Thursday, 7 July 2011

Pufflings are go.

What the visitors want to see.

There are lots of puffins just hanging around at the moment, especially in the mornings and evening.

A large sprat, a good meal for a chick.

A load of sandeels.

The puffin burrows on the island are obvious with a well worn track left by parents bringing fish back for the chicks.

A puffling soon to be launched off the cliff to a new life at sea.

OK, I have to do it, I can't avoid it anymore, I'll have to write about the puffins. With the island residents there is a certain reticence about puffins and this is almost entirely because the visitors are often so keen to see puffins they ignore all the fantastic other creatures found there and there is so much m ore to the Isle of May than just puffins. But I shouldn't hold it against the puffins so here goes.
Well they seem to be having a reasonable year so far. There are literally thousands of adults bringing back good loads of fish and not just the more normal sandeels but also tiny silver and dark rocklings and the much more obvious huge silver sprats. The sprats are good feeding for the chicks but eye catching and obvious to the gulls. There is a war going on here at the moment with gulls being gulls and chasing the puffins that are bringing fish back to their burrows to get them to drop them so the gulls can steal them. Its fascinating to watch the gulls hanging around in and even fighting over prime positions to pounce on puffins, and puffins wheeling in numbers to go back to their burrows in groups to confuse the gulls. The dogfights when the gulls chase the fish-carrying puffins are spectacular to see. But enough puffins get through as the pufflings are starting to emerge. They are abandoned when full grown by their parents and then have to leave their burrows at night to avoid the gulls and head out to the sea on their own. They can't fly properly so sometimes we find them in the morning stuck behind obstacles like walls, that have impeded their progress on their nocturnal journey. It isn't uncommon to hear the patter of tiny webbed feet at night round the cottages at night and then find the a puffling cowering in a corner in the morning. Those we find are ringed, weighed and measured and then put in a cool dark place to be released in the evening. This gives them their best chance to avoid the gulls and escape the island to which they won't return for another 5 years. And at the moment the island seems loaded with puffins because the pufflings of previous years have come back to get to know the island again, find a mate and sort out a burrow. So it is well worth a visit but in another month the island will become a puffin free zone.

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