Skomer Puffins

Puffin with a catch of sand eels

Puffins are small birds, 25 – 30 cm long. In spring and summer they gather in colonies of ten and sometimes hundred of thousands birds along the coast of the Northern Atlantic. They mate for life and lay only one egg per season. They build a nest in a burrow in the ground, sometimes a nest that a rabbit had forsaken.

Most of them breed on Iceland and the Westmann Islands are home to more than four million puffins. I have tried to photograph them on the Isle of May in Scotland and now I tried again on the island of Skomer in Wales. They are very funny when they walk on the ground and very cute and makes you laugh and smile, but extremely illusive to capture flying. They fly very fast and never straight straight! Although I succeeded to get a few good shots of them flying, I am still at the bottom of a steep learning curve. And the puffins are so small that in order to get good shots of them on the ground you have to crawl.

All in all photography better suited for a younger man or woman!

Skomer Island is on the west coast of Pembrokeshire and home to around 25,000 puffins. I was there in mid June, when the pufflings have hatched and their parents are busy feeding them sand eels. The island itself was very beautiful.

Skomer island

They fly out over the sea to catch the fish, mainly the sand eels. Their beaks are designed so that they can catch one fish and keep it in its mouth while diving and opening part of the beak and catch another fish without loosing the first. They can catch up to a dozen of them, but normally I have seen 4, 5 or 6 sand eels in their beaks.

Below in the pictures you see puffins returning to their burrows with sand eels for their pufflings. The burrows can be very long, up to two metres of tunnels until your reach the chick. This is all in order to protect their babies from predators.

The Wick is a large bay with steep cliffs on one side and slightly more gentle rocks on the other (seen above). The birds are forced into the narrower end, where their burrows are and provide plenty of opportunities for bird photographers (and a few real amateurs like myself). Here one puffin is arriving with his catch
Puffin fliying against the dark cliff face
And landing with his catch
Sometimes they land just to take off again before finally getting ready to enter their burrow

But to catch the flying puffins was what I came for. And it was sooooo difficult. But I got a few images to be proud of. And plenty to delete!

Puffin with sand eels
The same puffin a few milliseconds later
Here he/she is flying in towards the cliffs with the beak full of sand eels for their puffling
Landing on the ground
And walking to the burrow

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