Atlantic Puffin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Over the summer, my family and I took a long vacation to Maine. It was a wonderful trip filled with relaxation. However, being the efficient Mom that I am, I could not let the whole summer go by without thrusting a little education upon my children. One of our excursions involved a harbour tour to see the puffins.
A little back story, my daughter and I read a book about Maine prior to leaving on our summer trip. In the book, she discovered that puffins are found in Maine. She was completely excited because of course, she has read about Puffins on the Puffin cereal box each morning for a year….hence her complete obsession about seeing the puffins on our trip. I have no idea where she gets her obsessive personality but she wasn’t giving up her dream of the pufffin.
I booked the tour and we set out towards our adventure. I did purposefully fail to mention to my husband, who was our slightly unenthusiastic driver, that the puffin bird is really quite small. How small is small? They weigh about 1 pound and are approximately 11 1/2 inches tall. For the record, when you are looking out into the bay trying to identify a bird the size of a sheet of paper, that is pretty small. They also fly extremely fast and can swim underwater. Amazingly, they can hold as many as 30 fish in their bills.
Our tour took off out of New Harbour, Maine. It was quaint, quiet and scenic. Maine always amazes with its incredible shoreline!
Our guided tour was held on a large double-decker boat and we voyaged out to sea. Our anticipation was huge! We were preparing ourselves to view Eastern Egg Rock and its puffin residents. Surely this would be an event to remember!
And it was. We learned much about the local bird life. While there are millions of puffins worldwide, this is about as far south as they generally come (now and then you may have a rebel bird who wants to venture further down the coastline). Prior to the 1600’s there were puffins in abundance along mid-coast Maine until they were hunted near extinction. All of the sea-birds in the region, including the Puffins, were a food source for the early residents of the North East. The birds were hunted – first for their eggs (they did not eat chicken eggs as much as sea-bird eggs), then as a meat food source and finally for their feathers, especially for a fashion fad that included wearing birds on your hats. The entire sea-bird population along the Maine coastal islands was near extinction. In fact, by the early 1900’s there was only one pair of puffins in the region.
The Audubon Society was formed at about the same time and began to rebuild and preserve the bird population of Maine. While millions of puffins have lived elsewhere, their presence in this area has been scarce since the early 1900’s. However, through their efforts, some birds have been returning to mate and nest on several islands, including Eastern Egg Rock.
When we first approached “Egg Rock” the first thing we noticed were the bird droppings, of course that is to be expected with an abundant flying population: terns, herring gulls, great black-backed gulls and common eiders all make their home here. The second thing that caught our attention were the huts around the island. The Audubon Society continues to study and monitor the cycles of the birds on the island and they have researchers who dwell on the island and study the birds. While the puffins were being a little stand-offish in their approach the others showed off for us. We even got to spy on a harbour seal basking on the rocks. Fortunately, it was dinner time and the Puffins began to descend on us. Or rather, by us. They whizzed by our boat so quickly you couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the little buggers.
Imagine this for a moment: 100 or so people on a boat with binoculars pressed against their faces, waves rocking the vessel, and every time the bird-watcher announces, “Puffin at 1 o’ clock!” or “Puffin incoming at 10 o’clock!” the whole boat shifts accordingly. This tiny bird, who is probably 100 feet away from you, zips by while you frantically try to spy him through your lenses. Did I mention that there are only 123 pairs of these birds that live on this particular island?
Needless-to-say, my daughter is a trooper. Here she is, all of 6, as determined as the fiercest birdwatchers to catch a glimpse of the mysterious puffin. And me, being super mom, would not fail her. For every time they announced an “o’clock,” I scooped her up and shifted her to the next position, all while her face was glued to a pair of binoculars.
Then, we struck gold! She finally caught a good glimpse of the bird with the beautiful bill and she is satisfied! As the boat is rocking and I am scooping and grabbing for her binoculars I gracefully plant my butt on the boat floor! I literally fell for the puffins! My awesome husband looks over and calls me Grace (he is used to my random falling episodes) but it is my daughter who, at that moment, really clinches the reality of the situation when she looks right into my eyes and says, “Next time, can’t we just go to the zoo?”
Can you see them?