Posted by: mynaturaldiary | June 3, 2009

Staple Island and its bazaar of guillemots

Weather watching for perfect conditions in Britain sounds like an oxymoron, but just occasionally the Gods relent, the zephyrs are calmed and the weather is perfect. So this years trip to the Farne Islands took place in a high pressure system that produced a full days sunshine and flat seas…

Before the all day trip began, a few local birds at Seahouses were seen, including a Goldfinch.


Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Swallows darted about, making use of the calm winds and sun, to collect as many flies as they can.


Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

On the sea wall, a Rock Dove rested.


Rock Dove (Columba livia)

The sunlight catches the irridescent sheen of green around his neck.

Close to the shoreline, but a little out to sea were Eiders Ducks.



Eider (Somateria mollissima).

The camouflage of the female ducks seems pointless at sea, but later in the day on the islands it becomes apparent why they display this way.

Out at sea, the calmness is palpable, and the views to the Northumbrian coastline are wonderful.


In the distance lies Dunstanburgh Castle, part of the 14th Century DMZ between England and Scotland, and much painted by Turner.

The concentration of wildlife increases the closer you get to one of the islands in the group. Shags are noticeable by their long necks.


They mostly fly very close to the surface of the sea, making towards Staple Island, our first destination on the trip.


One ventured to fly over the boat, showing off his wingspan and flight feathers.


Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

We’ll see more of these magnificent seabirds later.

Staple Island has nearby sea stacks, known as the ‘Pinnacles’. These are a perfect habitat for breeding Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake.


The dark dolorite rocks rise vertiginously from the blue sea. They are, however, streaked with white seabird guano.

Kittiwakes make their nest on various ledges, which appear precarious.



Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

Seabirds of different species have no option on land but to share close proximity (after all, they have the vastness of the sea for solitude). There are plenty of puffins nestling on the rocks.



Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

Floating in the sea are a pair of razorbills, together with a guillemot.


Razorbill (Alca torda)

Their white streak above the thickly set bill and darker plumage contrasts with the guillemot, which appears more brown.



Guillemot (Uria aalge)

Guillemots are gregarious and very noisy (hence the bazaar collective noun). This can be seen more fully once we land on the island and reach the top, close to the pinnacles, where the seabird colony resides.


Guillemots race in from the sea, carrying single sand eels for their mates, who brood the single egg resting on the rock.




They land in the colony, managing to find the right spot, amongst all the squawking.




A Shag sweeps past this spectacle, en route to its nest.


They display a degree of affection towards their partners


which is quite missing to their neighbours. The following bears witness to the demolition of a neighbouring nest.



No christian civilities, no love thy neighbour, thou shalt not steal. These are seabirds, and Shags particularly have the look of their Jurassic antecedents.


On top of the grassy mounds, waiting for Puffins laden with fish, and for unweary youngsters are the Islands prime predators, the Lesser black-backed gulls.



Lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus)

They attempt to trap puffins on land by the legs, who move slowly. In the air, they are quite another thing…


… even when laden with fish.




They emerge from the sea as single small dots, which grow in size until they swoop swiftly overhead to their burrows.

Finally, the Island is home to many small pools. One of these is occupied by Eider, with their new hatchlings.


That’s what all the camouflage was all about…

Next post, more from Inner Farne Island.


  1. […] Farne and its cloud of Terns Following on from the visit to Staple Island, the boat day trip made its way to Inner Farne . En route we passed some Grey Seals, seen in the […]

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