Bird report 2019 - Lets look at puffins

Every year, thousands of seabirds, including Arctic Terns, puffins and guillemots return to the Farne Islands to breed

It was a stable year for puffins with 43,752 breeding pairs across the islands, which is a minor decrease of 203 pairs from 2018.

The first birds were on land on 22 March, and just a week later on the 27 March, there were over 1000 birds present. The first egg was discovered by the rangers on Inner Farne on 22 April, with an adult bird spotted carrying sandeels on 7 May representing the first evidence of puffin chicks (pufflings) in the Outer Group.

This was the second consecutive year of the annual census, and as there is no five-year mean; the numbers in brackets reflect the 2018 census results for comparison.

To carry out the census, the team of rangers record the number of apparently occupied burrows on the islands, with distribution being as follows:

Inner Farne 15,854 (16,541) West Wideopen 8281 (6685), East Wideopen 541 (637), Staple Island 11,828 (12,379), Brownsman 6414 (6,868), North Wamses 350 (464), South Wamses 460 (357) and Big Harcar 23 (24).

Despite an overall drop in burrow occupancy, the interisland trends were generally consistent with those of last season.

The Outer Group has declined by 1016 pairs (5%), with Brownsman fairing worst with a 6.6% decrease. By contrast, the Inner Group increased by 813 pairs (3%), with West Wideopen seeing the most dramatic increase of 19.27% pairs.

Inner Farne and Staple, two major islands that saw increase between 2013-2018, both decreased by 4.45% and 4.1% respectively.

June was a challenging month, with a cocktail of south-easterly, westerly and northerly wind and swell restricting the number of cliff counts performed, but it was torrential rain that proved to be particularly problematic for seabirds. 87mm of rain fell on 13 June, more than three times the total rainfall for that month in 2018. The deluge resulted in the flooding of dozens of puffin burrows on Brownsman. The impact of this was shown in low productivity, despite the puffin population being relatively stable overall.

All in all, this meant that 2019 was the worst breeding year for puffins since 2015, when heavy rain resulted in the deaths of many pufflings.

It was an exceptional year for wintering puffins, with both adults and juveniles noted across the islands in November and December.