“The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is a seabird species in the auk family. It is a pelagic bird that feeds primarily by diving for fish, but also eats other sea creatures, such as squid and crustaceans. Its most obvious characteristic during the breeding season is its brightly coloured bill. Also known as the Common Puffin, it is the only puffin species which is found in the Atlantic Ocean. The curious appearance of the bird, with its large colourful bill and its striking piebald plumage, has given rise to nicknames such as ‘”clown of the ocean” and “sea parrot”. The Atlantic Puffin is the provincial bird for the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.” – Quoted from Wikipedia
I adore Puffins. They are among the most interesting of all birds I have ever photographed.
And they are exceedingly difficult to photograph while flying. They are very very fast and they are small, making it nearly impossible to get one in focus.
My first trip to the Farne Islands, located off the coast of Northumberland in the United Kingdom was in June of 2006. I shall not forget the experience of seeing thousands of Atlantic Puffins interacting during the summer breeding season.
I have been to the Farne Islands two times, the last visit was disappointing in that there were hundreds of humans on the islands making photography very difficult. My last trip was difficult because the weather made it impossible to land on the islands for nearly a week. After five days of showing up early at Seahouses to board a boat to the islands, I finally got there.
It was the first trip that I remember most. The light was spectacular and brought out the wonderful colors of the birds.
Atlantic Puffins spend most of their lives in the open North Atlantic Ocean and only visit land during the breeding season. It is hard for me to imagine how these birds survive for ten months in open seas.
Their interactions are wonderful to observe. As in this example of a couple engaging in a “Puffin Kiss.”
Atlantic Puffins do have calls and catching one having a good yell was special.
Getting to the Farne Islands means being at Seahouses during June or July of each year. One has to be there to catch one of Billy Shiels boats for the trip to the islands. And one never knows if the weather will cooperate. So, just getting to the islands is problematic.
The trip departs at 10am and only runs during the breeding season (June and July). It lasts approximately five and one-half hours and allows two hours on Staple Island in the morning and two hours on Inner Farne in the afternoon. There are no facilities on the islands. National Trust members land free of charge and non-members pay a landing fee to the National Trust wardens on both islands. The tour also includes a cruise around all the islands to view nesting seabirds on the cliff faces and the Grey Seal colonies at several vantage points. Expect to pay about $40 per person for the tour.
If you are lucky, maybe you will get the chance to photograph these wonderful and amazing creatures with a mouth full of sand eels. I highly recommend the trip, it is worth flying across the Atlantic just to see a wonder of our natural world.
Make sure you wear a hat, or carry an umbrella. Yep. The reason for the hat is that you will get dive bombed by the Terns which also inhabit the islands. They will peck you on your head and more than likely deposit some poo as well. Getting to the center of the islands is a gauntlet.
The islands are wet and slippery, good boots with gripping soles are a must. I fell twice on my first trip, luckily I saved my camera and lens, although my pride suffered.
And, last warning. Only one of the islands has a restroom and I gotta tell you it isn’t the best I have ever used, perhaps the worst, so be prepared.