Despite warnings from several islanders that the puffins had already left, I felt I would be lucky. The lady at the information centre said she had only seen three birds when she went to Sumburgh Point the week before. It was an early August morning. Heavy grey cloud accompanied by a stiff breeze chilled the air. Wrapped warmly, with a hearty lunch and my camera safely packed, I trotted off to catch the bus.
Shetland is the summer home to almost a tenth of British seabirds. They outnumber Shetlanders by 60:1 but the only bird I really wanted to see was the puffin.
I sat on the left hand side of the airport bus for the best coastal view. I passed four Alpaca or Llamas, I’m not sure which, two brown and two white. Sheep, pigs and cows nibbled grass in the fields as black rabbits hopped among them. The driver dropped me off at the road to the lighthouse.
From the moment my feet touched the ground, my eyes were peeled for Tammie Norries.
Walking to the lighthouse, I noticed a huge whalebone and the lichen covered rocks. Shetland ponies grazed contentedly, oblivious to my presence.
I almost fell over myself with excitement. There, perched on the edge of the cliff were puffins; hundreds of them and so close I could almost touch them. I did my best not to jump up and down with excitement. The orange, red and grey beaks, the tangerine feet, they were just so cute, as colourful as parrots.
Within seconds, I was over the fence with camera in hand inching my way ever closer. With only a small point and shoot, I had to get in close. Whether tears trickled from the corner of my eyes due to the bitter wind or my emotions going into overdrive, I’m not sure, but I kept snapping. Graceful gannets soared on high before diving like an arrow into the ocean. Guillemots shuffled like penguins on the rocks beneath the outcrop. A small group looked like they were having a gossip. Another poked its head from a burrow beneath the daisies and flew off.
I needed the loo so continued to the lighthouse. I took a look around the engine room, the fog horn and puffin cam. Sheltered from the wind behind some rocks, I sat down to picnic. Next stop was the archaeological site of Jarlshof.
By the time I reached the laneway to Jarlshof it was getting too late for the bus. The Viking site would have to wait. On the bus back to Lerwick, I decided to look at the photos. The camera was gone!
My mood changed instantly. I was sad, not at the loss of the camera, but the loss of the pictures of Shetland Puffins.
I asked the driver to let me off somewhere I could connect with the bus straight back which he duly did, and when I got onboard the bus, the driver very kindly let me on fare free. I retraced my steps, and left a note on the notice board with my mobile number and my email address and of course SV Faraway’s address at Lerwick, but we were leaving the next day.
The RSPB had an information stand in the engine room but nobody was there. I left another note and walked with a heavy heart towards the road for the last bus to Lerwick.
About 100m from the bus shelter, I heard the theme tune from Superman. I answered the phone. It was Helen Moncrieff from the RSPB and she had my precious camera. A little boy had found it and handed it in. She agreed to drive down from the lighthouse to deliver it to me. She arrived as the bus pulled in to take me back to the boat at Lerwick.
I am forever grateful to Helen, the kind child and the puffins of Sumburgh.
Update October 2015
According to The Guardian, Atlantic puffins and European turtle doves have been added for the first time to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of species at risk of being wiped out.