that trip, I was slightly concerned that I may miss out on a few birds whilst here so I had booked Mrs Caley and myself on one of the short trips to Staple Island and back. We would get to spend just an hour on the island.
As we waited at Seahouses harbour, from where the trips leave, I watched the folk assemble for the all day tour which takes in Inner Farne as well as Staple Island and felt glad that I hadn't booked to be on it. That tour allows 2 hours on each island but I had the view that although the Farnes have a multitude of birds to offer, there are only around 20 different species and I imagined that I'd get bored, Mrs Caley certainly would, if I just snapped away with the camera for half a day! I mean. if you've seen one Puffin then you've seen them all, right? Ok, maybe not, but how many photos do you need! There was also the bare economical fact that for the two of us to go on the all day trip would cost over £160! Our trip would only(!) cost £63. To visit one island incurs a landing fee of £11.60 from the NT, visit both and it goes up to £33.60! I'd love to know why?
We watched a pair of Eider Ducks drinking, presumably fresh water, from small pools in the rocks next to the harbour wall. Despite the fact that the harbour is undergoing extensive reconstruction they were entirely unfazed by the noise and after taking their fill retired to slumber.
|A "Glad Tidings" sailing|
For the first few yards up the steps that lead onto Staple Island it was difficult not to trip over the folk who had stopped in their tracks to marvel at the thousands of Puffins! Puffins are every non-birders most favourite bird (along with Kingfishers and Barn Owls) but of course us hardened birdwatchers play it cool and just walk on past. The problem was that the latter group consisted of just me and Mrs Caley so we had to climb over the swooning masses to get to the rest of the island. Staple Island isn't big, none of the Farnes are, and a lot of it is cordoned off to allow the birds space to breed and also to keep visitors away from the cliff edge. As a result the available space is fairly packed with people but with a bit of perseverance we managed to find a couple of quieter spots. Once settled I tried to ignore the Puffins and look instead at some of the other birds on offer but it wasn't long though before I'd fell under their spell and was taking shot after shot of the Clowns of the sea! The first grass covered bank you arrive at is absolutely swarming with "Fratercula arctica's" and I just couldn't resist.
But I really was more interested in getting some nice images of other species so went in search of Shags, Kittiwakes, Razorbills and Guillemots that would make interesting shots. A problem here though is that it's actually difficult to ignore the frenzy that is taking place all around you and to single out individual birds. Also many of the birds are nesting so close to the paths that, with a 400mm lens, you can't get far enough back from the subject to get a sharp image without somebody else invading your space and getting in the way. Still, I managed a few!
Razorbills tend to nest in isolated and smaller colonies towards the edge of the more numerous Guillemots. Superficially similar to its cousins, I think that Razorbills look a bit more stately, definitely more statuesque. They also have an amazing bright yellow mouth which is eye-catching when the bill is held open. The Shag also shares this brightly coloured inner mouth so there must be something to it, perhaps fish are attracted to it, very unscientific I know, but then I am just that.
|Lesser Black-backed Gull|
I reminded myself that I'd never yet taken a photo of Puffins with a beak full of fish, so found myself a spot away from the crowds, left Mrs Caley admiring the stationary birds and tried to capture one of those iconic images. In the next 15 minutes I must have rattled off 200 frames of flying Puffins! But I did get a few of those photos that I wanted.
I found one Puffin, well it found me and my camera, with a different mouthful. This one had a feather to line its nesting burrow.
It was almost time to catch the boat so we made our way back towards the jetty. I paused to take more photos of everything! A Puffin with nesting material, a sleepy Guillemot and a pair of amorous Shags all caught my eye and my lens. Now I was thinking what I could do with more time on the islands if on the all day trip! Maybe next year.
Once our boat had been cleared for landing we boarded safely and were treated to a round island tour while the skipper related some of the history of the islands, including the tale of the heroine Grace Darling. I hardly listened to a word since history has never really interested me, philistine that I am and it is yesterday's news after all. I was far too occupied taking more photos since I had convinced myself, rather snobbishly I'm ashamed to admit, that shots taken from a moving boat are worth far more than those taken from terra firma. I was pleased to discover that, when I pointed the camera towards an incoming Guillemot, it was of the Bridled form. A Kittiwake carrying a piece of a weedy plant to add to its nest also made for a pleasing image.
We cruised past a Seal colony on an island, I can't remember which one since I wasn't listening as usual and besides I can't get excited by Seals at all, apart from the fact that when they stick their heads out of the water they remind me of my beautiful dear departed Cocker Spaniel, Bobby Box (aka Burberry).
|Inner Farne Lighthouse|
And guess what? It was chucking it down once again when we arrived back in port!