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Did you ever find yourself completely covered in guano, but still felt genuinely happy? No? Well, read on then...

In the end of May I travelled to a small uninhabited island for the coast of Ireland. Joining yours truly - aka Brave Happy Puff - on this grand adventure were Jasper, Frédérique and Maarten. Together we experienced a fun week with lots of hard work, a good laugh and some pretty satisfying photo opportunities.

This island is - with 89 hectares - one of Ireland it's largest seabird sanctuaries. Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus) breed in their thousands here (hence the guano) and are joined by Razorbills (Alca torda), Common Guillemots (Uria aalge), Kittiwakes, Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) and many many more species of birds. A first for me was the Common Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) and more importantly... the Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica).

I already wanted to see Puffins in the wild for years. There highly photogenic, funny and surprisingly small birds (around 25 cm tall) have something special. And guess what... there I was, sitting just 1,5 metres away of three puffins enjoying some late afternoon sun. An almost magical moment!

Although the number of bird species and their densitity was certainly impressive, it was the island itself that made the biggest impression. It's rugged setting in the Atlantic Ocean, its plant diversity and its history and monuments make it a real gem. Being there with just three other people and only the sounds of the ocean, the cries of thousands of birds and some curious seals as company... add a beautiful sun set and you get the idea!

It was great to be able to focus on a single subject for multiple days in a row. You really venture into more creative forms of photography, play with different light conditions and you have more time to observe and learn about your subjects. Also - despite enjoying the excellent pub food - you leave 5 kg's lighter due to the physical challenge and lack of sleep :)

Standing in the middle of a bird colony can be overwhelming at times. The sheer number of birds and bird species give the sense of chaos, albeit an organized one. This leaves the photographer somewhat puzzled as what to include in the frame: vast numbers of birds versus an intimate portrait of just one. Hence, I hope you enjoy my take on life at the colony:

A portrait of an Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/400, f/7.1, iso 160, handheld.
A portrait of an Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/400, f/7.1, iso 160, handheld.

A Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) with nesting material. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/2000, f/6.3, iso 320, handheld.
A Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) with nesting material. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/2000, f/6.3, iso 320, handheld.

Different plants (Silene maritima, Umbilicus rupestris, Hyacinthus sp.) against a stone wall. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/250, f/6.3, iso 320, handheld.
Different plants (Silene maritima, Umbilicus rupestris, Hyacinthus sp.) against a stone wall. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/250, f/6.3, iso 320, handheld.

A razorbill (Alca torda) with its beak filled with sand lances. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/250, f/4, iso 250, handheld.
A razorbill (Alca torda) with its beak filled with sand lances. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/250, f/4, iso 250, handheld.

A Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) arranging its feathers.  Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 100, handheld.
A Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) arranging its feathers. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 100, handheld.

Impressionism with Northern Gannets. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/8, f/16, iso 250, handheld.
Impressionism with Northern Gannets. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/8, f/16, iso 250, handheld.

Northern Gannets on the wind. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/320, f/11, iso 100, handheld.
Northern Gannets on the wind. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/320, f/11, iso 100, handheld.

Territorial response of a Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/100, f/8, iso 200, remote camera.
Territorial response of a Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/100, f/8, iso 200, remote camera.

A grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) with Common Murres (Uria aalge) in the foreground. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/250, f/4, iso 250, handheld.
A grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) with Common Murres (Uria aalge) in the foreground. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/250, f/4, iso 250, handheld.

A Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) in a display. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 250, handheld.
A Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) in a display. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 250, handheld.

A curious Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/250, f/5.6, iso 125, handheld.
A curious Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/250, f/5.6, iso 125, handheld.

A Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) in flight.  Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/15, f/11, iso 200, flash, handheld.
A Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) in flight. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/15, f/11, iso 200, flash, handheld.

A Razorbill (Alca torda).  Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/320, f/4.5, iso 100, handheld.
A Razorbill (Alca torda). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/320, f/4.5, iso 100, handheld.

A freshly hatched chick from a Razorbill (Alca torda). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/320, f/5, iso 100, handheld.
A freshly hatched chick from a Razorbill (Alca torda). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/320, f/5, iso 100, handheld.

An Gull (Larus argentatus) stole the egg of a Common Murre (Uria aalge). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/400, f/4.5, iso 250, handheld.
An Gull (Larus argentatus) stole the egg of a Common Murre (Uria aalge). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/400, f/4.5, iso 250, handheld.

A grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) with wound around it's neck. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/250, f/5.6, iso 100, handheld.
A grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) with wound around it's neck. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/250, f/5.6, iso 100, handheld.

Thrift (Armeria maritima), sedum and lichen. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/500, f/9, iso 250, handheld.
Thrift (Armeria maritima), sedum and lichen. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/500, f/9, iso 250, handheld.

A ' angry looking' Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/9, iso 200, handheld.
A ' angry looking' Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/9, iso 200, handheld.

Two European Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 640, handheld.
Two European Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 640, handheld.

A fluffy chick of a Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus).  Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/125, f/9, iso 160, handheld.
A fluffy chick of a Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/125, f/9, iso 160, handheld.

An Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) in a sea of thrift (Armeria maritima). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 125, handheld.
An Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) in a sea of thrift (Armeria maritima). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 125, handheld.

A sea cliff filled with thrift (Armeria maritima). Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/250, f/10, iso 100, handheld.
A sea cliff filled with thrift (Armeria maritima). Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/250, f/10, iso 100, handheld.

Look me in the eye... Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/400, f/5, iso 160, handheld.
Look me in the eye... Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/400, f/5, iso 160, handheld.

A displaying Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 125, handheld.
A displaying Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 125, handheld.

A crumbling stone wall, hyacinthus in the fog. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/50, f/5, iso 200, handheld.
A crumbling stone wall, hyacinthus in the fog. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/50, f/5, iso 200, handheld.

An Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) with capelin or sand lance. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 320, handheld.
An Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) with capelin or sand lance. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 320, handheld.

Nest of a Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/500, f/5.6, iso 160, handheld.
Nest of a Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/500, f/5.6, iso 160, handheld.

Two Razorbills (Alca torda). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/1000, f/4.5, iso 200, handheld.
Two Razorbills (Alca torda). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/1000, f/4.5, iso 200, handheld.

An 'angelic' Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/640, f/7.1, iso 100, handheld.
An 'angelic' Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/640, f/7.1, iso 100, handheld.

Distinctive nesting territoria. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/400, f/7.1, iso 100, handheld.
Distinctive nesting territoria. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/400, f/7.1, iso 100, handheld.

Saltee Chapel :) Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/2500, f/7.1, iso 200, handheld.
Saltee Chapel :) Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/2500, f/7.1, iso 200, handheld.

Typical hovering mode. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/2000, f/4, iso 320, handheld.
Typical hovering mode. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/2000, f/4, iso 320, handheld.

A Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) breeding. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/400, f/5, iso 160, handheld.
A Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) breeding. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/400, f/5, iso 160, handheld.

A portrait of a Gannet (Morus bassanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/320, f/4.5, iso 100, handheld.
A portrait of a Gannet (Morus bassanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/320, f/4.5, iso 100, handheld.

A rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) loosing its fur. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/400, f/5, iso 250, handheld.
A rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) loosing its fur. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/400, f/5, iso 250, handheld.

A Gannet in the middle of a display. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/800, f/7.1, iso 320, handheld.
A Gannet in the middle of a display. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/800, f/7.1, iso 320, handheld.

Razorbills (Alca torda). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/500, f/6.3, iso 250, handheld.
Razorbills (Alca torda). Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/500, f/6.3, iso 250, handheld.

Two puffins on their rock cliff at the Atlantic. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/160, f/10, iso 100, handheld.
Two puffins on their rock cliff at the Atlantic. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/160, f/10, iso 100, handheld.

A Gannet ready to land. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/250, f/11, iso 320, flash, handheld.
A Gannet ready to land. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/250, f/11, iso 320, flash, handheld.

A European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis). Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/200, f/11, iso 100, handheld.
A European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis). Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/200, f/11, iso 100, handheld.

Abandoned eggs of a Herring Gull (Larus argentatus). Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/80, f/6.3, iso 100, handheld.
Abandoned eggs of a Herring Gull (Larus argentatus). Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/80, f/6.3, iso 100, handheld.

A pair of Gannets overlooking the colony. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/640, f/7.1, iso 320, handheld.
A pair of Gannets overlooking the colony. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/640, f/7.1, iso 320, handheld.

Gannets in flight. Stacked photo: Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/2000, f/5.6, iso 200, handheld.
Gannets in flight. Stacked photo: Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/2000, f/5.6, iso 200, handheld.

A Razorbill (Alca torda) about to land. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/2000, f/4, iso 250, handheld.
A Razorbill (Alca torda) about to land. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/2000, f/4, iso 250, handheld.

Colony of Gannets at the Atlantic Ocean. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/400, f/4, iso 250, Cokin Gradual Neutral Grey filter, handheld.
Colony of Gannets at the Atlantic Ocean. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/400, f/4, iso 250, Cokin Gradual Neutral Grey filter, handheld.

Gull with gannet colony in the distance. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/125, f/8, iso 100, handheld.
Gull with gannet colony in the distance. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/125, f/8, iso 100, handheld.

Panorama of Common Murres (Uria aalge) plastering the rock cliffs. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/320, f/7.1, iso 250, handheld.
Panorama of Common Murres (Uria aalge) plastering the rock cliffs. Canon 50D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM, 1/320, f/7.1, iso 250, handheld.

Umbilicus rupestris upon a stone wall. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/80, f/6.3, iso 200, handheld.
Umbilicus rupestris upon a stone wall. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/80, f/6.3, iso 200, handheld.

Two puffins (Fratercula arctica) cuddling. A portrait of an Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/400, f/7.1, iso 160, handheld.
Two puffins (Fratercula arctica) cuddling. A portrait of an Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/400, f/7.1, iso 160, handheld.
 


Have a look at this short video to get an impression of the island and its bird colonies:

This video was shot using the Canon Powershot S100.


New photos: Life at the colony