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Last chance to see puffins in Ireland before annual migration

2 puffins

Two of the approx 5000 puffins breeding on the Blaskets

guillemot one bridled

Two common guillemots, one bridled morph

tiaracht lighthouse

Tiaracht Island and its light house


Birders and Bird watching enthusiasts - last chance to see puffins in Ireland before migration at beginning of August

One of the first signs that the wheel is turning on the annual migratory cycle is the fact that the thousands of puffins [ Fratercula arctica ] that have spent the summer on the outer Blasket Islands - Inish na Bro and Inishvickillaun in particular - where they have reared  their single chick successfully, will shortly be abandoning them, to roam on the open ocean for the rest of the year, until March / April next year when they return to the lovely Blasket Islands, Co. Kerry, Ireland to breed and have their young.

At the moment they are flocking in rafts on the water below the cliffs where  they have their burrows and single chick, and fattening the chick up on a diet of sand eels until he is actually bigger than themselves when they abandon them at the end of July. Then the chick, after several days fast, crawls out of the burrow and flutters down to the sea by night, to follow its parents out onto the open ocean.

 In the bad "good old days" young puffin chicks at this stage were a favourite food for islanders as  were young Manx shearwater chicks [ Puffinus puffinus ] and young storm petrels [ Hydrobates pelagicus ]. Happily this is no longer the case and their main predation is by the great black backed gull [ Larus marinus ] who occupy the higher slopes of the hill behind the nesting puffins annd also predate on the Manx shearwaters returning to their nesting burrrows  at night

Where do the puffins go when they leave the Blaskets?

If you want to see these puffins before they leave our shores you should book one of our afternoon eco marine tours or the combination landing on the Great Blasket Island and afternoon eco marine tour as you will not see them around the Great Blasket itself but only around the outer islands. The approximate date for departure is usually end of July / beginning of August and they are well gone by mid August, apart possibly from a few stragglers or late brood.

BirdWatch Ireland have tagged some puffins on the appropriately named Puffin Island on the south side of Dingle Bay, Co. Kerry, Ireland and they havve been recovered within two weeks later off the coast of Canada! Apparently they spend about a month there and then generally all converge around mid North Atlantic where  they spend the winter period feeding on capelin. For information on puffins and other sea birds please visit www.birdwatchireland.com  who are the main conservation and education body for birds in Ireland. p.s. They do not try to educate birds but rather educate people about birds!

Other Birds of the Blaskets

When the puffins are gone by the start of August we are left a little sad and with a little vacuum in our tour itinerary but we change our schedule to suit the changing season and begin to take more trips out as far as Tiaracht [ The Western Island] lighthouse in suitable weather and sea conditions. It is the most westerly lighthouse in Europe, has the steepest funicular rail track in Europe and also has the most westerly rail track.  We also are lucky in that this is the optimum time of the year to find humpback whales feeding on shoals of sprat and young herring!

But the migratory cycle is a two way mechanism and as puffins go out to sea other migratory birds begin to approach our shores. The Manx shearwaters who have flown from Brazil and Uruguay in April to breed and have their chicks on the Blaskets during the summer, remain here until mid September before returning to South America and are joined now by migratory sooty shearwaters. Other interesting birds which we will see from mid August onwards are Skuas - Arctic skuas, Great skuas  and long tailed skuas.

The more common birds to be seen on our tours for the rest of the summer are - diving gannets, all the way from Skellig Rock, rafts of shags, kittiwakes dipping over the water picking up prey from the surface, fulmer petrels gliding around, screeching frantic oyster catchers and other Alcids (bird family Alcidae) - apart from the puffins - which include common guillemots, black guillemots and razorbills.

We see the occassional bridled guillemot as in picture but they are rare this far south [ Lat. 52 degrees], whereas as you travel further north to higher latitudes like Iceland bridled guillemots are common and unbridled ones are rare! We are not sure what is the evolutionary function or reason for the bridle effect from the eye backwards but perhaps it has something to do with camouflage while hunting underwater and perhaps the different opacity of the water in diffferent latitudes. Guillemots are champion divers and have been recorded at depths of up to 200 metres. Razorbills [all Alcids just like puffins] which are chubbier and have broader shorter wings which they use as paddles underwater when swimming are believed not to  dive as deep as guillemots.

We occassionally see storm petrels [ named after St. Peter from their apparent ability to  be able to walk on the water], usually in choppy sea conditions and they tend to feed further offshore. We saw about fifty on a recent trip offshore looking for humpbacks. We were looking for humpbacks - they were looking for minute tasty snacks floating on the ocean surface usually churned up by choppy sea conditions.  The Blasket Islands hold the biggest population of European storm petrels in the world with approx. 35,000 breeding pairs but they are still hard to spot because of their small size and pelagic and nocturnal homing habits.

If you are a birder or a bird watching enthusiast please come along on our afternoon or all day tour and press the "BOOK TOUR" button on the homepage now.

We are very lucky! We live in a (sea) bird watching paradise! Come along and join us!

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Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry

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