Penguins of the Northern Hemisphere



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.

Foggy departure from Cutler, MainePuffin in flight - fog upon arrival at Machias Seal IslandLined up for departureLighthouse on Machias Seal IslandGray Seal hauled out on small island

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.

Atlantic PuffinsAtlantic Puffin 1Atlantic Puffin 2Atlantic Puffin 3Atlantic Puffin 4Atlantic Puffin 5Atlantic Puffin 6Atlantic Puffin and Common MurreAtlantic Puffin 7Atlantic Puffin 8Atlantic Puffin 9

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.

RoazorbillsRazorbillPropogating the species of RazorbillCommon Murre - bridled variantRoazorbillCommon MurreRazorbillArctic TernArctic ternCommon Murres

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.

A puffinry of PuffinsAtlantic Puffin take-offAtlantic Puffin take-off 2Three Atlantic PuffinsAtlantic PuffinAtlantic Puffin in flight 1A bill full of fish for chicksAtlantic Puffin in flight 2Atlantic PuffinAtlantic Puffin near burrow 1Atlantic Puffin near burrow 2Atlantic Puffin near burrow 3A bill full of fish for chicks 1A bill full of fish for chicks 2A bill full of fish for chicks 3A bill full of fish for chicks 4A bill full of fish for chicks 5One large fishA bill full of fish for chicks 6Another puffinry of Puffins

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!


This entry was posted in Birds, blog, Machias, Maine, Nature, Nature Photography, Photos and tagged , , , , , , , , , .


  1. Mary August 28, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

    Arni,you are making some fascinating trips to explore the bird world up close. I love the one of the puffin in the front and tern? behind. Amazing juxtaposition.

    • Arni August 28, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

      Thanks so much Mary. It is pretty special to be able to travel and capture interesting images and then share them. The particular image to which you are referring is a Common Murre and the Puffin. I have other photos from that same rock where that puffin was eventually displaced by 2 Razorbills.

  2. Ida August 29, 2015 at 9:32 am #

    Arni, I have always wanted to see the Puffins in the wild, your pictures are amazing, I love them all. You are very lucky to have had this experience.

    • Arni August 29, 2015 at 11:27 am #

      Thanks Ida. Next time you are down east you will have to make time to see them. In the meantime I am happy to share my pictures, that’s why I take them 🙂

  3. Scott Martin September 3, 2015 at 1:47 am #

    What a treat to see Puffins from both sides of the Atlantic in the same post Arni. Hopefully someday we will travel to the Farne Islands and see them over there as well.

    • Arni September 3, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

      It is nice to know that the puffins here are the same everywhere in the northern hemisphere. I look forward to the possibility of seeing puffins again in Newfoundland, the Farne Islands or the west coast to see them and their cousins 🙂