UK - the Farne Islands, puffins

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3 years 5 months ago #86679 by nkgray
nkgray created the topic: UK - the Farne Islands, puffins
I rounded off my birding trip to north-east England with a day trip to two of the Farne Islands, Staple Island and Inner Farne, just off the coast of Northumberland and accessed by boat from the small harbour at Seahouses. The islands are part of the National Trust, who maintain the exisiting facilities on the islands and whose rangers are responsible for management of the wildlife. I made my only previous trip here in June 2009, almost 5 years ago. Armed with a much better camera and lens I was hoping for some improved photos. The weather played ball with great light all day and no rain despite promises of showers. Staple Island is home to a huge colony of Guillemot, as well as Razorbill, Shag, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Puffin, while the primary attractions at Inner Farne are the puffins and Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns.

What impressed me most about the islands is the sheer numbers of seabirds present. As the birds are all breeding and there are already young to feed you are constantly criss-crossed overhead by birds heading out to sea and those returning with beaks full of sand eels to feed the young. In doing so they have to avoid being "mugged" by the marauding gulls, Black-headed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed. Each bird has its own nesting niche - kittiwakes on ledges on sheer cliffs, razorbills, guillemots and shags the rocky clifftops, and puffins make their nesting burrows on the flatter ground just inland of the cliffs/rocks.

There are too many photos for one posting, so this post will be confined just to Atlantic Puffin.

I am sure many of you know what a puffin looks like - it is a most comical-looking bird - but do you have a feel for the size of a puffin?

If I said it is more or less the size of a Feral Pigeon would you believe me? Well, pictures don't lie (unless you've Photoshopped them!) so my first photo answers that question.



The puffin has such stubby wings you'd wonder whether it could even get off the ground, but like the guillemot once airborne can do an impressive 80kph!



Puffins can be seen diving, swimming, flying, busily walking around the nesting areas or just congregating on the rocks before launching off on another fishing foray. There were almost 40,000 breeding pairs in the Farnes in 2013 according to the National Trust census - see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2518929/Wildlife-rangers-count-thousands-birds-seals-annual-census-Farne-Islands.html





The food of choice is any of the many small fish belonging to one of three genera and known as sand eels, which are very abundant around Britain's coasts. Every puffin heading back inshore has a beak full of these small fish. It is only the size and quantity that differs, and I am still not yet sure how they manage to get 6, 7 or even 8 of these small fish into their beaks at the same time.









This guy has gone for size!



The return to their nesting burrows has to be with pinpoint accuracy. I watched dozens come in to land and take only one step before disappearing into the burrow. Any more than that and a marauding gull would use his size to 'mug' the puffin and steel his catch. Of the dozens of puffins I watched maybe half were harried by gulls, but not one lost his precious catch.




Neil

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3 years 5 months ago #86683 by John Young
John Young replied the topic: Re: UK - the Farne Islands, puffins
Awesome - I know where I want to take my next holiday.

Cheers,
Dave

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3 years 4 months ago #86691 by Doug
Doug replied the topic: Re: UK - the Farne Islands, puffins
I am extremely envious. Puffins are on my birding bucket list


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