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Puffin Stuff

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Daddy hauls a comatose Liam up the gangplank from the boat.

When you've been birding since you were 7 years old, and seriously birding since 1976, life birds don't come along too often. You usually have to leave the country, or go on a quest for one special bird in a habitat that's hard to get to, to add anything to your life list. I've been skunked by the Atlantic puffin, even after six weeks in Newfoundland. Only a dedicated trip to a nesting colony on Eastern Egg Rock in Muscongus Bay, Maine, could fix the hole in my life list.
I was ridiculously excited on the morning of our field trip. But I was worried enough about rough seas--the wind was tossing the spruces on Hog Island--that I took two Benadryl as we pushed off from the dock. Gave one to each kid. Mistake. It turned out to be almost flat calm out on the bay, and the medication rendered me and the kids little more than zombies. Poor little Liam, right before he konked out:
Don't worry: he held on until he saw puffins. And then he retreated to the cabin and collapsed on a pile of windbreakers and fleeces.
No amount of sedatives could dull my delight in finally laying eyes on the sea clown. They're so much smaller and cuter than I even thought, and I was sure they'd be small and cute. Wow. Everything they're billed as, and more.
They patter over the waves, trying to get airborne, their wings buzzing furiously.
Feet that match their bills:Does this look like a man in a puffin suit? Small wings help reduce drag underwater, where they use them as oars. I think they dive with the wings only partly extended, the way guillemots do, so they're beating them half-closed. Companionable little things, they travel in pairs. Their call, which we couldn't hear over the boat engine, is a lowing moan, kind of sheeplike. Link
Puffins nest deep in burrows beneath rocks. There, they enjoy a measure of safety from gull predation. We wouldn't have puffins nesting in Maine but for the reintroduction program, and stringent gull control efforts of Project Puffin. What a gift to give the world. Speaking of gifts, my lovely and thoughtful friend Jen, who also saw her life puffins on this trip, adopted a puffin in my name. He's 26 years old. Puffins live into their 30's. Most seabirds do...low replacement potential means they have to have a long reproductive life.
This is my favorite puffin picture from the trip. Every once in awhile I get a shot that's worth all the others piled together.
And every once in awhile I get a life bird what AM a life bird. Thanks, Maine Audubon. Thanks, Project Puffin, for adding the sea clown back into Maine's avifauna.

4 comments:

I found you by merest chance looking for something else. You do the great pictures and articles for Birdwatchers Digest! WOW! pleasedtameetcha!

Just for your information, if one Googles the word 'bloop' your blog comes up. Thats how I got here.
Yes, its sad.

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