Puffin Island: Best Day Ever in Scotland!

Today is World Wildlife Day. In 2013, the United Nations declared 3rd March as the World Wildlife Day to celebrate adoption of “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora”. What better occasion to recall my best day ever in Scotland when I was in a Puffin wonderland! Last summer, I visited a huge colony of birds like Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots and had a chance sighting of amazing Grey Seals in distance. I was literally smiling ear to ear.

Speed boat taking visitors to the island
Speed boat taking visitors to the island

Isle of May: The Jewel of the Forth

There is a tiny island off the eastern coast of Scotland in the Bay of Forth called Isle of May. It is declared as a National Nature Reserve and is managed by the Scottish Natural Heritage. The island itself is an amazing geological feature, born out of molten lava millions of years ago. As the boat approaches the island the visitors are awestruck by its huge straight cliffs and magnifiscent view. But wait a minute, why is the rock so white in colour!?

The cliff rocks are so white, you wonder as you get close to the island
The cliff rocks are so white, you wonder as you get close to the island

Isle of May is a safe heaven for a number of species of birds including Puffins. As the boat approaches the island, it starts to get really exciting. Initially you hear a distant murmur, it grows gradually into loud cries and whistles and as you get up close it’s almost a deafening clammor of literally thousands of birds all around the huge cliffs. As you get off the boat on the jetty, to accompany the even louder cries of birds flying all around, a distinct stench fills your nostrills. That’s bird poop, all around you. Bingo! It suddenly occurs to you why the rocks looked so white!

Do you spot the thousands of tiny birds on the cliff?
Do you spot the thousands of tiny birds on the cliff?
May Princess, the boat that took me to the island
May Princess, the boat that took me to the island

Puffins in Thousands

Isle of May has been a colony of hundreds of thousands of puffins and at least 10 different species of seabirds along with some marine animals like Grey Seals for years. The surrounding sea has plenty of food for all of them. The breeding season of the seabirds (luckily for us) is summer so they come to the island in April. As summer catches up, the romance of the birds heats up too as they find their mates. They lay their eggs and first chicks hatch in June. In July the little ones start mastering their own kills in the sea. In August, they grow big enough to leave the island for a long journey over the sea.

An Atlantic Puffin with a beak full of fish
An Atlantic Puffin with a beak full of fish
A puffin protecting its nesting on the edge of the cliff
A puffin on the edge of the cliff

When I was there, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Literally thousands of exotic birds all around me and I wasn’t even sure where to aim my camera. One opportunity here while hundred other popping up; I couldn’t make up my mind about which way to go even. It was a wonderland and the best day I ever spent in Scotland. I could catch a few nice shots of puffins, some razorbills, kittiwakes and some guillemots too. Man, I so wished I had more than just a couple of hours on the island!

A razorbill( right) and a guillemot share a rock
A razorbill( right) and a guillemot share a rock
A guillemot and a puffin basking in the sun
A guillemot and a puffin basking in the sun
Razorbill gets its name from its peculiar beak
Razorbill gets its name from its peculiar beak

Fun Things You Might Get to See

Aerial Attacks

Because there are so many birds here and in thousands, you might get to see some interesting interactions. There are at least four different species of terns on the island; I could spot a small colony of Arctic Terns. Boy were they aggrassive! The terns had their nestings on the ground and were very vigilant to protect those. Every single person passing by received an aerial attack. 😀

Arctic Terns protect their nests aggrassively. I was on the receiving end of their aerial attacks more than once.
Arctic Terns protect their nests aggrassively. I was on the receiving end of their aerial attacks more than once.

Intersting Bird Behaviour

If you get close to the cliffs you can see the nestings of guillemots pretty up close. You will see razorbills perched on the edge of the cliffs fighting with seagulls protecting their solitude. You will see shags chilling on the rocks at the base and terns and puffins doing somersaults before diving into water. Did you know that Puffins can dive up to a depth of 60 metre? You might as well get lucky and see the chicks almost disappearing in their mothers’ throats to swallow a tasty fish snack. In fact if you look carefully you might even spot tracking rings on the feet of some them. It helps scientists track their annual movements.

This one seems to be unlucky, only a couple of fish in his beak
This one seems to be unlucky, only a couple of fish in his beak

If you listen carefully you’ll hear numerous and distinct calls from all the different species. Puffins with their beaks full of fish will be a common sight. These comic looking birds, puffins are really smart. They have rough tongue and the uppper side of their beak has tiny spines on the inside. This structure helps them hold so many fish during their dives. It’s not only efficient way of hunting fish but also serves as a protection from marauding gulls who steal their food, sometimes right from their beaks.

A group of kittiwakes (bottom right), and guillemots soaking in the sun
A group of kittiwakes (bottom right) and guillemots soaking in the sun

The Predators and Preys

The Birds not only have other birds as predators but some times animals like foxes, rats and seals too. I can understand rats (e.g. from visiting boats) but I wonder how the foxes got up on the island. I could also spot a pair of brown rabbits hopping away ocasionally. The gulls are enemies of other smaller birds. The black-backed gulls are big enough to knock the puffins off midair. While the chicks of eider ducks and fulmars are a target of grey seals. If you’re incredibly lucky you might see a humpback whale out in the sea who perhaps come in search of the seals. It’s a dog eat dog world out there! It’s a different kind of wild so if you ever visit Scotland in summer, this is a must see place!

Grey Seals!!! Do you spot these gorgeous animals above?
Grey Seals!!! Do you spot these gorgeous animals above?
The cliff has at least 10k birds at this very moment
The cliff has at least 10k birds at this very moment

Have you ever seen a puffin colony

Read my other stories from Scotland.

Travel Tips
Boats for Isle of May leave from Anstruther (Fife, Scotland). 30 min boatride takes you to the island and you get 2 hours to explore before the boat returns. Boat runs all summer (April – September) while the island remains closed for visitors rest of the year.
Photography Tips
A tripod is a must, portable tripod would be even more convenient. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to shoot. Don’t get overwhelmed (I did).
earthling

earthling

I am an earthling. I am an explorer. I like to keep my own pace, conquer new territories, meet new people, try new things and write stories about my experiences. I blog at bhingri.in. Tell me if you like it!

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