A Raft of Puffins is a Delight at Sea

Published Categorized as Photography, Travel

Last week I brought out ye old DSLR for the first time in quite a while for a quick vacation to coastal Maine. Like the entirety of this summer, our time in Acadia was a bit soggy, but we took a day trip down to Boothbay Harbor to board an Audubon Puffin Cruise with Cap’n Fish’s Cruises.

Lobster traps on a floating dock with a boat passing behind in Boothbay Harbor Maine
Boats at their moorings in Boothbay Harbor Maine

On our way out to sea, our Audubon guide, Jessie, educated us on various seabirds, waterfowl, mammals, and the star of the show: the puffins and their freshly hatched and now fledging pufflings. Yes, puffin babes are called pufflings, only the cutest term known to mankind.

Many birds were spotted on the 15-mile journey out to Eastern Egg Island. Along with the expected gulls, and cormorants, there were terns dancing across the waves, and several storm petrels, likely blown inland from the previous day’s storm, which our guide was quite excited about; she hadn’t seen them on one of these daily voyages in over a week.

The coastal, lighthouse, and island views as we made our way out to sea were very classic Maine.

A lovely island off the coast of Maine
Burnt Island Lighthouse in Boothbay Harbor Maine
Burnt Island Lighthouse
Ram Island Lighthouse Boothbay Maine
Ram Island Light House Boothbay Maine

Approaching Eastern Egg Island was exciting; Jessie’s education and pure bird excitement had us all with our bird eyes “on” – despite the torrential rain and thunderstorms the day before and with it being the tail end of puffin season, as they were due to start migrating away any day now. As it turns out, we were in for an absolute treat.

Raft of atlantic puffins
A raft of Atlantic puffins

There were so many puffins! When waterfowl or seabirds float in groups in the water, that grouping is called a raft. There were rafts of puffins here and there. They were flying and generally doing puffin stuff.

A raft of Atlantic puffins taking flight

It was surprising how excellent fliers they are! Puffins can fly up to 55 mph (89 kph) and tend to maintain a cruising altitude of 30 feet (9 meters) above sea level. That’s faster than most waterfowl flight speeds, and the puffins’ wings beat so quickly, like an oversized sea hummingbird! I wish I’d bumped up the ISO on my camera.

We also saw a seal, but frankly, I’ve seen seals in other places; Maine is the only state in the US where you can see the Atlantic puffin, and there are only a few months where they nest on these coastal islands before they return to sea for the remainder of the year.

Our guide shared background about how the puffins colony on Eastern Egg Island is a restorative effort initiated by Stephen Kress, the founder of Project Puffin, in the 1970s through work with the Canadian government to relocate pufflings. Here’s a 6-minute NBC News video with details, and there’s more information on the Project Puffin website.

We also saw some human residents – the research assistants who live on the island in minimum 2-week residencies in the summer season. One of the few permanent shelters, a cabin dubbed Eastern Egg “Hilton,” is the hub of their operation. The researchers camp in tents to study the island’s native and reintroduced inhabitants to further conservation efforts through outreach, advocacy, and conscious management.

While we were experiencing an absolute treat watching dozens of rafting puffins, there was a much smaller vessel near the island also observing the birds. After conferring with our ship’s captain, our guide excitedly shared that the day was even more special since we were experiencing the rafting puffins alongside Stephen Kress! As one does, excited waves were shared between the boats as we passed.

The tour boat circled the island twice before returning to the harbor – once with the island on the port side (left) and once with the island on the starboard side (right.) That meant all the guests had a balanced experience. A highly recommended adventure if you’re ever in the area.