The Day I Fell in Love With Puffins & Gannets

Gannet showing off at Bass Rock

Mr Mac, James, Ewan and I all took a day trip to North Berwick on our holiday. The day previously, we’d taken a drive down the Fife coast (St Andrews to Dunfermline) and on the way we could see Bass Rock across the Firth of Forth (Have a look at this map to see what I mean. North Berwick is East of Edinburgh). I mentioned to Mr Mac that if we drove to North Berwick, we could hop on a boat out to see Bass Rock which is home to a massive colony of gannets.

From Dunfermline, it’s a very easy drive to North Berwick. We crossed the Forth Road Bridge and hopped on the motorway until after we’d passed Musselburgh (The Honest Toun) at which point we joined the coast road. We drove through a some gorgeous East Lothian towns like Aberlady and Longniddry and past a seemingly endless number of well-kept golf courses with fantastic views. Before long Mr Mac was looking for, and easily found, a parking spot in North Berwick.

There are clear signs all through North Berwick to guide the visitor to the Scottish Seabird Centre. The Seabird Centre is right by the harbour, you can’t miss it. (We didn’t visit the actual centre but we loved the gift shop.) The Seabird Centre also runs the trips out to Bass Rock and Craigleith. While we were waiting for our boat, I observed the artwork in the office and was surprised to see a lot of puffin paraphernalia. I had no idea that puffins came so far south so I asked the office staff if we were likely to see any puffins that day. I was super-surprised and ever so excited to hear that despite the fact that that they fly North again at around this time of year (end july/early August) puffins had been spotted on an earlier trip out to Craigleith that day.

All aboard to Bass Rock!

We hopped on the boat when it arrived and were headed out onto the water in no time. We had an extremely knowledgable and friendly guide (a local councillor, actually) who was very happy to answer questions and pointed out all the different types of seabirds we saw on the way out to the first island, Craigleith. After telling us about the shags, cormorants and kittywakes we’d be likely to see, he pointed out a multitude of puffins, floating on the water. I actually squealed. They were gorgeous, floating in the water with their lovely little orange beaks. Seeing puffins was one of my favourite things ever. I only wish I’d had a better zoom lens on my camera to get a decent photo.

Bass Rock, all those white dots are gannets!

And then we left the puffins behind and headed towards Bass Rock to see the gannets. I always thought a gannet wasn’t much more than a glorified seagull. I was so wrong. Gannets are amazing! As we approached, Mr Mac and I talked to the guide about the birds we’d seen while we were eating lunch. They had been diving into the water from a great height and at great speed, were huge and had black on the ends of their wings. He told us, “Oh, that’s gannets!” As we got closer to Bass Rock we saw more clearly the thousands and thousands of gannets flying around the rock and a few flying gracefully over the surface of the water. Our guide told us all about the gannets- they’re the largest birds in the North Atlantic; they’ll attack you if they feel threatened; they have a personal space bubble, just like we do so you never see them too close to one another; the have protective air sacs on their heads and chests to stop them getting hurt as they dive into the water at speeds up to 100km/h; they know exactly where their wings are at all times so even though it looks as though they’re just skimming the surface of the water, their wings never actually touch the water.

So many birds!

We got quite close to the rock (I’m not going to lie to you, it smelled quite strongly of fish). Our guide pointed out the baby gannets; they weren’t small by the time we’d got there but were shedding their baby fluffy feathers and growing proper grey feathers in the down’s place. The yellow on the heads of the adult gannets was treat to see up close. Our guide pointed above us to “gannet flying school,” where we saw the adolescent gannets learning to fly. He explained a bit about the geology of the rock (the details of which have got lost in all the excitement of the day) and as he pointed towards some caves I saw a seal swimming out from between to rock faces. Puffins and gannets and seals! I was in wildlife heaven that day.

Our trip out to Bass Rock cost somewhere around £50 (£15 per adult + £9 per child + £3 for hire of binoculars) for about an hour and a half trip. If you ask me, it was the best £50 we spent while we were in Scotland. I can’t recommend the trip highly enough.

Some other photos from the day:

The men at Bass Rock (even the teenagers were entranced by the wildlife.)

Me! On a Boat! (I cut my hair short the next day.)