Average Birding

Posted at 20:34 on July 25, 2023

Farne Islands

An excellent (the best?) place to get near to Britain's cliff nesting birds.

Getting there

Author's note: The Farnes have been through the wringer in the recent past. COVID-19 prevented the National Trust from managing the tern colony on Inner Farne; many of the birds dispersed (some, reportedly, to Beadnell Bay, which matches our experiences there). If that weren't enough, avian influenza has also been an unwelcome visitor, closing the islands on a couple of occasions. Check the National Trust website before you travel.

These official greeters will make you feel welcome in the harbour.
These official greeters will make you feel welcome in the harbour

You will need to take a boat from Seahouses. Getting to Seahouses is best done by car; there are only rumours of buses. Go in late May-June for the best views of Puffins with beaks full of sand-eels, and for the full on terns-pecking-at-your-head experiences.

Boats will allow you to land on only two of the islands as part of normal operation: Staple Island and Inner Farne. The amount of swell can make one or the other inaccessible - ask on the day for more information. It's worth booking if you intend to go on a weekend or public holiday.

Alighting on both islands is often an option. On our first visit we did just that. We found that Staple offers closer encounters with puffins (3-4m rather than 9-10), higher numbers of stacked auks, and is considerably more peaceful, but...

A brief moment of peace with these Fulmars
A brief moment of peace with these Fulmars.

...Inner Farne, on the other hand, is alive with the sound of terns; all of Common, Arctic and Sandwich can easily be seen nesting here, in addition to the auks (although they are in less spectacular numbers). Inner Farne also has more obviously nesting Eiders. Both islands should have obviously nesting Kittiwake, Shag, and Fulmar (in decreasing frequency order).

Sandwich Tern in flight
Sandwich Tern in flight
Shag pastoral
Shag pastoral

We probably wouldn't do both again in the same day - the time allotted on both islands was too long; I resorted to reading the bird book at points.

All boat trips will, at the very least, give a circuit of almost all the islands (and the seal colony!); this should yield most of the species you'd be hoping for (possibly less Rock Pipit) albeit not quite at the closeness you get if you land.

Rarity wise - occasionally things do turn up, but often only on the non-publicly accessible islands.

Your biggest problem may well be birds photobombing other birds
Your biggest problem may well be birds photobombing other birds.


There are toilets and an information centre on Inner Farne. Staple Island has no such amenities, and very little cover.


Billy Shiel's boat trips - the original boat tour people. They have excellent chat, and will happily hunt around for a cetacean or two if they're about.

Official National Trust Site

Nearby Beadnell Bay is worth a trip around the same time of year, for Little Tern.

Eat / Drink / Stay

Before boarding, a visit to Trotters Family Bakers is a necessity - fantastic hand made sandwiches and cakes at very reasonable prices.

The Olde Ship Inn does a reasonable pint and has an outdoor area ideally suited for giving the Eiders and Turnstones that frequent the harbour a good staring at.