Puffins return to lay eggs The Gobbins cliff
Visitors to The Gobbins are being treated to a colourful sight as Northern Ireland's only mainland puffin colony returns for the breeding season.
The first returning puffin was sighted at the spectacular cliff walk on April 15, and the full colony of around 60 birds is now back after months at sea, ready to rear their young.
For years it was difficult for people here to glimpse a puffin as almost all the colonies are located on islands, while the decaying path at The Gobbins was too dangerous to traverse.
Now that the Edwardian visitor attraction has been renovated, it offers a chance for people to see one of our most threatened sea birds. Last year the puffin was added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) red list of threatened species for the first time following a huge decline in numbers.
Once back at The Gobbins for breeding season, the puffins will dig burrows into the Islandmagee cliffs to lay eggs, and are expected to stay until mid-August.
Puffins, slightly smaller than pigeons, are some of the hardiest birds breeding 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 lairs, burrowed high on the cliff face, 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 four to five years to mature before returning to The Gobbins to take their place in the approximately 60-strong colony.
The team at The Gobbins say it is the only place locally where visitors can flock to avail of this unique opportunity and catch a glimpse of the birds.
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 15, 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."
The Gobbins is an Area of Special Scientific Interest attracting many breeding sea birds to its high cliffs, abundance of concealed ledges and rich bounty of fish.
To celebrate the biodiversity of The Gobbins and in particular the vibrant colony of puffins that make the return journey to the site year after year, the 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 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.