The return of one of our favourite birds – the puffin – is an eagerly awaited event each spring on Rathlin Island.
Rathlin is home to an immense colony of breeding seabirds, including kittiwakes, razorbills, fulmars and guillemots who descend on the sea stacks at the RSPB Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre to nest and raise their young before returning to their life out at sea in late summer.
The birds start making brief visits to the cliffs from December onwards, but the puffins are always the last to make an appearance.
Amazingly, in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the first Rathlin puffins were seen on the exact same date – March 27.
So, as this special day approached, island residents Hazel Watson and Ric Else used their daily exercise slot to check in to see if puffins would be perfectly punctual once again in 2020.
“With the puffins’ arrival imminent as the country went into coronavirus lockdown, we used our exercise time to continue checking the cliffs each day,” said Hazel.
“A calm period of weather arrived on Wednesday – surely ideal conditions for the puffins to make their debut, but there was no sign of them.
“This morning (March 26), as we approached the cliffs, we could see and hear that there had been a big arrival of seabirds. guillemots and razorbills – the puffins’ cousins – were present in their thousands.
“And then, among the thronging masses, we spotted a pair of orange feet – our very first puffin had arrived. And it was a day earlier than usual.”
Or was it? With 2020 being a leap year, it could be argued that they are perfectly on schedule once again!
Hazel and Ric both work for RSPB NI as visitor experience staff at the Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre.
The couple, originally from Lancashire, ordinarily would be getting ready to open the Seabird Centre to the public in April, but the opening is on hold in the current circumstances.
n A dedicated Rathlin Island Reserve facebook group, www.facebook.com/groups/RSPBRathlinIslandReserves, has close to 1,000 members and gives anyone missing the sights and sounds of the island a chance to connect and share photos and memories of trips to the Seabird Centre.