1 Aug 2018

Lovely Birds I Encountered in Ireland

Atlantic Puffin: floating on the sea © HIH Princess Takamado
Atlantic Puffin: floating on the sea © HIH Princess Takamado
By HIH Princess Takamado

'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, July, 2018

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Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English Translation: Asia Club, a WBSJ Volunteer Group (YOKOYAMA Kazuko, KASE Tomoko)

Princess Takamado exploring Lambay Island

In July last year, I visited Ireland to attend the ceremony held in Dublin commemorating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Japan.   In Japanese Ireland is spelt in three Chinese characters, the first of which is pronounced “ai” and means love.   I sincerely agree that “love” matches well with the generous-hearted and gentle nationality as well as the beautiful scenery full of green of the country.

Ireland is an island country with numerous small and large ones scattered around, including uninhabited ones.   It is one of the most important breeding sites for seabirds.   As my visit happened to be in July, their highest breeding season, I could photograph male birds in breeding plumage and parents caring for their chicks.   Here I would like to show you some photos of Atlantic Puffins taken on that occasion.

Birds in the genus Fratercula are called puffins in English and consist of three species: the Atlantic Puffin found in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Horned Puffin in the North Pacific Ocean and found even in Northern Japan on rare occasions, and the Tufted Puffin whose breeding area in Japan is the southern limit.   The Horned Puffin is popular for its penguin-like plumage and toddler-like swaying walk.   It has been named so, because its dark gray triangles above and under the eyes that look like horns.   It is the penguin’s equal in favorability, which may be guessed from the fact that Penguin Books Ltd., one of the largest publishing companies in UK, has been publishing children’s books under the name of Puffin Books.

The popularity of the puffin may come from its somewhat annoyed expression and the cuteness of its pudgy body.   However, unimaginably from its comical and humorous facial expression and crown-like melancholic image, it is a super bird that can manifest its triphibious ability on land, in the air as well as in the water.

An Atlantic Puffin in flight © HIH Princess Takamado

It can dive as deep as up to 60meters, staying under water for 20-30 seconds.   It can fly at 80 kilometers per hour by beating its wings 400 times per minute, while in the water, it uses the wings as oars by adjusting the angle.   It also moves its webbed feet to steer its course.   When it gets on land for breeding, it becomes a skillful digger, making full use of its strong beaks and sharp talons.   Basically it finds out the burrow made in the previous year and repairs it, but as the housing situation seems tough, there can be severe fights over better spots.   The male and the female work collaboratively to dig a burrow in the mud and spread feathers to make a comfortable home.   The female lays a single egg and the both parents take turns to sit on it and go out for fishing once the egg has hatched.   It is really heart-warming to watch the bird carrying dexterously as many as 20 fish between its jagged beaks.

An Atlantic Puffin bringing back fish to its nest © HIH Princess Takamado

The puffins might be a good example of a lesson that a man/bird should not be judged by his/its appearance.   It is not only a prodigy good at both swimming and diving, but an excellent fisher, talented digger and high speed flier, maintaining ideal relationship as parents to work together to keep the burrow comfortable and raise a chick.   As to humans too, quiet but smart persons are much more attractive than those with a grand air.   But I feel sorry for the bird because its appearance is too comical to properly convey its unusual abilities.  When you come across with a puffin next time, please encourage it saying, “You are so fantastic!”

An Atlantic Puffin bathing © HIH Princess Takamado