For this week’s Friday Flickr I’ve decided to go with a theme rather than a place.
And for my first theme, I’ve chosen puffins.
Puffins have got to be the cutest birds. With their colourful beaks and soulful eyes, to say nothing of their clumsy gaits and comical crash landings, how can anyone not love a puffin?
The best place I’ve found to see puffins is Shetland. There are two huge colonies; one right at the bottom of the islands at Sumburgh and the other right at the top at Hermaness on Unst (my favourite island).
Sumburgh is the easiest to get to as it’s on the Shetland Mainland (main island) and is easily drivable from Lerwick. You can even get a bus if you don’t have a car. I say easiest to get to, but it still involves getting to Aberdeen and then a 12-14 hour ferry journey before you even get to Lerwick.
Unst is a little trickier (but so worth it), as from Lerwick you have to drive to the top of the Mainland, get a 20-30 minute ferry over to the island of Yell, drive for 30-40 minutes to the top of Yell, get another ferry for 10-15 minutes over to Unst, drive as far as you can to Hermaness at the top of Unst (half an hour or so), then walk across the boggy moorland for around an hour (dodging skua attacks) to get to the most northerly bit of coast in Britain.
Looking out from cliffs there are a couple of bits of rock that belong to Britain (Muckle Flugga and Out Stack), but that’s it. No more land. You’d have to keep going until you reached Antarctica before you hit land again.
Hermaness is well worth the effort of getting there. Not only do you get to see Muckle Flugga lighthouse (of Shipping Forecast fame), have the overwhelming sense of being on top of the world and sit among hundreds of puffins, but you get to experience a ginormous gannetry.
Puffins might be the cutest birds, but gannets are my all time favourites. They’re just so sleek and skillful as well as stunningly beautiful to look at.
The gannetry is a massive assault on the senses – the sheer number of birds, the sound, the smell – about the only sense not being assaulted is taste, though I’m sure that could be fixed just by breathing in through your mouth.
But back to puffins. Sit on the grass on the cliffs at either Sumburgh or Hermaness and you will have puffins pop up out of their burrows and crash land on the grass all around you.
They spend most of the year at sea and only come back to land when they breed. This means there’s quite a limited season to see them. They start arriving around April and have pretty much disappeared by early August.
I can sit for hours just watching them or snapping away trying to get the perfect photo. The photograph I really want to take is of a puffin with a mouth full of sandeels, but so far I’ve never managed this.
So I have a reason to keep going back. Not that I need one.
Click on the image below to access the Flickr album.