Tuesday 12 July 2016

The Farne Isles

Like I said in my previous post, after ringing all the Barn Owl chicks, the following day Sue and I set off for a few days in Northumberland, staying at a village called Beadnell, just a couple of miles south of Seahouses. It's and area of the UK I've never visited before but why I just don't know - it's such a beautiful part of the country. Our aim was to visit the Farne Isles - an archipelago of Isles about one and half miles off the north east coast of Britain, where there are Arctic and Common Tern colonies, along with Puffin, Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes breeding in large numbers and with a few Shag mixed in there as well. We also wanted to see what else there was to do on the north east coast. After an uneventful journey up the A1, we arrived in good time for us to explore the Farnes on the Sunday afternoon, taking a small catamaran tour around the islands before landing for an hour or so on Inner Farne which is  owned by the National Trust. ( we went back again on the Tuesday and managed to arrange to stay an extra hour with the boat company we used as they weren't fully booked). What a place! Although you have limited access on the island, having to stay mainly to the board walks, you are surrounded by hundreds of breeding birds - all within arms' reach! You are advised to wear a hat which you definitely need, as the first 300 yards is where the Arctic Tern are nesting and it's like running the gauntlet! - you get dive-bombed, landed on, pecked regularly - as well as getting pooped on!!  Despite all of this, it's absolutely amazing and brilliant! Tern chicks are almost underfoot in some places, adult birds are sitting on eggs along the side of the boardwalk and chicks ranged from a few days old to fledglings. it was amazing to watch the Puffins coming in off the sea with their beaks full of sand eels who had their own gauntlet to run as they tried to avoid being harassed by Black-headed and Herring Gulls who were trying to take the food off of them.
                                                                  Arctic Tern

                                                 Arctic Tern looking for another 'victim'

                                                             Arctic coming in to land

                                                                    Arctic Tern

                                        Above is a Black-headed Gull and below is a Herring Gull                                                                         - two of the culprits who mugged the Puffins!!

                 ......And this is what they were waiting for - a Puffin with a beak-full of sand eels

                                                                Coming in to land

                                                 Now, where did I leave those chicks??

Below are some images of other birds we saw on our tour of the islands before we landed on Inner Farne.
                                                                 Juvenile Guillemot

                                            Two Guillemot with a Bridled variety

                                                           Puffin off on a fishing trip

                                   Juvenile Shag - there were a lot of these around the islands

                                                            Kittiwake with chicks

                                                                        Adult Shag


Not only is there fantastic birdlife to view, there is also a large Grey Seal colony, and,as with the birds, the boat skipper gets you in for some real close-up views of these inquisitive animals
                                                                Grey Seal colony

                                                 This one came for a closer look at us!

 Whilst you are doing the island tour, we saw lots of birds - including this large flock of Gannets

Though eider Duck breed on the Farne Isles, as soon as they can, they bring their ducklings across to the mainland. These were in the harbour at Seahouses. There were some drakes about, but they were too far out to get an image.

                                                                  Adult female Eider

                                                                         Eider chick

In between our visits to |Inner Farne, we decided to visit Holy Island (Lindisfarne) on the Monday for a look around. We drove over the causeway, arriving at 10.30 am; we only had a couple of hours or so to check out the priory and walk around the village before we needed to leave for the mainland, as the tide would be returning at 13.15, and we would have been stuck then until 22.00 before the causeway would have been clear to cross. On our way back, we stopped at The Grace Darling museum in Bamburgh which we had been recommended to visit; Grace Darling was a young Victorian heroine of 23 years who, along with her father, rowed out over 400 yards from Longstone Lighthouse, in very high seas, to rescue nine people who had survived a shipwreck in the night, and were stranded on the rocks. She was the first woman to be presented with a silver medal for gallantry by the RNLI. She sadly died from consumption just three years later. The museum is well worth a visit.
                                                               Longstone Lighthouse

                                                                  Bamburgh Castle

 Brownsman Lighthouse -This is the original lighthouse where Grace and her family lived before moving to the new Longstone Lighthouse. Although they moved to Longstone, they still rowed back to this island on a regular basis, as they kept a garden here growing vegetables etc. since their new home was built on rock with nowhere to cultivate.

 I hope you have enjoyed reading about our trip to Northumberland, and as always, any comments are welcome.

Thursday 7 July 2016

Barn Owls of South Leicestershire

Sorry it's been a while since my last post, but the old replacement hip has taken its toll on my getting out and about, but i'm glad to say it's as good as new now, and no more pain - just got to sort the rest of my body out now! Anyway, enough about my ageing ailments and  back to the 'birding' stuff.  I'm sure I've mentioned before that, with my good mate Paul Riddle, [his blog owlsaboutthatthen -well worth a look) I've been helping to make and erect Little Owl and Barn Owl boxes all over South Leicestershire. We've probably got well over a 100 boxes in place now, and the Little Owl population in this area is thriving; Paul has discovered well over 200 sites where this owl can be found, and we have had good success with our box programme, but over the last 3 or 4 years we have concentrated more on Barn Owls, as the population in this area was poor to say the least, with only 2 or 3 pairs that Paul new of. I am pleased to say that now, in 2016, we probably have at least 12 to 16 pairs to our knowledge, but, as you can imagine, trying to get around all the boxes is near on impossible due to time constraints, logistics and the cost -  to get round all the boxes, you can do quite a few miles across some quite rugged terrain, and it's all funded by Paul himself, so there could be owls that we know nothing about.
Paul was out checking the boxes 3 or 4 weeks ago and we had a total of 21 chicks over 8 boxes,so on Saturday 2nd July, Paul had arranged for Mick Townsend, our ringing mentor, to meet up and go and ring all 21 chicks.  Mick had been on holiday so we had at to wait on his return before we could do anything about ringing the chicks, so with this in mind  we knew that some of the chicks were going to be quite big or even be out of the box
                                                Barn Owl chick waiting his turn to be ringed

We started at our first site around 1pm.  I'm always excited when we start ringing the chicks - not only does it make you feel good that its all been worthwhile after all the hard work that Paul and I do, putting up the boxes - normally when its freezing cold or raining - but its just brilliant to have a Barn Owl chick in your hand and be putting a ring on it.  Paul and I do most of the ringing, watched over by Mick to make sure we doing what we are supposed to be doing and he also takes all the information which is required, ready for the BTO report.  Mick Townsend, who is a very experienced ringer, and as rung birds all over the world, can be found every weekend at Stamford Reservoir where he as been ringing birds for more years there than you would like to mention. We finally finished at our last site some five and half hours later with all the chicks ringed. A good days work, I feel!

                                                       Paul with 3 large chicks
                                               Mick and Paul at another site with 3 chicks
                      Yours truly with a pair of chicks ready to go back into the box having been ringed

As always, thanks for stopping by and any comments are welcome.
The following day my wife and I went to the Farne Isles for a few days, so when I sort through the images I will do post on the birds we encountered there too.