Poking around the internet, looking for something else, I found this article about the decline in puffin numbers in Iceland. It dates back to 2013, and blames the mackerel, heading north on the warmer waters and eating the zooplankton which would otherwise feed the sand eels (ans eating the odd sand eel, too). The evidence is circumstantial, but persuasive. In passing, it suggests that the technique of catching puffins in flight using a net on a pole is actually less damaging to the puffin population than the previous method of catching them from the burrows: "Pole netting targets the tremendous wheels of flying puffins that form just off the colony cliffs. Thousands of birds spend hours flying in an arc out to sea, then banking and coming back low over the cliffs. The birds that do this are mostly adolescents. They have free time, and they spend it endlessly reconnoitering the cliffs, trying to learn what it takes to find a burrow and a mate." Of course: birds that spend their time flying round aimlessly in circles, what could they be but adolescents?
I described the practice of pole netting in a post last year about a television programme, also about the decline in seabird numbers, presented by Adam Nicholson. I am now reading his new book, The Seabird's Cry and hoping for more up to date information. I've barely started it, and have only just reached the chapter about puffins, but I loved this hint of how they spend their winters: "Winter puffins, dressed in grey, float in silence, picking at fish and plankton alone on the surface of the sea." Something very chilly about that wording.
And one puffin-free item: Harry Potter, the Durham connection. I am mildly shocked at the idea that Durham University is offering a Harry Potter module as part of its English degree: the course, as described, sounds like a very good way to teach civics to schoolchildren, but not the material for undergraduates on - oh, wait, can I even assume that it's a literature degree? Better stop here and go to bed.