Saturday, July 23, 2011

Quest for Puffins

Up to now, I have only ever seen one puffin, and that was only a fleeting glance as it flew over us when we were kayaking off the west coast north of Tofino.  To see puffins, in the wild, up close, has been a quest of mine for years.
When we first moved to Protection Island, 20 years ago I happened to read a book that mentioned puffins nesting on the shores of Protection Island in Georgia Strait.  I immediately launched a puffin finding expedition looking for puffins or at the least, puffin indicators. Nada. I circumnavigated the island and found not even a feather. Later, I discovered that another Protection Island existed on the American side of the strait of Georgia.  It was there that puffins could be found.  Not here.
I mentioned this failed search to a friend and neighbor, Margaret, who, in a former life, made radio documentaries for the BBC. She told me of a documentary she did about puffins in Iceland on the island of Westmann Islands. There the puffins nest on cliffs above the village of Heimaey. At fledging time, the young puffs waddle to the edge of the cliffs and hurl themselves off. The idea being to join the puffin pack waiting for them at sea. Inevitably, the little tykes would take a wrong turn or catch a wrong wind current or think a street light is the moon, and end up in the streets of the village below the cliffs  Not an entirely unexpected occurrence and generations of young children would be sent out into to scour the streets with cardboard boxes, plopping wayward little puffs into their container. When the boxes were full, the children would trudge up to the top of the cliffs, face the right direction and fling the puffins back out into space, this time in the right direction, then race back down the cliff to collect another box full and repeat the performance until the streets were cleared of birds and the nearby seas were full of them.
I had hoped to see, if not this performance, at least a puffin or two when visiting Iceland a couple of years ago. Nada. Not even a feather. Although we did see puffins on the menu at a few restaurants  but that wasn't quite the same thing.
[PhotoOld Man of Hoy - puffin country]
So now I am back in puffin country.  The Island of Hoy, near the Ol' Man of Hoy (a stone stack off the cliffs) in the Orkney Islands, is the place to spot them.  So I stood on the deck of the ferry as we passed by and sure enough, there were sea birds to be seen.  I am absolutely positive, well, almost, pretty sure, well, I think I saw one chubby little guy fly past.  But, it could have been a gull.
So I missed a good view of puffins in the Orkney's but then we headed north by ferry to the Shetlands.  Once there (and that's a story for another blog)  we went down to the southern tip, to Sumburgh Head and there they were! Lots.  Many just a few feet from our feet. Puffin city central.
A man there told me about the puffin cam, so now you too can see them live by clicking here: Live Puffin Cam.

No comments:

Post a Comment