Sunday, 22 June 2008

In search of puffins

One of the readers of this blog happens to be my Mum (Hi Mum!). She absolutely adores puffins, so as she can't make it up to stay with us before they leave again this year, I decided to go in search of some to take some photos.

Right on the border between Caithness and Sutherland is a peat moor called Drum Hollistan. Thanks to looking at the schedule for the excellent Caithness and Sutherland ranger walks, I knew there was a big puffinry on the coast and I had a rough idea of how to get to it, so on Friday I went to have a look for it, since the guided walk to it had happened before we moved here.

I parked in the layby on the border and squelched off down the track towards the coast. Half a mile or so later, there was the stack, just as described, with the puffinry on it:

Puffinry

From what I could see, I had three options for getting close to it. Look at the photo below:

The edge of Drumhollistan Moss

I could either walk round to that little sticking out bit on the right and lie flat on my stomach (dismissed as too dangerous due to the gusts of wind that day), shimmy down a ridge to get to the green pyramid-like bit on the left (ditto), or walk down what looked like a gently-sloping valley with a couple of steep bits to get to a small rocky beach near the base of the stack. I chose option 3.

If I tell you that the picture above shows the way I climbed back up and that seemed like a stroll in the park compared with getting down, you'll have some idea of why this was a mistake!

I didn't take any pictures on the way down, I was too busy clinging onto my camera bag (which protected my camera from a 4 foot fall onto rock when I put it down on what I thought was moss and turned out to be mud - just before I was about to jump down onto the same spot) and swearing. 48 hours on my arms and legs are still aching and it's made me have a serious think about how far I'm prepared to go in search of a good wildlife photo. Thanks to my inexperience, I put myself closer to serious injury or death than I ever want to be on Friday and I don't intend to do it again.

Just to give you an idea, here's the last bit of the climb down, where the stream gets to the beach. I'd climbed down all the way from the hilltop you can see behind it.

Rocks near Wester Clett

It was a lovely spot though:

Stack

However, it didn't get me as close to the puffinry as I needed to be to get any decent shots. So I'm sorry, but these (cropped out of bigger pictures, where they appear as small blobs!) are as good as I've got for now:

Puffin 1

Puffin 2

Puffins

Next time I have a free-ish day, I'll try either Duncansby Stacks (just up past John O'Groats) or drive right round to the west coast and take the boat to Handa Island, where they're so tame that they'll come up to your feet.

One final picture from that set and it's a bit of an optical illusion. If you look at the land, it seems that the picture is tilted, sloping down to the left. If you look at the sea on the horizon, it's actually straight.

On the slant

1 comment:

Captain Black said...

Oh crikey Caroline, please be careful out in the hills. Especially when you're not sure what your're getting into. Or when the clag will come down and you won't even see where you are.

As a mountaineer, I've come a cropper myself once or twice. The trick is to never take risks. It's not worth it!

Nice pictures, though :o)