Sunday, 1 July 2012

Tern the other cheek.

Foulney Island is another of those largely ignored places in the South West corner of Cumbria.  To find it you need to take the coast road from Ulverston to Barrow; when you get to Rampside take the left turn at the roundabout heading towards Roa Island.  Halfway along the causeway you'll spot a carpark on your left, this is the entrance to Foulney Island.  I'll be honest, at first sight there's not much there, but it's a fantastic spot for views stretching from Blackpool Tower to the Lake District and, if you're patient, you'll probably spot some interesting birds.

Looking towards Roa Island

At this time of year much of the "island" is closed off to protect the ground nesting birds, and dogs aren't allowed, even on a lead.  I say "island" because it's not been a proper island since the causeway was built in the 19th century, although do check the tide tables before you head out as it can still get cut off at high tide.

View from Foulney Island to Piel Island

We headed out as far as we could then settled down with our lunch and binoculars to see what was going on.  We soon spotted an array of Terns - both Common and Arctic apparently, ducking and wheeling in the sky.  Even though we're rank amateur bird spotters we spied something we knew wasn't a Tern; we knew it was some sort of bird of prey and a quick check with a local twitcher confirmed it was a Kestrel.  

Kestrel - posing beautifully.

The whole story now began to unfold; the Terns were nesting but the Kestrels were feeding.  Apparently the Kestrels had wiped out 2 clutches of chicks already and seemed to be intent on their third.  We saw 5 altogether "working" through the nests.  According to our knowledgeable guide Tern colonies are usually much larger and able to see off such predators; to be fair they were having a pretty good go at seeing off these guys, dive bombing and screeching, but there were sadly too many Kestrels and not enough Terns.

Fab action shot captured by Steve.

After watching them for a while our attention was caught by another Tern on the other side of the island; I've thought hard about how to describe it and all I can think to say is that everything about it was just more elegant than the other Terns; the Darcey Bussell of the Tern world.  We were reliably informed that it was a Little Tern, which is a whole different bird and not just a smaller version of the ones we'd already seen.  Turns out it's quite rare too but the pesky thing wouldn't keep still long enough for us to get a decent shot, so you'll just have to take our word for it.

On the way back we spotted what we think was probably the lunch area for the local gulls; thousands of Mussel shells scattered across the shingle; looks like they have hearty appetites!  As we made our way back to the car we spotted one more interesting creature; a 6 Spot Burnett Moth, not at all rare, but very pretty.  I was most surprised that they showed no interest at all in flying away from us and happily posed for several shots.

6 Spot Burnett Moth

I wrote a piece recently about what it was like starting a new life in Cumbria and one thing I'd have to add is that we now do amazing things that we never did before.  Spending a lovely sunny Saturday sitting in the long grass, eating lunch and watching Terns and Kestrels battling it out against the backdrop of the sea and fells is definitely another wonderful first for us.  There's a load more pics here if you're interested, and next time you're visiting Cumbria or the Lake District and fancy something a little different, pack a picnic, grab your camera and head over there, you'll be glad you did.

See ya!


  1. Gorgeous photography! Witty and fresh writing, too.

  2. Thank you. My husband took the pics so I'll be sure to pass on your compliments. :-)