I still hadn’t seen puffins. I went to the Hermaness reserve headquarters to see if the warden could point me in the right direction. The HQ is in the former shore house for Muckle Flugga, where lighthouse keepers would stay during their off periods, and where their families lived the whole time.
The warden want there, but there is very good display, including a map showing where different birds could be seen. Puffins should be – exactly where I had been walking.
So I went back there.
I walked the longer but faster path, west to the cliffs and then north. I met a woman and we chatted briefly; she was keen to see bonxies but hadn’t realised that they were the large birds all around. I passed a tall guy carrying a large tripod and a load of camera equipment.
It was a fine day, though rain was forecast. The views, same as before but in reverse, and in different light, were good. I kept my eyes open, scanning the cliffs and the sky for puffins.
I saw several as walked back until I walked back until once more I was the most northerly person in Britain, opposite the lighthouse. On the step grass slopes down to cliffs were a while troop of puffins. Not a crowd, not the hordes that I had expected but quite a few.
I spoke to many people about the lack of puffins. The consensus seems to be that it was just too early. It shouldn’t have been. It should have been early but well into the breeding season, but the inclement weather in March and April seems to have kept the birds at sea. It was the same at Sumburgh, on Mainland, where I went before going back to Edinburgh – just one it two puffins. Out maybe they were all out at sea, fishing. Or maybe they were just hiding from me. There are certainly large numbers of birds around now, just as they are about to return to the sea. (The last time I was in Shetland, this time of year, one day we went back once more to watch the puffins and they had all flown away, overnight.)
Walking back to the car, it started drizzling. It had tried to rain once or twice in the afternoon as I walked north, but the rain had amounted to nothing, so I ignored it now, too. Suddenly it was bucketing down, and I was drenched, and my camera was drenched. By the time I realised how wet it and I were, it was too late; everything was wet.
When I got back to the house where I was staying, my camera had died. Completely. I took out the battery and the card, and left it to dry, hoping it would get better. It was still dead in the morning, leaving me to rely on my small, pocket camera; but by the evening it had fully recovered.
Which is nice.