Readers’ wildlife photos

We haven’t heard from reader Ed Kroc in a while, but he made up for his absence with some great photos of one of our favorite seabirds. Ed’s notes are indented.

It’s been far too long since I’ve sent in a batch of wildlife photos, but here are some shots from a trip I took this past summer to eastern Newfoundland. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and home to one of bird-doms most iconic members: the Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). 

All these shots were taken at a large colony near Elliston, NFL in late July, right in the middle of the chick-rearing season. Puffins spend most of their lives on the open ocean,  coming to land only to breed. They choose tall rocky islets with plenty of dirt to dig their burrows where pairs lay a single egg. Young pufflings live entirely underground until they are old enough to fledge. When they are ready, they skip out under cover of night to the open ocean, using the light from the moon and stars as a guide (it reflects off the water, acting as a beacon). Of course, with urban encroachment, it is common for pufflings to get confused by city lights and end up marooned on streets or in back yards. Luckily, there are many local initiatives in Newfoundland, Iceland, Ireland, and Scotland to rescue and return these lost pufflings to the sea each summer.

You can see in the third shot how packed the puffin colony can be. Each puffin or pair of puffins is standing at the entrance to their burrows. Any patch of loose dirt can be used, as long as it is deep enough to house a nest and growing nestling. 

In the fourth shot you will see a couple American Herring Gulls (Larus smithsonianus) behind the burrows of some puffins. The gulls nest above ground, making simple nests in the tall grasses in the background. Puffins are interested only in seafood, so pose no danger to the gull eggs or chicks. However, if a puffin egg or nestling happened to be out of its burrow for some reason, a nearby gull would surely scoop it up for a snack. The gulls are effective at chasing away raptors, however, so a tentative alliance is maintained. Note just how small the puffins are: about a third the size of a typical large gull.

The next two shots showcase puffins in flight. They require a good gust of wind to take to the air, but once they are up, they can shoot through the sky like tuxedoed torpedoes. The winds blew strongly onshore, right to where I was sitting taking pictures. Consequently, puffins would sometimes come rocketing past me less than a foot away, blown in my direction as they leapt from the cliffs of the islet just offshore (it couldn’t have been more than 20 metres from cliff-base to cliff-base). 

 

The final two shots show flighted puffins en masse. In the first, a batch are returning to the colony. They would ride the wind down to the rocks, sometimes haphazardly, occasionally bumping into a neighbour. The last shot shows a group taking off. As a large gust swept in, dozens of puffins leapt from the edge, probably 40 metres above the jagged rocks and waves below. They plummeted parabolically for a second or two before their wings caught enough of the updraft to create lift – then they shot off like missiles in every direction. 

 

I highly recommend a trip to see the puffins during their breeding season in the north Atlantic for any wildlife lover. I easily spent all day watching them, and would have gladly spent multiple days had time allowed.

20 Comments

  1. Andrea Kenner
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Marvelous photos! Thanks for sharing them!

  2. rickflick
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Great shots! “tuxedoed torpedoes”, indeed. They do resemble penguins quit a bit. The fold in the eye makes them look worried – probably about being able to take off.

    • Glenda Palmer
      Posted January 21, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      +1. Thank you for sharing.

  3. GregZ
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    What a great line: “…they can shoot through the sky like tuxedoed torpedoes.”

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Was watching Blue Planet II last night. More great photography on display.

  5. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    That.. was simply amazing. Great descriptions and pictures and what a great thing to watch! Among the many impressions conveyed is the fact that these cute little birds are tough as nails.

  6. David Coxill
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Great photos of them in flight .

  7. Mark Joseph
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Great pictures!

  8. Posted January 21, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Great… Thanks too for the descriptions and explanations.

  9. Jenny Haniver
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I enthusiastically echo all the previous comments. These photos are wonderful (especially the puffins in flight), as are your descriptions.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 21, 2018 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      Me as well. Fantastic!

  10. phoffman56
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I’ve experienced puffins a few other places, but early May in the West Fjords of Iceland was by far the best. Specifically at the Latrebjarg cliffs, and this time in early May around 9PM (when the parents have returned from fishing, I think)on a very sunny day–and lots of sun up there at that time.

    Puffins seem very tame. But we stayed back several feet from the cliff and down on the ground. Another reason for that was likely the cause of death of a German tourist there 4 or 5 years ago: if stepping near the edge of the cliff and one of those puffin burrows collapses under your foot, you could end up in the sea.

    At Latrebjarg, you’re on the highest sea cliff in Europe, running IIRC for about 10 km, 6 miles for the under-educated.

    You’re also on the westernmost point of Europe. That depends on requiring people to live there since I think a tiny island further south, part of Azores (Portugal,) is slightly further west.

    They also depend on regarding Iceland as part of Europe. Historically and culturally it is. But geologically it’s part of nothing else, being right on the mid-Atlantic ridge whose spreading moves Europe and America (including that small subset known as U.S.) a tiny distance further apart each year (second?).

    Which reminds me of a physical possibility that many might doubt without me filling it in:

    Maybe, because it’s ‘easily’ possible, but unlikely, a North American indigenous person saw Europe before any European (i.e. a Viking very likely first, despite St. Brendan fantasies and Columbus bullshit) saw any part of North or South America.

    Reason as follows: The next place along Iceland’s west coast to the south is the famous Snaefell Peninsula, with the 5,000 foot Snaefjelljokull (SnowMountainGlacier) right at the western tip. (Oops, 1500 metres.) That dormant volcano is famous from the start of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. On a rare day, from that peak, you can see some mountain tips on the east coast of Greenland, which is geologically North America. Since light is symmetric, from those tips you can sometimes see Iceland. It was even a tiny bit closer in, say 500 AD (or whatever they now replace “AD” with). So a member of the Dorset People (predecessors of the Inuit) might have been an extraordinary mountain climber!

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 21, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      Very interesting–fascinating to think about! Thanks.

      (IIANM, AD is now CE–Common Era.)

    • phoffman56
      Posted January 21, 2018 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      My mistake:
      “..It was even a tiny bit closer..”
      is likely false, since both the Snaefell in Iceland, and all of Greenland, are on the North American plate.

      Also “predecessor” definitely does not mean ancestor for the Dorsett vs. the Inuit. The latter may have more-or-less extinguished the former, though there is an island in Hudson Bay whose inhabitants may be descendants of Dorset people.

  11. Mark R.
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Very nice, an entire RWP dedicated to the lovely Atlantic Puffin. Thanks for these great photos and commentary.

  12. Diane G.
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Spectacular pictures and a wonderfully written write-up! Talk about charismatic fauna…! My new favorite word is “puffling.”

  13. Posted January 21, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Thanks everyone for the kind comments!

  14. ploubere
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Lovely photos of lovely birds, thanks for sharing them.

  15. Posted January 22, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Great photos! Thanks for sharing them.

    You are one of the few and the proud that have been to Newfoundland!

  16. Posted January 24, 2018 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Love the photos, as well as the term “tuxedoed torpedoes!”


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