Puffins at Machias Seal Island
Guest Post by my good friend Mike Desha
On Father’s Day 2008 my wife and I treated ourselves to a trip to Machias Seal Island in Maine (or Canada, as the boundary between Canada and the U.S. is still in dispute even at this late date). Cap’t Andy ferried about 17 of us to the island from Cutler, Maine, a fishing village about 10-miles away. As you can tell we were very fortunate that the ocean was almost as smooth as glass, That’s not always the case in the North Atlantic. Sometimes one is not able to land on the island because of rough seas.
The island in the Bay of Fundy is only 20-acres in area and has the only manned Canadian lighthouse in the commonwealth in order to preserve Canadian sovereignty over the island. You can see from the photo that the island is treeless and pretty barren.
There are approximately 3000 nesting pairs of Atlantic Puffins and about half as many Razorbills on the island, using crevasses between these huge granite blocks as their nesting holes. There are a few Common Murres hanging out (no nesting in the past few years) and some Arctic Terns nesting in the grass on the interior.
There are a number of blinds scattered along the periphery of the island. This one is used by researchers, but we were each escorted to others where we had the opportunity of seeing puffins and Razorbills from only five to ten feet away.
This Atlantic Puffin was banded as part of an on-going research project. There are two resident lighthouse keepers, who rotate out every month for a month on the mainland and one or two researchers doing bird studies.
One of the vocalizations of the Razorbills is the equivalent of an electric saw ripping through a board. For a while we thought there was some construction going on. The vocalization of the Puffins is kind of a intermittent grunting sound. With so many birds, the area can be pretty noisy when they all are “discussing” things.
You can see why the puffin was sometimes called the Sea Parrot or Sea Clown. It was really a marvelous experience to get so close to these interesting birds.
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