Puffins are amazing little seabirds – not only are they gorgeous to look at during the breeding season and certainly entertaining to observe, but they are tough! When not nesting on land these hardy birds are bobbing about on the ocean withstanding the challenging conditions and predators. When we see them on land, especially before they have young to feed, it’s easy to forget the alternate life they lead off-shore as they pop in and out of their burrows, billing with their partner or collecting nesting material.
I have so many photographs of puffins sitting…
…and billing – the latter especially I love, it looks so romantic.
But, never satisfied, what I hoped to capture this year were a few of the other behaviours – fights between puffins and puffins having their catch stolen by gulls. Neither of these are easy to watch, but it is life and natural and I suppose the gulls need to feed too, even if I think they should go and find their own food!
I have spent two days in the company of puffins this year, I’ll talk about the second trip in my next blog. But, in late April I visited Lunga, part of the Treshnish Islands off the coast of Mull. I took advantage of the new Turus Mara Big Bird Trip with allows four hours on the island – this seemed a lot when I arrived but it passed incredibly quickly. Lunga is by far and away my favourite puffin spot and it had been three years since my last visit there. It’s a good size, is scenic, there aren’t too many visitors and there are no restrictions other than an understanding you won’t stand on the burrows and will respect the birds. Landing is a little challenging, and you have to be confident clambering over a boulder laden beach to reach the wildlife. Not a problem for me, but some folk took quite a while to negotiate the rocks. The puffins apparently like the human visitors as they keep away predators (white-tailed sea eagles, or buzzards for example). I saw a large corvid fly overhead, and within seconds there wasn’t a puffin to be seen although the razorbills were unconcerned so I took the opportunity to photograph those.
Throughout the four hours I barely moved from the same spot. Most of the other visitors headed further up the island, but I settled down and observed the puffin behaviour on the initial cliff top. Of course I took far too many photographs, using both my Nikon D7200 with the Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 VRII lens + 1.4 TC or, because the birds came so close, the Nikon D610 with Tokina 100mm F2.8 macro lens. There were some lovely moments of interactions between puffins, puffins struggling to land in the strong winds and others struggling to detach grasses for their nests.
However what I was really hoping for was a full-on puffin fight scene that I could photograph. Often when two fight they end up in a burrow so it’s not easy to capture. However, eventually my patience was rewarded when two birds went for each other close to where I was sitting. And boy, did they go for it! There were feathers flying and at least one bird was quite bloodied by the end. I don’t know how it was resolved as the birds disappeared over the edge of the cliff – hopefully ok for both. One interesting thing to note was how other puffins gathered round to watch, almost like a school boy playground fight with friends cheering their favourite on.
I’d highly recommend visiting Lunga if you are ever on Mull (you can go from Oban too). You also visit Staffa which is great to see once, although personally I’d rather have more time with my feathered friends!