We got locked in a toilet… but did we finally see puffins?

Our visit to the Isle of May:

Okay, so when I say ‘we’, I obviously mean Adam. I was left to team up with another tourist and use keys, coins, and whatever else we had to hand, to prise him from his self-imposed prison cell.

There were a definite few minutes where, on either side of the door, we genuinely feared that we were going to have to spend the night on this barely inhabited island. One of us more comfortable than the other!

Especially as we’d been told to be back at the boat no more than two hours after docking (with only one hour of it left when we had this ridiculous ordeal) due to the tides.

Thankfully, all was well and we were able to complete our tour of the island without missing the boat: our only means of returning to mainland.

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Before the trip, Adam had spoken of some of his previous experiences as a kid in his home country: he spoke of wild orcas, dolphins and an array of colourful puffins. I’d been elated. But then we started looking into it.

Having come to Scotland in August, we had timed things almost brilliantly. Almost. But not. Seabirds, including puffins, can commonly be found-en masse- on the Isle of May (amongst other places) during May (obviously), June, July and the start of August. Emphasis on the word ‘start’.

By our arrival, their numbers had already depleted from a staggering 45,000 couples, to only 200 pairs (and a few disorientated pufflings [yes, this truly adorable name is the technical term!]). These seabirds only stick around until their young fly the nest, and even then, they spend much of their time at sea retrieving food for their family.

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Photo from www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/isle-of-may

We’d already been disappointed at various other locations around Scotland, including Dunnottar Castle (where Adam had last experienced them twenty years previously), and so were not setting our hopes on this. We knew the island was beautiful, the weather on the morning was- miraculously- sublime and we were pretty much guaranteed to see other birds, rabbits and seals, but, as the merchandise on the boat signified, the real jewel in the island’s crown *was* the puffins and you could tell that this was most people’s reason for visiting, despite the poor choice of timing.

TAL_0752_-2_-3_tonemappedRegular announcements came over the tanoy system, giving us some details regarding the island and it’s population, as well as pointing out when animals appeared at the stern, bow, starboard and port, whilst us confused and unseasoned sea-men, women and children tried with exasperation to recall which meant which, heads swivelling desperately from one side to the other.

TAL_0781_-2_-3_tonemappedBefore we dismounted (see- naval virgin here!), we were informed of a puffling that had been found the day before, lost and disorientated on the island: prime gull fodder. It had been collected by the reserve manager and released to sea by the boat a mere 24 hours prior, cementing our disappointment, since how likely would it be to happen again?

Wandering around the island, we saw plenty of evidence of the puffins in the form of their numerous burrows but the creatures themselves were decidedly lacking. On the rare occasions that we bumped into fellow trippers, we sought confirmation that we weren’t the only ones coming up short: alas, we weren’t.

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IMG_7995_-2_-3_tonemappedWe enjoyed numerous stunning sights: of the cliffs coated with seabirds (and somewhat grim evidence); of the remnants of the monastery; of the seal pups basking below; of infant gulls; of the beautiful loch; of the numerous buildings and horns and of the bounding bunnies.

Arriving back at the boat, we enjoyed the picnic we’d been too busy puffin-hunting and island exploring to eat and set off for our boat tour around the island, which gifted us to some more stunning views:

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So, the big question: did we see puffins? I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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One of about 5 puffins we were lucky enough to see from the boat.
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Another rescued puffling that was released to sea.
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