Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Farne Islands part two: up close to guillemots

Tues 3 June
Early morning walk to the shore at Beadnall was rewarded with a close encounter with two female eiders, with one and two ducklings respectively.  Overhead swifts were calling and I was surprised to see two flying in tandem together, quickly realising they must be mating on the wing.  Swifts seem to do everything except egg laying on the wing such is their mastery of the air.

We joined the ten o'clock sailing to Staple Island, which departed with a boat full of visitors. The National Trust wardens are doing a blog, a good place to catch up with news from this year's breeding season.

Landing on the island we quickly made for the guillemot and kittiwake colony.  A tremendous sight it is too, seeing many hundreds of guillemots crammed together on the narrow ledges and flat-topped stacks, all incredibly close and brilliant to photograph.  The sun even came out for a few minutes!  Many birds were bringing in food and you could just make out tiny chicks at the feet of the adults. They must be incredibly vulnerable to trampling such is the density of adults.  Even closer were the nests of shags and eider ducks, with kittiwakes, puffins, lesser black-backed gulls and razorbills completing the scene.  

This eider was sat on a nest right next to the path and had to endure a stream of inquisitive folk pointing cameras and iPads at it.

Our hour on the island whizzed past - more photos of puffins on course, but not quite a classic flight shot.  That will have to wait for another time.  Back on the boat we spotted a black guillemot, just about as far south as they get on the east coast, a red-breasted merganser, and a few fulmars. 

Arriving back in Seahouses it was nice to see a school group boarding the next boat.  These Islands are a great place to take children, they have a unique wow factor and experiences that will inspire them.

In the afternoon, we followed a report of a spoonbill a short way down the coast at Low Newton by the Sea.  The spoonbill had flown by the time we got there, but we had a very enjoyable walk along the shore with stunning views across to Dunstanburgh Castle.  Flowering in the dunes were numerous clumps of bloody cranesbill.  Little terns patrolled along the shallow water of the bay, plunging for fish.

We finished off the day overlooking Coquet Island RSPB nature reserve, a short boat ride from Amble.  Lots more terns and puffins in the distance; they will have to wait for another day.

Coquet Island - home to the UK's largest colony of the exquisite roseate tern

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