Blog #16 – Northumberland & The Farne Islands

Two weekends ago I met up with Louis Driver to go to the Farne Islands to film the artic terns and other sea birds on the island. It was the first time we’d managed to meet up since the BTO Bird Camp in May. The weekend was a ‘gift’ from my parents for my birthday – they knew they couldn’t go wrong with a weekend away watching wildlife in Northumberland, where my mum spent a number of years living while her dad worked at RAF Boulmer.

Day 1

The weekend began with a 7.30am rise on the Saturday to leave my house in Glasgow.

Our car journey lasted two and a half hours before we arrived at Longhoughton near Boulmer; where we visited the beach. It was raining quite heavily when we arrived, so the first 30 mins were spent inside the car having a quick snack. The clouds began to clear and we ventured out onto the beach where we managed to see a number of species including rock pipits, redshank, one mediterranean gull, herring gulls, swifts, linnets, lesser black backed gulls and oystercatchers. In all, we spent about 1.5 hours at the beach before heading off to check-in at our B&B in Alnmouth.

After meeting the eccentric owner and completing check-in we headed out to explore the local area. It wasn’t long before we found a nice river walk where I saw a flock of Canada geese with one barnacle goose and a greylag x Canada hybrid.

At night I explored the village and saw some sandwich terns on the coast before going out for a meal with my family at the Fishing Boat Inn, Boulmer. The restaurant was in a great location overlooking the sea where we saw lots of eider, curlew and redshank. I thought the people in the restaurant would think I was a bit keen sitting with my binoculars at the table, but it turned out most of the people in the conservatory area had been birding that day and were able to fill me in on what had been seen. It turns out that the long billed dowitcher which had been logged on Birdguides that day had been seen a few hundred meters up the coast from the restaurant!!


Sandwich tern


We had just started our deserts when my brother suddenly spotted a whimbrel out on the beach. After finishing our deserts we went looking for the long billed dowitcher on the point but were unsuccessful; by this time getting dark at that time anyway and we headed back to our B&B.

Day 2

I got up early to go and get some photos of the barnacle goose and the hybrid goose before breakfast. Afterwards we headed back to Longhoughton beach for a few hours before heading off to meet Louis at Seahouses harbour to take the boat to the Farne Islands.


Canada x greylag goose hybri


When I got there we only had to wait about 15 minutes before boarding and setting off on our tour of the Inner Farne.

The boat was pretty busy and it was difficult getting clear shots of the birds while we were sailing. Shortly after setting off we saw several species of gull including herring, lesser black backed and black headed; then about 15 mins into our trip we started to see gannets, puffins, shags, sandwich terns, artic terns, razorbills. At one point where we went into a small inlet where there were a few turnstone feeding on a huge rock.






Then as we headed towards the island we had the treat of seeing a young seal and some adults too. The young one was very funny as it was desperate to get into the sea. After five minutes it manages to get to the edge of a rock and do a front flip managing to land in the sea unharmed!


seal 2310717
Grey seal (pup)
big seal310717
Grey seal
Grey seal (pup)


Finally we landed on the island and had 1 hour to ourselves! Most of that time myself and Louis just focused on filming artic terns. The birds were in the middle of raising their young and their reputation for being somewhat vicious was well deserved: almost as soon as we got onto the island Louis was dive bombed by an artic tern which had a chick hiding under an old upturned rowing boat near the jetty.


artic t chick310717
Artic tern (chick)
artic t chick 2310717
Artic tern (chick)


Having escaped that attack in one piece we headed off to film at a number of different nest locations. Despite the fact that there were plenty of terns around, they were not returning to the area we were very frequently so we decided to film other sea birds as well.

We hurried along the paths, but still being wary of the birds on the ground and being careful not to squash the youngsters who would wander randomly onto the path oblivious to the numerous humans walking past!

Thankfully the puffins were much more active, regularly bringing in food and waiting on the rocks for ages before going into their burrows. This gave us a great opportunity to film and get photographs. At this point we both split up and filmed separate birds including kittiwake, more puffins and shags. The time passed so quickly and it was soon time to meet back at the jetty to catch our boat back. Fortunately, the boat was slightly delayed and we managed to get a few more photos and ‘enjoy’ another attack from the artic tern at the upturned rowing boat! I made the mistake of saying to Louis “it’s not gone for me yet” at which point it immediately pecked my finger and then my ear!!


Atlantic puffin


Finally we boarded the boat and were soon back at Seahouses harbour. When we got off the boat it was time for us both to head our separate ways back home. Just before I left Louis gave me a card and some bird top trumps for my birthday which was really nice. Thanks Louis!

As is always the case with weekend trips, we were soon heading home in our car; but not before managing a quick evening meal in Bamburgh.

Author: Michael Sinclair

My name is Michael Sinclair and I’m a young naturalist from Glasgow although I can be seen all over the place doing crazy things.

15 thoughts

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s