Sunday, 29 May 2011

Death From Above 2011 - Tern Attack

So, yesterday on our journey north we stopped off at Seahouses to catch a boat to the Farne Islands for a few hours. Our plan was to tour the inner and outer islands by boat, for some seal-spotting and bird-watching, before spending an hour on the small island of Inner Farne to take a look at some ground and cliff-nesting birds close up.

Turns out we we lucky to get out in a boat at all as nothing had been sailing for the previous few days due to adverse weather conditions. That said, the trip around the islands was fairly gruelling for the thirty-odd souls getting drenched in the open-topped Glad Tidings IV. At first, the bouncing up and down across the waves was fairly agreeable, but as we got further out into the North Sea it got steadily choppier and oddly draining... we all began to feel exhausted. Pretty soon, waves were crashing into the boat drenching us all. Fortunately we were protected by our waterproofs, many trippers were not!

Still, we saw plenty of seals popping up in the nearby waters as well as basking on the islands and rocks. We saw the famous lighthouse from which Grace Darling launched here famous rescue of nine survivors of a shipwreck in the 1840s. The pilot told us that she had been buried nearby opposite the Grace Darling Museum... she must have made special arrangements to be interred near her own shop.

So, whilst the boat trip was good, it seemed to go on forever and I confess we were wilting a little by the time we got to Inner Farne. As we disembarked, the welcoming party from the National Trust suggested that if we had hats, we should wear them. Looking at the crowd of seagulls, puffins and guillemots swirling across and around the island, we figured that there was a good chance that we might be leaving covered in bird muck sort of like a cross between Bill Oddie and the late Leigh Bowery.

As it turned out, the hat warning was to afford some protection against the ground-nesting Arctic Terns, many of whom were guarding their eggs only inches from the boardwalk which crosses the island. They're less than thrilled to see the occasional boat-load of twitchers and rise up against them on sight, attacking their heads with their already blood-red beaks.

Yes, they attacked us too. We were all subject to this strange aerial bombardment during our time on the island and, whilst it was quite exciting and midly exhilarating, it was also a bit scary... and painful... my son got pecked on the hand by a dive-bombing tern. Amazingly I caught the instant on camera... it's on my other camera, I'll add it in here later.

Still, we got some amazing pictures of puffins, cormorants, terns and eider ducks, many nurturing their young. What a great experience. The return boat trip was slightly shorter but only a little less wet, but enlivened by some great conversations with fellow passengers about birdwatching, football and rugby league.

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