Puffin Safari

Never Did I Think It Would Be So Difficult

Never Did I Think It Would Be So Difficult

On one hand, I saw literally thousand of puffins. On the other hand, I had no idea they were such agile little buggers. They hang out along the tops of cliffs, where they create burrows in the topsoil to serve as nests. If you try to approach them, there is a good chance the soil will collapse into one of their burrows, sending you catapulting over the edge.

Icelanders eat puffins. They catch them by dangling on a rope from the top of the cliff and catching the puffins with a net that looks something like a lacrosse stick. But I was not interested in eating any puffins—although I had the chance—because, well, I started to admire these clownfaced little birds.

The above photo, and the cropped and heavily manipulated photo below is taken from the above picture, just so that you can get a close-up view of a real live wild puffin (Fratercula arctica).

Close-Up from the Top Photo

Close-Up from the Top Photo

All in all, I saw puffins on Lundey Island in Faxaflói Bay, on the Westman Islands (by the thousands), and on Vigur Island on Isafjarðardjúp fjord. The above photo was taken on Vigur, where the wind and rain kept the puffins from venturing into its teeth. The pictures were taken with the maximum telephoto setting on my Nikon CoolPix s630. I had to work fast, because the puffins would dart around quickly, and it took several seconds between pictures for my camera to reset.

It’s not like Argentina, where Martine and I paid a visit to several hundred thousand Magellanic penguins, who just stood by quizzically wondering whether we were good to eat, or what. That enabled me to get lots of close-ups, because they weren’t exactly flying off.

Because Martine was not with me on this trip, I wanted to at least get some good puffin pictures to show her. We had looked for puffins in Scotland in 1998, but we were too early. I looked for them in Heimaey in 2001, but I was too late.

I guess the puffins, in the end, were easier to photograph than moose. They weren’t quite so shy, they were around in great abundance—but you had to act fast.