Atlantic Puffins of Skomer Island

The largest breeding colony of Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) south of Scotland is on Skomer Island, on the western coast of Wales. Over 10,000 pairs breed in underground burrows here. Sometimes they burrow the holes they lay their eggs in themselves, sometimes they simply kick out the rabbit that was using it before (considering the size difference, that is an amazing feat). All of the burrows are close to the coastal cliffs. This means they can take flight easily if danger approaches (in the form of Peregrine Falcons) and there isn’t much time for gulls to steal the catch the puffins are bringing back to their chicks between landing and disappearing underground.

The Breeding Colony:

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) group at coastal breeding colony, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) group at coastal breeding colony, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Puffins at their Burrows:

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Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at nest burrow at sunrise, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

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Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at nest burrow, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

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Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at nest burrow, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

To collect food for their one chick (also called a pufflling), they forage in relatively close waters (most within 7km from this colony) by diving underwater and catching small fish. They collect multiple fish at one time by pressing the caught ones to their upper mandible with their tongue (amazing or what!?!). Eleven species of fish are common prey (mostly sandeels), but up to twenty four different species of fish have been recorded to be used as food by these guys.

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Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) carrying fish prey, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

When on land without fish, they engage in a few different behaviors.

Like many other birds, a male and female pair bond by touching their bills together in a behavior called billing.

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Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) pair billing, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Flapping their wings is also quite easily seen. Ornithologists interpret this as both a comfort and/or displacement behavior.

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Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) flapping wings, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

When you are this cute, it’s understandable when one needs a rest.

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Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) resting, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Towards the late evening, you may start seeing individuals head-flicking, which is a way to communicate between individuals and may partially serve to synchronize the departure from the colony.

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Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) head-flicking, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

The amazing thing about this particular colony is that the puffins let you get extremely close, often even running right by your feet. Scientists on the island are currently figuring out if our human presence is having a negative impact on the Puffins. Instinctively, I would wager that to be the case but I talked to one scientist who said it may be balanced by the fact that our presence often dissuades the gulls from coming in and stealing the puffins caught fish. I sure hope that’s the case and I am interested to hear the final results of that study. At the very least, it allows for amazing portrait opportunities.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) in breeding plumage, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) in breeding plumage, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at sunrise, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at sunrise, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

I really didn’t feel like I had enough time to hang out with these amazing creatures and only tried for a few minutes to get a flight shot.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) flying, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) flying, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

or a on the water shot for that matter.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) on water, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) on water, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

If you want to see more Puffin pictures from the trip, click here, if you want a free desktop wallpaper, check out this blog post.

Free Nature Wallpaper for Download – Atlantic Puffin

Aren’t Atlantic Puffins just the cutest? These amazing seabirds are the penguins of the north, at least that’s what they remind me of. Like most seabirds, they really only come ashore to breed. This individual was photographed on Skomer Island in Wales. The Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) build their burrows into the soft earth between the flowers, to which they return to feed their chicks or to roost at night.

As always, just click on the image for the wallpaper sized image or use this link Atlantic Puffin.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) in breeding plumage, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) in breeding plumage, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Endemic Birds of New Zealand

They call it the land of the birds, and why not, with over 170 species of birds, of which over 80% are endemic (only found there) to New Zealand, you can understand why. Plus, there are only two native mammal species on the islands, also of the flying variety ( the New Zealand Long-tailed Bat, and the New Zealand Lesser Short-tailed Bat).

Since New Zealand has been separated as its own land mass for over 65 million years, the bird species became extremely specialized in the habitats they occupied and in their way of foraging, leading to great speciation. This pattern of course changed with human settlement as the introduced rats and cats brought many bird species to extinction, plummeting the special total. Nowadays, conservation for the birds is quite strong, a somewhat easier task due to the fact that New Zealand is not an overpopulated country with plenty of habitat, or at the very least space for habitat restoration. This doesn’t mean of course that all is merry as some species are only holding on by a thread, but at least the country as a whole is moving in the right direction.

Kailani and I visited New Zealand for her PhD studies this summer (New Zealand’s winter). Though we were mostly in Wellington, we had the opportunity to make a few weekend excursions to look for some wildlife, by default being mostly endemic birds.

Land Birds

One of the closest, bird life filled places to Wellington is Kapiti Island. It is a small island separated from the main land by a fifteen minute boat ride, but most importantly, it is possum and rat free. That means the birds have no predators on the island and can go about their business as if humans had never come (aka, yipee for the birds!).

A few trails run through the forested section of the island, so we hiked around in there for a bit. Before long we got to see numerous New Zealand Robins. Specifically the North Island Robin, the subspecies endemic to the North Island of New Zealand.

New Zealand Robin (Petroica australis longipes) female, Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

New Zealand Robin (Petroica australis longipes) female, Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

From there we wandered into the habitat taking up most of the island, shrubland. Quite easy to find there are the New Zealand Pigeons. The subspecies is the nominate type, found on all of the mainland of New Zealand.

New Zealand Pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae), Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

New Zealand Pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae), Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

After that we had lunch at one of the few buildings on the island, which are surrounded by all so natural lawns, which also happen to be a favorite grazing area for the endemic Weka, a rail species. The subspecies here is the North Island Weka (Gallirallus australis greyi).

Weka (Gallirallus australis greyi), Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

Weka (Gallirallus australis greyi), Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

And soon after that we were treated to a sighting for which we made the whole trip. The Takahe is a bird thought extinct for fifty years, until it was rediscovered in 1948 by Geoffrey Orbell (how cool would it feel to be the person rediscovering a species thought extinct!).  There are still only less than 300 individuals left of this bird but their population numbers are rising. To increase their chances of survival, birds have been moved to predator free islands (like Kapiti) to let them breed there, after which offspring get moved to different locations for subsequent breeding efforts. On Kapiti, there were three individuals, a breeding pair and their offspring, and we got to see all three of them! A perfect way to finish off the weekend!

Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) grazing, Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) grazing, Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

Seabirds

Then came the seabirds. I am not sure why I have a secret fascination with them, maybe its because they fly huge distances, often breed on offshore islands where no people live, are some of the most graceful fliers (or gliders), and can be hard to find (well, I guess I do know why I love them!). To try our luck with endemic New Zealand seabirds, Kailani and I did two pelagic trips out of Kaikoura, and boy were we not disappointed. Below are all the endemics we saw (all albatrosses) though we also had the pleasure of seeing Cape Petrels for our first time, as well as Northern and Southern Giant Petrels!

Antipodean Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Antipodean Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Gibson's Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis gibsoni) gliding over ocean, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Gibson’s Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis gibsoni) gliding over ocean, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

White-capped Albatross (Thalassarche steadi) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

White-capped Albatross (Thalassarche steadi) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) flying over ocean, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Buller’s Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) flying over ocean, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Maybe the most amazing part of it all is that there are a ton more endemic birds we didn’t see. Sounds to me like we need to go back :). Have any of you been to New Zealand? Any birding spots you can recommend to the rest of us?

Reviewing the 2013 Photographic Year

I always like to take a bit of time and review what happened the last year in terms of reaching some of my goals. For that I go and check my trusty Bucket List and see what things I was able to experience (or check off, for you twitchers). Turns out 2013 was a good photographic year.

I am including only the highlights from this year in this post (for the full list just click the link above). I am also only showing one or two images of each species/location, if you want to see all the pictures from that subject just click that name and the link will take you to the appropriate gallery.

Visit and or Explore
Tropical Rainforests (Borneo Spring 2013, Gabon 2013, Borneo Winter 2013)

Lowland rainforest shrouded in clouds at sunrise, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Lowland rainforest shrouded in clouds at sunrise, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Sunset over tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Sunset over tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

New Zealand (August 2013)

Snow-covered mountains, South Island, New Zealand

Snow-covered mountains, South Island, New Zealand

Photograph
Bay Cat (December 2013) – More on that later 🙂
Sunda Clouded Leopard (March 2013)

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Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi) male in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (camera trap)

Marbled Cat (March 2013)

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (camera trap)

African Leopard (October 2013)

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon (camera trap)

3 species of Civet (Added Malay Civet and Common Palm Civet 2013)

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Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (camera trap)

Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) in tree at night, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) in tree at night, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

1000 bird species in the wild (I am at 190, having added 61 species this year), just a few here:

Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Buller’s Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Red-billed Gull (Larus scopulinus) during rain storm, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Red-billed Gull (Larus scopulinus) during rain storm, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

New Zealand Kaka (Nestor meridionalis) parrot during rain storm, North Island, New Zealand

New Zealand Kaka (Nestor meridionalis) parrot during rain storm, North Island, New Zealand

Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli) pair fighting, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli) pair fighting, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

300 mammal species in the wild (I am at 106, having added 45 species this year), just a few here:

Forest Buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) bull running, Lope National Park, Gabon

Forest Buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) bull running, Lope National Park, Gabon

White-nosed Guenon (Cercopithecus nictitans) in tree, Lope National Park, Gabon

White-nosed Guenon (Cercopithecus nictitans) in tree, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Brush-tailed Porcupine (Atherurus africanus) on log at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Brush-tailed Porcupine (Atherurus africanus) on log at night, Lope National Park, Gabon (camera trap)

Red River Hog (Potamochoerus porcus) male, Lope National Park, Gabon

Red River Hog (Potamochoerus porcus) male, Lope National Park, Gabon

Red Leaf Monkey (Presbytis rubicunda) in tree, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borne

Red Leaf Monkey (Presbytis rubicunda) in tree, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borne

20 critically endangered and 50 endangered species (I am at 6 and 17 respectively)

Borneo Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) females and calf grazing, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Borneo Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) females and calf grazing, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) grazing, Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) grazing, Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

I am looking forward to see what this year brings!

How about you, anything particular that you photographed in 2013 that you are really happy/proud of?

Free Nature Wallpaper for Download – Crimson Sunbird

This male Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) would routinely feed on the flower nectar of this ornamental tree planted in Tawau Hills Park, in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Like clockwork, he would show up at 6:15am and feed for fifteen minutes. It was amazing seeing this brightly colored bird quickly fly from flower to flower, feeding on the nectar they provided. Another amazing treat to get to witness.

As always, just click on the image for the wallpaper sized image or use this link Crimson Sunbird Male on Flower.

Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) male on flower, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) male on flower, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia