By Wednesday the rain looked like it was set in for the long run with banks of cloud barely clearing the cliffs, covering the landscape like a quilt. Normally I’d have called the whole thing off and stayed in bed but we had a boat trip booked with Turus Mara out to Lunga (one of the Treshnish islands) and Staffa (of Fingals cave and basalt column fame). This is a trip not to be missed as you will soon see.

I began to get a feeling that it was going to be a good day when while eating breakfast a rather strange looking Wheatear hopped into view. It was clearly a male bird but in addition to the usual black eye stripe it also sported a large black bib. It was only visible for a few moments before one of the local Wheatears chased it off, but consulting the bird book leads me to believe that the individual in question could belong to the seebohmi race from NW Africa. I have no idea how likely this is but we did see another bird that exhibited similar characteristics a few years ago at Crackaig. Answers on a postcard please if you have any further information regarding this sub-species.

At our departure point we were surprised to see that the trip was as fully booked as normal despite the conditions, so we made sure we were in prime position to get the best seats on the boat. We needn’t have worried as we were the only ones brave enough, or should that be stupid enough, to sit out in the open. The trip to Staffa was very wet but we still managed to see good numbers of Black Guillemots as well as the occasional Manx Shearwater and Gannet. At Staffa itself the sea had a big swell on the go and it was only thanks to some expert seamanship that we were able to dock and disembark.

24660 - Staffa

Back on the boat we headed out into open water and got stuck into the good stuff with a Cory’s Shearwater seen through the driving rain. Despite being at some distance the sheer size of the bird compared to the nearby Manx’s was unmistakeable, as was the lighter brown colouring on its back. It’s funny as I always considered identifying a different species of Shearwater as an almost impossible task, but when you see one there really is no doubt. With one lifer in the bag the second was upon us moments later as a Storm-Petrel flew parallel to us past the boat. If I was to describe it as a House Martin of the sea you wouldn’t be far off imagining what we could see. In my excitement I very nearly ended up flat on my back due to the slippery deck, but as I’ve said there fortunately wasn’t anyone up there with us to witness my mad flailing.

By some miracle our arrival at Lunga brought with it a break in the weather and even some sun. Lunga holds large colonies of Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill amongst others, but unlike elsewhere the island is visited by so few people that the birds have almost no fear of humans. As a result the Puffins will often walk right up to you giving an encounter that is unparalleled anywhere in the UK.

24618 - Puffin, Lunga
24621 - Puffin, Lunga
24608 - Puffin, Lunga
24654 - Puffin, Lunga
24656 - Puffin, Lunga
24622 - Puffin, Lunga

Away from the main concentration of Puffins a large outcrop of rock holds the noisy Guillemots. Here thousands of birds vie for space along the ledges and bicker amongst themselves as they try to get the best patch upon which to lay their single eggs.

24645 - Guillemots, Lunga

Many of the birds already had chicks at various stages of growth. It was somewhat nerve wracking to watch the youngling’s career around the place only inches from a tremendous fall, but the parents would soon get them under control and safely tucked away under a wing.

24633 - Guillemots, Lunga
24639 - Bridled Guillemot, Lunga

Mixed in with the Guillemots you can often find Razorbills. When seen on water the two species can look remarkably similar but up close the massive beak of the Razorbill is unmistakeable. You’ll have to excuse the Puffin in the second picture as every time I tried to photograph the Razorbill stretching its wings the Puffin would pop up into shot to see what I was doing. It was incredibly endearing if a little frustrating.

24623 - Razorbills, Lunga
24600 - Razorbill, Lunga

Other inhabitants of the island include the ever aggressive Shags that are willing to hiss and spit just as soon as they think you are getting a little too close. Trust me when I say they are not birds that you want to mess with.

24616 - Shag, Lunga
24614 - Shag, Lunga

Check out the midges in the top left – they bite!

Kittiwakes also use the cliffs to breed. Seeing them here in a natural environment certainly contrasts with the colony that we have at home on Mumbles pier.

24643 - Kittiwake, Lunga

It’s impossible to portray through a few photos just how amazing a place Lunga really is. The sheer quantity of birds and the behaviour between them that one can witness is beyond imagination. It is something that just has to be experienced to be believed. To finish things off nicely we were treated to the sight of a White Tailed Sea Eagle sat on a small island in Loch Tuath as we approached Ulva ferry on the return leg of the trip.


TexWisGirl · July 19, 2011 at 12:13 am

that huge sea wall was impressive enough, but then you started with those wonderful bird shots. the idea of that puffin popping into the shot was adorable! they're all such amazing beauties.

Bob Bushell · July 19, 2011 at 11:05 am

Brilliant photos Adam, the Puffin and Razorbill are my favourites.

Island Lass Skipper · July 19, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Very pleased you enjoyed your day! Lunga is indeed an incredibly special place.

Adam Tilt · July 20, 2011 at 12:30 pm

texwsgirl – thanks for your comment. I love photographing Puffins but you do tend to end up with a hell of a lot of photos to process when you get back home.

Bob – thanks very much. It's hard to beat Puffins and Razorbills.

Island Lass Skipper – it certainly is and thanks for taking us out.

Unknown · July 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Stunning sequence!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

joo · July 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I do love Puffins! OK, I'm sure everyone does:)
Beautiful post!

Arija · July 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Wonderful photos of all the birds and scenery. The only place I ever could have had a chance to see puffins was Iceland and we just did not get to the cliffs where they nested.

Hilke Breder · July 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Fantastic Puffin images, Adam. No, they are all fantastic!! Lunga is one place I'd dream of visiting. How fortunate you are!

Crafty Green Poet · July 20, 2011 at 3:37 pm

wonderful photos, i have very fond memories of doing exactly that trip a few years ago.

Esther Garvi · July 20, 2011 at 5:20 pm

The puffins are almost surreal creatures! So beautiful!!!

Victoria · July 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Oh my… I am SO envious! I had hoped to see Puffins up close and personal while in Iceland recently but it was not to be… my images (some of Sweden and some of Iceland) are at entry 36 on WBW if you want to see how close (NOT) I was able to get to Puffins! Your images are so amazing that I cannot pick a single favorite… I absolutely must go there before too long (maybe next year) and try my luck! If I could get half as close as you did, I'd be happy… the Puffins are adorable!

theconstantwalker · July 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Another wonderful post Adam and your close ups are fantastic… A wonderful place.

John @ Beans and I on the Loose · July 20, 2011 at 7:31 pm

You get my vote for the best post on World Bird Wednesday. Love those Puffins. Great shots all with such clarity. Thank you!

FAB · July 20, 2011 at 8:59 pm

I don't think I have ever been that close to a Puffin … obviously a fantastic encounter. Super series of photos from your Lunga visit.

mick · July 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Wow! It would be amazing to be that close to all the birds. Great photos and thanks for including the landscape ones to let us see the kind of environment you are writing about.

eileeninmd · July 20, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Wow, I just love all those puffins. Great birds and photos.

Springman · July 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm

This post is just staggering Adam. Thanks for sharing. Man, your writing is so enjoyable. It's like I can feel the excitement of your adventure. And not one tweet about tough light or anything like that! These seascapes are hard to comprehend even in picture form yet it's fun imagine what standing next to these huge formations must have felt like. The scale is incredible.
The bird pictures are all off the charts brilliant, to get stuff this good I know you took a ton. It must be something to look through your files and pull out stuff like this. I have never seen a puffin in real life. My heart might stop if I ever do. Bravo!

J · July 20, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Cracking photos, Adam. Looks like you had a great trip.

Anonymous · July 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm

What a wonderful trip! Fantastic shots of all these birds! The Shag does look menacing – I love the shot of him peering out from behind his wing!

Sondra · July 21, 2011 at 11:19 pm

OH every one is magnificent…Im really loving the PUFFINs tho!

Adam Tilt · July 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Thanks everyone for your amazing comments. They are so nice to read.

Leave a Reply