2015 Farne Islands Trip

22nd June 2015
Farne Islands Trip - Words by Joy Allison

Twelve members and friends of the Society recently visited the Farne Islands to see and photograph sea birds nesting at close quarters. Jane Brownley knows the area from many years of visiting to dive there. Having only last year decided to experience the view from above the water she realised that fellow members were likely to enjoy it as well and arranged the accommodation and boat trips for us.

Some travelled a little earlier to make more of the visit and we were all extremely fortunate that the period we were there was a short break in the wet and windy weather. It was calm and dry, if not as bright as some would have liked, but perfect for our crossing.

The group parked on the pier at Seahouses and bought their sandwiches before organising camera equipment and the essential hats ready to board the Serenity II. Watching other passengers arrive in their camouflage wear, carrying huge and powerful lenses we felt that some serious enthusiasts were joining us. Some wondered if the weight of all the cameras, lenses and tripods would sink the boat. There was certainly a strong chance that their combined value was more than that of the vessel they were on.

Staple Island

With the sea like a mill pond we were soon on our way out to Staple Island, pausing only to enjoy the sight of the seals basking on the rocks. It was not clear who was more interested in who as they stared steadily back and seemed to pose as the boatmen skilfully manoeuvred the boat to give everyone a good view.
The tide was well out as we alighted on Staple Island and climbed the steps, resisting the temptation to stop and marvel at the birds which were right beside us so that those behind could also get onto the steps. The guillemots and puffins were an amazing sight, with an accompanying and rather less amazing smell. Very few young were visible, but the birds were tending their nests faithfully. Puffin burrows were everywhere on the grassy part of the island, with the occasional little head peering out. jane pointed out that the puffins tend to make a few circuits before landing and diving down their burrows with beaks full of sand eels to evade the black headed gulls waiting to rob them. She also soon spotted a rarer bridle guillemot while Dik Allison spotted an oyster catcher, only eight of which are known to be nesting there.
Gradually we moved around the island, watching the birds in action. Some of us were glad we had small lenses as they were ideal for shots of birds at close quarters.
The two hours on the island passed in a flash and soon it was time to get back on the boat for the short crossing to Inner Farne.

Inner Farne

We were the second boat of the day onto this island, which is only open during the afternoons. Jane pointed out that the Arctic Terns were getting very excited about the first visitors of the day ahead of us. Soon it was our turn to run the gauntlet of the terns, which chattered loudly and dived at people walking past their nests. It was hard at this point to realise that they like to nest near the walkway because the humans keep the predatory gulls away.
There is an information centre, basic facilities and a few picnic branches on this island, so most of us congregated at one and ate our picnics, enjoying the chance to sit for a while.
It was noticeable that the islands were different. There were no terns at all on Staple, and here they were confined to the side of the island where we landed and the low scrubby grasses. There were puffins aplenty as well as black headed gulls which had chicks here. It was interesting to watch the terns interacting with the people. They seemed to like certain hats and after lunging at the wearers sometimes settled down on their heads. In the courtyard between the buildings the terns lucky enough to find a nesting site benefitted from the shelter and here we were able to see a good number of Arctic tern chicks on their nests.
Once again the time passed in a trice and by the time we rejoined the boat to return to shore we were feeling quite chilly. It was surprising to find, on our return to Seahouses, that the temperature was 20C.

Evening Cruise

There was time for a fish supper and a short rest before once again joining the Serenity II, this time for an evening cruise round all the islands to see the birds from the cliffs. This time Jane was able to take Mac, her very friendly dog who had delighted us all throughout the visit, though we were a little concerned about who was in charge descending the steps to the deck.

The main focus of our trip was the guillemot chicks, or jumplings, which at this time take the plunge and leap into the sea to begin their first epic journey to the Dogger Bank where their fathers teach them to fish. We just missed seeing one leap, but were enthralled as another hopped down the rocks encouraged quite firmly by its parents. It eventually plopped into the water from all of ten centimetres above the surface - more a slithering than a jumplings! It's expression was a mix of surprise and horror as it felt the water for the first time, but it was soon swimming strongly with the male bird. By now the water was full of these swimming pairs making their way out to sea.
As our cruise continued we were treated to very close views of guillemots, kittiwakes, and razorbills nesting on the cliffs. The boat's skipper made every effort to ensure we got as close as we dare for the best views and the very calm sea certainly enhanced our views. Again we were able to see the seals basking and finally someone spotted a hive of gull activity and we were able to go quite close to a feeding frenzy where fish had come close to the surface in a tight shoal. Thus our trip concluded with a wonderful opportunity to see gannets at close quarters joining the other birds to take advantage of the bounty.

The following morning we gathered for breakfast and reflected on a wonderful trip during which the more experienced photographers had been an immense help to others, sharing their skills and seeing fellow members improve their photography during the visit. Spending these few days together gave everyone a chance go get to know each other better and we all left with a taste for more trips in future. Very many thanks to Jane for organising the opportunity.

We now look forward to our exhibition in Egmanton Church on the afternoons (2 - 4.30pm) of July 11th and 12th. This event is open to the public, price £3, including a vintage tea. Members will be admitted to view the exhibition free of charge on production of a current RDPS membership card. This will be an opportunity for members to have a look at this beautiful church and decide if they would like to join a private photographic visit at a later date.