Monday, 12 July 2010

Day 182: Puffin!

Today we went to Handa Island, a nature reserve just off the coast of Sutherland, above Scourie.  It is a breeding site for Arctic Terns, Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas, Fulmars, Razorbills, Guillemots and Puffins.  The island is a short boat ride away and we saw a number of birds in the water from the boat and a small pod of harbour porpoises in the distance on the crossing.  On the island itself you walk across the island to the cliffs on the far side where the majority of the birds nest.  We saw a red grouse and 3 chicks, Arctic Skuas and Great Skuas on the way over as they nest on the ground.  The Skuas, depending on how much they dislike the look of you, will fly at your head to deter you from going near their nest.  They go for the highest point though so if you hold your hand up they fly at that instead and you're fine.  It was kind of amusing because the Arctic Skua that flew round us calling ended up landing in front of us on the boardwalk and for all the world seemed to be posing for pictures!  I guess they're not so fussed once you're focussed on them and not their nest as it took us walking towards it for it to move and even then it only went a few metres away.  There were loads of lizards on the boardwalk sunbathing too - it was amazing!  I counted about 35 on the way up to the cliffs and I have no doubt there were more than that.  They weren't always too bothered about us either - I ended up carefully stepping over a couple.  I would have loved to have stopped and sat down and waited for them to come out again and just watch them but since we were on a time limit I was good and pushed on for the cliffs.

The cliffs were really quite high and the number of birds on the stack was incredible.  I could see puffins on top of the stack and while I could get recognisable puffin photos they weren't exactly close or good and I was pretty disappointed - I didn't expect them to be close but I really had hoped for a good puffin picture.  However, we went round the cliffs to a point where the stack was closer and lo and behold there were puffins pretty much under our feet.  We only knew they were there because occasionally one would fly in or out but there were only about 2 metres away at the closest and it was fantastic watching them.  It was pretty nerve wracking and hard work being that close to the edge of a slopey cliff - I felt like I was hanging on with my ankles and toes but it was so worth it.  The weather started turning on us while we were out there - it got duller and overcast and started drizzling, all the while being exceptionally humid.  The photos suffered a little from the lack of light and for some reason I found it very hard to tell if the puffins were pin point sharp - I think it might have something to do with the greyish colour on their cheeks but I'm not sure how!  This was one of my favourite photos as the puffin seems to be looking towards me.  It is cropped but not by too much and mostly to lose the flowery things in the foreground that were all fuzzy and distracting to the eye.

The walk back wasn't nearly as pleasant but we were walking along the cliffs and got to see more Fulmars and some chicks and the Great Skuas were soaring past level with us.  We also found broken egg shells which will have been stolen by the Great Skuas and eaten.  They were beautiful but it was rather sad too.  When we got back to the beach and were waiting for a boat to take us back we got to watch the Arctic Terns fishing in the bay which was a very pleasant way to end the day - until the evening when we watched the most glorious sunset!

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