Steve’s Soujourns “Smile and watch the birdy in Europe’s Galapagos”
Not for nothing are Northumberland’s Farne Islands called “Europe’s Galapagos”. Owned and administered by the National Trust nowhere else in the UK can you get so close to some 23-breeding species of birds giving unrivalled views of auks, terns, gulls, waders and many others not to mention the over 160 vagrants and migrants recorded.
To experience them fully and maximise your species count you should visit all three of the main islands. Each have their own characters and highlights, but you will need to pay a landing fee on two of then (Inner Farne and Staple) as you would an entrance fee on any other National Trust property.
The Islands are accessed by boats running from Seahouses harbour where you will get Eider, Rock Pipit and others beneath the harbour wall.
Even the trip out to the islands will give you passing Gannet and Fulmars flying around. The boats will take you right under the cliffs for a close up view of the colonies.
Without doubt the one island to go to if you only have time for short visit. Easy access with a landing stage that is in a sheltered channel. You are restricted to walking on set paths and must remain on these. However, that is small price to pay for fabulous views looking down on cliff nesting Shags, Guillemots and Kittiwakes.
There is also a large viewing platform to the north of the lighthouse where you get amazing views of puffins basking on the clifftop. Eider ducks sitting on their nests are clearly seen as well as the colonies of Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns (Wear a soft hat or bring something that is taller than you for them to peck!) Look out for Roseates too.
Inner Farne has an information centre, toilets and an up to date sightings board. It’s also worthwhile scanning the grasses and old garden around the Pele Tower and Chapel for warblers and Bluethroats. Almost anything can turn up here including last year a Great White Egret and a Black Browed Albatross!
Unlike the other two islands Staple has a landing with steep steps which can be difficult for those with mobility problems. Also this landing is not sheltered in a cove or channel and faces directly out on to the open sea on the low cliffside. If there is a heavy swell running or starting to appear the boatman will not land and will evacuate the island.
Unlike Inner Farne there are no set paths and you can wander all over the island. There are no toilets and no shelter but there is however a viewing platform where you can get great shots of the birds on a ledge on the landward side of the cliffs.
Puffins, Guillemots and Kittiwakes are all here as are their predators. As with the other islands Oyster Catcher, Rock Pipit and Ringed Plover can also be seen.
Longstone Island is the furthest out of the group and is unique in many ways. It has no landing fee but tends to be ignored by birders as the other two islands are so spectacular for closes ups. Because it is very flat and low lying storms wash over it so few birds nest here apart from the Swallows in the Trinity House Lighthouse.
Longstone can be a good for passing waders such as Common and Green Sandpiper, Knot and Golden Plover and these in turn attract Peregrine which are regularly seen.
Please note there is only one boat (The Golden Gate) that holds a licence from Trinity House to visit the island. Most of the other boats sail past and up close to Longstone but they are forbidden to land. Toilets are available in the lighthouse and two easy landing stages are used here one of which incorporates the steps from where Grace Darling and her father made the famous rescue of 1838.