The Pursuit of the Puffin

On a recent cruise in the North Atlantic (http://frankscoblete.com/my-70th-birthday-cruise/) my wife the Beautiful AP and I wanted to see the huge puffin colony on the Faroe Islands. Supposedly there are millions of puffin nests scattered throughout the islands on the sides of the monstrous mountains jutting out over the sea.

These little birds are beautiful with comical characteristics, including large, colorful beaks. Puffins are generally monogamous birds and build their nests on the sides of the giant mountains.

Puffins make up some of the diet of the Faroe Islanders and Icelanders. I wonder if they taste as good as they look?

“Oh, you probably won’t see many puffins today,” said the receptionist at the hotel where we were meeting our driver and tour guide Thordeval. “The weather is really bad and you are getting a somewhat late start. It is a long drive to that side of the island. You might not see a single one.”

“I thought there were millions of these birds on these islands,” I said.

“Yes, but this weather is not conducive to flying about.” She probably saw the defeated look on my face. “But you might see some, maybe, you know, you might see some.”

The word puffin means “little brother” as some religious folks saw the bird’s black and white colors as similar to monastic robes. Of course, that didn’t stop the islanders from eating these pretty little birds.

Thordeval came by in his taxi and we introduced ourselves. The day before this puffin adventure, the Beautiful AP and I had decided to forgo the bus trips that the cruise line sets up in favor of hiring our own guide. These bus trips had been harrowing, but most were also dull, so we jettisoned them. We wanted to see what we wanted to see in the time we had to see them.

Thordeval shook his head as the wind and rain pelted us as we entered his car. “Not the best weather,” he said. “Those birds may be hiding in their nests.”

“Well,” said AP. “Let’s give it a try.”

It was an hour’s drive to the side of the island inhabited by the puffins; a drive often through long tunnels in the mountains. The drive was beautiful and Thordeval explained how the sheep and fishing industries worked. The mountain sides were littered with sheep.

“Who owns these sheep?” asked AP. “There don’t seem to be any farmhouses nearby.”

“All different farmers own them,” said Thordeval. “They bring the sheep to these grazing areas and they are all mixed together.”

“But when winter comes, how do farmers know which sheep are theirs?” I asked.

“They are branded on the ears just in case the dogs usher the sheep to the wrong farmer,” said Thordeval. “Each farmer’s dogs know their sheep and they herd them in winter to that farmer.”

Keep in mind that winter can be dark up to 24 hours a day. Right now we were in July and it was light except for two hours of “dusk.” I couldn’t see spending almost an entire day in darkness. (See the great horror movie 30 Days of Night.)

Thordeval also explained that there was no crime on the island; at the worst, the police have to occasionally deal with fights between lads who have drunk too much in the pubs. “There aren’t many fights either.”

The Faroe Islands have no squirrels either. Or snakes. My backyard seems to have more dangerous animals than exist on these islands.

Thordeval, like many other islanders, loves where he lives. At one point, he tried living in Denmark, but lasted only six months and then returned home. Many of his schoolmates had the same experience.

At times the rain and wind were ferocious on the coastline. The only birds we saw were numerous varieties of gulls flying and soaring about. The scenery was beautiful even in the on-again, off-again rain.

The rain let up as we arrived in puffin territory. We walked down a slippery mountain path; around a small herd of rams, and we checked the sides of the mountains but saw no puffins. We saw more waterfalls and beautiful vistas of mountains and ocean and the ubiquitous gulls.

Suddenly Thordeval pointed to a spot just below us, maybe about 10 feet down. “There are two!”

And there were two, looking out of their nest. Then they left their nest. What beautiful birds! What comical birds! Oh my God, they just kissed and put their necks around each other. And, and, they were looking right at us. They did not seem afraid of us at all. Maybe these two weren’t aware that they could (someday) be a dinner for someone.

AP spent time cooing as she watched them through her binoculars. She took dozens of photographs with her phone. “I don’t think these are going to come out too clear. I wish I had my camera!” Since we always travel with carry-on and never check luggage, AP had decided to leave the camera home. Maybe we could get one good “phone” picture.

We watched these two birds for a good 20 minutes. They watched us too. Finally they went back into their nest; the rain picked up just then, and we headed back up the path, past the rams, and to Thordeval’s car.

A third puffin zipped by, his wings beating so fast he could have been a colossal hummingbird.

On the way back we toured Torshavn National Museum.

Thanks to Thordeval and a happily married pair of puffins, AP and I were very satisfied with our day in the Faroe Islands.

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Pursuit of the Puffin”

  1. Sounds like you made the right call to take your own tour! It’s so true as well that if you get that one great photo it was worth it! The single puffin picture is Nat Geo worthy! Wonderful.

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