Atlantic Puffins are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with numbers of the species worldwide declining. Meanwhile, Atlantic Puffin numbers are growing on Skomer Island off the coast of Pembrokeshire in Wales, making this a wildlife photographers dream!
In fact, the puffin bird population on Skomer Island has surged by 240 percent compared to the previous ten years! In April 2022, there were 38,896 birds recorded in the most recent Atlantic puffin count on Skomer.
If there is one thing I can guarantee, time your trip right, and you’ll see plenty of puffins!
These birds are frequently referred to as sea parrots, they spend the majority of their life at sea, only coming to shore during breeding season. With their vividly coloured beaks and penguin-like traits, they have become a popular bird to capture for bird and wildlife photographers in recent years.
But did you know that a puffin’s beak becomes grey in the winter? It bursts with colour again in the spring and is thought to help attract a mate during the breeding season. Also, another fun fact, once they have found a partner, puffins usually mate for life!
This photography guide to Skomer Island aims to cover everything there is to know about a day trip to visit the island.
You’ll know exactly where to go, how to get there and what you need to do to get the perfect puffin photos you’ve been dreaming of capturing!
- Recommended camera equipment to get the best Puffin photos
- The best time to visit Skomer Island to see Puffins
- How to book your Skomer Island Day trip
- What to expect on a Skomer Island Day visit
- Fitness level required for Skomer Island Day trip
- Essentials to pack for a Skomer Island visit
- The best place on Skomer Island for Atlantic Puffin photography
- Camera settings for Puffin photography
- RAW vs JPEG?
- Other wildlife and birds on Skomer Island
- Accommodation options for Skomer Island
- Other places in the UK to photograph Puffins
Ready to learn everything there is to know about puffin photography on Skomer Island?
Let’s get to it!
While it is certainly possible to capture some excellent photography shots of the puffins on a Skomer Island visit on your phone or compact travel camera, to be able to get exceptional detail and sharp photos you’ll want a camera with a remarkable autofocus and high FPS rate.
Puffin photography recommendations:
These attractive birds arrive on Skomer Island in April to begin nesting and leave again at the end of July. You’ll need to time your visit to Skomer Island during these couple of months if you want to see the puffins.
May – Best month to see Puffins among Bluebells, Red Campion & Pink Thrift
Skomer Island comes to life, in terms of Puffin photography appeal, a month or so after the seabirds arrive in April to start nesting. For a few weeks around mid-May, blankets of bluebells and red campion adorn the paths as the puffins prepare and perfect their nests.
As the weather warms up, pink thrift blooms on the coastline in late May and early June. These flowers usually add something extra special in the foreground of your puffin images.
June – Best month to see Puffins with mouthfuls of sand eels
Adult puffins will begin bringing in sand eels for their newly hatched young during the first week of June and you will continue to be able to see them bringing this food source into their burrows to feed the puffin chicks, commonly known as pufflings, throughout the rest of the month.
July – Best month to see Pufflings
Around the first week of July, a few Pufflings will start to emerge from their burrows and stretch their wings. As the month progresses, the number of Puffling sightings increases until all the birds finally leave in early August.
Pembrokeshire Islands Boat Trips offers a 15-minute ferry journey to Skomer Island nature reserve, where you can land on the Island and explore this puffin paradise for yourself. This is the only operator that has access to land on the Island.
The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales restricts visitation to 250 people per day in order to maintain the environment and avoid disrupting breeding birds.
Tickets for the Skomer Island ferry journey are exclusively available through the Pembrokeshire Islands Boat Trips website. They sell out quickly, so if you want to ensure you can go on a specific date, plan ahead of time to prevent disappointment.
It should be noted that you used to be able to turn up and acquire tickets on the spot, but this is no longer possible!!
If there are no tickets available for your date, it is worthwhile re-checking daily for tickets. This is because the booking system is constantly updated. We wanted to travel in June, but every day was sold out.
We were really disappointed but continued to check the booking system. After being sold out for weeks, tickets randomly became available on numerous days.
It’s also worth noting that trips are weather dependent, and Pembrokeshire Islands Boat Trips can cancel your trip subject to the tides, weather forecasts and sea conditions. Full refunds are given if your trip is cancelled by Pembrokeshire Island Boat Trips.
Therefore, a top tip is to keep an eye on the weather in the days leading up to your visit. We were gutted as we originally booked to go on a Tuesday, and the weather was not looking promising!
We were almost certain our trip would be cancelled. Fortunately, we noticed two last minute tickets became available for the next day and called to ask to move our tickets; thankfully, they exchanged our tickets, and our Wednesday tour went ahead (the Tuesday trip did end up getting cancelled!).
No Skomer Island ferry landing tickets available for your dates? Take a cruise around the island instead. You’ll still be able to experience the magic of Skomer Island from the comfort of a ferry and receive fantastic, guided commentary.
Thousands of puffins and seabirds!
To start your day, park at Martins Haven National Trust car park. Once you arrive, walk down the hill to the Lockley Lodge visitor centre to collect your Skomer Island ferry tickets. As you descend down the hill, lockley lodge visitor centre will be on your right.
Since your Skomer Island ferry tickets are colour coded for your specific trip, you cannot board an earlier or later boat with the wrong colour ticket. So, it is important to adhere to your reservation timings.
Also, remember to keep your ticket secure for the entire day, you will not be able to board the boat back otherwise!
After collecting your tickets, continue walking down the hill to the bay where you will board the ferry for the short sea journey to visit Skomer Island.
You’ll witness your first puffin on that brief 15-minute trip! They’re practically all over the place, bouncing up and down on the sea’s waves. We also saw gannets flying over us.
When you arrive on Skomer, you will climb a steep flight of stairs to the reception point, where a warden or volunteer will give you an overview of the island.
You’ll pass puffin nesting burrows on your way up to the welcome point, giving you your first close-up views of these amazing sea birds. Remember to look out for Razorbills and Guillemots as you depart the ferry on to Skomer Island; they are frequently seen here.
During the welcoming talk about the island, you will learn what to expect to see, where to see it, and where not to go. Not to mention Skomer’s golden rule.
Always stay on the footpaths! This is critical because burrows are delicate and straying off a route risks inflicting unintended damage to their nests, occasionally suffocating endangered species in the process.
On the Island, there are just a few walking trails. Skomer has a route that travels north to south, another that runs east to west with a crossing point at the centre of the Island. It also has a coastal trail that extends the full circumference around the island.
The restrooms, self-catering accommodation and the only shelter on Skomer Island are all located at the old farm in the centre of the island.
You get roughly 5 hours to explore the island, although this is reduced to about 4.5 hours following the welcoming session. The coastline trail on Skomer Island is approximately 6.5 kilometres long and takes around 3 hours to walk.
However, you must allow yourself plenty of time for stopping and taking photos, so anticipate this route taking the whole time you have on the island.
If your only goal is to photograph puffins, I recommend taking a shorter route. Begin from the North Haven Landing Point and cross to the old farm in the centre of the island, then follow the route south towards the Wick and back to the North Haven Landing Point.
Martin’s Haven’s jetty is only accessible by a somewhat steep series of steps and an uneven footpath.
In addition, after disembarking from the ferry on Skomer Island at North Haven, you will need to climb 87 steep stairs to the summit of the hill.
Some of the island’s walkways are likewise undulating and unstable.
As a result, access to the island is suggested for people with a moderate degree of fitness.
In addition to your photography gear, it is also worth noting to keep in mind that there is no shop on Skomer Island.
Therefore, make sure you pack enough food and drink with you for the entire day.
I’d also recommend taking:
The Wick on Skomer Island’s south-west coast is one of the most popular photography sites on the island. It is beneficial for you to spend some time here, as hundreds of birds are continually soaring past you.
So, if you’re searching for a specific image of a puffin in flight, this is the perfect spot to get it. It will certainly put your photographic tracking abilities to the test.
Puffins can fly at speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour, and their tiny wings flap extremely quickly. The Wick is also most likely where you will see plenty of puffins carrying sand eels in their beak.
However, puffins are plentiful here, so I recommend stepping away from the crowds at the Wick and finding a secluded spot to enjoy these magical birds to yourself. Be prepared to wait for a puffin’s personality to come out unexpectedly.
Experiment with your photographs and attempt to improve your abilities and approaches by capturing them in various locations, such as nesting on cliffs, flying, and landing.
To capture your photos, you’ll need to be patient no matter where you are on the island. These are wild birds, not pets.
Please don’t bother or disturb them; instead, keep your distance and allow the puffins to come to you. They are naturally inquisitive creatures, so if you stay in one spot long enough, puffins may come up to your camera to investigate what you are doing.
When photographing puffins, you’ll want clear and sharp photos that bring out the features while also generating a soft out-of-focus appearance for the backdrop.
As a result, keeping a rapid shutter speed and a low ISO is critical.
Make sure there is a good distance between the puffin and the elements behind it. Backgrounds such as a cliff wall, grass, flowers or even the sea can create a beautiful bokeh.
The greater the distance between subjects, the more blurred the backdrop will be.
It is important to photograph your puffin images in RAW rather than JPEG to keep adequate colour and detail for post-processing. Shooting in RAW also eliminates the need to worry about white balance, which can be corrected later in post-processing.
The one disadvantage of shooting in RAW with puffin photography is that the big file sizes can quickly fill up your camera’s memory card, especially when shooting in burst mode!
This can lead to your frame rate plummeting. As a result, use fast memory cards to avoid your photographs becoming stuck when recording.
Besides Puffins, there is plenty of flora and fauna all over the island. Some highlights include guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, and European storm-petrels.
Skomer Island also has one of the most extensive breeding colonies of Manx Shearwaters in the world. More than 600,000 birds nest here, making up about half of the world’s population.
These seabirds are extremely rare to witness since they only exit their burrows at night to evade their major predator, the Great Black-backed Gull. So, unless you’re lucky enough to stay in overnight accommodation on Skomer Island, you’re unlikely to see a Manx Shearwater appear from its burrow. We did, however, stumble upon a few carcasses.
The Skomer vole, a subspecies of the bank vole, is only found on Skomer Island and prefers to hide amid the bracken. Seals can often be seen at sea and the short-eared owl can be spotted here as well!
While the puffins are the main attraction, there is plenty of other wildlife photography opportunities on Skomer Island and you’ll be wanting to return again as soon as you leave.
Private rooms with self-catering accommodation facilities are available for overnight stay on Skomer Island. There is a communal kitchen as well as a cosy lounge with a log burner.
The advantage of staying in the island accommodation is that you have the entire island to yourself to enjoy one of Skomer’s stunning sunsets before thousands of Manx shearwaters return to fill the night sky.
Please keep in mind that this Skomer Island accommodation can only be booked directly with The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. To make a reservation, you must contact them via phone or email.
This little Bed & Breakfast, located 30 minutes from Martin’s Haven National Trust car park, has excellent ratings and is quite reasonable! The beach at Broadhaven is about a 6-minute walk away. Every morning, both continental and full English/Irish breakfast options are offered.
Only a 7-minute drive to Martin’s Haven National Trust car park, this is one of the closest accommodation alternatives for Skomer Island. The Lobster Pot Inn is located in the Marloes village. Marloes Sands, a beautiful white sand beach, is a 20-minute walk away.
A contemporary hotel on Milford Haven’s waterfront with a restaurant, fitness centre, and bar for guests to enjoy. The deluxe rooms with balconies and a view of the marina are beautifully decorated and immaculate. Milford Haven accommodation is less than 30-minute drive from Martin’s Haven National Trust car park for the Skomer Island ferry.
Puffin colonies may be found all throughout the UK, although the majority are on islands off the coast, thus all require sea crossings.
Head over to the Best Places to Visit in North Devon for Photography for a location based in the South West of England.
While Skomer is by far the most accessible island, the Farne Islands in Northumberland and the Isle of May in Fife are also rather simple to visit.
The mainland colony of the Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire has less visitation restrictions, ample accommodation options and is a good alternative to Skomer Island.
Pembrokeshire has so much more to offer, making an extended stay necessary. Find out more here Best Places to Visit in Pembrokeshire for Photography.
A day trip to Skomer Island is a wildlife photographer’s dream. If you want to visit Wales in the future, this is definitely one to put on your bucket list.
With visitor numbers restricted to 250 per day, Skomer Island never seems crowded.
You’re guaranteed to find a peaceful area to enjoy seeing all the distinct puffin personalities emerge.
The shooting opportunities are endless, not only for puffin photographs, but with so many unique and magnificent species present on this island, you’ll want to return as soon as you leave!
Planning your next Wales summer holiday? Don’t miss the Rhossili Bay sunflowers!
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