A dash of vibrant colour has returned to the shores of Northern Ireland recently and we’re not referring to the brief, yet welcomed, outbreaks of sunshine and warmth we have been experiencing. The Gobbins, a dramatic cliff path walk located on the magnificent Causeway Coastal Route in Islandmagee, is home to Northern Ireland’s only mainland colony of Puffins.
Receiving a welcomed return to our shores for breeding season, the brightly-coloured bird colony dig burrows into the Islandmagee cliffs to lay their eggs and are expected to stay put until mid-August.
These delightful little birds, which are slightly smaller than a pigeon, are some of the hardiest birds that breed on our shores. Fledging the nest between 38-45 days after being abandoned by their parents, the chicks have to take a leap of faith from their nests burrowed high into the cliff face and into the sea below.
After this momentous leap in their young lives, the chicks then disperse throughout the North Sea and Eastern Atlantic; some may even reach the Grand Banks located off Newfoundland or the Mediterranean. Here they will remain for 4-5 years to mature before returning to The Gobbins to take their place in the approximately 60-strong colony.
The Gobbins is the only attraction in mainland Northern Ireland where visitors flock to avail of this unique opportunity and catch a glimpse of the dazzling Puffin which typically nests in burrows on offshore islands or the crevices of out-of-sight coastal cliffs.
Speaking of the Puffins’ highly anticipated return, George McGrand, resident Tour Guide at The Gobbins, said:
“It’s tremendous to once again have the wonderfully coloured Puffins return to The Gobbins cliff path after such a long winter wait. The first Puffin to return was sighted on April 15th which was right on the expected arrival date. It’s now June and we are delighted to see that the full colony has now returned. Now we wait patiently with bated breath to catch a glimpse of the first chicks of the breeding season which are expected later this month.”
A location immersed with rich biodiversity, The Gobbins is an area of special scientific interest attracting many breeding sea birds for its high cliffs, abundance of concealed ledges perched safely above rising tides and bounteous population of fish for feeding.
To celebrate biodiversity of The Gobbins, in particular, the vibrant colony of Puffins that make the return journey to the site year after year, The Gobbins’ Visitor Centre will soon be introducing its latest team member, and playful mascot, Paddy the Puffin. Along with the resident team, Paddy the Puffin will be on hand to ensure visitors to the unique tourist attraction have a memorable, and educational, experience.
For more information on the biodiversity of The Gobbins or to book a tour, contact the Visitor Centre on 028 9337 2318 or visit www.thegobbinscliffpath.com