Puffins, et al, on Machias Seal Island

The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s 90th Annual Fair starts this Saturday in Sunapee, NH. I’ll be in booth 718 with lots of wildlife images. All the details about the fair here.

Machias Seal Island in the Bay of Fundy hosts large colonies of Atlantic puffins, razorbills and common murres, along with smaller numbers of common and arctic terns every summer. When I first heard about the island, I heard there were 2,000-4,000 puffins that nested there. Later I heard estimates of 4,000-6,000 and 6,000 to 8,000 puffins. The flock of murres was either slightly larger, or slightly smaller than the flock of puffins. This visit, I heard there were 8,000 pairs of puffins. So, I remain confused about how many birds there actually are. But, on a 15 acre (at high tide) island, there are plenty.

You have to visit the island with a tour. There are tour operators in Cutler, Maine and on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. The Maine operator sells his season out in minutes when he starts sales in January. This year, I ventured to Grand Manan with a friend to visit the island.

Puffins, razorbills and murres all live at sea and come ashore only to raise their young. We’re getting late in the season. Most of the razorbills and murres have fledged their chicks and returned to the sea. It was hard to tell how many puffins were still around. We had a hot day and many of them seemed to be in the water around the island. And, when they arrived on the island, they were usually hauling food for the pufflings. They’d land and quickly hop down into their burrow to feed the puffling.

There was a flock of terns at the landing and more scattered throughout the island. There were fledgling in various stages around.
Here’s a fledgling arctic tern in flight.
There were puffins going about their business and visible on the rocks from the blinds.
Some of their business includes calling.
The mode of transportation around the rocks includes a lot of hopping from rock to rock.
Longer trips require flying. Puffins are very quick making in flight shots a challenge.
The puffins are used to people coming and going from the blinds and once you’re closed in, they go about their business, often very close to the blind.
The adults head out to sea to fish for the pufflings. They’ll return with with several small herring, hake, sand eels or squid.
This one looks to have caught a squid.
The have small ‘teeth’ on the top inside of their bills that allow them to hold several fish as they catch them.
Here’s one just coming back out of his? burrow.
On the way back in from the island, our captain took us by North Rock where seals haul out to bask at low tide. There were a couple dozen harbor seals on the rocks with a few gray seals in the water.
Happiness is a seaweed covered rock and some sunshine.
This one looks very relaxed.

Probably won’t have time for any updates until after the League Fair. I’ll be out to check on the loons as soon as I can.

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  1. Reply
    Marilyn Blaisdell July 31, 2023

    What an exciting life you lead Sir and thank you for sharing it with us!!! Beautiful photos and educational commentary as usual!!

  2. Reply
    Cathy Chang July 31, 2023

    Nice, beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Reply
    Cliff Oto August 1, 2023

    I visited Machias Seal Island about years ago when there was a boat going out of Jonesport, ME. I went earlier in the season than you did so the chicks were just hatching. Don’t know how many Puffins there were but they were all over the place. on the rocks, on tops of buildings. Great experience!

    • Ian Clark headshot
      Ian Clark August 1, 2023

      This was my fifth trip, always been a great experience.

  4. Reply
    Susan Allen August 1, 2023

    We went when Captain Andy led the run to The island. Who does it now? This was before Covid-19’s.

    • Ian Clark headshot
      Ian Clark August 23, 2023

      Hi – sorry to take so long answering, you got flagged as spam. The rumor mill says Captain Andy’s family is going to continue to run the business. There’s also Sea Watch Tours out of Grand Manan Island.

  5. Reply
    Don Saliers August 19, 2023

    Wonderful and varied photos, Ian. Giving us a perception of their environments.

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