North Trip: Farne Islands, Bass Rock & Kielder
Welcome to a very long blog post! I have made a video which includes all my photographs from the trip and some video clips merged together. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel, I have future ideas! Enjoy, Danielle :)
I’ve recently embarked a remarkable trip North with my Granddad to The Farne Islands, Bass Rock and Northumberland National Park. The trip was initially planned in late august but after research and conversations with rangers, I was told many of the species I had planned to see would have already started their migration back to winter seas. In as little as three days, the whole trip was rescheduled and rebooked. I was planning to buy my new camera the Canon 5D Mark 3 a month before the trip, so had plenty of time to adapt but due to the reschedule, my dad and I were hunting down camera shops and finally a day before I was leaving I had my new camera.
My journey began on an early Virgin train to Lancashire where I’d be meeting my granddad. The three hour journey was spent reading the uninteresting long manual of my camera as I had so little experience with it. On arrival I met my granddad and we drove for an additional three hours, taking a quick stop at Durham where my granddad studied history. We visited Durham cathedral where peregrine falcons soared the towers. 360 miles from home, we arrived in a town close to the fishing village of Seahouses.
An early morning start greeted us with thick grey clouds. We arrived early in Seahouses harbour where we boarded a crowded fishing boat. We were heading to the great Farne islands. The islands are situated off the Northumbrian coast and are divided into two groups, inner and outer, separated by Staple sound, a mile wide stretch of water. The sea waters were astonishingly calm and as we sailed peaks of blue and light pink hid behind the clouds. I’d become giddy of anticipation and excitement as puffins and razorbills flew above us. My family are not naturalists and so this was a completely new experience to me. We cruised around the dark rocked islands to view the vast number of nesting seabirds on the cliff faces and the sleepy and slumped Atlantic grey seal colony. There are 6,000 grey seals on the Farne Island’s and 1,000 pups are born every autumn.
The boat delivered us to Staple Island where we were guests to over 10,000 puffins and many other birds for two hours. You were welcomed with a strong waft of fish scent and the sounds of seabirds. I’d only walked up the steps onto the island when I was captivated by the clowns of the island, the Atlantic puffin.
The Atlantic puffin is a member of the auk family. It stands upright and has a tuxedo like plumage; white and black. Its broad triangular beak is red and black and it has bright orange feet. The puffin’s comical appearance makes it one of the world’s favourite birds. They spend their winters in cold north seas and return to nesting colonies in spring. Puffins dig or viciously force the rabbits out their burrows where they lay a single egg. The chick if fed whole fish such as sand eels or mackerel and after 6 weeks fledges. It may not return to land for many years until mature and ready to mate. The birds are usually monogamous but this is due to their desire at having the best nesting site and so they return to the same site annually. Pairs will display their bond by billing and rubbing their beaks together. Puffins had a bad summer due to flash floods destroying burrows but this year have done exceptionally well. The food supply has been the best seen in years and many other seabirds have also done well.
Puffins are small and stocky birds yet surprisingly very quick flyers and so my lens struggled to focus quick enough for a sharp shot of the erratic fliers however I did manage a few. Staple Island also has many other members of the auk family at its summer residents such as razorbill and guillemots.
After two hours on the island, the sun was out and it was becoming uncomfortably hot and by the time we arrived on the second island, Inner Farne it was sweltering hot. I didn’t want to get sunburnt so left my black waterproof on and baked like a chicken on a spit roast, but so did many other birds. All the birds were panting and I was amazed by the devotion and strength these birds had, all remained with their chicks and eggs, sheltered them from the burning hot sun and not once left them alone to dip into the cold sea.
On Inner Farne, you are immediately greeted by the Arctic Terns. In an attempt to protect their young, they dive-bomb at your heads and this was a great opportunity to test my new lens the Canon 24-105mm f/4L. On the other side of the island, shags and kittiwakes nested next to the path and I had the opportunity to get wide photographs to incorporate the sea landscape. After two hours on inner farne we made our way back to seahouses where we had lovely fish and chips!
On the second day we had another short boat trip to Staple Island for an hour’s landing. After an incredibly hot day before I was surprisingly hoping for clouds and fortunately, we were welcomed with lovely grey skies! I concentrated on puffins but also photographed the herring gulls. The gulls were pests to the puffins, or possibly more cunning and intelligent. Instead of fishing themselves, they aggressively stole fish off the puffins who are efficient and perfectly well adapted hunters.
After a quick hour at Staple, I left the Farne islands and thoroughly enjoyed being a guest to around 150,000 birds. At the end of the summer, the seabirds will also leave and begin their migration for winter. The arctic tern will very impressively travel 43,000 miles back to Antarctica, fortunately for me my next photography destination was only 60 miles away.
In the afternoon we visited Bamburgh Castle and holy island. After an hour drive, we arrived in a small village southeast Scotland called Dunbar for a very exciting early start the next morning.
Day three and I had around four hours sleep. By 6am we were already at Dunbar harbour waiting to board a fisherman’s boat to travel to incredible Bass Rock. Bass Rock really is an experience. There is only one bird you go there to see, the gannet.
The northern gannet is the largest sea bird with a wingspan of up to two metres. They hunt by diving from great heights of 30 metres into the sea and they are well adapted for this. Gannets have air sacs in their face and chest under their skin which take the impact of them diving at high speeds into the water. They do not have external nostrils; instead they are situated inside their mouth. Gannets can achieve speeds up to 60 mph allowing them to catch fish much deeper in the sea. They nest in large colonies; Bass Rock hosts 150,000 gannets on its steep sided cliffs. 70% of the global population breed in the UK. Gannets mate for life and the female lays a single egg each year. After seven weeks of incubation, the chick hatches and both parents care for the chick. Gannet ‘couples’ will display their bond by gently tapping and rubbing their bills together, a greeting ritual done throughout the summer season. Juveniles have dark feathers and are not completely white till they are fully mature at 5 years old.
Half an hour into the boat ride, the first gannet was seen, flying over the incredibly calm peaceful sea. The boat cabin obscured my view from the front of the boat and so I did not see Bass Rock from a distance. I knew we were close as many gannets soared from a distance. The boat turned slightly to the left revealing the vast rock. White patches covered across the steep-sided dark volcanic rock.
As we got closer the white patches revealed to be gannets, thousands and thousands of them. The sight was extraordinary. As an urban naturalist, the number of birds was outstanding to me. Other than a light house and wireless bird webcams, the island is owned by nature. The narrow, uneven path had to be cleared of land slides, bird carcasses and feathers. Gannets flew close above our heads and the noise of squawks raised as we climbed up. They had nested cm’s away from our path up to the main colony. We trekked up the steep steps where we made base for three hours.
I used both lenses (24-105mm f/4L, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L) and attempted a variety of shots. I personally think gannets are fantastic looking birds and have a prehistoric appearance with their elongated wings. Our guide had explained that if we sat down slowly in one spot the gannets behave normally as they assume you’ve claimed that territory and will ignore you.
After three hours on the rock we began to walk down the rock where we met the fisherman. We boarded the boat and there was yet one great spectacle to see. The fisherman threw fish or ‘chum’ into the sea and gannets were plummeting into the waters around the boats. It was very difficult to get a decent photograph of the dive as they are incredibly quick and there are so many gannets, you just don’t know where to point the camera. However, I did capture a gannet flying out of the sea which you can see in the video. As this was happening and gannets were furiously diving into the water, a herring gull decided to sit on my head. I shook my head, jumped around and still couldn’t get him off. I ended up having to push him off!
We spent a couple days in Edinburgh before driving down to Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland. I spent a few hours in the afternoon in a red squirrel hide. In the evening less and less people visited the hide and the squirrels were more active. I left the hide and sat 5 metres in front of it. One red squirrel had been spooked and made an agitated noise and sat in a tree nearby watching me. He had been irritated but soon accepted my presence. I remained very still and quiet hoping the red squirrel would return. I turned around to the noise of scurrying and I had been outsmarted as a red squirrel sat 2 metres behind me. I did manage some photographs in the low lit forest. The next morning we set off early and my granddad dropped me off at a private red squirrel photography hide where I managed many more portraits of two red squirrel kittens. I also had the opportunity to photograph woodland birds such as siskin, common redpoll, chaffinch, goldfinch and many others.
We drove back to Lancashire and the next day I took the train back to London. It was a fantastic trip, the highlight of my summer and I’d like to thank my granddad for taking me. Please do have a look at the photographs in the video!
Have promised myself that I will go to Farne (and possibly Bass) next year. Your video has made me even keener to go!
Great video and photos, Thanks for sharing them.
Looks like you had a fantastic trip.
Keep up the good work.
Excellent -video well worth watching and great photo with a new camera.
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