Are Rathlin’s Punctual Puffins Right on Time?

Kathryn Cochrane

Thursday 26 March 2020

Puffins return to Rathlin a day early – or were they right on time? For the last three years the first puffins have landed on 27 March, this leap year they touched down on the 26 March.

The return of one of our favourite birds – the puffin – is an eagerly awaited event each spring on Rathlin Island. The island is home to an immense colony of breeding seabirds which also includes kittiwakes, razorbills, fulmars and guillemots who descend on the sea stacks at 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 puffin is always the last to make an appearance.

Amazingly, in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the first Rathlin puffins were seen on the exact same date - 27 March. 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. 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, on the 26th, 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 but there, 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.

A dedicated Rathlin Island Reserve Facebook group which has close to 1,000 members gives anyone missing the sights and sounds of the island to connect and share photos and memories of trips to the Seabird Centre.

Tagged with: Country: Northern Ireland Topic: Coast and sea Topic: Seabird colonies Topic: Northern Ireland Topic: Birds and wildlife Topic: Rathlin Island