So, I think speak for all wildlife enthusiasts when I say that puffins are one of the most adored, loved and dare i say iconic species of the UK, if not Europe!
Ok, i may be getting a little carried away… But I challenge you to find someone who finds puffins dull or ugly. So, what if you are a wildlife enthusiast who also loves photography? Well there is no place better in my mind than the island of Skomer off of the Pembrokeshire coast in wales.
The island itself is a short boat trip from the mainland, but although you are only minutes from civilisation, you quickly find yourself lost in a fantasy-like world surrounded by more than 20,000 puffins. Animals seem to be almost friendly towards you and it allows people like me a rare opportunity to take their time photographing a much loved species.
Knowing I was going to have plenty of photographic opportunities I decided I wanted to try and photograph the puffins a little differently. This was by no means planned, but after the first instance of having to move my bag to let a patient puffin waddle past, I decided I wanted to capture the characters of the puffins as much as i could.
It is too easily forgotten how tough these birds are. When the chicks (or puffling if you prefer) reach around 70% of the weight of the adults, they leave their little burrows in the middle of the night to avoid predators. With a bit of luck, they are way beyond the sight of land before the sun rises. They are then on their own for two years. Bobbing around on huge oceans and unforgivingly rough seas, they don’t return until two years later.
If that wasn’t enough, if they do return and breed successfully, they have to run the gauntlet. Being such successful hunters of sand eels (the fish that they so famously cram into their beaks) gulls have decided its easier to steal from them and often grab them in mid air and visciously throw them to make them drop their hard earned dinner. Because of this the puffins have to be quick and choose their window of opportunity carefully in order to make it back to the burrow with a beack full.
Cleverly a lot of puffins have started to nest along the footpaths on Skomer. They have realised that the people that visit very rarely provide any danger, other than the occasional bag accidently blocking their burrow entrance. The gulls however are still very wary of humans and wont come nearly as close. So you very quickly learn to watch your step for fear of treading on a comuting puffin.
One way in which i tried to get a different angle on puffins was to photograph them in black and white. Most of the time when people look at a puffin they see just the resplendent colour (and quite right too). But spending a few hours sat amongst them i found them to be much more hardy, boystrous and characterful than their cute reputation would lead you to believe.
Having said that, they really do appear to be quite social animals. I often observed puffins stood together facing out over the cliffs and partaking in what I can only compare to two men sat in a pub after work, sharing stories of hardship.
After it all though, the young years at sea, running the gauntlet and keeping up the hardy disposition, there is always time for a bit of a rest, and quite justifiably too. Though its scenes like this that i suppose leave people just seeing puffins as cute. Which was an image I was trying to challenge…
Well, hopefully some of you will look at puffins with a little bit more respect from now on, even if they are undeniably cute.