David Gardner’s Wild Pembrokeshire: Puffins – Part 2

In my last post I had left us all at the end of a puffin burrow in late May while the parents took turns to incubate the single egg. It is now early July and we are approaching the puffin nesting community on the slopes above the cliffs in Crab Bay on the south-east coast of Skokholm Island.

We had approached from the old farm buildings and bird observatory in the centre of the island along the cart track through the bracken and campion, bearing right just before the gaunt, raven-inhabited buttress of Spy Rock and heading towards an old gap in the rocks through which the track leads. Overhead, gulls wheeled and called as we passed through their nesting colony. To our left the terrain fell away and we had gone off the track to follow a small footpath leading down through the dwindling bracken and close-cropped, daisy-filled sward towards the edge of the cliff. 

Now our gaze follows a rabbit as it runs ahead of us, and a chorus of strange churring growls can be heard. Suddenly, there on either side of the path and stretching towards the edges of this natural amphitheatre, a bustling Lowry-esque landscape of black and white figures crouching, standing, bickering, scuttling and lying appears. 

We sit on the edge of the path among the birds, and as we watch, more are sweeping up and round from the waters below, many carrying sparkling silver parcels of fish in their beaks.   They land awkwardly and immediately scuttle for the safety of their nest burrow to feed the waiting youngster before a pirate herring gull tries to rob them of their catch. Special adaptations in the puffin’s beak allow it to catch and carry an average of ten small fish during a single offshore fishing trip, but as many as 60 fish at a time have been recorded. The young puffin, known as a puffling, is much duller in colour than its parents, with a grey face, small pointed beak and yellowish-brown beak and legs. It stays in the burrow for safety until fledging at 34-50 days of age when it leaves for the relative safety of the nearest sea under cover of darkness, not returning to land again for several years. 

Sitting quietly among the busy comings and goings, we have a wonderful opportunity to feel a closeness with wild nature that is always magical and utterly engaging. To have these free sprits behaving completely naturally, so close that one can almost touch them, feels like a huge privilege on our part and an acceptance of us on their part. At the same time we are aware that they inhabit a world that we would never be able to share and survive, and yet, it is one that we have a major influence over.

 Overfishing of prey species, climate change and other man-made factors are having a serious impact on Atlantic puffin populations around the UK and elsewhere, but thankfully the colonies on Skomer and Skokholm are bucking the trend by increasing at present. A record total of more than 8,500 was counted on Skokholm earlier this year, the highest total since 1953, and Skomer numbers exceed 30,000 individuals. 

As the backlight of the sinking sun lights up the nearby puffins’ beaks and feet making them glow like jewels, we need to remember that the future of these precious and trusting birds is in our hands.  Will we repay their trust?

David Gardner

David Gardner has a background in the environmental and conservation fields having been, inter alia, a salmon and trout farm manager, fisheries and conservation manager with the National Rivers Authority, and chairman of the Wildlife Trust South and West Wales. He is also a dealer in art and antiques, which must go some way to explaining what a great eye he has for creating beautiful images of the world around us. He can supply high-quality prints of these and other images to order, and he is happy to accept commissions if you have special subjects in mind.

Contact him at David4Rugs@aol.com

Website: https://davidgardnerphotography.com

Or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Piscesenvironmentalservices/

Please note that all images accompanying this article are subject to copyright. Prints in a number of formats are available to purchase by order through David Gardner Photography.

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