Farnes - seals, shags and sandpipers

Posted on 1 December 2013, 18:53

(With apologies for the gratuitous alliteration!)

There are several skippers sailing from Seahouses, but we (my photographic partner-in-crime Mark Mowbray and I) always pick Andrew Douglas and his boat Serenity II (I’m off again!)

Andrew runs Winter trips to the Farnes for the Grey seal pups – this being the time of year when they breed – so today saw Mark and I, along with another ten hardy souls, heading out with Andrew to spend a few hours seal watching – and photographing, of course.

The thing about Andrew is that he’s properly, energetically, excitably passionate about “his” wildlife. Although he doesn’t consider himself to be a photographer, he understands what we want, and does everything he can to get us where we need to be; and he’s damn’ good at the wheel of the Serenity II, so if it’s possible and safe, he’ll put the boat where it needs to be for “the shot”.

Being a “cat”, it’s a good, stable craft too – important to someone who’s as bad a sailor as I am!

We set off just after 10 o’ clock.


Serenity II approaching the harbour steps

Thankfully, conditions were perfect – calm, mild and great light – and before long we were approaching the islands, and some of the thousands of seals. Although it was a calm day, the movement of the tide ensured that boat was bouncing up and down: situations like this are precisely why I swear by image stabilisation, and it was worth its weight in gold here too:


Grey seal yearling, Farne Islands


Grey seal yearling, Farne Islands


Grey seals, Farne Islands

We had some obliging Shag on the way too:


Shag, Farne Islands


Shag, Farne Islands

The highlight of the day was to be a landing on Longstone, the largest and most distant of the islands in the group – the one with the best access and the most seals. To be fair, it’s no Donna Nook, but it was good fun nevertheless, and even without the number of pups I’d hoped for, I still got some images I’m very happy with:


Grey seal pup, Farne Islands


Grey seal pup, Farne Islands


Grey seals, Farne Islands


Grey seals, Farne Islands


Grey seals, Farne Islands

(The two images above give a good idea of just how much bigger the male (bull) seals are than the cows).


Grey seals, Farne Islands This shows just how well camouflaged seals are – but, it seems, mainly from above. What on Earth is going to swoop down and carry off a seal?


Grey seal bull, Farne Islands


Grey seal, Farne Islands


Grey seals, Farne Islands


Grey seals, Farne Islands

The seal on the left of this group (as you’re looking) had me in stitches: every time a wave came in, it reared up as it’s doing in the second image, as if to keep out of the water! A seal that doesn’t like getting wet!

Of course, because I’m a bird photographer in the main, I couldn’t ignore the chance of some typically obliging Purple sandpipers:


Purple sandpiper, Farnes


Purple sandpiper, Farnes


Purple sandpiper, Farnes


Purple sandpiper, Farnes

After that, it was away from the islands and north to Stag Rock (on the south side of Budle Bay) for Long-tailed ducks. We saw umpteen of ‘em – and more Common scoter than I’ve ever seen in my life (some Velvet scoter among them too – but nothing to photograph. I was quite enjoying being a birder again, to be honest – but I’d forgotten my binoculars!



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