There are plenty of islands around to visit but one of our favourite places is a very quiet, peaceful and remote location – Shetland Islands. This year we decided to spend some time in Fair Isle which is the most remote island in the United Kingdom with only 70 inhabitants.
It is a really small island - only 5 kilometers length and 3 kilometers width. Over 100,000 pairs of 17 species of seabirds breed here. Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins form the majority of this figure. Gannets, Shags, Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas, Common Terns, Arctic Terns and Black Guillemots breed in smaller numbers.
Fair Isle can be reached from the Shetland mainland either by a cargo ship "Good Shepherd" for 12 passengers or by 8 - seater “Islander” aircraft. We have chosen an adventurous ferry journey. Looking back we can say that it was not clever at all… Seasickness turned our trip to a pure misery. It was 2.5 hours of torture. Obviously we've booked plane tickets for our return trip.
With the return journey sorted and stomachs getting happier our full attention was focused on adorable puffins - “little brothers of the north" as their Latin name “Fratercula arctica” means.
The main puffin colonies are located in the North of Fair Isle. As we stayed in South it meant we had to walk ~ 2.5 miles each way, which to be honest we quite enjoyed; especially very early mornings in cool and mystic atmosphere.
Fair Isle is not the warmest and sunniest place. With the average of 136 hours of sun in July we were very lucky to have beautiful golden light, great sunrises and sunsets. By the way, December has an average of 20.6 hours of sunshine.
Atlantic Puffins are true seabirds considering they spend most of their lives at sea, returning to land at the start of the breeding season in late spring. The birds line their nests, which are at the end of 70-110 cm (27-43 inches) burrows, with grass, seaweed and feathers. All the necessary material is carried in the beak, which by the way becomes deeper with age and gets up to 3 grooves.
We are not sure what this puffin intended to do with a bone but other puffins seemed to be interested in it too…
Puffins are really cute and it's a pleasure to photograph them.
Puffins raise one chick at a time and feed it 5-8 times daily. Obviously it is a very busy season for them and great time for us photographing birds with the beaks full of sand eels. In the UK a record catch by one puffin is 62 sand eels.
During the middle of the day the life in the colony is quiet; some puffins spend time preening, others are down in the burrows or out at sea feeding, some stand by their burrow entrances and interact with other birds.
Pairs of puffins strengthen their bond by preening each other and tossing their heads.
Puffin colonies vary. Some are big, some are small; some are easy approachable, others are difficult to reach but we have noticed that in all of them puffins seemed to be very curious. If we sit still for a while, puffins would start poking out their faces from their burrows and come closer and closer to us.
Photographing puffins in flight is very challenging as they fly up to 55 mph. Fast 300 mm f2.8 lens, good wind direction and light enables to capture some flight images. In our case the light could have been a bit better, but still it was a nice feeling photographing this charismatic bird.
Most puffin colonies are empty soon after mid-August. Puffin chicks leave a colony when they fledge and head off to the ocean without their parents. They return to land when they are 2-3 years old. Adults will come back to their breeding grounds next spring.
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