North Northumberland Bird Club

ISLAND PARADISE: What a great way to restart our programme after the summer recess. John Walton, of the National Trust, gave a fascinating and entertaining update on the Farne Islands to an audience of 80 who turned up despite the rain. They were not disappointed.

John began by acknowledging his team of wardens ‘who do all the work!’

They have been headed for the last 10 years by David Steel, monitoring the birds, ringing them and providing interpretation for the thousands of visitors.

John’s update (in his own words ‘the highs, lows and sideways’) showed the trends of all the main nesting species, illustrated by wonderful photos. Here are some examples.

Puffin: The most popular Farnes bird – 50 per cent of phone calls John gets from visitors relate to this species. 50,000 pairs in 2003 had reduced to 37,500 in 2008 (the last survey).

Fulmar: Our northern albatross and our longest lived seabird (c 50 years), increasing. Cormorant: 300 pairs, decreasing. Shag: Numbers plummeted in 1993-4 inexplicably. The birds are fitted with red darvik rings on the Farnes and blue and white ones on the Isle of May. Interestingly, the male is vocal and the female mute! Guillemot: Huge increase to 32,500.

Razorbill: Increasing, nearly 400 pairs this year. Black-headed gull: Influx of birds from traditional sites at Newton Pool and Holy Island Lough, possibly caused by mink or otter predation there.

Kittiwake: John’s favourite gull, slowly declining. Failed breeders go to the North American coast for the winter and successful breeders stay here, but both return to the Farnes at the same time.

Sandwich tern: 500 pairs, declining.

Common tern: 100 pairs. Never common. Arctic tern: the population peaked in 1981 (2,000pairs) but many birds (1,400) since relocated to the Long Nanny colony. John showed a photo of himself ringing an adult in 1980 and a second photo of him catching it again in 2010. Britain’s Arctic tern longevity record at 30+ years old. John said the bird was in better condition that he was!

Roseate tern: originally 100 pairs but declined to none in the last two years, all on Coquet Island.

Eider: 600 pairs. Northumberland’s iconic bird, best seen in Seahouses harbour. Oystercatcher: 38-40 pairs: stable population. Ringed plover: Nine-10 pairs. Gull predation of chicks a problem.

Population decreases are largely due to reduced food supply (eg. sandeels) as this moves north to cooler waters to escape the warming seas caused by climate change. This has worrying implication for the future of our seabirds and other marine life. John and his team are to be thanked for their huge efforts to safeguard them.

The next illustrated talk, Birds of Thailand by Tom and Julia Lawson, is at Bamburgh Pavilion on Friday, October 14, at 7.30pm. All welcome, £2 for non-members.