The Atlantic Puff and Stuff

The Atlantic Puffin is a bird that lives out in the open sea of the North Atlantic Ocean.  Like all birds, it must nest, and they find nesting areas on shoreline cliffs, and islands with rocky coastlines.  They’ll arrive in late spring to build their nests and raise their chick.  They choose areas which have no terrestrial predators, but they are still vulnerable to attacks from above, from primarily gulls.  Their clawed feet give them the added benefit of being able to dig and burrow deep between boulders to protect their young.  They lay only a single egg, and when the juvenile is ready to fledge, it swims out to sea in the night to begin it’s life away from nest.

My Puffin journey would begin with a drive up along the coast of Maine with planned strategic stops in York, Portland, Bristol, and a layover in Bar Harbor.  These stops were no coincidence as you’ll notice my images of their iconic lighthouses…  Bar Harbor would be my home base for a few days. This would still leave me about 2hrs away from the chartered boat which would escort me out to sea.

Machias Seal Island is approximately 10 miles off the coast of Maine. We would launch from Cutler Harbor traveling on the Barbara Frost the 40’ vessel guided by Captain Andy.  Due to a tricky landing spot on the island, the island can only be reached using a smaller lifeboat, but only if seas were not too rough.  Rough seas equal a missed opportunity for the landing and a day with the Puffins.  However, this day the seas were calm.  The fog was super thick as we launched, and we would put all our faith in Captain Andy.  We could not see much more than 10-20 yards in front of us.

We landed safely and were paired up in three’s and assigned a blind in which we would spend the next hour and half taking photos of these beautiful birds.  Once we got settled in, it wasn’t long before we heard them tap dancing on the roof of our blind.  Each blind had about 12-14 small windows, each with a shutter which could be open and closed to take a shot of a Puffin. The boulders surrounding us were near eye level, so when the Puffins landed, they were sometimes just 3-4 feet in front of us.  It certainly was a new experience as I’m typically trying to get shots of birds from very long distances.  I had two cameras with me for the trip, and used them both.  I primarily used my Canon 5D MIV with a 70-200mm, but had my Canon 1DX MII with my 800mm lens set up and ready.  I used them both as the action close up was developing a little slow, so I took some time with the 800mm capturing Puffins a little further out.  Eventually I would swap the 800mm for the 100mm Macro and attempt at very close head shots as they began hopping around the rocks directly in front of us.  It was a fantastic experience!

Time was up way to quick, and we were escorted back off the island.  On our way back we enjoyed spotting seals, other seabirds, and even a few dolphins on our way back.  It was great making new friends, sharing wildlife stories and photos with each other, and syncing up our social media accounts.  I am certainly going back there again one day.

One of my new friends, Mark Bilak, suggested that I extend my trip that day to travel up to the town of Lubec, ME.  This Eastern most point in the USA was where I’d find the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. I took the 30 minute ride up the coast to check it out.  It’ll stick out in my images by the candy cane red and white stripes.  As I arrived at the lighthouse, I received a text message from Verizon welcoming me to Canada… Although I was not quite there, Lubec is the last town on the US East Coast before entering Canada.  By the way, Mark Bilak is a fantastic photographer and you can check out his work here:

I spent that night again in Bar Harbor and got the chance to walk around to get a few more shots before retiring for the night. I must note, and should make sure to mention, that I took every opportunity to try out a new lobster role and chowder along my travels. I was told that Side Street Cafe in Bar Harbor had the best Lobster Roll.  I cant say for sure its the best in town, but it’s one of the best I’ve ever consumed.  Check this place out if you ever visit Bar Harbor. The next morning, I took off back down the coast with stops in Bristol, ME to capture a few shots of the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, and then a quick stop to the Wells Beach Lobster Pound for some live lobsters to drop off to my folks in Massachusetts.

I have to say that every time I travel to Maine, I fall in love with it all over again.  The coastline is beautiful, the seafood is fantastic, and there are endless seaside spots to explore.  I strongly suggest taking some time to travel up the coast of Maine. Well, I hope you enjoyed my images and this summary of my trip.  Thank you for taking the time to check it out. 

- Jamie

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