Breeding Birds on the Farne Islands
A total of 24 species nested on the Farne Islands in 2018, in what proved to be a challenging season for many birds. In a year characterised by extreme weather, Shags were conspicuous by their absence when the Rangers arrived on the islands in March. The Beast from the East had taken its toll on the Farnes’ resident seabird, resulting in the worst year for them since 1979. Kittiwakes were the other big losers this season. Storm Hector wreaked havoc in June, washing nests from the cliffs, some of which were even found by the Inner Farne picnic benches. This was the worst year for them since 1973. Despite such losses, productivity remained stable for both species, no doubt assisted by the dry, warm weather that followed.
2018 was Puffin census year. It was a milestone count in that, not only was a population survey carried out for the first time in 5 years, but a new, streamlined methodology was used to complete it. 43,955 pairs of Puffins were present across the islands, an increase of 9% on 2013, indicating a stable population with no evidence of decline. It was also a good breeding year for puffins with low rainfall and calm conditions in mid-June to July resulting in high productivity. It was an improved year for Eider, with a substantial increase on the abysmal numbers in 2017 (the lowest in over 50 years). Though far removed from the triple figures seen in the 1990s, the 477 pairs this year, along with above average productivity, is certainly call for optimism. Fulmars also had a good year, with a respite from 3 consecutive years of decline.
Success also extended to Guillemots which enjoyed a 3% boost, in contrast to Razorbill which dropped by 7%. The Sandwich and Common tern colonies dwindled further in 2018, with the lowest counts in decades. As for Arctic terns, the cocktail of extreme wind followed by scorching sun (Max temp: 24.8 degrees in July) contributed to low productivity. Though numbers were down by 8% from last year, they were still higher than those logged in 2015 and 2016. There was also a decline in large gulls, with combined Herring and Lesser black-backs down by 15%. Black-headed and Great-black-backed gulls, on the contrary, remained stable. It is a defining year when a new species is added to the Farnes breeding bird list, so the discovery of a Canada goose nest caused quite a stir among the Rangers. Beside this exciting find, other rare island breeders included Red-breasted Merganser and the first Carrion crow nest since 2015.