Puffins - Shetland Nature Diary - April 2010

by Brydon Thomason -

A Passion for Puffins

Surely one of the most popular and charismatic of birds in the British Isles is the Atlantic Puffin. "Tammie Norries", as we call them in Shetland, really do have the full package; it is not just their striking, elaborately shaped and coloured bills, nor perhaps their rather sad looking teardrop eyes but also their rather clumsy yet affectionate antics that make Puffins so entertaining.

It is easy to see why they are often referred to as "sea clowns" not least for the features mentioned above but also their movements, mannerisms and mischievous "missanters!" You just simply cannot help but feel endeared. And best of all - they can be extremely confiding.

As I'm sure every one knows, Puffins nest in burrows, usually along grassy cliff tops. It is here that if you are very careful, calm and quiet you can often be rewarded with incredibly close encounters - I have even had a bird peck at the laces of my walking boots, I can only assume the little fellow was looking for nest material and not going for the old "untying of the shoe laces gag!"

At such close quarters a "passion for Puffins" is sure to set in. For such a small bird they really do have massive personalities. Such photogenic and charismatic birds offer huge scope for photographers and often the opportunity to depict the wonder of these magical little seabirds; perhaps a bird in flight returning with a catch of sand eels, a pair strengthening their bond by tapping bills or perhaps two neighbours in a dispute over nest burrows or mates.

For me personally a "Puffin photo" just simply does not do them justice. But what is the "perfect Puffin picture?" I know I have not taken it, nor do I think I ever will, as is always the case with photography some one always has, can or will do better! With that said though, photography can be the perfect way to capture, communicate and celebrate your passion, I think this is what I try to do?!

But it's a tough life for a Tammie Norrie. Like all seabirds, they come ashore only to breed, if they could nest on the sea I have no doubt that is what they would prefer to do! Puffins typically return to shore in the first week of April. Birds can occasionally be seen just off shore in the last few days of March, bobbing around in the swell as if not allowed onto land until April begins. By late July adult birds are beginning to leave and by the first few days of August, they have all but left!

For the winter months though it really is a treacherous time for a "Tammie Norrie". Up to nine months may be spent exposed to the extreme elements of the North Atlantic Ocean and for much of it they are flightless (undergoing their winter moults) and will never even be in sight of land. They truly are extremely hardy and resilient little creatures, especially given that in a lifetime a bird may endure these winter storms for anything from 20-30 years or more!

Bye for now...
Brydon Thomason

About Brydon Thomason

Brydon runs a specialist wildlife guiding service that focuses on all aspects of Shetlands exhilarating natural history for individuals, couples or small groups (maximum of 6), specialising in: otter watching, bird watching, wild flowers, boat trips and much more. Read more about these trips at www.shetlandnature.net

Having lived in the Shetland all his life, Brydon is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable naturalists in the isles. He welcomes any questions or comments on the monthly nature diary and should you require any information on any aspect of Shetland's natural history please contact Brydon.

View Brydons otter watching blog by visiting http://shetlandotterwatching.blogspot.com