Monday, 20 June 2011

Pole to Pole

Arctic tern's extraordinary pole-to-pole migration has been detailed by an international team of scientists.

The researchers fitted the birds with tiny tracking devices to see precisely which routes the animals took on their 70,000km (43,000 miles) round trip.

The study reveals they fly down either the African or Brazilian coasts but then return in an "S"-shaped path up the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

"The new thing is that we've now been able to track the bird during a full year of migration, all the way from the breeding grounds to the wintering grounds and back again."

Albatrosses, godwits, and sooty shearwaters all undertake epic journeys. But none can quite match the Arctic tern's colossal trip.

Starting in August and September, this small bird - which weighs little more than 100g (3.5oz) - will head away from Greenland with the intention of getting to the Weddell Sea, on the shores of Antarctica.
It will spend about four or five months in the deep south before heading back to the far north, arriving back to The Farne Islands in May.

A team from Greenland, Denmark, the US, the UK and Iceland attached small (1.4g/0.05oz) "geolocators" to the animals to find out exactly where they went on this polar round trip.
The devices record light intensity. This gives an estimate of the local day length, and the times of sunrise and sunset; and from this information it is possible to work out a geographical position of the birds.

The use of these devices on seabirds is not only revolutionising our understanding of migration patterns, but the resulting data on distribution also help address the requirement to identify important biological hot spots.
With such a small bird, the trackers also need to be tiny

The first surprise is that the terns do not make straight for the Antarctic when they leave the Arctic, but make a lengthy stop-over in the middle of the North Atlantic, about 1,000km (620 miles) north of the Azores.
Here, they feed on zoo plankton and fish to fuel themselves for the long journey ahead.

Even more importantly, it's the last high productive area before they enter tropical waters where we know productivity is low.
The birds then head south along the coast of western Europe and western Africa before making a choice, either to continue hugging Africa or sweep across the Atlantic from the Cape Verde Islands to continue the journey along the Brazilian coast.

About half the birds that were tracked decided to take the South American path. It is not clear why, but the researchers believe wind might make either route seem favourable to the terns.

After spending their northern winter months in Antarctic waters, the terns then fly back towards the Arctic.

But rather than retracing their southward flight paths, the birds follow a gigantic "S" pattern up the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

They make a detour of several thousand km but once we start comparing the route to the prevailing wind system, it makes perfect sense - moving in a counter-clockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere, and clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

It's just more energy-efficient for them to do that even though they are travelling several thousand more km than if they flew in a straight line.

With the bird so small the trackers need to be tiny.
So when our customers ask why do the Arctic Terns dive bomb you and peck you on your head. We aways say that they are protecting their eggs or chicks, and after travelling those sort of distances then I think they have a right to do so. We tend to forget sometimes that we are invading the birds home and this is one of the main reasons why the National Trust only open Staple Island in the morning and the Inner Farne in the afternoon.

One of the guys that ring the Arctic Terns on The Inner Farne and check their details evey year.

Sorting the trap to catch them.

Ready to be released after getting all the details from the ring.

Arctic Tern sitting on the wall at the lighthouse on the Inner Farne.

And this is why they dive bomb us, and who can blame them after travelling all that way.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Tall Ship

I was lucky enough the other day to see a Tail Ship passing the Farnes. I was moored in the kettle at The Inner Farne when I first saw this beautiful ship pass, so I let go of the anchor and set of to get some nice pictures.

She was called STAVROS S NIARCHOS of London.

Friday, 17 June 2011


Some people know this but others don't.

Guillemot chicks are called Jumplings.

Guillemots lay a single large egg on the bare rock. Almost everyone is a different in it's colour and pattern, and this enables the birds to recognize the egg in the dense groups around the islands. It's also round at on end and pointed at the other. The reason for this is because if one bird lands and hits the egg it just spins around in a circle which prevents it from falling of the cliff edge. Clever eh.
The chick hatches after 32 days and further 3 weeks or so on the breeding colony, being fed mainly on sand eels.
One of most amazing things about Guillemot chicks is that they 'fledge' when only part grown and flightless. They are known as Jumplings as they jump of the cliff face before learning how to fly. The male Guillemot is waiting for them in the water and then takes them to a place called The Dogger Bank, which is a large fishing ground. This happens mostly during dusk and this is because they are trying to avoid those predatory gulls. This is the other season why we love our Sunset Cruises at this time of the year as you might get to see 1 or 2 Jumplings during the day but at dusk you get to see hundreds.
The male Guillemot will look after the chick for 4 to 6 weeks until it becomes big and strong enough to look after itself.

So here is a few pictures of those cute Jumplings. 

Bless. This little fella jumped but not far enough and got stuck on a ledge.

Go on you can do it.

First time in the water.

Mother said, "You really need to jump into the water now as you could do with a wash".

Jumpling said, "Your having a laugh. Have you seen how high up we are"

Guillemots trying to protect their chicks from the Gulls.

To late. A little Jumpling did not make it.

There is always a happy ending. Well sometimes. Daddy and Jumpling of to Dogger Bank.
 See you next year.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Puffin Fight

Its a very busy time at the moment around The Farne Islands. Puffins are coming and going with loads of sand eels in their beaks, and sometimes fights break out. I did not see any sand eels on this occasion, so I don't know what the fight was about but it is usually over females or a good nesting site. They will puff themselves up to look bigger, while opening their wings and beaks. They also stamp their feet and wrestle, this will often draw a crowd of Puffin spectators to watch the fight. On this occasion it was just me watching.
Here is some pictures blow by blow.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Steady As She Goes

As someone who enjoys taking photographs (I stop short of claiming to be a photographer), one of the great things about Serenity is the twin-hulled Catamaran. The more trips I've done with Andrew and team the more I appreciate the stability that Serenity offers when trying to capture good images.

Whilst landing on the islands provides some superb photo opportunities the tour around the sea adjacent to the islands should not be dismissed or forgotten as there are some incredible opportunities to capture interesting images using the sea colours, rock formations and different angles. He are one or two shots taken on a trip last week using a 100-400mm lens handheld from the deck.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Arctic Angels

Summer at The Farnes means terns and it's the Arctic Tern that has the biggest numbers and dominates many of the islands including Inner Farne. Arctic Terns are birds of contrast, elegant, graceful almost angelic in appearance, apparently floating across a blue sky. Then they open their mouths and that harsh kree eeer call rasps from the red throat.

After sailing out with Andrew in perfect conditions last Friday I spent a couple of hours on Inner Farne photographing Arctic Terns, being assaulted by Arctic Terns both physically and aurally and finally becoming a perch for one confiding individual who sat on my baseball cap for the best part of three minutes.

To be this close to a creature that spends almost its whole life far from land in the vast oceans of the world is a privilege. I've found over the years if you sit, even inside a territory, after a minute or so they seem to realise you aren't a threat. Running through those few metres of boardwalk with hood pulled down as many do, misses the rare opportunity to appreciate just how gorgeous these terns are; the blood red bill, jet black cap and tail streamers to die for, I just can't get enough of them and any visit during late May and June should be savoured.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Sunset Cruise

On Thursday night we did our first Sunset Cruise and we could not have picked a better night for it. At 7pm we picked up our passengers and headed out to the Farne Islands. On our way out we saw over 60 Manx Shearwaters flying north. What a way to start the night.

Now the islands are a special place to start with but an evening cruise is just so peaceful, as all you can hear are the birds.

Taking our time and making the best of the night we slowly cruised around the islands enjoying the evening sun, watching all the birds coming and going with sand eels in their bills and hungry chicks enjoying their supper.

The customers seemed to be really enjoying themselves and I was to.  Now I know its supposed to be an 1.5 hour tour but hey with weather like this and customers who are really nice and enjoying themselves who wants to go home. So it took a bit longer. Well 2 and bit hours.

We could not go home without seeing the seals anyway, and after hunting high and low for them we noticed them at the Megstone. Now the Megstone is most Northerly of the islands and we don't go there very often so of we steamed. As we arrived their was loads and I got a nice picture of Bamburgh Castle in the background to.

Thanks to everyone who joined Keith and myself, we really enjoyed it and I hope you did to.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Puffin Update 2

Well just to let you all know that the Puffins are doing just fine. After our little scare and the burrows being flooded they are all dried out now and we alot of chicks down the burrows now. I have not been lucky enough to see them yet but hopefully soon.

Here is a selection of pictures to wet your appetite just in case you have not been yet.