Monday, August 17, 2009
I can't believe it was a year ago that I went to Machias Seal Island off the coast of Maine to see the Puffins. I'm struck by how much better my photography is now. I made this slide show back then and it shows! Even so, they are really cute and I think that comes across in the photographs, though technically not the greatest. Maybe one day, I'll get a do-over. The island is 10 miles off The Bold Coast. The seas can be rough - think about Boniva or 'The Patch,' at least, forgo a greasy breakfast. I left from Cutler, east of Machias. It was a foggy, misty day; rain nearly kept us ashore, but at the last minute, we went. I was with a clutch of my camera club pals. Cutler boasts the highest number of days of fog on the Maine coast coming in at about 33%. On arrival on the island, the group was escorted by conservation workers from Canada and the US. There is a dispute about which nation 'owns' the island. So, they all work there to keep their hand in. An advantage to this is that the standards of attention to the birds and care of the island may be higher than if there was a single landlord. The Common or Atlantic puffin is not endangered. In Greenland, they eat the birds like squab. At 3,000 birds, MSI has the largest colony in the world. Even so, human exposure is highly controlled. You must stay on a wooden plank-way, no going 'off trail.' Viewing is by groups of four people from observation blinds that look like outhouses. There are open slots, not unlike gun sights from all walls of the blind. There isn't room to sit, so for the two hours of viewing allowed, you get pretty chummy with your companions if you weren't already. If you need to leave the blind you are escorted back to a corral where you wait until everyone is done, never to return to the blind. Make sure you pee before you go to the blind or you'll feel like you're going blind before it's over! And don't even think about breaking the rules. The Canadian conservation worker is a great swarthy man with deeply calloused hands that could break your neck like a chicken. He tells you, "Don't even try to get away with anything to see the puffins or get a unique photograph. We've seen it ALL before. If you can't get a decent photograph while you're here, then there's something wrong with you." He's right about that. He also left no confusion that if you violated the rules, you'd wind up before a magistrate in Nova Scotia so fast it would make your head spin. There was nothing funny about this, but the chubby, little Puffins were comical as all get out!