Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Tufted Puffin Highlights Downeast Birding Trip
July 15, 2022
By Steve Grinley
On July fourth weekend, Margo received a text from our birding friends Nancy & Tim Walker of Boxford that included a close up photo of a Tufted Puffin with the word, Wow! Nancy & Tim had purchased a travel van this past year so we wondered where they were. Tufted puffins are a West Coast species and the only place that we have seen them is in Alaska. We doubted that they drove to Alaska! They responded that they were on Machias Seal Island in Maine. Tufted Puffin is an amazing sighting for the East coast!
Come to find out that Nancy and Tim were on the Brookline Bird Club annual weekend trip to Downeast Maine that includes a visit to Machias Seal Island. Margo and I participated on this trip more than fifteen years ago and we still remember the close up and personal visit with puffins, murres and razorbills on Seal Island. Turns out that fellow birder Strickland Wheelock of Uxbridge was on this year’s trip and he shares with us details of this year’s adventure to Machias Seal Island:
“One of those great birding experiences is heading to Machias Maine with the hope of landing on Machias Seal Island to witness all the Atlantic Puffins, Common Murres, and Razorbills. Then [spending the weekend] exploring the various other special habitats from remote logging roads, to blueberry barrens, to marshes in search of many specialty birds. I was blessed to join the Brookline Bird Club on this adventure and having Henry and Deb Maurer coordinating all the logistics/game plans plus all their pre-scouting to make this trip such a success. In the end, we ended up with 96 species that included a Tufted Puffin, Leach’s Storm Petrel, Black-backed Woodpecker, American Bittern, Upland Sandpiper, Nelson’s Sparrow, 15 species of warblers, Sandhill Crane & much more.
“On Friday, July 1, we left the motel at 7 am to arrive and load on the boat to the island at 8 am – low tide…We were really blessed with ideal weather conditions with little wind, calm seas & sunny. Once on the boat leaving the harbor, we had a few Common Eiders and a Common Loon. Further out on the 1-hour boat trip we had a Common Tern and an Arctic Tern. One highlight for me and a few other participants was a Leach’s Storm Petrel flying close to the boat [for me, approx 60 yrs ago when I went to camp in Maine I was able to help band these special birds]
“As we approached the Island, the excitement level grew as the Puffins, Razorbills and Common Murres were flying all around us. A pair of Black Guillemots was sitting on the rocks, Arctic Terns were flying all around. Once landed, we had to walk with sticks over our heads as Arctic Terns were dive bombing us as we carefully walked in single file through a cut grass area dodging tern eggs, seeing baby terns along the way to an instruction spot.
“There were 4 small blinds where 4 folks would occupy that blind for 2 hrs – no leaving until the person in charge returned. Each blind had small openings to view from and instantly the Puffins, Common Murres and Razorbills are walking on the rocks in front of the blind – only feet away – landing on the roof of the blind. Also instantly you are hearing all the love noises, watching these birds rubbing their bills together, then the actual mating. Birds were flying in with fish to feed their children. You are surrounded with thousand of birds on the rocks or under the rocks – some of all the species maybe a yard away were totally unconcerned with us admiring them.
“The researchers on the island had estimated approx 16 thousand of these alcids were breeding on this small island. One lucky blind suddenly had a Tufted Puffin come walking up to the window to have his picture taken – last one seen on the island was 2014 so good fortune was on our side. None of the other blinds were as fortunate.
“What was also special was watching close up a pair of Northern Gannets [obviously full breeding plumage] rubbing their bills together then start mating. Things were happening all around us nonstop. Other species seen on the island were a few Great Cormorants, several Savannah Sparrows, Spotted Sandpiper. After our 2 hrs, we returned to the boat, just blown away with this experience.”
We have yet to see Tim and Nancy to hear their version of this remarkable weekend!