Wildlife is the main draw on the Farne Islands, which are most famous for puffins and seals plus many other species, including shags, kittiwakes, razorbills, eider ducks and guillemots. You’ll see different things depending on what time of year you visit.
Firstly, a mention about terns. We love them, but appreciate that not everyone wishes to be dive bombed by them; dont let this put you off a visit - there are plenty of options for a tern free visit. In April, you could visit Inner Farne later in the month, when most other birds will be present, but not Arctic terns. A visit to Staple Island in the peak breeding season (between May and July) offers a guaranteed tern free visit. Or you could visit Inner Farne between August and October for a bird free trip, following in the footsteps of St Cuthbert or Grace Darling.
Heres what else you can see throughout the year on the Farne Islands:
January, February & March
Inner Farne and Staple islands are closed but grey seals and shags can be seen from boats – the seals are generally lolling about digesting their fish supper, while shags are a year-round highlight and fulmars could also be starting to arrive. It’s a time of firsts and lasts – will you spot the first puffins in the water, a spring migrant or the last couple of furry white seal pups? It’s also a great time to experience the tough conditions our past Farnes inhabitants experienced, from Grace Darling to St Cuthbert, sometimes completely alone.
Inner Farne is now open but Staple is still closed. It’s a month of excitement as the first puffins arrive back on land, eider ducks start returning mid-month and other seabirds – kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, sandwich terns, common terns – start to arrive. Shags, cormorants and grey seals can all be seen from the boats and who knows what spring migrants might be seen flying over – from spoon bills to white-tailed eagles, you just never know! If you’re not looking for unusual birds, this is when our islands offer the ultimate Easter activity – will you go to one of the UK’s most remote chapels or spot the first razorbill egg? The puffins will also be strutting their stuff, pairing up and displaying dominant or submissive behaviour. The shags look wonderful this month, with their beautiful breeding crests making them look most like a cross between a dragon and a punk.
Inner Farne and Staple are open
Puffins, eider ducks, kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, sandwich terns, common terns, shags, and many more birds besides, can be seen on the islands. The Arctic terns start to arrive; by late May their young are hatching and they are dive-bombing (bring a hat if you are coming to Inner Farne!). Grey seals can be seen from boats and you can get an early insight into how our monitoring is going. This is the best month to see the eiders nesting on Staple, they sit tight on their nests, so keep your eyes down between the rocks!
Staple and Inner Farne are open
Puffins can be seen on the islands, with grey seals still lolling and digesting their fish (they do spend most of their time doing this) and pufflings start to hatch (though you can’t see the baby puffins, as they are underground in the burrows). Other seabirds – kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, sandwich terns, common terns, shags – can be seen on the islands and are looking really nice on Staple with the cliffs packed to the rafters. The spectacle of arriving at Staple right in front of the nesting cliffs is hard to beat! Eider ducks start to leave and are generally gone by the start of July. Arctic terns are nesting on Inner Farne so you will still need a hat if you visit this island – the terns will dive bomb humans to protect their chicks.
Staple and Inner Farne are open.
Puffins can be seen on the islands and grey seals in the water and hauled out on the rocks. Pufflings are still hatching, with some of the older ones heading towards the sea. Other seabirds – kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, sandwich terns, common terns, shags – can be seen on the islands, and many other species besides. Arctic terns nest until mid-month so you will still need a hat for Inner Farne only, there are plenty of almost fledged chicks running around the boardwalks. Grey seals can be seen from boats and jumplings (baby guillemots) are leaving the cliffs by jumping into the sea – normally in the evening but occasionally in the daytime.
Inner Farne is open but Staple is closed. Puffins are on their way out – you may catch some at the beginning of the month and see them out at sea. Arctic terns leave and other seabirds – guillemots, razorbills, sandwich terns, common terns – start to depart too. Kittiwakes and fulmars can be seen till mid-month and usually until the end of the month. Shags are on the islands and grey seals can be seen from boats. It’s not all over, though – you might spot some overwintering birds arriving to re-fuel before they head to the mainland (keep an eye on the stick bundles near the Pele Tower). There is more chance for visitors to roam on our beaches after the birds have gone and the weather is warm.
Inner Farne is open but Staple is closed. Grey seals and can be seen from boats and shags can be seen on the islands. You might spot our first fuzzy seal pup, a rare migrant or maybe get the island almost to yourself – well, you, some rangers, some seals and still a few birds!
Inner Farne is open and Staple is closed. This is peak time for our fluffy seal pups, they can be seen gathering on the rocks in their thousands, peaking at the end of this month. Shags can also be seen on the islands. As the nights draw in later in the month the chapel, lighthouse and landscapes all look spectacular in the morning and evening – you could get some fantastic photos at this time of year if the weather is right. It’s a great time of year to look for the last few autumn migrants.
November - December
Inner Farne and Staple are closed. Grey seals and seal pups can be seen from boats. Shags can be seen from the boat.
Please note that all timings are approximate, as weather and other factors can affect migration, nesting and breeding times. If in doubt, call ahead to check what you’ll be able to see.
Please note also that all boat trips, including in the summer but especially in the winter, are weather-dependent, so check sailings with the boat trip operators.