A new project at the RSPB bird reserve at Sumburgh Head is fast becoming an internet hit. In what is believed to be a world first, live images from a puffin burrow are being broadcast on the internet, and people seem to be getting hooked on puffincam.
Following the success of a puffin camera in the BBC series Simon King’s Shetland Diaries, the RSPB set up “A Date with Nature at Sumburgh Head”, one of a series of projects across the UK which are all about getting people closer to wildlife.
Sumburgh-based Date with Nature assistant Newton Harper said: “What I want to do is make people even more passionate about Shetland’s seabirds, especially puffins, or tammy nories as they are known in the islands.
“Sumburgh Head is one of the most accessible places in Britain to see puffins and now with our puffincam people can also watch the puffins from the comfort of their own home. Puffins are perhaps the nation’s favourite seabirds and I have heard that people are watching the camera from dawn to dusk.”
There are two cameras in place, one inside and one outside the burrow, which have been revealing all sorts of behaviour.
Sumburgh Head warden Helen Moncrieff said: “The egg was first seen on 6th May and since then the puffin has generally just sat there incubating it. It may sound boring, but it’s amazing what compulsive viewing it is.
“There has been a couple of times when the puffin has been absent for over 10 hours causing a bit of anxiety for all who have been watching, and there’s been some intimate views of puffins billing which is a bit like a puffins version of having a snog.
“We estimate the egg will hatch around the 14th to 17th June. To see a puffin hatch live on screen will be truly amazing. I hope that as well as watching the puffincam people will come to Sumburgh Head to experience the seabird colony for themselves, including the sounds and smells adds to the spectacle.
“We have telescopes available and staff and volunteers will be on hand to share the stories of the birds as the breeding season progresses. I have to offer a word of warning. Watching a sleeping, sighing, shuffling puffin can become addictive but is not harmful to your health.”
The project is indebted to the support of Simon King (who donated a camera), Shetland Amenity Trust and Promote Shetland, the latter providing the technology and access to their video streaming network.
Promote Shetland manager Andy Steven said: “We are very pleased to be working with the RSPB and allowing the world to share the fantastic views of our puffins as they go about their daily routine and hopefully raising their young.”
Shetland Amenity Trust general manager Jimmy Moncrieff said: “We are delighted to be supporting this project and allowing public access to the impressive engine room. The trust has ambitious plans to redevelop Sumburgh Head as a world-class visitor attraction and hope that events like Date with Nature will become a regular feature at Sumburgh Head in the future.”
A Date with Nature at Sumburgh Head can be experienced on Thursdays to Sundays until 8th August, between 10am and 4pm.
A special event, Love and War, will be held on 29th May, with help from Shetland Amenity Trust’s assistant archaeologist and World Heritage Site rangers from Orkney.