A Puffin life on the ocean wave

There are Puffins far below in the ocean. I’ve never been able to photograph them in the sea before, except as dots bobbing like corks on a line. They’re quite close in to shore so I decide I’m going to climb down the cliffs to see them.

I’ve been climbing before, when I was in Australia. I mounted a huge vertical cliff with a safety rope, hating every single second of peril. Clinging on, aware that you might fall at any moment with one mis-step isn’t my idea of fun. My earliest memory as a child is sitting at home with my mum and hearing a rattling on the roof and then seeing the man who had been pointing next door’s chimney come falling past the window and the sound of his head on the concrete outside. What I remember particularly is the look on my mum’s face and the sound of her voice as she looked out of the window. I’ve never been keen on ladders, heights or climbing. I thought the fear would go away. After hating the first climb in Australia I went up again and felt exactly the same. I got better at climbing and got faster at making it to the summit but I never felt any better about it. It’s horrible and stomach churning. Five successful climbs and five awful experiences.

This isn’t a vertical climb down to the rocks at sea level but it’s wet, slippery, loose and uneven. It’s also steep. I’ve got an ungainly camera and a backpack. I take it slowly. There’s no mobile phone signal, I’m miles from anyone and wouldn’t be visible to any searchers. As I take it step by step I hear a heart-stopping commotion at my feet. It’s a Fulmar’s nest and it’s not impressed with my sudden appearance. As I descend a narrow crevice to the sea there are three Fulmar’s nests, all invisible until I’m past them, all facing out to see. As I go past each one I realise I’m going to have to face them as I climb back up and that they’re going to be able to see me coming the whole way. They’ll each have a present of rancid fish oil aimed at my head just waiting for me.

At the bottom of the steep slope there and rocks to lower myself down and I’m just tall enough to retrieve my bag and camera from the ledges above. Finally I’m at sea level on a harsh rock slope with a view of Puffins on the waves.

Puffins - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

I’m hoping it was worth it.

I walk gingerly across the barnacles to avoid the slippery wet rocks and perch on the final outcrop jutting into the Ocean. I’m hidden from the Puffins and watch the waves bringing them nearer.

I’m thrilled to spot a juvenile Atlantic Puffin. I’ve not seen one before They have beautiful smokey faces and much smaller, less decorative beaks. They live their lives out on the water and only come to land when they’re old enough to breed at about four or five years.

Puffins - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

What a treat.

Puffins - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Excellent. I hope that it will come closer and I’ll get more detailed shots but it doesn’t. An adult comes in very close though, looking down into the water in its search for Sandeels.

Puffins - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

The tide’s coming in and my rocky perch is fast disappearing. I’d better make the ascent. As I walk to the start of my only path up I see a Puffin flying towards me. It’s a beautiful dark-faced juvenile:

Puffins - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Don’t they look odd?

Time to climb. I put on my waterproof coat and pull the hood down as far as it will go. Let’s hope the Fulmar doesn’t get me in the eyes.

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