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Yesnaby Stacks (Orkney, Scotland)

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City: Orkney / Country: Scotland

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      03.08.2010 16:25
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      The stacks are incredible

      I've always loved puffins but have never actually seen one. So on our recent trip to Orkney I thought I might be in with a chance. Having been disappointed on an earlier visit to Marwick Head, we consulted our trusty "Puffins in Orkney" leaflet from the RSPB, and decided that Yesnaby Stacks was the next place to try.

      My dad and I set off early one morning, not the best time to see puffins but the only time we could go. Yesnaby is located on the west coast of Orkney, between Skara Brae and Marwick Head.

      There is a car park there, albeit just dirt, so we parked up and set off. We headed south from the car park, down into an inlet and then back up in order to reach the cliff tops. We didn't walk too far, but with the slopes into and out of the inlet, it felt like we'd had a good walk! We could have gone a lot further than we did, but we decided not to.

      Like Marwick Head, Yesnaby is a seabird reserve. The difference is in the land itself. Both feature cliff top walks, but at Yesnaby there are more inlets and promontories, and of course stacks. These are freestanding pillars of rock created by the endless pounding of the Atlantic Ocean and are quite spectacular to see while they remain standing - eventually erosion causes stacks to collapse. The most famous in Orkney, and I would think Scotland, is the Old Man of Hoy. I found myself watching them, as though I was waiting for them to collapse right in front of me.

      I was quite taken by the stacks, as was my dad, but let's not forget our reason for being there - puffins. We walked along the cliffs, not very far but with several stops to sit down and watch the birds nesting in the cliffs.

      Yet again, no puffins - not really a huge surprise but a still a disappointment. We did see plenty of other birds though, a variety of gulls and kittiwakes, along with guillemots. Our more interesting sightings were eiders, gannets (a group of four flying out at sea, skimming the waves), great skuas (bonxies in Orkney) and razorbills. I really liked the razorbills, they were smaller than I would have expected, elegant looking birds which were nesting in one of the stacks.

      So although no puffins, by no means a wasted trip. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk, the landscape and the birds. It was a sunny day we visited, and not too breezy - these were ideal conditions for a cliff top walk.


      A note on puffins: Orkney has around 70,000 nesting pairs and 60,000 of these are on the small uninhabited island of Sule Skerry, far to the north and expensive to reach. Hoy has larger numbers than the mainland, but again not easy to reach. Marwick Head and Yesnaby Stacks are the best places to try for puffins on the mainland, but they are only there in small numbers.

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