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 breeding pairs of Guillemots and 11,151 pairs of 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 breeding pairs 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.

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