Posts Tagged 'birds'

Farne Islands

StapleStapleThe Farnes are a series of outcroppings of igneous dolerite known locally as the Whinstone Sill starting a mile and and half off of the town of Seahouses, Northumberland. There are 15-20 of them, the ambiguity depending on the tide. Uninhabited except for bird wardens working for the National Trust, the larger rocks in the cluster were once the purview of monks and then lighthouse keepers. Local Victorian heroine Grace Darling (could she have a more perfect name?), a sturdy lass with the oars, is famous for helping her lighthouse-keeper father rescue crew members of a wrecked ship; the area was long treacherous to ships and is littered with wrecks. Phalacrocorax aristotelisA family of European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis); if you’re seeing green on the adult, good, because get this way during breeding season.StapleIMG_3290Now days, the Farnes are littered with guano. About 21 species of birds nest on the islands, with Guillemots (a.k.a. Common Murre) and Puffins the most numerous: in 2013, there were 12,942 Guillemots and 11,151 Puffins on Staple alone. Rissa tridactylaKittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla, we call them Black-legged Kittiwakes on this side of the Atlantic) are the third most numerous breeder. Just under a 1000 were on Staple in 2013. They prefer tiny ledges for their sticky nests. They typically have just one chick.Rissa tridactyla The islands are also a big tourist attraction: several boat companies operate out of Seahouses, which has a definite “Puffin Season” this time of year. You pay for both the boat trip and the National Trust’s entrance fee (₤7.40) if you’re not an NT member. We opted for the 2.5-3 hour (₤15) morning trip to Staple with the Billy Shiels company. Keep an eye on the weather: we heard that afternoon trippers were poured on by the rain (by then we were safe inside the Olde Ship Inn with Black Sheep Bitter).IMG_3252The islands smell distinctively of fish, the main food for practically everybody there, and all that fishy guano, which whitewashes the cliffs. Of course, there are those who eat anything and everything, including other birds. Above, Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus) keep an eye on the Puffins.Larus argentatusThis European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus, considered different from our Herrring Gulls, L. smithsonianus) was unsuccessful at swallowing this dead something chick.Fulmarus glacialisThe only pair of Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) I spotted. (There were 58 Fulmars recorded on Staple in 2013.) Banding has proven that these pelagic birds — they only come ashore to breed — can have a mean lifespan of 34 years, and some have lived half a century, outlasting the people who banded them. Halichoerus grypusThere are also Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus) in the surrounding waters and rocks and small shingle beaches. On Inner Farne, Atlantic Terns were nesting, so you’ll need a hat if you go there; they are fiercely protective of their nesting space and will dive-bomb you and shit on you (I had that experience in Iceland, thank you.)Haematopus ostralegusOystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus), different from American Oystercatchers (H.palliatus) but just as noisy.


Fratercula arcticaFratercula arcticaYou never forget your first Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). Mine was, alas, quite dead, a veritable ex-Puffin, gone to join the Choir Invisible. It was being inquisitively pecked at by a Herring Gull on Nantucket’s South Shore. The scavenger was put out and aloft by my approach, and the small dead auk of the family Alcidae was in pristine shape, recently passed, not yet breached by the gull’s bill nor too mussed by the waves that had tumbled it ashore. I probably should have gathered it up as a specimen for the Maria Mitchell collection. Nantucket is too far south for any regular appearance of Puffins. But this was before I was an actual bird-watcher. Fratercula arcticapuffin burrowFratercula arcticaOn a trip to Iceland in 2010, I saw a few Puffins with their seemingly inadequate wings beating swiftly as they raced along off-shore, but the steep coastal hill we drove up to, a reliable Puffin nesting ground for generations, had been abandoned. A local said the surrounding waters had gotten too warm for the fish the birds ate. Then, last year, anticipation (and stomach!) mounting, I took a boat around a Puffin rock off of Maine, but it was raining, visibility stunk, and I was green around the gills from the rolling, roiling sea. Not a good time was had.Fratercula arcticaBut now, I can finally report that I’ve been to Puffinland, and it was good. Fratercula arcticaFratercula arcticaThese astonishingly colorful bills are a characteristic of the breeding season, as is the make-up like intensity of the facial patterning, and, indeed, finding the birds on land at all. Outside of these summer months, Puffins spend their whole lives at sea. Only breeding brings them ashore: they lay their eggs in burrows on grassy slopes on coastal cliffs. StapleJust such a place is Staple, one of the Farne Islands off the Northumberland shore, run by the National Trust. There will be more pictures to come of the other breeding species found there. Fratercula arcticaSo tonic to be reminded of the wonders and marvels of the planet.

Green Heron

Butorides virescensHow many Green Heron (Butorides virescens) nests are there in Prospect Park? I saw one, heard about another, and suspect a third.Butorides virescens

Barn Swallow

Hirundo rusticaIt’s always dark under this bridge. This Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) nest, made of mud and muck-matter, is a year old and being used again. Nearby is a two-year-old nest that is being re-used again after a vacancy last year.

Here are some gathering mud like the masons they are.

New Robins

Turdus migratoriusOut of the nest, still being fed by the parents. Turdus migratoriusFledged, but less a flier than a hopper and a climber at the moment. People often think birds need help at this stage — can’t fly, looks helpless, no sign of the parents — but they usually don’t. The parents are near, but keeping away from us. Turdus migratoriusA few days later, another in another park. Younger, fluffier. (All approaches here via telephoto lens.)

Raptor Wednesday

No pictures today, but I do have the link to the 55 Water Street Peregrines. There are four young this year, still looking like fluffy off-white chickens, but that is changing rapidly. When typing this (last night), I pulled up the page expecting to see nothing in the dark, but there was enough ambient light from the City that Never Snoozes to see a clump of youngsters and one of the adults standing guard outside the box. So you should check anytime. Catch a feeding.

The House of Detention Peregrine scrape has no camera, but I assume things are at a similar stage there. The local church has been having some renovation done, so I’ve only seen Peregrines on its steeple twice this spring, the last time yesterday, after quite a long time. In years past, this has a standard post for the birds, who can see the jailhouse nest from there.

And always remember to keep one eye on the sky. On Sunday at Marine Park, I noticed something dark and large in the air. Binoculars revealed it to be a sub-adult Bald Eagle. The locals were not pleased. Several gulls were screaming as they circled and swooped after the enormous bird, but the real surprise was an Osprey from the nearby nest platform. It helped to chase the eagle away. An Osprey is a big bird, but it was dwarfed by the eagle.

Monday Morning Preening

Egretta thulaThis is an extreme telephoto, but the bright yellow toes here are a give-away: Snowy Egret (Egretta thula). This bird is a little like a miniaturized version of the Great Egret (Ardea alba), but with black bill/yellow toes to the Great’s yellow bill/black toes. Both species were almost hunted to extinction for their breeding plumes, long wispy feathers that were stuck to lady’s hats into the early part of the last century.


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