I think a lot of people would agree that the puffin is one of the most admired seabird species within the UK, if not the world. When I arrived on the island of Lunga a few summers ago, which is part of the Treshnish isles on the West coast of Scotland, I wasn’t truly aware of how the puffins would react to humans being on the uninhabited land. They only come on to land to breed during the summer months, before they head back out to sea when their chicks have grown and they need to find food for themselves. Lunga is one of the best locations for puffins, as well as other seabirds like guillemots and razorbills, as there are no land predators which would pose a threat to the adult birds and their chicks. Although the birds are still at risk from being hunted by larger predatory birds such as skuas, when people come to visit islands like Lunga the larger birds are deterred by the presence of humans, and the puffins have since become content with people walking along the edge of the cliffs near their burrows and, just as I did, laying down with their cameras to capture the iconic, colourful side profile with their mouths filled with sand eels.
I was surrounded by a range of senses. The sounds of puffins coming into land and the groaning call made by their chicks in their burrows, the smell of the ocean and witnessing first hand how close the puffins would comfortably get to me where I was crouching or laying on my front. Of course, I got many profile shots of the birds, an image favoured by most people when they come across these beloved birds. But what I was also looking out for was signs of interactions, specifically those made between potential mated pairs who would call to each other, and then perform small dances like tapping their beaks together to reaffirm their bond when one came back from the ocean with food. While I continued to scan the cliff edge and would watch the arrivals of puffins coming off the ocean, I watched a single puffin fly in and land directly in front of me. It then quickly stepped towards the front of a burrow just a few feet in front of where I had positioned myself. A head then poked out from the burrow. That was when I saw a lovely interaction between the pair as they gently called to one another and tenderly touched beaks.
I love seeing any kind of interaction in the animal kingdom, whether it involves two or more of the same species or an unusual encounter where two different species interact with one another. I’ve seen and remember multiple interactions between animals in many of my wildlife encounters over the years, and I can truly acknowledge that affection, and even love, exists outside of most peoples’ ideology that it is just humans who can show love to one another through acts or words. A lot of birds and animals pair for life and that bond is apparent through their dances or calls, the care they provide for one another and towards their young. This was one of those moments where I felt in awe of witnessing the strong, caring bond that these puffins had for one another.