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#10 Farne Islands, England

The Farne Islands are somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for some time now, I tried a couple weeks prior to this trip, but the bad weather meant it wasn’t worth risking the 5 hour drive north. Unfortunately for me, my calendar is always quite busy in puffin season, so getting the time to see them is difficult. Puffins are my favourite subject to photograph, so I need no excuses to go and photograph them when I do get time even if that does mean getting up at some pretty unsociable hours when it's the first time in your bed for 3 weeks.

My alarm went off at 2am, and I’m already tired from a back to back race weekend so it's far from ideal. But I’m running out of time to go and see them in feeding season so I push on through. After all it’s nothing a couple of Red Bulls can’t sort, i’d much rather be driving in the early hours anyway as the roads are so much quieter. I arrive with 15 minutes to spare before I need to collect my tickets for the boat across to the islands. The weather is windy and there is only a 50/50 chance of landing on Staple Island - our first stop. But we set sail in a hope that the conditions are suitable. I’m not very good on smaller boats at the best of times, let alone bad weather, It’s 30 minutes across choppy water until we make our landing, everyone is taking photos of the seals and there is me just trying to hold back the sickness. But it's well worth it.

Thankfully I’m one of the first ones off the boat. Stepping foot on land I’m greeted by hundreds upon hundreds of puffins. It literally takes me a second or two just to take it all in. It’s a completely different experience to Skomer or Bempton Cliffs, which are the other two places I go to see puffins in the UK. It’s a lot more rocky but also a lot more densely populated with them. Every where you turn there is another puffin doing something. It’s fantastic.

Just a couple days prior to this trip, I purchased a Canon 500mm F4. I told myself that I would try and use that for the whole day to get to know it, and I’m glad I did. What a fantastic piece of glass that is. To be honest, you don’t need anywhere near that sort of focal length on the Farnes. You could reach and touch a puffin with an out stretched arm, but I like using it and it lets me be creative for some puffin portraits.


I had nearly 3 hours on Staple Island, and in that time I must have only moved within a 20 meter square. Every time I tried to move to a different location there would be something else that I wanted to photograph instead and ended up staying longer. A truly remarkable place. The boat was leaving from the other side of the island as the wind was picking up on this side, something I’m thankful for, as it forced me to walk across the island and see what else it had to offer. I’m going to head back to these islands again next year, that is for sure, it just has so much on offer that one day is just not enough.


The backdrop of razorbills, guillemots and puffins along with the rocks covered in poo makes for a surprisingly beautiful affect when shooting wide open. It lead to lots of different creative opportunities to play with. The island is also home to European Shags, which is another bird that I have been wanting to photograph for a while now, the yellow beaks and green eyes make for fantastic portraits. Although no where near as numerous as the puffins there is still plenty to photograph.

From Staple Island we went to Inner Farne, which offered different photographic options, but not as good as Staple. Once on land you have to navigate the Arctic Turns which are constantly dive bombing and pecking at your head. Quite the experience. By this time you’re already covered in bird poo anyway from all the birds flying above so you’re not too fussed by the terns.

The landscape here is not as interesting for me, quite grassy, more like Skomer, but it does however let you get some nice shots of puffins coming into land as it’s very flat and the puffins nest inland. Before you know it the day is up and you have to get on the boat back to mainland. Fish & Chips in the harbour before you leave is a must. With it already being a long day, I opted for an Air BnB near by, before driving back the next morning, with a memory card full of puffins. The Farne Islands are an incredible place, bustling with sea birds! It has no cemented itself as my favourite place to see puffins.



zacharytknowles

July 2019

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