In which I am attacked by a tern, charmed by some puffins, and visit a nursery.

National Trust, Wildlife

Tuesday.  A trip round the Farne Islands.

Following the fish, birds feeding off the Farne Islands.

Here’s our journey, courtesy of Billy Shiel’s boat.  We pass one of the most densely populated housing estates in Europe – but despite having to jostle for a tiny space to call home, this community is not socially well-integrated .  Kittiwakes don’t live with puffins.  Cormorants won’t talk to guillemots.  Grey seals loll indolently beneath the cliffs, doing as little as possible till hunger forces them into the sea to hunt.  The stench is intolerable.


We land on Inner Farne, taking our hats as per instructions.  This is why.  Arctic terns nest all over the island and they have young to protect.  We are the enemy, as they make clear, as they hurtle towards us, piercing our hats and hands with their dagger-like beaks.  I nurse a war-wound on my finger.

A wary arctic tern .

Ready to attack.

Preparing to strike.

Warning me off.

We decide puffins are less bellicose.  They waddle about among the undergrowth, occasionally pottering down into their burrows.


Then it’s time to explore further.  The cliffs are cordoned off, but there, immediately  beyond the fencing are birds in their hundreds, caring for their young.  They’re close enough to touch.  We don’t though.  Being so close we can see every detail of their (usually ramshackle) nests, their plumage, the young unfledged birds, and this is privilege enough.


With thanks to Maureen and Andrew for organising this trip for volunteers at NT Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, and to the volunteer rangers at NT Farne Islands for managing this special place, despite irreparable damage to their hats.

An arctic tern above Inner Farne.

36 thoughts on “In which I am attacked by a tern, charmed by some puffins, and visit a nursery.

  1. Wow!! I’m not sure about the terns attacking – that sounds pretty scary!! But would love to see the other birds. What an amazing day!!

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  2. Oh how lovely to see the puffins and get a great photo of one in its burrow. Guess it’s the best time of the year to visit. Looks like the Arctic terns were inspirational for du Maurier and Hitchcock.

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  3. What a great experience. Those terns on the attack are quite something. Puffins, at least in photos, never look completely plausible, though most endearing. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. PUFFINS!! Oh my god, I love puffins. My favorite poem when I was a child was “There once was a puffin, in the shape of a muffin , and he lived on an island in the deep blue sea . . .” All the photos are great but . . . PUFFINS!

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  5. What great pictures! I’ve never been attacked by a tern, thank goodness, though I was once startled by a puffin swooping into its burrow under my feet (it was a steep and rocky path). What a fabulous day out. Lx

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  6. You got some wonderful pictures! (Puffins have always been my favourite bird.) Seabird colonies are such special places. We’ve been to various, including on Skomer, Orkney and Shetland. I’m sure my husband would love to get to the Farnes. The scariest was at the far north of Shetland when both terns and skuas were out in full force. Not only did we wear hats; I also carried a strong stick to fend them off.

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  7. We loved the Farne Islands when we visited, not in June but later in the summer because of school holidays. The terns were still there and angry but not in great numbers as most had fledged their chicks. We saw puffins flying low over the water and other birds in the distance. We will have to visit earlier in the year next time!

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