By any other name
25th May 2015
A trial run
29th June 2015

Farne Islands

I am pretty lucky living where I do. This stretch of Northumberland coast always attracted me when I used to shoot past on the train on my way to and from Scotland. All around Britain there is beautiful coastal scenery with an amazing variety of wildlife, and this is one of the best.

The islands off the coast here are teeming with bird-life, birds that we landlubbers don’t get to see too often. It is a real treat for me, a little bit of self-indulgence, to head out to the Farne Islands to photograph puffin and other more unusual sea birds.

There are plenty of photographers ferried in the converted fishing boats out to the islands. Some have physically huge lenses attached to their cameras. This has advantages and disadvantages. Yes, you can get in nice and close to the birds, but longer lenses are harder to wield and to track action of the fast moving birds…


… especially when tripod mounted.


I shot hand-held with almost all taken in shutter priority mode, with a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000th second, which did away with  the needs of both image stablisation and a tripod. It was a bright day so I could use my camera’s native ISO 200, though I occasionally went higher up to ISO 1600. When shooting birds on the wing I over-exposed by one stop so not to silhouette the birds against the bright sea and sky.

I use an Olympus, which has a sensor half the size of a full frame camera. This means my (relatively) budget 70-300 mm f/5-5.6 lens acts similarly to a 140-600mm lens on a full frame, but is far smaller. The quality of Olympus lenses is superb. All my photos were hand-held. Most of my images were shot at the middle of the zoom’s range as you can get physically close to the birds on the island.

I also took the opportunity to reduce  the zoom’s focal length right down and capture some broader views too. Although most people would shoot landscapes with a wide angle lens; I like the foreshortening effect of a longer focal length and the different look it gives.Lightboat HouseOne of the lighthouses on the Farnes is undergoing maintenance and there is a lighthouse ship moored to the north. The waters around the Farnes are protected,  a marine conservation zone, to reinforce the populations of sand eel, which are the staple diet of the these guillemot, as well as puffin, razorbill and tern.

Cuillemot City

The white on this cliffs is not chalk but guano from the thousand of birds that nest there.

Guillemot CityZooming in it looks like this. Guillemot, like puffin, are in the family Alcidae (Auks) which look similar to penguin but are not closely related. The similarity in looks are the result of convergent evolution, where separate species in similar habitats end up with similar features.

The cliffs on the islands also make homes for the Kittiwake. Like many of the birds that nest on these islands, they spend their winters out in the Atlantic Ocean.Kittiwake

Much of the island, is covered with grass and is  better terrain for the puffin, which nests underground. The hills in the background are the Cheviots on the mainland, another super habitat for wildlife.Inner Farne

Most people who visit the Farnes go there to see the thousands of puffin inhabitants




Puffins dive for cover when they land. They nest in underground burrows and try to reach those before the herring gulls, that lie in ambush,  rob them of their catch.

Herring Gull


Visitors to the islands help the puffin populations as the gulls are less tolerant of humans than the puffin. There was a drop in numbers of puffin recent years, due to over-fishing of sand eels that has now been banned.  Sand eels were sucked up from the sea bed in their thousands of tons to make firtiliser and animal feed. It’s a crazy world we live in when farmers don’t know dig cow and horse manure back into the soil and instead allow the seas to be pillaged, destroying the  planets  biodiversity.

Climatic change is affecting the birds too. Last year hundreds of dead puffin were washed up on our shores. They were starved because of their inability to fish because of the unusually long winter storms late in the season.


Guillemot City


Inner Farne is also home to arctic tern.  These feisty little birds, sometimes called sea swallows, have the longest migration of any bird in the world. One bird ringed here in the Farnes has been found in Australia.

Arctic TernThey are very territorial and will peck you on the head if you get too close to their nests. The pathways through Inner Farne are very close to their nest sites and so wearing a hat is essential. That beak can draw blood.

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern




  1. PC PHOTO says:

    Omg you had a great birding day Ivor! Some day I would like to give it a go from a boat.

  2. storki says:

    Ivor, just catching up with your latest blog posts. I am so jealous of your Puffin photos, they are just stunning!

    • Ivor says:

      Thanks Simone. I’ve been run off my feet of late and haven’t had much time to visit my blog, your blog or anyone else’s. I took a day out to get these shots – a whole day of self indulgence. If you get back to Blighty one day, you should take a trip up to Northumberland.

      • storki says:

        Ivor, I know what you mean, trying to fit time in for photography gets increasingly difficult during the summer. And yes, Northumberland is on the list to be visited.

  3. PC PHOTO says:

    Hi Ivor just revisiting this post since I have been out shooting bif’s for the past few days.I really like your Artic Tern spread eagle wings!! … and the shot of the bird passing the unoccupied tripod brought a personal smile to my mug.

    • Ivor says:

      I’ve just popped over to have a quick peek at your blog. You have some splendid heron in your part of the world, Patty. Love your wildlife shots.

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