Atlantic Puffins at Eastern Egg Rock

by John Briggs on July 5, 2010

in Bird Photographs, Bird Photography Weekly, Blog, Wildlife

The Hardy III - New Harbor, Maine

The Hardy III - New Harbor, Maine

When it’s was too hot and humid to stand in the blazing sun for activities such as the Bath Heritage Days festivities on Saturday afternoon, we looked for a way to cool off and still be able to enjoy the great outdoors.

Sharon and I booked a trip on the Hardy III out of New Harbor, Maine for a Puffin cruise to Eastern Egg Rock. Eastern Egg Rock is an approximately 7 acre island located in the outer reaches of Muscongus Bay, about 7 miles east of New Harbor. The island is ringed with granite boulders that provide nesting habitat for Atlantic Puffins and Guillemots. It is also the home to nearly 4,000 pairs of nesting Terns, Laughing Gulls and Common Eiders.

The island is owned by the Maine Deptartment of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and is managed by the National Audubon Society. The island is home to the Adopt-A-Puffins program.

Since 2000, breeding birds recorded on the island include Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots, Arctic, Common and Roseate Terns, Laughing Gulls, Common Eiders and Leach’s Storm-petrels.

Eastern Egg Rock

Eastern Egg Rock

Puffins were wiped out in Maine waters during the 1800’s by a combination of hunters, feather collectors and gull predation. Before the restoration, the last nesting Puffin was in 1885. The wonderful conclusion to all of this is that the island is the world’s first restored seabird colony. In 1973, in an effort to restore the Atlantic Puffin population in Maine waters, 1,000 young Puffins from Newfoundland were translocated to Eastern Egg Rock in the hopes that when the birds left the island in late summer, they would return the following spring to nest. Decoys were used to make the island more inviting and in 1981, five pairs of Atlantic Puffins settled on the island to nest. As of 2008, 101 pairs are nesting on the island.

Tern restoration was also implemented and with the help of gull management and decoys, Terns began nesting in 1980. Today, the colony has  more than 1,350 pairs. Included in this count are 150 pairs of endangered Roseate Terns, more than half of the Gulf of Maine population.

We departed New Harbor at 4:45 p.m. for the trip out to the island, and it was a choppy ride, but the breezes coming off the cooler Atlantic waters made it worthwhile. Air temperatures on the water were in the upper 60’s, while inland, it was a very warm 83° F.  The one-and-a-half hour trip included a half hour ride out to the island, slowly circling the island for half an hour and the half hour return trip. For those interested in the Puffin Cruise, contact Hardy Boat Cruises out of New Harbor, Maine.

Audubon naturalist

Audubon naturalist showing posters of birds nesting on Eastern Egg Rock

Audubon naturalists tell the history of the island and the restoration efforts to bring the seabird colony back into existence. The naturalists are also very good at pointing out sightings of seabirds using the clock system. Over the loud speaker, you hear them say, “Roseate Tern at 11 o’clock!” and so on.

We wished for a little smoother ride, but still captured some great photos. For those who haven’t experienced trying to take photos on a rocking 60′ boat, it’s akin to trying to photograph a bird while jumping on a trampoline! Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed every minute of the trip, including one particular wave that caused several of us to go sprawling across the upper deck of the boat.

As we circled the island, we recorded Atlantic Puffins, Common, Arctic and Roseate Terns, Black Guillemots, Laughing Gulls and Common Eiders. On the way out, I spotted a whale spouting water from its blow hole approximately 300 yards off the port side of the boat.

All in all, we were happy with the trip. Out of over 450 photos taken, around one hundred were usable. Believe me folks, it’s not easy photographing a football sized Puffin while a boat is rocking and rolling. We will take the cruise in the future, but check on wave heights before we book the trip.

Enjoy the photos! Simply click a thumbnail to view the full-sized view.

Happy birding!



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