English Farne Islands, ninety years of conservation


This video from England says about itself:

21 December 2014

Get up close to the fascinating seals of the Farne Islands and see the newborn pups of 2014. One of the UK’s biggest colonies of common seals lives on this tiny rock in the North Sea, where a team of dedicated National Trust rangers look after them for nine months of the year. You can find out more here.

From weekly The Observer in Britain:

The Farne Islands, a sanctuary for seabirds and seals, celebrate 90 years as a British jewel of conservation

Puffins always draw the summer crowds to the islands off Northumberland, which are the favourite UK wildlife site of Sir David Attenborough

Kevin McKenna

Saturday 15 August 2015 12.20 BST

A couple of miles out to sea, off the Northumberland coast, some uncut jewels in the firmament of England’s natural heritage shimmer. The Farne Islands, ancient and sanctified by the hands of St Cuthbert, can only be reached on one of a fleet of boats that ferry hundreds of visitors each day in high summer. Drive through country roads until pasture gives way to sand and you are in Seahouses, the little coastal village where time, when it reached 1969, liked what it saw and decided to tarry.

Each summer the area rises anew out of coastal mists and returns you to childhood holidays of fish suppers and rococo confectionery. Gusts of petrol and herring lead you to a harbour braided by pastel-coloured dwellings. There, glorious Beryl Cook ladies, pink underneath straw hats and horn-rimmed sunglasses, chastise their children and say “sorry, love” as they barrel past you.

On one of Billy Shiels’s fabled vessels you head out to the islands with 60-odd others, drawn there by the sanctuary they provide for 23 species of seabirds and a sprawling colony of seals, which seem puzzled at these creatures who jostle and stretch to point their digital instruments in their direction. Ninety years ago this month, the National Trust finally bought the islands for £800 from the industrialist William Armstrong after a two-year public subscription, a transaction which must surely rank as one of the shrewdest transactions any national organisation has ever conducted. Because of it, millions have shared in a gold standard of conservation, education and access of which the heritage body is justly proud and which is being celebrated this summer.

Sir David Attenborough describes the islands as his favourite wildlife site in the UK. The puffins, all 39,962 breeding pairs, are the tourists’ darlings, but among the other seabird species are fulmars, Arctic terns, guillemots, razorbills, eiders and shags. A few handfuls of barn swallows, rock pipits and pied wagtails are also to be found bobbing and weaving about the place. In all, these islands are home to around 150,000 birds. In 1951, the islands became one of the first designated sites of special scientific interest and were declared a national nature reserve in 1993. Each day, the nine National Trust rangers in permanent residence perform a conservation high-wire act in which they balance their absolute commitment to conservation with a desire to educate the public about their work. As such they are always vigilant about visitor numbers to ensure minimal disruption to the breeding birds. Protecting their habitat is the rangers’ highest priority. It was only in 1971 that the National Trust was able to manage visitor numbers. Previously, the islands hosted an unedifying free-for-all each summer with unlimited numbers of people landing at will and roaming where they pleased.

In high season on these islands the birds must still protect their young from up to 400 pairs of human feet which the boats bring into their homes each day. The National Trust must balance the sacredness of the nesting sites with the bounty that tens of thousands of paying customers bring. These funds are necessary for funding the personnel and their science work. Nathan Wilkie, one of the rangers on Inner Farne, said: “People are generally very sensitive now to the vulnerability of nesting seabirds. They know they are guests in the homes of these birds and are very receptive to our simple guidelines while they are here.”

Today, we are witnessing the tailend of the puffins’ mass migration to their winter playgrounds. In a five-day period straddling the end of July and start of August, almost 80,000 of them embark on a startling natural airlift that sees them plot a course towards the north coast of Scotland and on to Iceland, where they will live in the sea for nine months before returning here to breed.

Puffins form part of that anointed group of land and sea creatures over which the British public likes to bill and coo. Along with hedgehogs, deer and badgers, they belong to a family which, if it had a Latin name, would be called Cutem cuddlius. God has blessed them with facial features that make them look like lovable juvenile scallywags, ducking and diving and getting up to mischief. As such they are destined always to be favoured by a good old-fashioned British outcry whenever it seems they have been victims of cruel and unusual treatment at the hands of human beings. …

Yet if life on the high seas were to be likened to life on the streets of some of Glasgow’s edgier arrondissements, then the puffins are wee hard-men who are well capable of looking after themselves. As well as spending most of the year living on some of the world’s iciest seas, they can dive below the waves to Jules Verne depths. And in places such as the Farne Islands the multiplicity of their numbers, at a time when other seabird species are in decline around the globe, have remained robust. Despite a global rise in sea temperatures which has depleted stocks of sand-eels, the puffins’ favourite food, the puffins and their seabird chums are still popping in and out of the water with their wee gobs stuffed full of their oily prey.

“Historically, the waters around here have always been rich in sand-eels,” said Wilkie. He was relaxed at recent reports suggesting the Farne puffins had been adversely affected by an extremely wet summer resulting in flooded burrows and a fall in the number of puffin chicks. This year, out of 100 burrows monitored by National Trust rangers, only around 50 were discovered to have produced pufflings; there were 92 last year.

“Certainly, the bad weather has not been good for the puffins,” said Wilkie. “But what needs to be factored in is that we have 34,000 breeding pairs here and we only monitor 100. And although the figure of 50 pufflings seems bad, last year’s figure of 92 was probably abnormally high.” Instead, he pointed out, the rangers are more concerned with trying to find non-invasive ways of discouraging hungry grey seals from encroaching on to the puffins’ breeding-grounds.

In the era of low-budget, stack-them-high air travel, the Farne Islands are inviting us to participate in our own David Attenborough films closer to home.

Bottlenose dolphins near England, videos


This video from England says about itself:

Bottlenose Dolphins 20 06 2015 (Farne Islands)

On the morning 20/06/2015 I left the harbour in my boat in search of Bottlenose Dolphins and I had over half an hour with these wonderful creatures.

This 27 June 2015 video from England is called 3 minutes of pure bliss. Bow Riding Bottlenose Dolphins (Farne Islands).

See also here.

Dutch grey seals, immigrants from Britain


This video from England says about itself:

Some footage shot in the Farne Isles diving with Grey Seals.

Filmed with a Sony FX1 in a Gates FX1/Z1 housing with a Fathom Imaging wide-angle lens in ambient light.

Translated from IMARES research institute in the Netherlands:

September 10, 2014

In the Middle Ages, the gray seals in the Netherlands became extinct. Now they are back, gloriously so! Today here live the largest number of Atlantic gray seals of the European mainland. In less than thirty years this grew from some visitors to more than 3,000 individuals. It went so fast that it cannot be explained by the number of births only. Researchers from the research institute IMARES on Texel have now calculated that the seal population of Great Britain plays a large role in this story.

The British gray seal population bring permanently “immigrants” affecting the growth in the Dutch Wadden Sea. In spring and summer there are also another temporary ‘tourists’. “The development of the population in the Wadden Sea is strongly influenced by seals from the other side of the North Sea. Therefore, cooperation with other countries is extremely important for conservation, policy and research,” said biologist Sophie Brasseur. She has published, along with her colleagues, an article about the successful return of the gray seal in the scientific journal Marine Mammal Science.

See also here.

Discover four of the best places to see a grey seal in the UK: here.

Exposing the grey seal as a major predator of harbour porpoises: here.

Ringing birds in Bahrain


This is a video about a bridled tern, on 3 July 2013. This individual landed at an unusual place for this tropical species: among Arctic terns on the Farne islands in England.

Every now and then, news from Bahrain which is not about torture or political imprisonment.

By Jem Babbington:

Ringing terns – Al Jarrim Island south (Bahrain)

5 July 2014

On Friday 20 June I set off at 02:30 hrs to go to Bahrain to ring terns. I met up with Jason, Nicole, Ali, Mahmood, Ahmed and a couple of others to go out to the island at 04:00 to ring tern chicks. This is one of the best days ringing of the year for me and it is amazing to be on an island full of breeding terns.

Ali has a new more powerful boat now that he also uses to take people diving in Bahrain and it has two 250 HP engines and a covered roof, so is very fast. We arrived at the island at 06:00 hrs and set about first ringing Bridled Tern chicks. They nest under cover of the vegetation and are incredibly well camouflaged and sit tight so good eyesight and a lot of help are required.

We do these first as it is extremely hard work and want to do it in the coolest part of the day before temperatures rise into the 40’s Celsius. There were three ringers and we ringed a total of 143 Bridled Tern chicks that is slightly less than normal. After this we set up our corral to catch Lesser Crested Tern Chicks that are all gathered together in large crèches of baby terns with hundreds of adults looking after them.

As they are all in large groups we walk the birds down into our corral and transfer them to large baskets for processing. Since this capture technique was devised we have become much more proficient and we catch lots of birds in a short time and process them as quickly as possible so they can return to their parents for shade.

We keep the birds in covered baskets with a wet towel on top to keep them cool and we have not lost a single bird doing this. We ringed 997 Lesser Crested Tern chicks and ran out of rings, this being the biggest number of birds we have singed in a single day since we started going to the islands.

We also ringed three White-cheeked Tern chicks a species that has not bred on this island in the previous three breeding seasons I have visited. They do breed on the middle island but we have only been here once and it was a nice surprise to see the adults feeding young on the south island. Another nice surprise was to see an adult Bridled Tern I photographed with a ring on, indicating it is one of our birds.

We have ringed hundreds of young birds and a single adult that Nicole rescued from a fishing net so it is impossible to tell if this is a young bird returning to breed or not. We also found at least ten Indian Reef Heron nests with large young in them. Normally there are only one of two nests but this year the numbers are much higher so some reason.

An interesting fact was that under every Indian Reef Heron nest a Bridled Tern chick was hiding. I would like to thank Ali and all the helpers for this excellent days ringing.

More about birds in Bahrain: here.

Ringed birds in the Netherlands: here.

English Sandwich tern migration to Africa


This video from England is called Sandwich terns return to RSPB Coquet Island.

From the Farne Islands Blog in England:

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Mines a double!

Saturday 22nd February comments: This summer, for the first time on the Farne Islands, we ringed just over 100 Sandwich Tern chicks with small red darvics; special red plastic rings which have a unique three letter code enabling observers to read them in the ‘field’ with telescopes.

As a result we had a ‘return’ from a beach in Gambia in November as bird ‘UFA’ was spotted roosting amongst other terns on a beach. Now make that a double. News has just arrived that another of our Sandwich Terns has been seen, this time further south of Gambia in the Bijagos Archipelago off Guinee-Bissau. The bird fitted with the red darvic ‘UKS’ was noted on 22nd January.

This sighting shows you the value of such a ringing scheme and we hope this is the first of many sightings in future years so if you’re going abroad this winter, you may be a lot closer to the Farnes than you think!

Sandwich Tern ‘UKS’ movements:

17th July 2013 ringed as a chick on Inner Farne
13th August 2013 seen at Findhorn Bay, Moray
18th August 2013 seen again at Findhorn Bay, Moray
22nd January seen on a beach at Bubaque, Guinee-Bissau

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Rare dolphins near English Farne Islands


This video from England says about itself:

Dolphins swimming off the Farne Islands.

Filmed from Glad Tidings VI on the 16th November 2013.

Wow!

These are bottlenose dolphins.

This video from England says about itself:

2 Common Dolphins at the Farne Islands on November 17th 2013 playing with the bow of the boat and then following other boats all the way into Seahouses harbour.

And this video from England says about itself:

2 Common Dolphins in the harbour of Seahouses on Nov 17th 2013. Filmed from Serenity II.

From the Serenity blog in England (with photos there):

Common Dolphins 17/11/2013

This blog should have been out a week ago but I suppose it better late than ever.

Anyway last Sunday (17th) I was on a 1.5 hour trip around the Farne Islands when my friend Ron gave me a shout saying that he had seen 2 dolphins at the Blue Caps.

I was nearly at Staple Island and I was praying that they would wait for us to arrive. By the time I got there they had been around all the boats and even a diver of Toby’s boat said that one of them swam straight past him.

As I got closer I could see about 6/7 Seals playing on the surface and then the 2 Dolphins came jumping out of the water.

I could not believe what I was witnessing and in my wildest dreams I never thought dolphins and seals would play together, but it looked like they were having so much fun until I turned up.

The pair left the seals and started to bow ride the boat. At first they were way ahead of the boat so I went a little faster and they seemed to enjoy it a bit more. They were really showing off so I went a little bit faster until I was doing 20 knots and they kept up with the boat. Now that is some speed and I don’t know how fast they can go but whatever the speed is 20 knots is very impressive.

They stayed with us for a while and then disappeared, so we turned around and headed over towards the seals.

Once we arrived back at the harbour I was praying that they would still be there for our next guests and as we steamed out of the harbour I noticed my cousin pointing at the bow of his boat. As I looked to see what he was meaning the dolphins jumped out of the water. They had followed him all the way back to the harbour and as I stopped they just followed him into the harbour. I could not believe they were actually in the harbour.

Another boat turned up and then another and at one stage we had 4 boats viewing the 2 dolphins swimming around us all.

I have never in my life seen dolphins in the harbour and to make it even better it was Common Dolphins, which have never been seen in Northumberland since 1989 and a first for the Farne Islands.

As I finished my last trip of the day and they were still outside the harbour until dark. A great record for the Farne Islands and hopefully not the last.

Sorry as all my pictures were taken on a mobile as I left my camera at home.

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Puffins counted on Farne Islands


This video from Britain says about itself:

Puffin-cam: Live from the burrow

May 17, 2013

The very first National Trust “Puffin Cams” have now been installed in the Farne Islands puffin breeding colony off the coast of Northumberland. The cameras will record highlights throughout the breeding season, charting the ups and downs of these plucky little birds. See how the cameras were installed and find out what it means for the future of the Farnes colony. For all the latest updates, follow @NTsteely, Tweet #puffincensus or check out our web pages at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/northeast.

From Wildlife Extra:

Puffin count starts on Farne Islands

5 yearly census underway

May 2013. A Puffin census has begun at the north east’s most amazing wildlife habitat, the windswept Farne Islands, as National Trust rangers attempt to find how many breeding pairs of these iconic birds live on the Islands.

Every 5 years

The census takes place every five years and records date back to 1939 when 3,000 breeding pairs were recorded.

2008 showed first decine

Until 2008, each survey since the census began 65 years ago showed a steady increase in pairs of puffins on the Farne Islands, but the last count indicated numbers had fallen by a third. The 2008 survey recorded 36,500 pairs of puffins across eight islands compared to 55,674 pairs living on the Islands in the 2003 census.

How to count a puffin

This spring and summer a team of eleven National Trust rangers will be travelling between eight of the Farne Islands to carry out the mammoth task of counting every single bird. Puffins nest underground in burrows, which means the rangers will have to put their arms into the holes to make sure that the nests are occupied during the comprehensive count.

David Steel, Head Ranger for the Farne Islands told us: “We’ve been monitoring a small section of the Farnes every year since the last census in 2008 and have seen a small increase in numbers in this area. We’re hoping to see an increase overall numbers this year but you can’t tell after the winter we’ve just had.”

Puffin factors

Factors for why the Puffins continue to flourish on the Farne Islands include better protection, good sources of food and a lack of ground predators and the availability of suitable nesting areas. However rangers on the Farne Islands fear that the extreme colds weather this winter which has led to a higher than average mortality rate may affect numbers.

Coldest March since 1962 – Could impact breeding

David Steel continued: “This March was the coldest on record since 1962 and this could impact on breeding numbers. The extreme winds affected the puffin’s ability to feed as they made their way back to their summer breeding grounds. It will be interesting to see the results of the puffin census which we will have available to share in July.”

Nest cameras

For the first time, nest cameras have been inserted into puffin burrows to record the birds’ behaviour in intimate detail.

Puffin census on Farne Islands shows numbers rising: here.

Atlantic puffin population is in danger, scientists warn: here.

Fane Islands and Scotland bird photography: here.