The ferry captain advised, “Don’t stop for the puffins at first. Keep going and get to the big bird nest and say hi to the puffins on the way back.” I debarked, my steps pink-ponking down the metal gangplank, and headed up the path.
The sun glimmered on the Atlantic. The clouds had thinned once we got clear of the mainland. Mid-morning on the sea was bright, in the high forties. Lunga is uninhabited, one of several small islands that make up a national scenic area in Scotland.
I passed a few puffins as I walked. I had inflated their size in my mind. I was expecting a bird as large as a chicken. They are lower to the ground, closer to the size of pigeons, though a little stouter. Their orange-rimmed eyes watched me pass, but they made no attempt to move. I did not stop.
Tufts of moss poked through between the rocks. Low yellow flowers grew in patches on the sides of the cliffs. There was now considerable distance between me and the rest of the passengers from the ferry. While I was alone, it was getting louder around me, as if I was approaching a school cafeteria from down the hall. The path turned a final time and I faced the source of the sound.
The captain’s words did not do the sight justice. This was no mere nest. This was a mountain of birds, a massive colony of guillemots. They filled a large rock that spanned several hundred feet in each direction. The birds were everywhere, thousands of them, their black and white bodies peppering every surface. About 40 feet separated the rock they inhabited from the rest of the island. Breaking waves splashed in the chasm. Birds flew, birds took off, birds moved along the edges, birds dove. My eyes roved the spectacle, unable to focus on a single aspect.
Vastly outnumbered, I threw my head back laughing, the sound swallowed quickly by the raucous thunder of ten thousand chattering birds.
I can hear the birds and more importantly, see you laughing!