This week, MamaKat suggested a writing prompt to select a photo from your archive at random and post your thoughts about it. I threw a virtual dart at my digital album and landed on this gem:
So who do you think will win the World Series this year?
The credit for these lovely photos goes to my intrepid travel friend, R. (Hi!)
Out at the western edge of Iceland, at the very tip of the very last fjord, resides one of the world’s most renowned bird cliffs. This is the summer home to a variety of migratory seabirds like puffins, razorbills and guillemots. I wouldn’t consider myself a birdwatcher, but I do enjoy seeing animals in their natural habitat, rather than behind bars or glass. In that respect, I’ve never been anywhere that could compare to the Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs.
The bird cliffs are located in the Westfjords, a region in the far northwest of the island, jutting into the North Atlantic like a bird’s elongated wing. To say that it is a little remote is like saying Oprah Winfrey has a little money. In fact the isolation is deceiving. As the crow (or puffin) flies, the cliffs are only about 45 miles from the main road, but what my friend and I didn’t realize was just how long it could take to drive dirt roads probably carved by Vikings and pocked from centuries of harsh Icelandic winters. (Hours!) It was probably good that we had no idea how long the ride would be–we might have turned around.
If we had done that we would have missed one of the most memorable moments of our trip. When we finally arrived, we came upon beautiful seabirds, ranking in the thousands. At about 450 meters high, the sheer cliffs are safe from the birds’ predators, making them perfect nesting grounds. They settle into the impossibly narrow natural ledges like apartment building with dozens of floors. They arrange themselves in a bird hierarchy with the puffins closest to the top, then the razorbills and guillemots, and the arctic terns and kittiwakes near the pounding sea.
I was as impressed by what was missing nearly as much what was there. The Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs have no entry fees, no souvenir stands, no signage. Oh, and no guard rails either. Walking up to the edge is a no-no. See, a favorite pastime of the puffins is to peck into the grassy ledge to burrow for their nests. (You can see them do this in my video below.) This makes the ground unstable and give way at the most inopportune moments. In order to see the puffins, who were mere inches from us, we shimmied on our bellies like army rangers to peer over the edge.
Sometimes a bird, for no obvious reason, would take off and enter the wind currents that rush around the cliffs, needing to do nothing more than extend its wings. There was a constant and long line of birds sailing by us, either looking for a landing spot or joining the fray. It reminded me of the scene from The Jetsons where George drives his spaceship in a traffic jam of other spaceships by weaving in and out of the line. (Boy, am I dating myself.) It was beautiful to watch the birds glide along on the invisible airstream. An awesome sight, I won’t soon forget!
- Sixty percent of the world’s puffins mate in and around these cliffs.
- There are four seabirds for every Icelander.
- Puffins can dive 50 feet underwater to catch the small fish that are the mainstay of their diet.
- This species of puffin is about 10 inches tall and weighs about one pound.
- Puffins can beat their wings about 400 times per minute to stay aloft.
- The colorful puffin beaks get brighter in the summer (mating season) and go dull in the winter.
- In August, the puffins will leave these cliffs and winter in the open ocean. Young puffins will spend the first two or three years of their lives at sea.
Hello! I’m a puffin. This is Iceland.
Coming in for a landing (left frame)
Hey, lady, how about some personal space.
Check out my video (and fancy editing!) of the comical puffins. The beginning is a little shaky due to high winds. Read more about the trip to Iceland here.
Have you ever gotten up close and personal with wildlife in their habitat? What was your favorite nature excursion?
Have a great weekend, everyone!
If you’re a writerly type, please stop by T.B. Markinson’s website to read an interview with moi!