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Puffin Therapy

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After leaving Iona this morning and travelling to the magnificent Isle of Staffa and the impressive Fingal’s Cave, even with the choppy sea I’m feeling full and thankful of my full Scottish breakfast!
This afternoon I am continuing my journey through the Treshnish Isles to the largest one, the Isle of Lunga.
My relationship with Lunga goes back to the first time I visited the place while crewing on a friend’s lobster boat. The local lobsters or Giomach as they are known in the local Gaelic language, are prized around the world for their quality and flavour and fishing for them in small 15 to 20 foot boats is a hazardous but exhilarating job, it’s also seriously hard work!
However my journey today is much more pleasant aboard the MV Fingal.
Lunga lies to the west of Mull and guards it like a giant battleship. Uninhabited by humans since the late 19th Century, it is now a designated site of scientific interest due to its astonishing collection of wild plants and birds, who live largely undisturbed on this wild isle. Many rare and endangered plants are native to the island. The flora includes Primroses, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Orchids, Sea Campion, Thrift and Tormentil. Atlantic Grey seals inhabit the waters surrounding the island while birdlife includes Storm Petrels, Kittiwakes and Manx Shearwaters. Guillemot, Puffin, Corncrake and Razorbills breed on Lunga and Harp Rock, a 100 meter tall sea stack separated by a narrow channel, Even Barnacle geese appear each winter.
Each time I visit this beautiful island, I am touched by the feeling of just how small and temporary mankind is. These Islands are volcanic in origin and have been here for 60 million years. They have seen the rise and fall of human communities on them, and all there is to show are the remains of a few black houses and an old ruined church. While man has come and gone. The flora and fauna, however, have carried on without barely a twitch and Lunga positively thrives with seabirds of all kinds, especially during late spring and summer everyone’s favourite character, the Atlantic Puffin.
I love Puffins…there is something about them that just makes me and everyone who I have seen interact with them break into a smile. These captivating little creatures have the aerodynamics of a house brick and watching them coming in to land with a beak full of silver sand eels is a sight to behold. I doubt there are many places anywhere in the world where you can get up close and personal with wild animals. The Puffins are completely unperturbed by humans sitting amongst them as they go back and forwards to their nests, built in disused rabbit burrows. The feeling of being this close to totally wild animals is summed up by naturalist Dr Nick Bayliss “Communing with the wild and with birds like Puffins, is as important as the sunshine, sleep or vitamin C. Puffin therapy is a great way to get that fix.”
Today as the sun shines down from the blue Hebridean sky, I sit and watch Puffin after Puffin bring back mouthfuls of sand eels to feed their chicks. The Puffins only spend from April to August on land to breed and then astonishingly they fly back to the open ocean where they live floating on the waves. Totally waterproof and able to drink sea water, theirs is a strange existence indeed.
The Puffins are pretty much everywhere on Lunga, but to see the spectacular Harp rock and get up close and personal with Razorbills Guillemots and Shags I’m about to take a trek up and around to the other side of the Island. While the track is pretty well worn, there are a few short scrambles here and there, and it is not uncommon to come around a boulder and find a family of Razorbills sheltering on the other side.
As I approach Harp Rock a huge sea stack separated by a few metres of surging ocean, my stomach does a backflip. Firstly because the drop off the edge is not for the nervous, and secondly because the smell of guano hits me! There are tens of thousands of seabirds nesting on these vertical rocks.
Any sense of vertigo, however, is rewarded by the sight of thousands of Gannets and Razorbills Guillemots and the odd Puffin wheeling around. The second thing that hits you is the cacophony of noise as each set of parents and chicks cry out their specific call to find each other in this constantly moving melee.
Time passes so quickly and before I know it I need to head back to the boat, MV Fingal. I make a slight detour on the way to have a look at one of the ruined black houses in which my fishing chums and I once braved the night. Then it’s a short hop down to the rocks where the boat is waiting to take me back to Iona.
On the journey back my face feels tight, perhaps with the sun and the wind, or maybe just with grinning at Puffins all day.
Watching the faces of the other travellers on the boat, I have no doubt that Iona, Staffa, Lunga and Puffin therapy are the perfect stress busters!
Next stop the bright lights, or should that be the bright houses of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.