Farne Islands – it’s for the birds!

Categories // North Sea Wildlife Officer

Farne Islands – it’s for the birds!

Another busy week has gone by in the North Sea on board the DFDS KING Seaways! 

Recently I was privileged to be invited on a Delta Safari trip to the Farne Islands. It was great to see the birds that I generally see at quite a distance out at sea, up close and in breeding colonies. What a welcome we got: arctic terns mobbing us as we made our way from the boat to higher ground! I wondered why the arctic terns would nest so close to the paths, with some even laying their eggs on the path. It seems like such a disturbance as the adults would fly off the nest to launch the attack. However, the rangers assured me that the terns closer to the paths and human disturbance actually have greater success at raising chicks than those at a distance. It seems there are fewer gull attacks in the presence of humans.

The poor puffins do not have this respite and both herring and black headed gulls patrol their breeding colonies. These gulls are kleptoparasites and will harass the puffins returning from sea so that they will drop the fish meant for the young chicks. Luckily the encounters I observed ended with the puffin escaping into a burrow still hanging on to its catch.

Being so close, it is also possible to easily distinguish between guillemots and razorbills as the guillemots are much lighter in colour, more of a chocolate brown than black. The thicker bill and distinctive white marking on the razorbill’s face was also quite evident. Previously, at sea I found it quite difficult to determine whether there are any razorbills in amongst the guillemots bobbing on the water before they dove down as the ship approached. Having seen these bird up close, it has helped me with my identification at sea. I am now able to positively identify sandwich terns from arctic terns and I have seen my first puffins of the season! The calm seas with good visibility which we have had this week, also helped quite a bit I’m sure.

Friday evening we had a lucky charm on the observation deck, a young 5 year old boy whose mum insisted if he looked the dolphins would come, and we spotted 12 dolphins in half an hour! Recently we have seen at least one group of white beaked dolphins during most of our evening deck watches on our days along the English coast.

Come back again next week to see whether the dolphin trend continues and whether we have seen any new or unusual species.


North Sea Wildlife Officer 

Photo: Gulls harassing a returning puffin in the breeding colony. Credit: Ingrid Peters