Puffinmania

Fratercula arcticaFratercula arcticaYou never forget your first Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). Mine was, alas, quite dead, a veritable ex-Puffin, gone to join the Choir Invisible. It was being inquisitively pecked at by a Herring Gull on Nantucket’s South Shore. The scavenger was put out and aloft by my approach, and the small dead auk of the family Alcidae was in pristine shape, recently passed, not yet breached by the gull’s bill nor too mussed by the waves that had tumbled it ashore. I probably should have gathered it up as a specimen for the Maria Mitchell collection. Nantucket is too far south for any regular appearance of Puffins. But this was before I was an actual bird-watcher. Fratercula arcticapuffin burrowFratercula arcticaOn a trip to Iceland in 2010, I saw a few Puffins with their seemingly inadequate wings beating swiftly as they raced along off-shore, but the steep coastal hill we drove up to, a reliable Puffin nesting ground for generations, had been abandoned. A local said the surrounding waters had gotten too warm for the fish the birds ate. Then, last year, anticipation (and stomach!) mounting, I took a boat around a Puffin rock off of Maine, but it was raining, visibility stunk, and I was green around the gills from the rolling, roiling sea. Not a good time was had.Fratercula arcticaBut now, I can finally report that I’ve been to Puffinland, and it was good. Fratercula arcticaFratercula arcticaThese astonishingly colorful bills are a characteristic of the breeding season, as is the make-up like intensity of the facial patterning, and, indeed, finding the birds on land at all. Outside of these summer months, Puffins spend their whole lives at sea. Only breeding brings them ashore: they lay their eggs in burrows on grassy slopes on coastal cliffs. StapleJust such a place is Staple, one of the Farne Islands off the Northumberland shore, run by the National Trust. There will be more pictures to come of the other breeding species found there. Fratercula arcticaSo tonic to be reminded of the wonders and marvels of the planet.

1 Response to “Puffinmania”


  1. 1 mthew June 10, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    Reblogged this on Backyard and Beyond and commented:

    Flashback! Two years ago we were in Edinburgh preparing for our 59 mile walk down the Northumberland coast by eating sticky toffee pudding. Puffins were, of course, a highlight of the saunter.


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