Saturday, 25 April 2009

The puffins return

Remember last year I went looking for puffins? Those photos were pretty terrible, so when I heard that the puffins were starting to arrive back in Caithness, I vowed I was going to do better this year.

I knew there had to be a better vantage point to photograph from than the one I got from my foolhardy scramble down the little gorge, so I crossed over it back near the road, where it's still a stream, and walked down to the cliff edge on that side to see if I could get any closer.

And, sure enough, there was a steep slope with a sheep track at the bottom of it and landing on the sides of that slope were puffins!

Puffins (11)

I sat at the top and watched them for a bit. After a while I spotted a sheep track curving down the slope to meet up with the one below and decided to scramble down it (this involved a very undignified 'reverse all-fours' manoeuvre, but it kept me low to the ground and safe). I bottom-shuffled along a small ridge, thinking I'd sit on the end of it, only to find it ended in a 3 foot drop to a flat area where I could sit with my back to the ridge and have a ringside seat of all the action on the puffinry. And, as you can see from this shot of a very small section of it, there was lots going on:

Puffins (6)

Males clear out the burrow they've chosen and line it:

Puffins (14)

These two have paired up - clashing beaks together is called billing and is a bonding action; it's the puffin equivalent of kissing I suppose!

Puffins (16)

Puffins (9)

With so many birds zooming in and out, there's bound to be the odd collision...

Puffins (7)

Lots more on my Flickr account if you click through on any of the pictures above. This is about the limit of what this lens can do - I was having to shoot at ISO640/1000 to get shutter speeds fast enough for a non-image stabilised lens at 300mm. What with the professional surfers turning up in Thurso next week I'm being SO tempted to raid my piggy bank for that 100-400mm...


Mike said...

I am so jealous of your puffins.

I've been wanting to photograph them for years. Last June I took a boat trip on the Forth and finally got my chance. Using a 300mm lens from a small boat and trying to frame flying puffins wasn't easy. So my pics are nowhere near as good as yours.

BTW are you going to enter SNH's photo competition again this year? I managed a runner-up place last year after you pointed it out :)

Caroline said...

Hi Mike - I think they're *impossible* to photograph when flying!! They're just too small and nippy! I shall persevere...

Congratulations on the SNH runner-up place :o) I hadn't actually looked to see what this year's theme was, but have now found it, so I'll have a look through the archives and see if I've got anything suitable.