Farne Islands - Puffins, Shags, Arctic Terns and more

Without doubt the Farne Islands are one of the best places in the UK to photograph a range of sea birds including the iconic puffin. The islands are owned by the National Trust and reached by a boat trip that leaves from Seahouses. You can find the details of the boat trip on the Billy Shiels website, a link to which is on the right side of this page. I recommend the 'All Day Bird Watch' boat trip. This gives you around two hours each on Staple Island and Inner Farne. Both of these islands provide fantastic, close up views of a range of birds. On the way to the island the boat takes in some areas where seals like to haul out and also gives good views of many seabirds both at sea and on the cliffs though photographing from the boat is a challenge due to the swell and the number of photographers on board! 


Unfortunately there is always a chance that the weather could prevent the boat from sailing so if you are travelling a long distance to try and visit the islands it is sensible to allow more than one day in the area just in case. Advance booking of the boat trip is advisable (see details on the Billy Shiels website).

On the two trips to the Farnes that I've made Staple Island has been the first landing point. This island gives the opportunity to get close up to puffins, shags, guillemots, razorbills and you may also be able to find the odd fulmer's nest or two.  The puffins are the stars of the show but don't overlook the other birds, in particular in good light I think the shags are terrific subjects with their wonderful green eyes and iredescent plumage.


You don't need to look hard to find good photographic opportunties and two hours is plenty of time to explore the whole area of the island allowing you to scout out good locations taking into account the light and bird activity on the day of your visit.  

I shoot from a monopod usually and I found this to be very well suited to the Farnes. On Staple Island the going can be a bit uneven under foot in parts but it is easy to find a stable footing for the monopod.


The photo's shown on this page were taken with focal lengths ranging from 220mm to 400mm with the most common focal length used at around 300mm. I was using my Canon 40D and 7D which are both 1.6 crop cameras. As you can get really quite close to the birds on the Farnes having a zoom is handy. On a full frame camere I would recommend a minimum of a 300mm lens though you may well want something longer.


There are no toilets or shops on Staple Island so bring something to eat and drink with you.  

The next stop after Staple Island is Inner Farne, again you will have around two hours here which is enough time to enable you walk around the whole accessible part of the island to identify the best areas to shoot from.


As you get off the boat and walk up onto the island you have to pass through a colony of nesting arctic and common terns. These birds nest on the ground and you will be within inches of their eggs. The terns have a well deserved reputation for being feisty and they won't hesitate to take to the air to try and peck you on the head! Wear a hat as the pecks can be painful. The terns will always aim for the highest point on their target, I've found that holding my monopod so that the top of it is about six inches above my head ensures that it gets pecked rather than me!

Inner Farne is good for photographing the terns but also has lots of puffins, razorbills and guillemots. There is also a nesting colony of Sandwich terns on the island.


There is a toilet on Inner Farne but there is no shop. 


Both Inner Farne and Staple Island are pretty exposed to the elements, also the weather on the Farnes is often different from the mainland even though the islands are not far from shore. I recommend taking enough warm and water proof clothing with you as there really isn't anywhere to take shelter should the rain come down during your visit.

In summary

When to visit: May - July.

What to photograph: puffins, shags, guillemots, razorbills, fulmers, kittiwakes and more.

Cost: £30 for the boat trip plus a National Trust landing fee of £6.40 on each island visited (the landing fee is not payable by NT members).

Location: off the coast of Northumberland. Boats leave from Seahouses.

Billy Shiels website.

Farne's website.

If you'd like to see more of my wildlife photography, click here.


You can contact me at [email protected].


All images on this page are Copyright (c) 2014 Paul Waldron.

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