Saturday, 18 June 2011

Walking with Puffins

 The previous weekend was the now annual summer birding excursion of the Bedford RSPB Group.
This year we had opted to visit Northumberland, an area I had not really explored before.

 On our way up we briefly stopped off at the RSPB reserve of Fairburn Ings, where although not seeing anything too unusual, very close views were obtained of Tree Sparrows, a pair of smart Bullfinches and a confiding Song Thrush at the feeding station.
 We did have plans to stop off at Hartlepool to twitch an extremely rare White-throated Robin, but although this had been well viewed for the previous three days and had been seen that morning it decided to disappear a couple of hours before we got there, so those plans had to be abandoned.

 On Friday, we visited Seahouses, where we took one of Billy Shiels  Glad Tidings boats out to visit the fantastic Farne Islands.
 First stop off was Staple Island which just teeming with nesting seabirds.
Shags, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills were everywhere, but the real stars were the Puffins, which were running around all over the place and flying in with beakfuls of Sand Eels, trying to evade the marauding Gulls before disappearing down their nest burrows.
 There is a small colony of Fulmars on the island and a couple of Eiders snuggled down on their nests in the cracks in the rocks with people walking above, most totally oblivious to the birds below their feet.
 A few Rock Pipits were feeding young on the island  and some small parties of Gannets could be seen flying offshore.

                                                'Bridled' Guillemot
A pair of Shags

another Puffin

pair of Razorbills
The ever watchful Great-black backed Gull
and the equally menacing Lesser-black backed Gull
and an Eider down on the shore.(did you see what I did there?)

After leaving Staple Island our boat did a tour around some of the islands, where while hearing of the daring exploits of Grace Darling we were treated to reasonably close views of Atlantic Grey Seals and lots of these attractive looking Jellyfish.
Our next landing was on Inner Farne, which was an incredible experience. Right from disembarking was a constant bombardment from hundreds of Arctic Terns that had their nests everywhere, even on the side of the pathways. We had all come prepared with our hats and these were very necessary, as these very brave little birds attacked mercilessly, even landing on some peoples heads at times. Absolutely Brilliant!

Arctic Tern

Also on the island were colonies of Common and Sandwich Terns along with many more Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags and Kittiwakes.

Early Saturday morning a few of us ventured over to Holy Island or Lindisfarne as it also known as.
From the Harbour we watched many Eiders and some Rock Pipits picking through the seaweed. On the sandbanks offshore a very large flock of non-breeding Bar-tailed Godwits and a couple of Curlews were located and a large flock of ducks on the sea proved to be mainly Red-breasted Mergansers with a couple of male Goosanders in their midst.A Tern colony on another sandbank contained both Sandwich and Little Terns.
Then we heard the sound of what we at first thought was some women singing.This turned out to be coming from 2 or 3 hundred Grey Seals out on one of the sandbanks. What an amazing sound !

After breakfast we crossed the border into Scotland to have a look around the Lammermuir Hills. Unfortunately the weather had turned really wet and horrible so this rather spoiled things, but we did see several family parties of Red Grouse, a few Curlews, 'drumming' Snipe, Wheatears and a Common Sandpiper. Some of the others did see three Dippers but unfortunately  Robin, Bob and I missed these. So for a short while, we were known as the 3 Dippers.

The afternoon saw us back in the homeland at the the beautiful Harthope Valley near Wooler. It was still pouring with rain, but we still  found Redstarts, Stonechats, Whinchats, Grey Wagtails, Treecreepers and thankfully a Dipper. I wouldn't say it was raining heavily but even the Dipper was sheltering !!

Sunday morning, thankfully the weather bucked up again as we took the RSPB trip out from Amble to Coquet Island. We were not allowed to land, but from the boat we had close ish views of the Roseate Terns that nest in the specially made nest-boxes just below the Lighthouse
Coquet Island

All the usual Seabirds were around, Arctic and Sandwich Terns, Fulmars, Shags, Cormorants, Guillemots, Razorbills Kittiwakes, a few Gannets and of course lots more Puffins.

From here we moved to the nearby Hauxley Nature Reserve.
As luck would have it just before we arrived 3 Spoonbills had dropped in and these could be seen from the pathway. Also on site were a pair of Shelduck, a single Goosander, a couple of Barnacle Geese, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, 4 Turnstones, a Knot, several Redshanks and a stunning summer plumaged Little Gull

From here it was back southwards towards home after a very enjoyable four days in very good company.  

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