This year is the year of doing all those things that I keep saying I’ll do … and seeing Puffins was on my “list of things to do”. So when some friends decided to drive up to the Farne Islands to see Puffins in June, I signed up straight away!
We booked into a pub guesthouse in Seahouses for three nights, and reserved all day places with the Billy Shiels boat company, who are an established family company with a great reputation.
We headed out on the first day, but sadly due to the weather the high swell on Staple Island, the boats were unable to land, so instead of a full day trip, we ended up on a boat tour in the morning, where we circled the series of islands called the Farne Islands. They are made up of many small islands, the two main islands being Inner Farne, and Staple. They are home to many thousands of nesting birds in May June time, including kittiwakes, guillemots, puffins, black headed gulls, oyster catchers, shags and cormorants.
From the sea, it was amazing to see the cliffs full of life
The birds all share the same space. Share the same food sources. Share the same airspace.
The boat tour was very informative, explaining the islands, the National Trust involvement, and the birds that come to nest there. Explanations of how to recognise the different birds were very helpful to those who were new to the bird spotting hobby! There was even some story telling of when Grace Darling and her father set out to rescue the survivors of a wrecked paddle-steamer, the Forfarshire, when it ran aground on a nearby islet in 1838. It was an informative, and fun boat trip.
Having spent the morning on the boat, we headed back to land for lunch, and then went out in the afternoon to the Island known as “Inner Farne”.
We landed, and the Island was pretty big. It has a beautiful white lighthouse on one cliff, and is covered with an easy access boardwalk, that leads you around the island, protecting as many of the birds as possible by roping off the main nesting areas.
Inner Farne has 100,000s of birds nesting, including terns, who nest on or very close to the boardwalk. We were told to cover our heads where possible as the terns get very aggressive protecting their nests. And that’s an understatement! Even with hats / hoodies on, they would fly up and then peck as many heads as they could find! I left with a couple of bloody patches where my hoodie didn’t quite cover my head!
Walking around was straight forward – the island is covered with a boardwalk so it is very easy to understand where we had to avoid. Once we’d taken our heads in our hands so to speak, and walked along past the terns, we were amazed at just how many puffins were there on the island. They had taken over the old rabbit warrens as nesting areas, and would appear and disappear as they brought in food to their nests.
We spent a couple of hours on the island, which was great fun. Watching the puffins were brilliant fun. The shot above really makes me think of a man, walking along with his hands behind his back. He should be whistling!
There were many birds in the their nests, hiding from the cameras!
There were not only puffins and terns on the islands.There were many shags, most of whom had at least a couple of chicks. The shot below shows a mother feeding one of her chicks.
In addition to the shags, there were also a large quantity of kittiwakes. These look like your average gull – but you can tell them apart because if you listen to their cries, it sounds as though they are shouting their name.
We were also lucky enough to see seals that also inhabit some of the Farne Islands.
The second day, we headed out for our second attempt to land on Staple, and this time succeeded. It is a very different island, with a much more barren landscape. It’s smaller, and is mostly rocky, with more open spaces to explore. The puffin nests here have been created by the puffins – whereas on Inner Farne they have taken over old rabbit warrens.
Watching the puffins was really good fun. I sat for quite a while watching one cute chap walk backwards and forwards in front of me, and I was thinking that he was a real poser. He must have walked up and down looking at me about four or five times. Then I realised what he was doing. He was checking to see if there was enough space to run past me in order to take off to go fishing. And as soon as he had built up the confidence, that’s exactly what he did … ran past me to launch himself into the air to go fishing for sand eels!
Watching the puffins come in to land with their sand eels was also amusing at times. They’d sometimes circle, to make sure they weren’t about to get mugged by the black headed gulls, who would chase them and steal their sandeels. Then, when they decided their route was safe, it was like watching an airplane coming into land – “flaps down”… “brakes on” .. and this was the result
There are other birds on Staple Islands of course! There are more shags, including lots of babies learning the ropes!
And we even saw an Oyster Catcher too which was exciting
But, I always went back to photographing puffins! And with good reason.
If you were wanting to see Puffins, I can whole heartedly recommend the Farne Islands. It’s a very easy trip if you stay in Seahouses, and you can spend a couple of days visiting the islands, then there is Holy Island up the coast a short ways, which is fascinating as you have to drive across a causeway – and therefore can only visit at low tide.
If you like castles, there are plenty of those around the area as well, and plenty of places to see Hadrian’s wall.
Seahouses is a small town with a beautiful harbour, stunning cliff walks and gives you access to some fantastic bird life. Worth a visit.
You can see more photos here http://www.flickr.com/photos/clare_forster/sets/72157627071825216/