There are thousands of these fascinating and colourful birds on Puffin Island, but where is it?
Distance from Mey House: 28 Miles
Google maps link: http://goo.gl/maps/qeyf4f2vRvu
Hidden just off the northern shore of the NC500 are three islands that from a distance look like any other of the many islets and skerries that proliferate along this coast. However, get up close and you will find that one inparticular is pock marked with a myriad of burrows and crowned with thousands of puffins (in-season).
You may assume that with the puffin being such a beloved bird and this colony being of such proportions that it would be a Mecca for both ornithologists and tourists alike. However, you would be very wrong indeed. In fact, it is so obscure that we were residents of this area for a full three years before we even heard of its existence!
Once it was revealed to us we headed out to explore one sunny June afternoon. Our ‘guide’ directed us out to a place to leave our car but from there on in, the directions were a little fuzzy; “hike seaward across the moor and make for the conical shaped island”. What our ‘guide’ failed to tell us was of the existence of a gorge that cleaves the way ahead. We took the western flank which was a mistake as the only way to get up close to the island via this route entailed a descent on wet grass down a steep escarpment. Not wanting to risk life or limb we retraced our steps in search of a safe way to cross the gorge. Once bridged, we followed the eastern edge until finally we could safely go no further and there we sat in full view of the conical shaped island for almost two hours watching the comings and goings of thousands of puffins.
Their colourful beaks and orange legs catch your eye upon first sight and their enduring faces made up like a clown can’t help but make you smile. Their reputation as clowns is only enhanced when they begin to walk as their large feet, seemingly out of all proportion to their stature, have to be lifted and swung just as a clown lifts and swings its oversized shoes! They even make taking off and landing look like a circus act; the former being a kamikaze launch off the island, hurtling downward to gain speed and lift whilst the return sees them using the ground as something to abruptly stop their descent rather than something to gracefully come to rest upon.
They are also surprisingly affectionate towards each other with much kissing of bills to affirm colonial bonds. However, when they have ceased acting the fools or socialising they, like us, seemed very content to just sit and watch the world go by.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The colony exists between late April and early August – the birds return to sea for the remainder of the year. Take a set of binoculars for the best views.
GREAT FOR: The captivating circus show encircled by an amazing seascape.
RECOMMENDATION: Wester Clett at Drum Hollistan is not on any published map so finding it without a little local knowledge is difficult. However, if you stay with us we can guide you there or even better, arrange a private tour with our associates at Caithness Wildlife Tours. Finally, you need to have reasonable mobility to reach Puffin Island so if you lack the ability (or indeed the time) then a smaller puffin colony can be found at Duncansby Head.