The remote Scottish island of Lunga has a population of zero – or thousands, depending on whether you are a human or a puffin.
This beautiful slice of the Inner Hebridean archipelago, described as “a green jewel in a peacock sea”, has been deserted since the 1850s, but each summer it plays host to a huge colony of one of the most charming British birds of all: the Atlantic puffin.
The bill of the Atlantic puffin is serrated and hinged, an adaptation that allows the seabird to catch and hold dozens of sand eels at one time Getty
To reach Lunga, the largest of the Treshnish Isles, you must catch a boat from Oban on the Scottish mainland, or from the Isle of Mull. As you approach (most often on rolling, rocky seas), the “green jewel” appears temptingly on the horizon. Once off the boat and on to solid ground, you can walk up to the top of Harp Rock, where from May to August wild birds lay their eggs in burrows on the cliff edge or hidden in the rock face below.
Lunga is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, designated to protect the fragile breeding grounds of the puffins (classed as vulnerable) and 46 other bird species. Razorbills, guillemots, storm petrels and kittiwakes all breed on Lunga, but it is the clown-faced puffins that steal the show.
Puffins on Lunga island
From April, the puffins arrive on Lunga to dig their burrows; each pair guards a single egg. After 40 days, the chicks hatch and the adults get busy feeding their young. They rush in and out of burrows, stalk about among the grass and the sea-pink flowers, or swoop low back to their broods with bills full of glittering silver sand eels.
Lunga’s puffins have little fear of humans, and if you stand or sit still to watch them, they will happily potter about very close to you – a dream for bird-lovers and wildlife photographers alike. In July or August, the chicks are ready to leave their burrows, and Lunga’s puffin population returns to life at sea.
Puffin colony on Lunga Island Getty
If you can tear yourself away from the puffins, the rest of Lunga is a wonderful place to ramble, and small enough to walk around in an hour or so.
All that remains of the hardy people who once eked out a living here are the ruins of a few black houses on the site of an old village to the north-east of the island; the rest is just craggy green cliffs surrounded by sparkling sea, and the growling call of the puffins.