So good to be back in the company of puffins!

In early May I spend a week on Mull, at least I did before Covid came in to our lives. My last visit was May 2019, a lifetime ago! Mull is a fantastic place for wildlife, but my favourite day of the week was when I left the island for a few wonderful hours on Lunga, home to thousands of seabirds including puffins. I’ve really missed them!

Last month I conducted a day’s photography workshop on Handa. I’d been told how great it was but for some reason thought it was a long long way away. Transpires it’s only a two and a half hour drive through some stunning scenery from Inverness and do-able as a day trip. The island is a mere 10 minute boat journey away and it’s stunning. Lots of birds – seabirds, little birds and great skuas (bonxies). The latter are huge and nest all over the island. Come a bit later in the season and they attack you, but I was early enough that this wasn’t an issue. They also predate the eggs and young of the seabirds which must be quite thrilling to watch, if not so good for the poor birds!

There are puffins here too but most were quite a distance away on an inaccessible location. Wonderful to see them again though. There were a couple of individuals closer on the most windy bit of the island, hard to keep the camera steady to photograph them.

I’ve spent the vast amount of 2021 sorting my new rental cabin The Drey Inchberry – it’s available to rent now if you’d like to come and stay. It’s been hard work and when my mum mentioned to me she’d spotted a 3 day puffin workshop with availability being run by Philip Price of Loch Visions, I decided that would be the perfect way to relax – the idea of spending quality time with the puffins and like-minded individuals was too good to be true.

The weather of course, having being wonderful, took a turn for the worse just in time for my trip, but truth be told you don’t want sun for photographing seabirds. The black and white of their feathers is tricky to expose correctly. The weather did however mean the wind was such on day one that we wouldn’t be able to land on Lunga but we still had a lovely day and made it out on the boat from Coastal Connections that Philip had chartered for 3 days in the afternoon.

The first morning, after introductions we spent a few hours photographing black guillemots. These are smaller than the regular ones with distinctive red feet and mouths. I’ve photographed them before but not for very long as I had a ferry to catch. They nest in the walls, bob about in the harbour and even sit on the side of the esplanade often coming too close for my 500mm lens!

It was great to watch them and I had such a good time that even although I had far too many images already I returned on the Sunday morning for a second go. On this occasion I concentrated on flight shots, primarily the birds coming in to land.

On the first afternoon we went out on the boat for a few hours pottering around the Sound of Mull and Lismore. We saw lots of common (harbour) seals many of whom were heavily pregnant.

We also saw a white tailed sea eagle perched in a tree and a few juvenile shags

I lay in bed the following morning listening to what sounded like a gale blowing outside and admit to being a little pessimistic about reaching Lunga as it seemed far windier than the previous day. Good news was, however, that the direction had changed so landing would be possible. The journey out there would have been hell for someone who suffers from seasickness – 4-5ft swells, it felt like we were on a rollercoaster at times. Fortunately we were all fine and better still the Turus Mara jetty was at the shore so we had an easy disembarkation. Returning to the boat was another thing altogether, quite probably the hardest bit of the day – getting on and off a small dingy in choppy water with camera gear was a challenge to say the least. A seal swam along beside us, probably laughing!

We spent 8 hours on Lunga which was wonderful and another 4 hours the following day. No sunset sadly which would have been the icing on the cake but I can’t really complain! I spent a fair bit of time at the area not far from the landing site where many of the puffins have their nests. There was little in the way of interactions between them which was a shame, I only really have this image.

They were bringing back fish for the pufflings. Some big fish!

I didn’t spend as long here as I would have done in May due to the lack of interactions. Instead I headed to The Stack. I have to confess I never went here until I joined Andy Howard’s photography group for an extended day on Lunga in July 2018 as I always became distracted by the puffins, but it’s an amazing place! The best way to explain isn’t with words, but with this little film. Turn the sound on for full effect.

The main species here are the guillemots, and what a noise they make. I spent ages just watching them, it was hilarious to see them land with a fish and then try to get to their nest/chick/partner ( you’ll see examples of that in the film). There was also a lot of bickering going on, but what was funny about that was as soon as they stopped fighting they turned their backs on each other and had a preen! Except, that is, in this case, when one was thrown off the cliff!

The area just passed The Stack was carpeted in stunning sea pinks so I spent a lot of time photographing the birds in it. Here are the guillemots:

and of course puffins!

Lunga isn’t the best location for flying birds but I took a few. The area by The Stack was pretty good, the early puffin site a bit more challenging!

I took a few photos of the other birds too (raven, bonxie, fulmar and kittiwake)

…and one final image from lunga featuring the sea pinks, puffin, razorbill and shag:

We had one final lovely encounter. On our way back we came across a small pod of bottlenosed dolphins. The boat we were on wasn’t ideal for photography as the outside had a raised platform and little to hold on to. The pilot would speed up to encourage the dolphins to follow us and I’m still surprised my camera didn’t land in the ocean. However, somehow it survived and I even managed some sharp images. Amazing!

So that was it. A lovely few days packed with wonderful wildlife and great company. My thanks go to Philip for putting the workshop together and being such an enthusiastic guide. Much as I enjoy running workshops it was nice not to have to worry about that aspect for a change! I can also recommend Glenroy Guest House in Oban. Wendy and Hugh were great hosts and nothing was too much trouble. They have parking too which is a bonus in Oban.

I’ll leave you with one final film, this time of the puffins. If you ever get the chance to go to Lunga do! Turus Mara do a 4 hour big bird trip which runs twice a week from Ulva Ferry on Mull. This is what I normally do.

ps – if you’d like prints of any of these images please email me and I’ll add to my website. A few will appear in due course, not enough hours in the day. All images taken with a Nikon D850.

Highland based nature photographer and guide specialising primarily in Scottish wildlife but available to cover live music and events.

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