A few days ago Beryl and I had the opportunity to travel to the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast, to view this special group of islands, and get close up to the colourful world of our native sea birds. Hundreds of visitors take the boats each year to visit the islands which are owned by the National Trust. The best visits take you around the islands before giving you an hour on Inner Farne or Staple Island, with specially protected areas for close up views of the birds. We left the fishing village of Seahouses on board Serrenity II on a glorious morning, and headed towards Staple Island. As we approached razorbills, guillemots and puffins who were feeding on the water suddenly took off to avoid the approaching boat, and a flock of twelve huge gannets flew majestically south across the bows no doubt on route to their North sea feeding grounds from their home on Bass Rock. As we approached Staple Island we got the first close up views of yellow billed kittewakes sitting on nest ledges feeding young, together with cliff top hugging puffins in their hundreds. Several late nesting guillemots could also be seen with young, their distinctive brown coats, with white bellies, distinguishing them from the razorbills with their razor like beaks. Large brown cormorants also stood statesmanlike on the top of the cliffs, looking down on the frenzy of feeding taking place below them. Colourful puffins with parrot like bills, flew in from the sea with beaks full of sand eels, and after a quick glance for possible predators, disappeared down nest holes to feed their hungry pufflings. The sound of kittewakes calling was all encompassing as we viewed them on their nest sites with their chicks from very close up. Getting so close to such delightful creatures was a great thrill, and our skipper then took us further out to sea to view good numbers of grey seals lying out on the low lying rocks or just lazing about in the sea. As the tide was now coming in many of their resting places would soon have been covered by the sea, so they slipped peacefully into the deep and surrounded the boat giving us extremely close views. At this point we headed south east towards the red and white painted lighthouse of Longstone, an island made famous by Grace Darling, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter, who in 1838, helped in the rescue of the crew of the paddlesteamer Forfarshire that had run aground on this treacherous coast. She was awarded with a silver medal for her bravery, and her memorial and grave can be seen at nearby St Aidan s Church in Bamburgh.

Our journey continued around the islands, with Holy Island visible to the north and the magnificent Bamburgh Castle to the west. The Farne Islands were formed by low lying outcrops of volcanic rocks from the Whin Sill intrusion, and it’s said that there are 28 islands, but some only visible on very low tides. Our last destination was the largest and most historic island, Inner Farne, once home of Saint Cuthbert, who is said to have a gift of healing. This brought many pilgrims to visit the island and its tiny chapel. However our main purpose was to get even closer to the sea birds, the most famous being the thousands of nesting Arctic Terns, reputed to attack any visitors by pecking them on their heads, hence the need to take good headgear. On this occasion however they were very calm. I guess this was because their young were now growing up fast, and could protect themselves if necessary. We did get very close to the terns as can be seen from the images below and were amazed by the size of some of the fish they were trying to feed on. There were also thousands of puffins present, many still active around their nest burrows, a sign that this year spring was very late. The benefit for us was that they were still on site, as in most years they would already have been out at sea, leaving the islands in early July to travel to far off seas for the autumn and winter. They also lose their charming colourful beaks at this time, the feature that makes them so popular. Our visit to this magical island was all too short, but we had one last opportunity to view families of kittewakes and cormorants from above, getting really close up views as we looked down from the cliffs. I hope my photographs inspire you to visit these magical islands one day, you will not forget it in a hurry.

  •  Farne Island

    Farne Island

  •  Puffins

    Puffins

  •  Puffins

    Puffins

  •  Puffins

    Puffins

  •  Puffins

    Puffins

  •  Puffin by its Burrow

    Puffin by its Burrow

  •  Puffin with Sandeel

    Puffin with Sandeel

  •  Puffins Posing

    Puffins Posing

  •  Kittiwakes

    Kittiwakes

  •  Kittiwakes

    Kittiwakes

  •  Kittiwake Chicks

    Kittiwake Chicks

  •  Kittiwake Family

    Kittiwake Family

  •  Guillemot

    Guillemot

  •  Guillemot and Chick

    Guillemot and Chick

  •  Arctic Tern

    Arctic Tern

  •  Arctic Tern with Sandeel

    Arctic Tern with Sandeel

  •  Arctic Tern with Sandeel

    Arctic Tern with Sandeel

  •  Arctic Tern Chick

    Arctic Tern Chick

  •  Arctic Tern Chick

    Arctic Tern Chick

  •  Cormorants

    Cormorants

  •  Cormorant Chick

    Cormorant Chick

  •  Cormorant Chick

    Cormorant Chick

  •  Grey Seals

    Grey Seals

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© 2018 Richard Nicholson

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