And just like that the puffin season on the Farne Islands, England is over for another year. I managed a fantastic day photographing them in late June of this year, almost 2 months after the bright orange beaked birds began making their way to the colonies for the annual breeding season. Of course it’s not just the puffins who come in to land, rather an abundance of species such as kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and cormorants, but puffins hold a special place in my heart, being hardy and comical in equal measure. Affectionately known as the Tommy Noddy locally, their clownish and unwieldly gait on-land is fascinating to watch, especially when compared to the more refined birds such as arctic terns.
Puffins lay a solitary egg each breeding season between April and May which is incubated by both parents for 36-45 days. Once the egg hatches both parents share feeding duties until the chick is ready to fledge, between 34 and 60 days after hatching. Late June to July is therefore peak time for witnessing lots of activity as adults collect food out at sea and try to deliver it safely to their chicks hidden away in burrows, avoiding being mauled by greedy gulls eager to steal their catch as they do so! Adult puffins go back to sea shortly before their chicks are ready to fledge, a highly synchronised affair with all adults leaving the islands within a few days. The pufflings normally make their way out to sea alone during the night to avoid predators. If they make it successfully their own breeding begins aged 5-6 years, with many having lifespans over 20 years.
Armed with my Nikon D850, 300mm 2.8 lens and a x1.4 convertor (giving me an effective reach of 420mm at f4) I boarded Billy Shiel’s boat at Seahouses with my husband and we made our way over the calm seas to the islands on what was a beautiful sunny day. As we neared landing, the signs were good for lots of activity, puffins flying overhead with beaks overflowing with sand eels to feed to their hungry pufflings.
Landing on the Farne Islands comes with its dangers however, namely in the form of arctic terns! Ground nesting birds, terns become fiercely protective of their eggs and chicks from any perceived form of danger, including people. Navigating the wooden path through the colonies can therefore be a hazardous affair, the adult terns clicking loudly in warning as people pass, with several swooping down to attack with their razor sharp beaks. Wearing a hat is a must, no matter how fast you think you can move! Once passed the tern colony, the walk around the islands becomes a much more relaxed affair, with plenty to see in terms of bird activity, especially from those puffins.
With hindsight, I should have photographed more than just puffins on this trip, but I didn’t, such is my draw to them and the time passed so quickly. Generally speaking I shot with my 300mm lens without the convertor, the puffins were so close. Many of shots taken were from lying flat on my stomach, the low angles giving beautifully soft bokeh that really made the birds stand out from their environment.
I have lost count now of the times I have visited puffins during the breeding season. Each time a visit comes to an end I leave feeling like I have had the best therapy session in the world, going back to nature and just marvelling at how astonishing it truly is. The fact that I come away with some photographs to enjoy always feels almost secondary to the day, an added bonus if you like. With all the puffins now back out to sea, my photographs will at least be a lovely memento of a great day spent, until next year when my little friends come into land again.