The Farne Islands Part 2

05th September 2015
Farne Island Update, part2, this time its personal etc etc

As last year's Farne PDF was inexplicably more popular than I could have expected, it seems only fair to add an update based on a number of questions that have arisen from the original. The update is based on some sleuth-like fact finding during the pilgrimage of 2014.

To those of you who pointed out some spelling/grammar issues in the text - many thanks, but I ain't going to change it now…….. too hard!

OK, here we go, basically a set of FAQ's - many unrelated to birds and or/photography. Yes, there are some Puffins at the end…...

1. Sunny v Cloudy. A few people took issue with my comment about 'light cloud' being the optimal conditions for snapping on the Farnes. I stick to my guns. I would reiterate that all the best snaps (birdy and otherwise) are taken with a low sun. You will not get this on The Farnes due to the specific hours that the islands are open to the public. If there is sun, it will be overhead. If you consider the birds that you want to take, they are, in the main, fairly starkly black and white, exposure is tricky. Bright overhead sun is going to compound this ………. so do you shoot for the whites. Obviously you do! So what happens to the blacks?

So you have 2 problems. Firstly, Highly contrast'y subjects that (I would maintain), no amount of Photoshop/Lightroom tweaking of the highlights & shadows will remedy. Secondly you have the reflected shadow under the bird whether in flight or on the ground. At best this will give a colour cast underneath. At worst it will amplify the problem with contrast'y subject matter.

Until the NT allows special snapper dispensation opportunities on the islands during the 'golden hours', you should hope to mitigate these problems by hoping for light cloud cover.

I Rest My Case

Anyway, you are only there for a day or 2 so you are going to go to the islands whatever - assuming you can land, so make the best of whatever weather and just enjoy yourself. I would be very happy to snap in torrential rain if necessary. They will be different images and may stand out from the crowd - macro shots of drenched birds are very attractive!

2. Some have asked for some snaps of the place itself so that have even more of an idea of what to expect before arrival. Happy to oblige……….

The ticket offices. Billy Shiels and Serenity….other tourist boats are available (as the BBC would have to add). I always reserve a place the day before…..

The Lighthouse from Staple Island

Guillemot snapping on Staple Island, and a shed

The welcoming committee on Inner Farne

Wear a hat and you have no problem. Manic hand flapping and trying to swat the birds by rapid opening and closing of a flowery parasol just makes you look a prat.


Arctic Terns just checking that you are effecting your egress from Inner Farne

Just a final parting gesture

Diembarking back at Seahouses….and Isn't that The Olde Ship I see in the background. Odd how a days snapping can bring on a thirst

Apprentice Chiphawk taking advantage of a high viewpoint

Apprentice Chiphawk and mentors being less subtle

Black Headed Chiphawk in action

Highly recommended smokehouse - just up round the corner!

3. Pragmatic stuff: Money in Seahouses. For those of you who can, you can get money from The Post Office or Barclays. Bear in mind that your excursions to the Islands pretty much coincides with their opening times so you may miss their open times. There are two cashpoints: one outside Barclays and one outside The Co Op. It has to be said that these are not overly reliable and tend to empty over a busy weekend. During the 2014 visit, the Barclays machine was OOS more often than it was working.

Your two contingencies are: Yes, Billy Shiels does take cards so that reduces cash requirements and secondly, cashback from The Co-Op at the till.

Endless opportunities for taking Guillemot on Staple Island

….and again

Don't forget the less obvious birds…..Eider Duck

Razorbill portrait

…and a Shag. Not sure why this image appears so halo'd

4. Food: Now I'm on really dangerous ground and I'm not sure how I got sucked into answering this. In the name of research all 3 Fish & Chip Cafe's were tried and IMHO there is little to choose between them. They are all good, and I'm a bit picky about fish…… For eating inside, they all close at 7'ish (earlier on a Sunday), so don't leave it too late. Takeaway is an hour or so later, but still early'ish by my standards.

That's The Neptune Restaurant, 3 Seafield Road, Pinnacles Fish Restaurant I have to admit my usual one!), 19 Main Street and Lewis's Fish Restaurant, 22 Main Street.

According to the ubiquitous Tripadvisor there are 16 places to eat in Seahouses. As this is my own personal view and not based on anything objective, I'll leave it there…………

More importantly, The Olde Ship by the harbour does a very decent selection of Real Ale (at least 4 local guest beers amongst 8 handpumps) Its bustling, efficient and a pleasant place to discuss the shots you missed while a couple of pints works you towards the appropriate chippy - sorry, fish restaurant.

While we're on the subject of beer: The Ship Inn at Low Newton with Crumbhawk to give it a bird context. Good micro brewery and crab sandwiches to the needy...

5. Shooting from the boat. Yes you can if you choose to - the boatmen will turn so that both sides of the crowded boat get a clear view. It's a personal thing and I don't snap from the boat. I don't want to get seawater on the cameras; I don't want to accidentally clobber an innocent with a 400mm lens; I don't want to shoot 'upwards' towards the bird cliffs: I don't want to shoot 'down' onto the birds bobbing about on the surface: I don't want to shoot 'down' to Seals in the water. I'm just picky………..

The Sandwich Tern colony on Inner Farne

Flight shots is about all you'll get…..

But they do oblige. Lets hope its not too sunny eh!!

The excellent little Arctic Tern's are everywhere on Inner Farne

They will pose on posts and walls until you enter their personal space.

Such tiny birds

Sandeel Portrait

Flight shots of these are a snappers gift - don't abuse the privalege

6. Toilets - clarification. There is a toilet on Inner Farne. There is usually a queue……….. of desperate visitors. These are mainly the casual visitors who have just come out for an afternoon jaunt. I have heard surprise expressed that there isn't a Tearoom, and can they stop their birds from 'flying around so much' as people discover that a mobile phone perhaps isn't the ultimate form of in-flight image capture. It is very tempting to put the camera down pick up a clipboard and take notes.

7. The Seahouse Eider Ducks. There are a fair number of Eider's living in and around Seahouses Harbour. They probably live here for the same reason Mallard lurk around every pond going - it is a source of easy snacks.

They probably get genuine Eider snacks around the harbour, maybe from bits thrown off the edge of the fishing boats. What you lose in not getting an Eider cracking a Sea Urchin in its bill that it plucked from the North Sea Floor, is a very easy shot of an Eider running towards you after a slice of reduced price Warbertons procured at the Co-Op for just such a purpose. And they bring their kids with them too……..

I should now formally write a blog on how bad white-sliced bread is for Eiders, but they only get a part of their diet from it, and people enjoy doing it! In my experience snappers rarely take the Seahouse Eiders in this way…. Anything that gets people and children familiar with nature can't be bad………

High key Eider's on a flat day

Wide angled shots of the awaiting families

The males are a tad more aloof, but hey, sliced bread is sliced bread

The ducklings are even less reticent than the adults

Puffin Time

Trying to find interesting backgrounds. Nice yellow lichen' rocks

Or black igneous rock

A bog standard Puffin portrait, but with lichen behind

Time for an amusing Puffin caption methinks

I would like to thank Sue for being gratuitously attacked by Terns in the cause of snaps, and for sacrificing several essential chips to illustrate the ravenous behaviour of Chiphawks