Northern penguins? What do you mean, Arni? There aren’t any penguins in the northern hemisphere except those kept in captivity? Actually the title of this post comes with a bit of a qualifier so let me explain. This past May, I joined Matthew Studebaker and three other new photographer friends to see the Atlantic Puffins and other seabirds that make Machias Seal Island their home during the breeding season. Our tour boat operator, Captain Andy of the Bold Coast Charter Company, made a very valid observation that the southern hemisphere has penguins while we have Atlantic Puffins so ergo ‘our’ puffins are northern penguins and vice versa. Makes perfect sense to me! Seeing the Atlantic Puffins on Machias Island is quite an event and trips to the island can be made from Cutler, Maine which is we were left from or from Grand Manan, New Brunswick. Landings are not guaranteed due to unpredictable weather conditions and even though we had booked two trips over, we were able to go only once.
Once on the island, access to see the seabirds is tightly controlled by the research scientists and lighthouse keeper on the island. There is no loitering or dillydallying allowed and it is straight to the staging area for further instructions and then to the blinds. The small blinds scattered throughout the small island used by the researchers and tourists and strategically located amongst the puffins. I joined with Laura and Cris, two other photographers from our group in one blind and we spent a very hectic 45 minutes during the brightest time of the day trying to get as many pictures as possible. Here is a small Youtube video from inside the blind and at the staging area.
The following images are a small selection of my success.
Even though the puffin is the star attraction, there are also other seabirds which inhabit the island including the Common Murre, Razorbill and Arctic Tern.
In July 2010, I was in the United Kingdom on a business trip and took advantage of staying over on a weekend. I rented a car and drove to Seahouses which is on the east coast of Britain on the North Sea. The National Trust is the United Kingdom’s preservation organization and one of the areas under protection is the Farne Islands, a group of rocky islands which provides an ideal habitat for 23 species of birds and grey seals. There are currently 37,000 pairs of Atlantic Puffins breeding there and I took a day-long tour over to the islands and I had an unparalleled experience with the puffins and other seabirds that I saw on Machias Seal Island. It is interesting that on the North American east coast visitors are not allowed on islands where puffins and other seabirds live, yet on the Farne Islands, we were allowed to walk on the islands as long as we stayed on the footpaths and respected the birds. The main advisory was to wear a hat to protect yourself from the Arctic Terns which will aggressively attack anyone who gets too close to their nests. The following gallery is a selection of puffin images I was able to capture on the Farne Islands and I look forward to a return one day.
I have had the privilege of seeing northern ‘penguins’ now, the third time being back in 2006 in Newfoundland when I was shooting images with film. I’ll spare you the agony of seeing those pictures here but I am planning on returning there soon to redeem myself.
A couple of last observations. Machias Island is the only piece of real estate claimed by both Canada and the United States and Canada maintains the lighthouse and all the research activities on the island. It is likely the only place in North America where you don’t need a passport to come and go.
There is some concern about the health of all puffin colonies in the world. Like most migratory birds, dates of spring arrival, mating and the raising of offspring is all based on the availability of food sources. Research has shown that likely due to the warming of the oceans, fish such as sand eels, are moving further away from habitats to cooler water requiring the puffins to fly farther to find them to bring them back to their offspring.
Thanks for stopping by!