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Bullers of Buchan -- seeing the puffins?

For mid-June, what would be the odds of seeing the puffins (OK/good/very good, etc.) in Bullers of Buchan: In late afternoon? Early evening? Near sunset? Worth a try if it is raining? Thanks.

Posted by
7013 posts

I was just there a few days ago, and talked to a woman who lives in the tiny village next to the Bullers. She said that puffins usually come out around 6-7 pm. I was there earlier so didn't get a chance to see them, but even if they are not there, the Bullers of Buchan is worth a stop. it is simply magnificent!

Posted by
1388 posts

Hi, Scott,

If you don't mind travelling a bit farther south, you stand a pretty good chance of seeing puffins at the Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve, just outside Stonehaven. Take the A92 south from Stonehaven, and just about two miles south of Dunnottar Castle, look for a narrow turnoff signposted Crawton.

There are about eight parking spaces at the end of the road, and a footpath on the north side. Follow the footpath all the way out to the end. Go past the hide, and circle around the cliff in front of you. You'll see a large cave opening in the cliff wall. That's where the puffins nest.

In addition to puffins, you'll see (and hear!) well over 100,000 seabirds of all types nesting on the cliffs. Mostly razorbills, kittiwakes, guillemots, and common gulls. Best of all, parking is free, and this reserve is not frequently visited, so you may have the whole walk to yourselves. The cliffs are pretty spectacular, as well!

Happy twitching!

Mike (Auchterless)

@Stuart - I don't know whether Fowlsheugh was mentioned in the article to which you provided a link. I couldn't read it as it was behind a paywall, and I'm too cheap to pay for a subscription.

Posted by
6710 posts

The article is free to me so clearly we have the same problem as I often have with US newspapers- geo [something]- available to it's home market- here goes-
Aberdeenshire puffins: Where, when and how to see them
Our how-to guide lists the four best places in Aberdeenshire for puffins according to a local expert, plus top tips for how and when to see the spectacular seabirds.
Did you know you can see puffins right here in Aberdeenshire?

You’d be forgiven for thinking you can only really spot them around the northern Highlands, Orkney and Shetland, but there’s actually plenty of places to peep a puffin perching in the north-east.

The charismatic seabirds have recently enjoyed the spotlight in the BBC’s Wild Isles natural history series, but if you’ve only ever seen them on telly, why not make 2023 the year you finally see one in real life?
Although the red-listed species is sadly very rare in Aberdeenshire, there are still a good number of puffin hotspots where, with the right know-how, you can watch them with relative ease.

Read on, and join Aberdeenshire-based birdwatching tour guide and local RSPB group chairman David Leslie to find out:

The four best places to see a puffin in Aberdeenshire
When the best time of day and year is to see them
And how to pick them out among thousands of other seabirds
David, who has run his birdwatching tour business since 2016, says there are four key locations around Aberdeenshire for puffin-watching, but the species can really be found anywhere there are steep cliffs, and somewhere to burrow for their nests.
According to David, the four best places in Aberdeenshire for seeing puffins are:

Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve, south of Stonehaven
Bullers of Buchan, just north of Cruden Bay
Troup Head Nature Reserve, west of Pennan
The sea just north of Collieston
David said: “Bullers of Buchan and Fowlsheugh are the two easiest places to get to, both in terms of parking and how far you’ll need to walk to see the puffins.”

Here’s David’s top tips for each location (Note: Please be extremely careful around cliff edges)

  1. Fowlsheugh- “If people are going to Fowlsheugh, the best place for them is right at the end of the reserve, near a hide built out of stones.

“There’s a large hole in the cliff opposite that hide that almost looks like a cave.
“The puffins are often around the mouth of it.”

  1. Bullers of Buchan “At Bullers, you’re going to want to look around the top of the cliffs mainly.

“That’s where they nest, and you’ll often see them standing around outside their burrows.”
3. Troup Head
“For Troup Head, there’s a well-serviced path that has been built all the way around there, it’s got great access and steps up and down.

“Troup Head is completely taken over by gannets, but there’s still a few puffins to be seen.

“Look for an area that’s quite shallowly-sloped, and covered in soil, it’s near the top of the cliffs but not near the very, very top.”

  1. Collieston “And at Collieston, park at the car park north of the harbour.

“Go north from that car park, it’s very steep at the start but there’s a very obvious path going north.

“You can see puffins here bobbing around in the water mainly.”

When’s the best time of day and year to see Aberdeenshire puffins?
“Generally, evenings are better,” said David.
“The vast majority of the year, puffins are actually out in the North Sea bobbing about, so they’re only really close to land towards the end of March, into the start of April, and they’re on land until their chicks fledge in mid-July.
“May and June, I would say, are the peak times really.


Posted by
6710 posts

“They nest in burrows in the cliffs, and they have a single egg.

“One adult will stay with an egg, and the other will fly out to sea during the day and feed.
“Generally they’ll come back to shore in the evenings, and then go back into the burrow itself, where they’ll either be swapping over for the egg, or feeding the chick if it’s hatched.
David said: “You’ll see plenty of seabirds like guillemots and razorbills, which can cause confusion because they’re also members of the auk family, and are black and white too.

“They nest on and take up all the very narrow cliff ledges out in the open.
“But puffins need to be able to burrow into the ground to nest, or use rabbit burrows.

“So look for areas of softer ground, because actual cliffs are no use to them.

“Occasionally though, you’ll see puffins perching on the rocky bits of the cliffs to have a rest and get away from predators.”
David said when puffins are flying, they’ll appear “a little bit smaller than the guillemots and razorbills”.

He said to keep an eye out for their orange feet and beaks when they’re in flight.

“If the water is calm, you can sometimes see large rafts of them sitting together on the water, just resting,” he added.
Do I need to invest in fancy camera lenses or binoculars to see a puffin in Aberdeenshire?
David said that although he always has binoculars with him as a seasoned birdwatcher, depending on where you go in Aberdeenshire you don’t necessarily need fancy equipment to spy a puffin.

He said: “I’ve gone to Fowlsheugh before and effectively walked up to the top of the cliff, and taken photos of puffins standing right in front of me, just using my iPhone.
“Because they have the ability to escape any predators that are on land, they can actually be quite accommodating.

“As you’ll know from the Wild Isles series there are some places you can almost walk amongst the puffins, because there’s thousands of pairs.

“We don’t have anything like that in Aberdeenshire, but you can actually get quite close to them, particularly at Fowlsheugh and Bullers, they can be perched not that far away from where you can walk to and see them.”

[there are lots of pictures and maps, which clearly I can't copy, but that will more than do for the OP].

Posted by
1388 posts

Hi, Stuart,

Thank you very much for providing the whole article! You really didn't need to go to all that trouble! However, it does confirm my post about puffins at Fowlsheugh. The author was correct - if you walk around the cliff, past the hide, you can see puffins quite close. I've even seen them on the cliffs surrounding Dunnottar Castle.

One place where you can see puffins in profusion is on the stacks surrounding Hirta, on the St Kilda archipelago. Boreray is probably the best of the lot. We saw hundreds of puffins on our trip out there.

Scott, very best of luck in your search for those charming birds!

And Stuart, thanks once again!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
6710 posts

They used to be on the remoter islands decades ago, but that has long ended.
It would be inconceivable now.
If I remember rightly on St Kilda, right up to evacuation, getting the eggs of puffins and other sea birds was a part of the diet. There used to be a pride and a competitive trait amongst the population as to who could get the most, and from the wildest possible location.
Out there it was a very tough life. I hope people don't judge history through modern eyes.
Presumably in Iceland there is the same history, and a more pragmatic approach to life. Who is to say who is right or wrong. I doubt Icelandic Hunting does anything to depopulate the species. They will have their numbers balance right.
It would be interesting to know what they taste like.

Posted by
7013 posts

The rich, smooth smoked slithers of meat tasted livery and slightly fishy - the perfect appetizers for whale steak.

Evidently Gordon Ramsay had a thing for cooked puffin, and the Guardian wrote about it. Not for me, though - puffins are too cute to eat. Of course, my chickens are pretty cute too, in a stupid sort of way, and they will eventually get eaten, so who's to say?

Posted by
1388 posts

The primary source of food on Hirta was the flesh of gannets and fulmars, along with the eggs of those birds. As puffins were more plentiful in the summer, they became the primary staple for that season. As most of the birds nested on the stacks and out islands surrounding Hirta, the men had to row out to the stacks, scale the cliffs, capture the birds, and carefully collect the eggs.

Most of the cliffs look unclimbable, especially from a rowboat that was bobbing about in the water. Sometimes the men had to remain on the out islands and stacks for days at a time, if the weather took a turn for the worse. Through the decades, the toes of the men evolved and became longer, and their ankles stronger, to aid in climbing the cliffs.

I would encourage anyone interested in the history of St Kilda to read either The Life and Death of St. Kilda, by Tom Steel; or Island on the Edge of the World, by Charles MacLean. I can guarantee that after reading either one of those books (or both), you will definitely want to visit. The fastest way (three hours out) is from Leverburgh, either with Kilda Cruises or Sea Harris.

There is also a decent article about St Kilda on Wikipedia.

Happy reading!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
7013 posts

My next trip will definitely involve going to St. Kilda. Thanks for the info, Mike!