Clowns of the Sea | Puffins at Dunnet Head


The Caithness coastline is a key place for visitors of the North Coast 500 to come and spy some of the most amazing wildlife. And from May until August, puffins can be spotted on the cliffs that tower above the North Sea.

Care should always be taken when at the top of cliffs, as often there is no fence or barrier between you and the sea. Dogs should be kept on leads.

Of course it isn’t just puffins which nest in the cliffs at this time of year. Razorbills and Guillemots are much easier spotted, while puffins can be a little more elusive, being found to be resident in only a few places in Scotland.

I was scouring the cliffs opposite at RSPB Dunnet Head, a place where they are easier to see and photograph. Look out for their bright and colourful beaks which are part of their summer plumage.

If you are a keen photographer, take the longest lens you have. I had a 75-300mm zoom lens and it still was nowhere close to getting a close up. If you don’t own a camera, look for a cheap pair of binoculars on ebay, or see if you can borrow some.

However, I then happened to look down, and on a ledge just below my feet, stood this little one!

Puffins return to nest in the cliffs every year. They burrow into the soil or nest under ledges or boulders. They return to their nest in subsequent years, and every year, they lay just one egg. Parenting is a true team effort with both parents sharing the incubation period, and then also the feeding stage before the chick is ready to fledge.

I only saw this one for a few minutes before it disappeared under the ledge but it was long enough to admire it.

You can see how puffins get their ‘clowns of the sea’ nickname!

The nesting period finishes at the end of the summer, when you’re more able to see puffins on the water (this was from a Caithness Seacoast trip up to the Pentland Skerries; I’ve written about their shorter RIB trips here).

Puffins are commonly resident in Caithness, Orkney, Shetland and on the Isle of May in Fife. Remember to take care when walking along the coastline in any area where you are walking at great height. (I was safer than it looks when taking this photo!)