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May 2, 2018: Puffins on Skomer Island, Wales


Skomer is a small island in the extreme south-west corner of Wales, a short (15-minute) boat ride from the mainland. To say that it is a bird lover's paradise is an understatement. There are literally thousands of birds there, ranging from all types of gulls and crows to manx shearwaters, gannets, guillemots, oystercatchers, cormorants, etc.. There are also owls, kestrels, and buzzards. Skomer's star attraction, however, are arguably the (Atlantic) puffins, who congregate here in large numbers in spring and early summer for the breeding season, before setting off again for the open waters. 


Visitor numbers on Skomer are strictly limited, to a maximum of 200 per day, and there is overnight accommodation for only 16. For the puffin season all the beds available are usually booked many months in advance, but we were lucky this April to get a booking for one night at very short notice.

Skomer is often shrouded in mists and the morning of our arrival was no exception. Our spirits were dampened even further when we were told that no puffins had been sighted on land for the previous two days. At lunchtime the mists lifted a bit and we got clear views of huge rafts of puffins bobbing about in the waters around the island. In the early afternoon the weather improved further and, all of a sudden, we could see puffins landing on the cliffs. 


At first there were only a dozen, but soon afterwards there were hundreds – and then they were everywhere!


We were told that a formal count earlier in the week had produced an estimate of 30,000 individuals. The puffins' waddling gait looks very similar to that of a penguin – which, combined with their very serious facial expression, gives them a slightly comical appearance. On Skomer at least, they do not seem to be afraid of people. You can get very close to them – some even appear to enjoy having their photo taken. The one below agreed to be the centrepiece in a shot showcasing Skomer's dramatic scenery. 


 For good measure, here are three more puffin photos:






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