Northumberland Part Two: So Many Birds…

Don’t forget to check out my first Northumberland post in this link

Well the sun was good while it lasted, today we woke up to thick, cloudy skies. But nothing would deter us from our day plan, a boat trip to the Farne Islands, except maybe the boat tours being canceled; which they weren’t. So with no reason not to go, we headed off to Seahouses, from which our tour would begin.

For more than a millennium beforehand the Farne Islands were only home to a small colony of monks, who reveled in the isolation that the archipelago offered. Some notable inhabitants include St Aidan, who restored Christianity to Northumbria and founded the first monastery at nearby Lindisfarne; and St Cuthbert, who in 676AD introduced a series of laws to protect the eider ducks which nested on the Farne Islands, making them the oldest bird protection laws in the world. Eventually though the cell of monks which inhabited the island was disbanded due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. Today the only inhabitants on the islands are a group of crazy National Trust rangers who keep a careful watch over the nesting birds throughout 9 months of the year.

We set off from Seahouses at 1 o’clock and luckily the sea was reasonably calm, insuring that we reached the island of Inner Farne in just over 15 mintues. Approaching the island I was amazed at what we saw.

The first sign that your approaching the Farne Island is a few stray seabirds, then you notice some more, and then some more until the whole sky is thick with them, diving and drifting over the sea. Then you hear the noise, the thunderous screeching and cawing that echos over the waves. Then you see it, cliffs crammed full of seabirds; guillemots, terns, razorbills and shags all squeezed in together, forming a blanket of feathers over the rocks. Finally, as we stepped off the boat onto Inner Farne, we caught the smell of the Farne Islands, its not pleasant, the result of tens of thousands of birds and their excrement which stains the islands. (click on the photos for more information)

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Birds….birds upon birds….

Setting foot on the island we were immediately set upon by arctic terns, who dive-bombed and harried us, and I could see why, little fluffy tern chicks shuffled nervously among the the vegetation, only a few inches from our walkway. The terns obviously weren’t taking any chances. A few terns battered my hood and one even went for a peck at my fingers, but fortunately none decided to bless me with any droppings.

Eventually our flustered tour group made it past the tern nesting area and onto the main part of the island, its was then that I saw a rather familiar looking character stepping gingerly among the plant life, even though I hadn’t seem them in the wild before their appearance is unique, Puffins!

I subsequently when camera crazy…

After only an hour though it was time to head back, its essential that the birds aren’t disturbed too much during the day, so as to effect their egg laying. Piling back onto the boat we recommenced our tour of the Farne Islands. As we heading out, past Knoxes Reef, a host of grey seals popped up to check us out.

Next we headed to Brownsman Island which hosts the National Trust rangers who live inside the tiny cottage for months on end.

Our tour concluded when we reached Longstone, which has been the site of hundreds of shipwrecks and many brave rescues. One such event was when a ship called Forfarshire was wrecked off the coast of Longstone in 1838, there were several survivors but the sea was too rough for the life boats to emerge from Seahouses. Luckily the lighthouse keeper of Brownstone and his daughter, a woman called Grace Darling, headed out in their wooden dinghy to rescue the stranded sailors. Thanks to efforts of the young girl and her father 9 more lives were saved that night. Soon tale spread of Grace’s heroic efforts and she became something of a national hero, over £700 were donated to Grace and her father (millions in today’s money), include £50 from Queen Victoria. Portrait painters arrived at her home in order to capture her likeness, and hundreds of gifts, letters, and even marriage proposals were sent to her. Sadly though Grace passed away only 4 years later at the age of 26, a victim of tuberculosis. Today her legacy is preserved in a museum at Bamburgh and there is always a lifeboat named Grace Darling in Seahouses Lifeboat Station.

If you enjoyed this tale feel free to write in the comments, or leave like and thanks for reading.

And don’t forget to check out my first Northumberland post in this link

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11 Comments

    1. Interesting, whereabouts in Iceland did you see them, I’ve been to Iceland before but I was never got the chance to visit any bird colonies, it’d be nice to know where some are encase I ever go back there

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  1. The most impressive location is probably Látrabjarg, at the very end of the north-west fjords (the so-called westernmost point of Europe). You arrive with the road to the top of 400-meter-high cliffs, in the middle of nowhere basically. Puffins in their burrows are easily seen, and if you dare, you will see the two species of Uria guillemots in the cliffs. We looked for Razorbills, but couldn’t find any there. Truly stunning.
    Another lovely location is Flatey Island, between Snæfellsnes and the fjords: Puffins, Black guillemots and Arctic terns by the hundred.
    Then there are Puffins all along the south coast of the island. We saw them in Vik for instance, at Reynisfjara Beach or in Dyrholaey. In Ingolfshofdi, a tractor takes you to an almost-island where Puffins and Great Skuas nest.
    Vestmann Islands are also good for seabirds (shearwaters for instance), but we didn’t go there.
    Finally, a whale watching tour can be interesting as well, as the captain relies on seabirds to locate the fish whales feed on. You may add Gannets to your list there, although they might be seen somewhere else (I don’t remember).

    But you visited Iceland during winter, didn’t you?

    Liked by 1 person

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