Puffins spend most of the year at sea, only to come back in May to nest and mate. When I was in Iceland puffins had not begun nesting yet but I was lucky to see these two early one morning on the magical Dyrhˇlaey - an isolated peninsula (it used to be a volcanic island) in southern Iceland. They are delightful birds, quite tame (I got within a few feet of them) and everything they do is amusing, from the way they walk (like a drunken butler trying to retain his dignity) to their curious demeanour.
Puffins mate for life but separate when out at sea, returning to each other at the beginning of spring to get together again and clean out their burrow for the nesting season. I like to think that these two had just found each other after the long season at sea. The puffin's brightly coloured beak is actually only a feature during mating season, and the coloured part is shed when they return to sea revealing a smaller 'true' beak underneath. The larger beak helps the puffin gather extra food for chicks.
Iceland has the largest number of nesting Atlantic puffins, thought to be around 10 million, and at the end of the breeding season there is a 'festival' of sorts where families go out at night looking for puffin chicks (pufflings) that have lost their way, confused by modern lights. The puffins need to head out to sea to survive so, once collected, they are taken away from the city and literally thrown out to sea, in the same manner one would throw a rugby or American football. This gets them on the right track!
Shot of the day
Justin Van Leeuwen (Gallery)