T he puffin is known as the “Clown of the Sea” and I must admit it is quite a comical bird. I am sure most of you reading this will have seen a puffin on TV but I would like to tell you a little bit about my experiences photographing this amazing bird in one of my favourite locations up on Fair Isle (in the Shetlands). They are such fun to photograph that I try and get my “puffin fix” at least once a year. It’s quite a task getting to Fair Isle. For me it involves a flight to Glasgow, and then another flight to Sumburgh in the Shetlands. From here you have a choice of transport to get over to Fair Isle - a one hour flight on a 6-seater plane or a trip over on the ferry, named the Good Shepherd, which takes a good few hours and can be quite a rough crossing. Needless to say I always opt for the short flight… The only place to stay on Fair Isle is the Bird Observatory and this is located within a few minutes walk of the main puffin colonies, so it’s ideal. The puffins have their burrows (they often use discarded rabbit holes) on the side or just in from the cliff edge. For eight months of the year the puffins stay out at sea but for four months of the year they come back to their breeding grounds. For puffin breeding behaviour, April is a good time to get your images but the iconic image is the photograph of the puffin carrying in sand-eels to the chick that is hidden away in the burrow. Puffins are very social so hundreds of birds may have their burrows almost on top of each other and squabbles can often occur. This sand eel period is usually in June and July and birds can be seen coming in off the sea and up to the cliffs with tens of sand eels in their beaks, braving the attacks from gulls wanting to steal their catch. The puffins can be away for many hours looking for the sand eel “hot spots”. The puffin is the most inquisitive bird I have ever come across. It’s possible to sit next to a colony and have puffins coming so close to you that they tug at your shoe-laces or investigate your camera so closely that it’s impossible to get a photograph. If you are standing in the way of where they want to cross a pathway they won’t move from their position - they will wait until you move. They are also collectors and love nothing more than taking something unusual down in to the burrow, or they can be seen walking along with a large stick in their beak, or a pretty flower. In fact, the best time to photograph puffins on Fair Isle is when the pretty pink thrift flowers cover the cliff tops and make for beautiful backgrounds. The puffins always need to be on their toes though as it can be a dangerous place for them up on the cliff tops. The Arctic Skua, or Bonnie as its known, a huge gull, will often attack any unsuspecting puffin. Quite often the puffins have a guard up on the cliffs and the slightest unusual shadow moving across the cliff top will send them scurrying underground. There are other more accessible places in the UK to photograph puffins. Day trips are offered to the Farne Islands at Seahouses in Northumbria. Boat trips will take you across to the islands and here you will find hundreds of puffins from April to August, but I find this a much less photogenic location. The plus side is you will also get the chance to photograph many other types of seabirds here as well. If you are over towards the Welsh coast then Skomer is another great place. Day trips here are also available and if you are really keen you can stay on the island at the hostel for a couple of nights. Whilst the accommodation is pretty basic if you do stay it gives you a great opportunity to get your sunrise and sunset puffin shots. If you ever get the opportunity to visit the puffin colonies in the UK then please take advantage and go. You will find that you get bitten by the puffin bug and you will want to keep returning just like me. A year without a “puffin fix”? Well, I just can’t imagine that now… I hope that you have enjoyed seeing a few of my puffin images and that it may have inspired you to seek out a trip up to the Farnes or Skomer even if you can’t make it all the way up to Fair Isle. If you would like to see more of my images please check out my website at gregcoynephotography.co.uk