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Saturday, 9 July 2016


The Farne Islands hold a significant fraction of the UK's breeding Puffins - around 40,000 pairs - so photographing these engaging birds  is easier here than at any of the other accessible colonies. When Brian and I visited Skomer last year we both failed to capture the classic 'money shot' of a Puffin with a beakful of sand eels, despite spending several hours at the best vantage points. We may well have been a week or two early, because we hardly saw any Puffins returning to their burrows with food.

Our experience on the Farnes was totally the opposite: almost every Puffin brought sand eels back with them. This year there certainly doesn't seem to be a shortage of this, the favoured food-item of many of our seabirds: we saw several Puffins carrying over twenty at a time!

I noticed a curious piece of behaviour and wondered if it has been commented on before. As the Puffins arrived back at the islands with food for their chicks ('Pufflings'!) gangs of Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Black-headed Gulls were waiting to steal their sand eels. It seems that many of the Farne Puffins have adopted the strategy that Guy Gibson used over the Ruhr Dams during WW2: as one of the aircraft in his squadron flew in to make its attack, he flew alongside in his Lancaster to draw some of the anti-aircraft fire and confuse the German gunners. On many occasions I watched pairs of Puffins fly in towards the nest colony, one carrying fish, the other not. At the last moment, the fish carrier dropped to its burrow, while the other zoomed past. This happened too often to be a coincidence...

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