Skellig Puffins

The Lovable Puffin

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Each of the 603 steps between the Skellig Michael dock and the monastery evoked contemplation, caution, wonder and gratitude.

  • Contemplation: how did the monks manage to survive while placing the steps?  It can only be by a careful division of labor once a survival tripod was build.  By tripod I mean the basics food, shelter, warmth.
  • Caution: as with any steps, for a 60+ person I have learned the hard way falls take a long time to recover from.
  • Gratitude: for the opportunity, growth and knowledge afforded by travel.
  • Wonder: every step offered a new vantage and discovery.

Puffins were on my mind for most of the lower steps being immediately at hand, almost underfoot, constantly.  Underfoot, not in a obnoxious way.  Underfoot in being right there, unabashed, going about the business of life.  Pam and I were lucky, Puffin wise, for the weather.  Sensible birds, when the visibility is low Puffins stay close to the burrow, making improvements and socialize with neighbors.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig

Bad News: Atlantic Puffin populations are on a precipitous decline across Ireland and British Islands.  There are talks of a population collapse.  Researchers enlisted assistance from wildlife photography enthusiasts with outstanding results released in 2017.  The photographs showed parents returning with less nutritious fish.  The stress on Puffin populations follows the decline of fish stocks from over fishing.  I listed two references at the end of this post.

The disturbing element to our experience was not one of the birds flew in with a catch.  On second thought, this is not unexpected.  Late May the eggs are laid and under incubation.  The individuals in these photographs were feeding only themselves.  If we returned mid-June there would be chicks to feed.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
Puffin with an inquisitive attitude

Why do we love Puffins?  We see reminders of ourselves.  The expressive large eyes, over a striking beak and there is something expressive about the birds’ body movements.  Don’t you almost know what’s on the mind of this fellow?  “What’s going on, over there?”

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
A colony of nesting puffins on a flowering cliff of green.

Puffins are small birds, the size of a human hand.  This colony returned in late March or early April, each breeding pair claiming a nesting site.  The coloring of the beak happens during breeding.  The bird molts while at sea during the winter, the beak and other brightly colored facial characteristics are lost.

Social Puffin
Michael Skellig puffins in social setting on cliff with burrows and flowers.

Puffin sexual differentiation is unique among birds.  The coloring and markings are identical between males and females.  Males are somewhat larger than females is all.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
Soft soil covering the flanks of Skellig Michael is the site of age old Puffin colonies.

Here is Puffin nesting behavior up close.  I did some research on the flowering plants surrounding the burrows and am not sure.  I believe the white flowers are a mixture of Sea Campion and Sea Mayweed.

As far as my photographic technique.  There are two sets of Puffin shots from Skellig Michael.  For the the walk to the top, the monastery site, I used the lighter Sony Alpha A700 dslr with a Sony variable lens, DT 18-200 mm F3.5 – 6.3.  On top, I switched to the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III and, for the descent, fitted a Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L USM lens.

The shot above and following are the Canon, taken on descent.  Prior shots are the Sony, taken on ascent.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
Puffin Entering Burrow

Puffins have striking black and white plumage and leg color some describe as “tangerine.”  Tangerine?  I guess.  Here an individual ducks into the burrow.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
A grouping of Michael Skellig puffins, the foremost with an attitude of regard.

I did not spend a great deal of time in any one spot, being time limited and needing to get back to the boat.  Don’t recall very much social interactions between individuals, other than this perching together on the rocks.  The foreground Puffin seems to take the behavior of another bird to task.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
Puffins are capable, if awkward, fliers.

 

Click for another Ireland Posting, “On the River Cong.”
References
Puffins and Technology
Clues to the Puffin Population Decline

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserves

Skellig Peek

A Trinity of Skellig Images

With the newest Star Wars cash cow , “The Last Jedi”, bruiting about the media show, now’s time to debut a trinity of images from a morning spent about the Skellig Islands May 2014.  Skellig scenery also graced the ending of the 2015 installment, “The Force Awakens.”

Pam and I have many stories from that day, a favorite is from the parking lot of Portmagee where we met the fast boat to the island. I prepared for the day by making a reservation for our ride. We traveled from Killarney, where an early morning breakfast feast spread by The Killarney Royal Hotel fortified us for the adventure. Throughout our tour, experiencing Ireland was like taking blinders off, this first experience on The Ring of Kerry was no exception, driving on a tight timeline to reach Portmagee with minutes to spare, every turn of the road presented a new delight.

Grateful to have made it to Portmagee, we quickly pulled our kit together. As I closed the bonnet, Pam exclaimed “our umbrellas.” At this point of the story we laugh together. Umbrellas indeed. I had a dim clue of what lay in store for us and insisted the umbrellas be left behind, a counter-intuitive decision for a rainy Irish day the Wild Atlantic Way. Regardless of the time, we needed a bathroom break as there will be no facilities on the fast boat or the World Heritage Site where there is no space for human waste products.

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Skelligs from Valentia Island
I was here perched on a cliff of Valentia Island across from Portmagee looking southwest across Valentia Sound.

The humor is in our welcome aboard the fast boat, like a fishing boat with a small cabin and small deck dominated by the engine hatch. We crowded on, handed a full set of fisherman slickers. This is a heavy coat with hood and pants, all waterproof. Our close timing guaranteed the worse seat, away from the cabin in the open. It was a new experience for us and we felt a sense of dread as the craft left the protection of Valentia Sound into the open Atlantic Ocean.

We faced a west wind, driving 12+ foot waves, as the boat breached each wave the crest went over the cabin in a waterfall of salt water. Up and down, up and down. Thankfully neither of us lost breakfast as some did. I do not have photographs of the trip out or the approach to the island, my equipment was safely packed away.

In the above photograph you see the entire course of our approach to the island, a bit more than 10 (land) miles from Portmagee. We toured Valentia Island that afternoon.

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Skellig Steps
Climbing the side of Skellig Michael, approach to the peak and monastery.

There is a fair climb to the top to view the former monastery buildings. The steps are uneven and, when wet as it was that day, slippery.  I wore a waterproof North Face shell with hood for the low threatening clouds.  There was no rain as such, a constant fog on the top kept all exposed surfaces wet.

From the point on, until the top, was the most exposed and uncomfortable (frightening, chilling…you get the idea).  Spare yourself the experience if you are afraid of open spaces and heights.  Here was a stiff wind blowing from the right, on the left the cliff falls away to the ocean.  Ahead, the path narrows to about 10 inches with a cliff wall on one side, the precipice on the other.  Then come the monastery entrance and rock wall safety.

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Monk Cell
Monk Cell, Grave and Cross

This single image gives a succinct impression of the monastery setting.  The bee hive shaped stone monk cell requires a stooped crawl to enter.  Inside, the space is small and, thankfully, dry.  The structure keeps out the rain and wind, a marvel of stone construction. This cell is off to the side, on a cliff balcony, over the wall an ocean precipice.

My closing advice is to plan your time wisely.  The ship boards in less than an hour, in that time you climb the 700 steps and explore.  There are people all over the place, in waves. To capture the structures without humans, you need to wait until the cohort become bored and leaves.  There will be a space before the next wave of tourists breaks. Leave enough time to descend the steps safely.  People have suffered fatal falls on the steps and cliffs, it is easy to do.  Make your personal safety a priority.

Click for another Ireland Posting, “On the River Cong.”

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserves