04 May 2014

Puffin fight club

At Hornøya bird cliff the Puffins have to fight for their right to party. As in all densely inhabited places there is a lot of drama. Hornøya bird cliff is no exception. From March to August this is home to 100 000 sea birds. Among the most famous of birds are the Puffins. Most people see Puffins as cute little birds that  quietly sit in the bird cliff. They do that too. But when these birds arrive the bird cliff in March they fight
. I have been fortunate to witness this spectacle several times during the past few years. The amount of fighting varies every year, and is typically most intense when there are a lot of fish in the sea. Then the birds have both time and energy to fight for the best burrows and sites. The hierarchy is established, at least for the season. 

click on any image for slide show view

Hornøya bird cliff seen from boat (south of the island, looking north). In March the air is full of birds.

Incoming Puffin. About 10 000 pairs breed on Hornøya.

Picking a fight. 

Puffins tend not to mingle too much with other species. Above is a Guillmot being politely asked to leave the premisses.

Fight for your right to party

This March I spent quite a few days on Hornøya. As with most nature photography you need a bit of luck combined with knowledge: to be at the right spot with your camera set correctly, ready to shoot when the action starts. I have witnessed many fights on Hornøya, but only on a couple of occasions have I been close enough to the action at the very right moment. The Puffins below came fighting out of a Puffin burrow just meters from me. I managed the following series with my Nikon D800 + Nikkor 300 F2.8 combo. What a spectacular scene to witness! I have seen traces of blood in the snow after Puffins fights. There are no mercy with these fierce fighters.

The Hornøya bird hide / wind shelter is a good place to use as a base camp in March. Even with a lot of sun it can be very cold. From the hide you also have great views towards the slope below the steepest part of the bird cliff. This is where the Puffin fighting takes place. And when you are not admiring the Puffins, you can always focus on the spectacular swarms of alcids circling the bird cliff.

Incoming alcids - a spectacular sight

And one more Puffins fight club scene...

The above series was photographed on Hornøya in March 2012. 

For more Hornøya drama check out this Raven versus Gyrfalcon article,
Or this life and death at the bird cliff, from summer 2012

We are quite busy at the Biotope office, but I hope to report from Hornøya this summer too. Stay tuned for more drama from Varanger..

Tormod A. / Biotope