Zenfolio | Jack Burton Photography | My trip to the Farne Islands - 17/07/16

My trip to the Farne Islands - 17/07/16

July 31, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Day trip to the Farne Islands

It’s a sin that although I have lived in the North East of England all my life, I have never visited the Farne Islands, until now. Not long ago, I was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity by my girlfriend’s family, to visit these iconic Islands. We headed down to Seahouses: the town which provides boat trips to the Islands - we went with a private company called ‘Serenity’. We soon set off and it didn’t take long for a myriad of birds to appear; Cormorants and Shags were a common sight, flying alongside the boat. Puffins were flying over our heads, bills packed with sand eels – everyone was excited by this, such wonderful/unusual looking birds. There were also the usual sightings of the Black-headed and Herring gulls. It was difficult to get worthwhile photographs on the boat due to the relentless bouncing – most of my shots were either slightly blurred or composed awkwardly – I could perhaps have solved this problem by increasing my shutter speed, but then my images would have been underexposed, and I did not want to increase the ISO (light sensitivity) any higher for quality related reasons. For this reason, I instead enjoyed observing the wildlife through my binoculars.

It didn’t take long for us to arrive at the Island, 15 to 20 minutes or so: this could be completely wrong however as I often lose track of time when looking at wildlife, but it definitely wasn’t too long. As we arrived at the first small island, we were accompanied by a plentiful bunch of Grey Seals; they were clearly used to people, so getting close to them wasn’t an issue. It was humorous to watch one attempt to get onto the rocky Island, thrusting its body, moving head and tail to edge its way on to the rocks. We also came across an adorable seal pup. I’m not sure why they always look so sad but it always seems to have that ‘aww’ effect on me.

Our trip continued to move around the other Islands, observing the sea bird colonies. The Kittiwake was definitely the most abundant bird on most of the Islands – distinguished by their small yellow beaks and black eyes, as well as their short black legs. It was also nice to see some with their young, feeding them with sand eels. The Guillemots were another communal bird perched on these rocky outcrops, funny looking, they almost look like a small and slender penguin. They have a dark brown head, neck and back, with a white front. One of the two men working on the boat pointed out a young Guillemot; very well hidden between a crack in the rock. I could only see its little head – quite a late brood for a Guillemot, maybe they failed first time around and were giving it another shot. A similar looking but not so common bird was the Razorbill – their appearance differs from the Guillemots slightly; having a thicker bill with white trailing from their eye and along their beak. We were even lucky enough to see a couple of Gannets, credit to my girlfriend’s mum (Julie) for spotting them. Gannets never seem to bore me; like terns, watching them dive into the sea with such precision and accuracy is a spectacular sight. Finally, the Puffins - known as the clown of the sea birds – renowned for their colourful beaks, eye markings and peculiar geometry. A loud sudden squawk arose from the birds as a hunting Great black-backed gull came flying past, beating its enormous wings over the colony of birds, eyeing for any vulnerable chicks. No luck! The Great black-backed gull flew off, unsuccessful.

Further progress was made on our trip, and it was finally time to actually walk on one of the islands. As we disembarked from the boat we were soon completely engulfed by flying Arctic Terns. There are no words to truly describe it really - it's astonishing but definitely out of the ordinary – I’ve never been so close to so many birds at once, I didn’t know where to point the camera! It was quite strange, they would happily perch on the boardwalk posts and let you casually walk by. However, if they believed you were a threat to their nest and were too close, they would not hesitate to mob you. A young girl was a victim of this. I have to admit the bird might be relatively small, but I can’t imagine this being a pleasant experience.


The whole site was brilliantly run – owned by the National Trust – there was even a visitor centre for people who had any enquires or wanted to buy merchandise. Rangers were on patrol to ensure the health and safety of both the birds and the people. Interestingly, there was even a small chapel there, dedicated to St Cuthbert. Other landmarks on the Island included the standard lighthouse and a tower. As we moved further along the boardwalk we came across the Puffins once more, swooping in from the sea and landing beside their burrows on land. It’s a classic sight to see their bills jam-packed with sand eels, they catch them by swimming under water with their feet. Apparently they catch about 10 on average but these numbers can reach as far as 60 - unbelievable! Time was moving on and we needed to be back in time for the boat. On my way back I was held up by a family of Sandwich Terns, a notable sighting for a bird lover like myself.

We arrived back at the boat and it was time to return to Seahouses. Quite sad, but our short stay was well worth it, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience. As we set off, I turned around to peer at the birds once more from a distance, flying and sitting amongst the rocks in bountiful numbers – a landscape difficult to forget. I would most definitely recommend a trip to the Farne Islands to anyone, especially those that live in the North East of England.

If you would like to know more about the Farne Islands visit their website: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/farne-islands


For anyone who would like to buy a printed copy of my photographs, I would be delighted to hear from you.  


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