Puffins, Puffins and Puffins !!!
Those extremely colourful pelagic birdies with funny faces & carrying a bunch of sand-eels in their gaudy beaks have always been very high on my photographic wish list ! I constantly wonder how could these little birds gather so many fish in their beak with a single dive into the seawaters.
If I try to compare their fishing acumen to that of a kingfisher, the latter needs a whole lot of effort to even gather a sole fish in its beak ..whereas these agile sea birds are always a mouthful !!
There are only a few locations in the UK where you could see huge bird populations, but during the early summer months a group of remote islands (called Farne Islands) near the north east coast are indeed a treat for nature lovers with thousands of birds congregating on the rocky islands. These seabird colonies comprise of some interesting species like Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Eider Ducks, Arctic, Sandwich, Roseate & Common Terns, Shags, Herring Gulls , Kittiwakes, Oyster catchers & occasionally some Gannets. If you're lucky - Grey seals and Dolphin sightings are also a bonus !
Being the Queen's diamond jubilee long weekend, fortunately the office matters were sorted out well in time & me and my colleague friend Nihal Rajah hit the motorway for a gruelling 8 hrs drive ahead leading into some interior village roads.
As I started steering my 4X4 SUV through the curves on countryside tracks of Northumberland, the only anxiety in mind was the mercy of "Lord weather" !! Even though it was supposed to be summer here in the UK - but I needed to carry all four seasons in my rucksack.
FINGERS CROSSED ALL THE TIME !!
FINGERS CROSSED ALL THE TIME !!
Having packed a whole lot of photography equipment & food - the night stay was planned in a modest bed and breakfast at the historic town of Alnwick. With a unexpectedly superb round of starters followed by equally delicious dinner in the local restaurant- the eyes were dreaming of the sea birds for the next day.
Several boat companies run ferries in the sea towards the islands but unfortunately none of them can guarantee the weather !! Even if a boat ride is booked in advance and you reach the harbour - you may get a last minute surprise whim in the weather, the sea starts getting rough and the boat trip gets cancelled !!
However, the first day was indeed a jackpot for both of us - as we reached the harbour to board our pre-booked boat with the very well known Biily Shiel's boat company - sun started shining in the sky and the blue skies triggered a wonderful start ! The boat was full of bird watchers - photographers and binoculars, spotting scopes , telephoto lenses, Wimberley gimbal heads, tripods, monopods were in plenty all over the boat !! In addition to being a popular location with bird watchers, the Farne Islands are a popular scuba diving location, with a variety of sites suitable for all levels of divers.
As the boat galloped on the waves approaching the island, a strong smell makes you attentive of those rocks .The intensity of the odour from these bird droppings itself is a clear indication of the huge population of the birds that one can expect to witness after landing on those rocks with numerous nesting birds.Longstone lighthouse in the Farnes from where Grace Darling and her father launched their rescue - .
As the boat swivels through the rocky towers, various species get revealed in various activities - sitting, flying, fighting, growling, feeding, nesting, repairing nests, hunting, gazing, yawing & sleeping !!
The Terns get really aggressive to peck your heads in the true sense !!
Beware of these needles and by all means a good hat is a MUST !!!
Apart from the usual Puffins and Terns that these islands are known for, some bonus sightings of Razorbills, Oyster catcher & Grey Seals was indeed a rewarding addition -
Grey Seal colony -
Some different glimpses -
Arctic Terns in combat ( part of the breeding activities)
And finally - some yellows on the way back home !