The Puffins of the Farne Islands (and other assorted birds too!)

Puffin on the Farne Islands – Pleased to meet you!

A few weeks ago I ventured out on an epic journey (well, it is when you’re in a 22 year old Volkswagen Camper van!) up to Northumberland to do something that I’d wanted to do for a long time – photograph some puffins on the Farne Islands!

Read on to see how I got on!

After arriving at my campsite the previous evening I drove down to Bamburgh Beach, where I planned to get a few photographs of the castle at sunrise in the morning – weather permitting, obviously! In the morning my alarm woke me up at 4am as planned, and with the sky not looking too bad, I set off and took some photos (don’t worry, bird lovers – I’ll be blogging about the landscape side of things separately!). I got back to the campsite around 7am, and with the weather looking pretty good (well, it wasn’t raining anyway!) I decided to bring my planned excursion to the Farne Islands forward by a day and therefore set off to nearby Seascale where I was to catch the boat.

Before leaving Leicestershire I’d booked a ticket with Billy Shiels boat trips for the Saturday – a £30 ticket got me a planned six hour excursion, with stop offs on Staple Island and Inner Farne for the bird watching. Even though I arrived a day early(!) they switched my ticket over – the trip was on!

Inner Farne and Staple Island are National Trust properties, and there was a landing fee of around £6 to go on each one. Whilst waiting for the scheduled departure of the boat I made the decision to join the National Trust. For a fee of £40 I’d save myself the landing fees on the two islands, plus get free entry to National Trust properties for the year. It made perfect sense!

The time came for the boat to leave, and I joined a multitude of other photographers with exactly the same idea as me on our journey over to the first stop off – Staple Island. I’ll happily admit I had no idea what to expect from the trip, but as we left the Northumberland coast behind I certainly wasn’t expecting to be sailing straight into a sea of puffins!

Puffins Everywhere

Puffins Everywhere

Wherever you looked there were puffins! Puffins in the sea, puffins in the air, puffins everywhere! It was an amazing sight!

We soon arrived at Staple Island, but with the tide still coming in it was deemed too unsafe for us to dock, so we were forced to do a tour around the islands until  the tide was a little more stable.

The first thing we saw on the round trip was a seal colony. It was really something to see their heads bobbing around in the water, but the highlight was one particularly smug looking seal chilling out on a rock.

Smug Seal

A rather smug looking seal on the Farne Islands

As we continued around the islands, the scale of these bird colonies astounded me. Wherever there was some rock there were birds nesting – predominantly puffins, but also colonies of guillemots, razorbills, terns and gulls – all living within feet of each other. It was a mindblowing experience.

A guillemot with its baby poking out from under the wing

Before too long we’d completed our circuit, and with the tide now having settled we were allowed on to Staple Island to meet and photograph the puffins!

Puffin Portrait

Classic Puffin Portrait on Inner Farne

Due to the delayed landing we didn’t have too long on Staple Island – just over an hour – but we didn’t need long to be able to get some great photos. Staple Island was a hive of activity with puffins flying everywhere, landing around you, flying overhead – in fact it was often difficult to keep track of what was going on! I settled into a technique of watching individual puffins as they circuited the island, rather than just picking and choosing from what was going on at ground level!

Puffin Colony on Staple Island

Puffin Colony on Staple Island

Just as the sea was full of puffins earlier, so was the island.

Before too long it was time to leave Staple Island to venture over to Inner Farne, our second and last stop off for the day.

As well as housing many more puffins, Inner Farne is home to hundreds of Arctic Terns. Now these are evil blighters, and think nothing of coming down to peck photographers heads, or any exposed flesh for that matter! Whilst I was there (for around two hours) I received 7 pecks to the head, and one peck (which drew blood) to my thumb whilst I was focusing my lens! Fortunately, I’d been pre warned as to the enthusiastic nature of the terns so I’d gone wearing a hat. But be warned!

Arctic Terns

It wasn’t us… honest.

As with Staple Island the puffins had turned the landscape of Inner Farne into a maze of underground burrows where they were raising their young. I spotted one puffin who was obviously standing guard – and as I stood and watched, a baby puffin came to the entrance of the burrow for a quick look around, before heading back indoors…

Baby Puffin

Baby puffin at the entrance to an underground burrow

Before I knew it it was time to catch the boat back to Seahouses and to leave the puffins behind. The trip back was eventful (but that’s for another story), and I left the Farne Islands completely overwhelmed with the experience, and with a promise that I’ll be returning next year.

You can find a gallery of my shots from the trip to the Farnes on my website, and you can purchase prints and canvases from my online shop.

Feel free to leave a comment!