Back in 2012 I went to Machias Seal Island to photograph puffins, I really enjoyed it so I decided to go back again this year, this actually made the seventh time I’ve been on the islad, the first time being back in the 80’s. The downeast area has a lot to offer in the way of photography so puffins are not the only attraction. The birds were still incubating the eggs so if I do this trip again I’ll go later in the season. The puffins will be feeding the young and there’s a better chance of getting photos of the adults with fish in their bills.
I’ve decided to do a little write up about what a puffin trip consists of. Also, I’ve included more behavioral shots. The first time I made it onto the island was back in the late 80’s. This past trip makes a total of six landings on Machias Seal Island for me. The last few times I’ve booked two days because the downeast weather can be unpredictable and I want to have a back up day in case the landing cannot be made on the island. One of the first years only one day was booked and a landing couldn’t be made because of rough seas so the only thing I got was seasick.
The last time I went on this trip was back in 1997, I made it out to the island on both days and I was lucky enough on this past trip to make a landing on both days also. The trip departs from Cutler, ME aboard the Barbara Frost. I’ve included a link to the charter company in my list of favorite sites. Machias Seal Island is fifteen acres in size and ten nautical miles from the mainland and on a clear day you can actually see it from shore. The first day the trip departed at 7 AM and the sky was overcast but the seas were relatively flat. When you get about a mile from the island puffins start to appear, either floating in the waves or making a quick fly by heading to the island. By the time you get to the island they are everywhere; hundreds are floating in the water and sitting on the rocks along with razorbills and common murres. Arctic terns nest on the island too.
The boat is anchored a couple of hundred feet away from a concrete ramp and you’re brought to the ramp in a small skiff. There is a lighthouse on the island that is maintained by the Canadian government. The lighthouse keeper greets you on the ramp and you’re given a talk on island and bird etiquette then you’re lead up to a patio area near the lighthouse. The group of 15 is broken into smaller groups and you’re taken to one of four permanent, wooden blinds with plenty of openings for viewing and photographing the puffins. In the early days, the walk to the blinds could be challenging because you were constantly dive bombed by terns. That wasn’t a problem this time and speaking with one of the researchers which spend the summer on the island, was told that the tern population has greatly reduced in the last few years and they don’t know why.
Of course the photos I’ve been posting were taken from the blinds. It’s amazing how close the puffins will get when you’re in the blind. At some points they’re so close you could reach out and grab them and way closer then the minimum focusing distance on my lens. The birds constantly land on the roof and it’s kind of comical hearing their webbed feet pitter-pattering above you. On the second day, the process was repeated however the start time was 1 PM and the day was clear and sunny. The weather was clearer but the ocean was a lot rougher with 6-foot swells. Inland temperatures were in the mid 90’s but out on the island it was barely in the upper 60’s thanks to the natural air conditioner called the Atlantic Ocean. The lighting was a lot more challenging on the second day because the sun was in front of the blinds so it made for backlit contrasty conditions. Despite the lighting I still got plenty of good photographs.
All in all it was a very enjoyable trip and I would recommend it to any photographers or birders out there.
There are so many puffins to photograph, after a while head shots and body portrait photos get blase’. After today I’ll be posting more behavioral type shots to keep it interesting. If you’ve wondered what a puffin sounds like, imagine a chainsaw running in the distance and you’ll know exactly what kind of noise they make.
I just got back from a trip Downeast. Of course the highlight of the trip was sailing out to Machias Seal Island to photograph puffins. I booked two days to go out to the island and this photo was taken on the first day. I’ll be posting more in the future. The Downeast area of Maine is a very beautiful section of the state and well worth the trip. Puffins were the main attraction but I took a few side trips to look for other subjects to photograph. One of the best photos I took during the three days I was there was not a puffin so stay tuned for that.