After waiting over 3 years to attend this twice postponed “birding” workshop, I finally landed in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, in late June 2022. I met the group of photographers and instructors with whom I would be spending the next 5 days, at the Edinburgh Airport where we picked up a rental van and SUV. Our luggage was loaded into a third vehicle and we made the hour-and-a-half drive to our base in Seahouses, Northumberland, England.
Driving in the UK was our first adventure! I did not drive but was in the front passenger seat as the navigator/interpreter of the GPS and the road signs! Our driver was also from the US and had not driven on the left side of the road for many years! Driving here takes some major mind-shifting!
We made it through the countless roundabouts and realized that the slow lane on the highways was not where we thought it was!
We managed to make it to the lodge at Springhill Farms in Seahouses in one piece. Here we were shown to our rooms by our workshop leader, Denise Ippolito. The lodge had four bedrooms, four and a half baths, a large kitchen/dining area, and a large common room with a balcony from which we could see the North Sea and a castle! Seven of us were staying at this lodge and 3 others were bunking in one of the cottages at this large self-catering holiday accommodation park.
We got settled in and met to discuss our plans for the rest of the day. We planned to drive to Seahouses and do some shopping at the local co-op store. We returned to the lodge to deposit our groceries. We all took a break for a couple of hours and then headed to a great Italian restaurant in Seahouses called Insieme Seahouses.
Getting to know each other as we ate a delicious meal, Denise let us know that we would be getting up early to get our memberships with the National Trust as we would need them for each of our landings on the birding islands. We then had to be ready to leave on one of the many early Farne Island tour boats.
The next morning I got up very early so I could get prepared and eat a bit of breakfast. We drove to Seahouses, got in line at the National Trust kiosk, and got our memberships. Then Denise got our 2 wristbands (the only way to get on the islands) and we walked down the wharf to wait for our loading time.
The place where you board the boats is determined by the tides. This morning we walked to the end of the wharf, walked down some steep steps, and boarded the very rocky boat. This gave us a clue of what we were going to experience. As we left the harbor, the waves became rougher. I am one of the lucky ones who does not get seasick but that was not the case for all of the 40 or so people on the boat.
After about 30 minutes of 6-8′ seas, we started to get close to our destination, the Farne Islands.
A Few Details from Wikipedia
The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland, England. The group has between 15 and 20 islands depending on the level of the tide. They form an archipelago, divided into the Inner Group and the Outer Group. The main islands in the Inner Group are Inner Farne, Knoxes Reef, the East and West Wideopens (all joined on very low tides), and (somewhat separated) the Megstone; the main islands in the Outer Group are Staple Island, Brownsman, North and South Wamses, Big Harcar, and Longstone. The two groups are separated by Staple Sound. The highest point, on Inner Farne, is 62 feet (19 m) above mean sea level.
Our Morning Boat Tour
As we crossed the strait over to the Farne Islands, we began to see birds in the water and a few flying about. It was not easy with the rough seas but I managed to lock my legs up against the bench as I stood up with my camera. As I shot I hoped that anything would be in focus! I was using my Nikon D850 with the Nikon 200-500mm lens. We were all searching for our first glimpse of a Puffin, the main reason we were there!
I saw this lighthouse and learned that this would be our destination each afternoon that we embarked out on the North Sea. At this point, though, we were making the “2-hour” tour with the hopes of getting on another island, Staple Island. But, as we passed this island it was pretty apparent that due to the steep and almost straight-up “wharf” on this island, the water was way too rough for that landing. So the tour continued around the many islands in the area.
As we neared each of the larger islands, we could hear, see and smell the myriad of birds nesting on the cliffs. The boat captain would pass a part of an island large or small, going one way and then turn around and pass it again so the folks on both sides could see and photograph the birds on the cliffs.
We saw Grey Seals on the lower smaller islands.
The seabirds had become more plentiful as we got closer to their nesting areas and I saw my first puffin that was close to the boat.
FYI – Getting in-focus images when you are rocking in a boat in rough seas and the bird is rocking and moving in the water is not easy! Mostly luck, really. But I did brace my legs like a tripod, kept my elbows against my body, and used a shutter speed of at least 1/2000 second and let my body find the flow of the boat. That worked pretty well! But I also took a lot of images!
I was a bit rusty with birds-in-flight (BIF) but the slower flying, chubby Guillemots got me back in practice quickly.
When we passed close to Staple Island, we saw our first group of puffins.
We also saw for the first of many times, the Longstone Lighthouse.
Since we could not land on Staple Island our now “3-hour” tour was ending. As we motored back to the harbor, I caught this seaside view of Bamburgh Castle (the one we could see from our balcony at the lodge).
Once back to the harbor we drove back to the lodge for some lunch and, for me, some downloading. But we had to run back to Seahouses for our afternoon boat adventure!
Our Afternoon Boat Tour and Landing!
We loaded onto a bigger boat for the afternoon tour. There were even more folks on this trip. We once again went out and “toured” the islands (this was the routine each time, I even memorized the speech the Captain gave over the days). But this time we went to a slightly different part of the island group. Since I had shot so much from the boat in the morning I was just enjoying watching everything. As we started to wonder when we would be landing, the boat turned away from the island wharf area. We eventually realized that another of the boats that bring folks out for tours had broken down. Our Captain and Mate came alongside the other boat and the two Mates, using the ropes that were used to lash the boat to the dock, connected the two boats. We towed the other boat to the channel between two of the islands. As we arrived there we saw that 2 large service boats were also arriving. They came alongside the towed boat and took it away from our boat!
At this point, we thought there was no way we would make it to our landing, but the Mate told us they would be landing shortly! We finally approached the wharf on Inner Farne! The rangers were there to give us some info, ie, the Arctic Terns were at the peak of their nesting and therefore would peck your head as you walked along the only walkway onto the island! We happily disembarked and made our way up a slight incline of wharf and slat walkway.
As I approached the ridge and the chapel that sits on the island, I could hear the terns fussing! And then I saw them! I quickly made my way through the gauntlet and headed for the areas where the puffins were. This island has a number of bird species on it. I saw 2 species of terns, Razorbills, Shags, Kittiwakes, thousands of Guillemots, various seagulls, and many Puffins.
The Puffins were nesting in burrows on the grassy parts of the island. They do hang out on the cliffs but the Razorbills, Guillemots, and Shags nest on the cliffs. The terns and seagulls build shallow grass nests in the areas where there was grass but not enough dirt for burrows.
The walkway makes a big loop over the island with a couple of side branches. As I walked along I realized that the Puffins were flying past me with beaks filled with Sand Eels. So I got in a position where they were flying across my field of view. Then I started watching for them. I would focus on one far to the left and then follow it to the right as it flew by me. I shot in the “spray and pray” method. Focused on the bird as well as possible, held my finger on the follow focus button and just let the shutter keep clicking until the bird was too far gone or it flew to the ground and its burrow.
I did not worry if they had food or not…I was just trying to capture an image of these relatively small and very fast flyers!
I managed to catch a puffin with a meal before it scuttled into its burrow.
We only had an hour on the island so I could not stay in one area too long, as we were not sure if we would get back here! So I went looking for some of the other species.
As I headed back to the Arctic Tern gauntlet and the wharf I found a couple of nesting gulls.
I counted the tern pecks I received that day! I was pecked in my head, 16 times! YOU MUST wear a hat or risk being bloodied by their very sharp beak!
I had a couple of minutes before I needed to get to the boat so I again ran the tern gauntlet (they nest in the chapel courtyard) and entered the Chapel of St Cuthbert.
Some Details on Chapel from Wikipedia
St Cuthbert’s Chapel on Inner Farne, 3 km from Red Barns, Northumberland, Great Britain.
This monastic chapel dates from the fourteenth century. It fell out of use after the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and by the end of the eighteenth century had become derelict. Much restoration was undertaken by Archdeacon Charles Thorpe in the mid-nineteenth century and extensive repairs were carried out by the National Trust in 1929.
The chapel houses a memorial to Grace Darling and also some fine wood carvings.
Our Boat Ride Back to the Harbor
We were a bit late leaving the island since we had arrived late. As we pulled away from the island I noticed that the seas were very rough again. The captain took the boat straight toward the mainland shore instead of the more direct course to the harbor. I assume the waves would be less going that way. As we motored along, suddenly we heard someone yell out “dolphins”! We stood up and looked around and saw that there was a large pod of Dolphins not too far from the boat. They were jumping and twisting and putting on a show. They followed along the shoreline and since so many of us were trying to get some photos, the captain eventually slowed down and came to stop so we could witness the dolphin antics. My timing was off as I did not capture one of their crazy twisting leaps into the air!
We made it back to Seahouses Harbour about an hour and a half late! Good thing it was not getting dark until 10:30 PM!
We were exhausted when we arrived back at the lodge so Denise picked up some pizzas for dinner. I could not wait to download my images and see if I had an in-focus Puffin with a mouth full of Sand Eels!
The Farne Islands are so amazing! They are a must-visit if you are on the north coast of England from late May to late June. I will be posting on this trip as a journal, day by day. So, we will be visiting the Farne Islands again!
Click on any image to see a larger version OR visit my galleries to see and purchase prints and other items with these and many additional images: Gallery Links – Inner Farne Islands and Around the Lodge at Springhill Farms
That is all for now.