Puffin magic

Saudarkrokur Travel Blog

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In my mind's eye I had an image of Iceland, perhaps only half articulated before today. A verdant farm, at the edges of the arctic ocean, with a small ramshackle hut and a natural geothermal pool. A craggy old sea-captain with an aging fishing trawler. Chugging slowly across the ocean, the fierce wind and biting cold of the Arctic spray deadening feeling in my hands. Sheer cliffs rising out of the ocean, covered with nesting sea-birds, screaming and cawing.

Today this all became real to me with an experience that will always typify Iceland to me.

Our captain was Jon Eriksson (Icelandic surnames are patronymic, changing with every generation, so their phone book actually lists the population by first name). The location was Drangey Island, the scene of a saga-era tail about an outlaw who escaped justice by hiding out on Drangey. The island rises sheer from the ocean, with a single cleft allowing a dangerous pathway to the summit to be carved out.

Most people climbed to the top to see the small hut where egg-collectors stay during raids, but John, Lydia and I soon climbed down to wander along the shore and stare at the colony of thousands of golden plovers, kittiwakes, arctic turns and of course the famous puffin. Drangey Island is one of the largest colonies of this remarkable bird. They look almost like short little penguins, 20cm tall with stubby wings and a small tuxedo, with perhaps a dash of toucan in that ridiculous beak.

It is almost a shock to see them awkwardly take off in flight, their stubby wings designed for diving into the ocean at depths of up to 60 metres, but they manage quite well, flying at an average speed of 80km/hour. The birds are here to breed, flying in during April to meet their life-long mate, cleaning out the 1.5 metre burrow they nest in and laying a single egg. The egg would have hatched recently, after 6 weeks of incubation, and now the adults are making 5-10 trips a day to feed the young a rich diet of fish. As foolish as these birds look, they are superbly adapted to the Arctic. They live for an average of 25 years and have been found to live more than 35 years in the wild. They are so successful that they are the most common bird in Iceland, with around 10 million individuals. I now know from personal experience that they are no fools, taking off well before all the other birds when I tried to get close enough for photos – showing the legacy of a thousand years of hunting by Icelanders.

In our hotel we climbed exhausted into the hot tub, soaked away the tension of long days and short nights, and slept for 12 hours.

westwind57 says:
magic... and the wat you write about this only encourages me more to go some day... have a great weekend and thanks for this :)
Posted on: Jun 16, 2012
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photo by: Adrian_Liston