Puffins have been spotted on the Farne Islands this week in what is possibly the earliest ever sighting of the birds in the region.
It is believed they have arrived at their Northumberland coast habitat weeks before they are normally seen because of the mild weather the region has been enjoying.
Already there have been sightings of over 500 puffins, much to the delight of David Steel, lead ranger for the National Trust on the Farne Islands who made the find a week before his team actually move there.
He explained: “I went up on Wednesday just to check it over. We don’t move in until next Friday so I was just taking advantage of the milder weather to do a pre-visit, and there they were. I was delighted and surprised.”
David, a ranger on the Farne Islands for 14 years, said he had never seen puffins there this early.
“It could even be the earliest ever, but you can only go so far back with records before they become ambiguous,” he said.
What is not in dispute is that it marks an amazing turnaround in fortunes for the birds on the Farne Islands.
Last year was a horror story, as hundreds of dead birds washed ashore along the east coast from Northumberland up to Aberdeenshire in Scotland.
Scientists feared thousands of puffins may have died of starvation, due to severe weather conditions in the North Sea. It is thought the birds were unable to feed due to storms at sea.
The death of such large numbers of seabirds in a single incident is known as a “wreck”.
Experts at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said it was more than 60 years since such a large puffin wreck was recorded.
David said: “It’s completely different to last year. The first major arrival occurred then on April 1.
“Down south there have been problems as a number have washed up dead because of the severe storms preventing them from eating.”
The mild weather has also proved good news for other birds which use the Farnes as their habitat.
“I saw a sea bird called a Shag building its nest,” said David. “It was weeks early. I expect when we go back next Friday to see Shag eggs compared to last year when we found the earliest ones on April 29.”
It is hoped this mild spell of weather will be a sign of things to come and the Puffins and other seabirds of the Farne islands - which are open to the public from April 1 - have a successful year.
The islands are home to 40,000 pairs of Puffins during spring and summer. To keep up to date with puffin news and signs of spring with the National Trust in the North East like their Facebook page www.facebook.com/NorthEastNT