The chance to see a puffin up close is haunting me, particularly after reading in the Newfoundland Travel Guide that it’s one of the only remaining places in the world where one can see them up close in the wild. But it means a 30 mile drive back to Elliston in the rain, and still no guarantee. However, the weekend is now behind me, so crowds should have let up. I decide I will boondock at the scenic overlook just beyond the puffin site. This will give me two opportunities, one later in the evening, and another the following morning if I don’t have success.
It’s still drizzling rain when I arrive at the puffin site, so that’s a good sign that crowds will be light. There are a half a dozen adults milling around, but no shrieking kids…another good sign. I put on extra layers under my rain gear, even throwing gloves and a wool headband in my pack to make sure I am comfortable to wait it out…
I take my seat on the rock in the flight path, but it’s the same scenario as before. It’s like rush hour at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport as they take off from the island. They fly toward me, but at the last minute, pull up and circle around the rocky islands to my right, dive-bombing the ocean surface, then return to their private island. Over and over again, I sit still as a statue, watching. Until, PLOP! Out of the sky, one clumsily lands within a few feet of me! Afraid to flinch, lest I scare them off, I slowly reach into my pocket for my camera. Then another! And another! Until I am snapping like the puffin paparazzi.
The remaining half a dozen people have now left, satisfied with their close-ups magnified with their monstrous telephoto lenses. But my camera doesn’t do well with the zoom in low light. I want to go closer.
I look around, and there is only one other young woman left out on the end of the promontory, and she is in the same boat as me…trying to photograph with a point and shoot. We signal each other that we would both like to encroach. Not wanting to foul up her photo shoot, I whisper to her “I will if you will.” We agree to a strategy…Get down low, move in, and shoot. We will inch forward little by little, pausing to shoot before moving in further. It’s tough not to laugh at the image of the two strangers huddled together, crouched down, advancing in a unified front.
We continue to move in little by little, until finally they have all taken flight. We take a minute for introductions before the walk back. In comparing our impressions, we both use the same word, “magical.”
Puffin Fun Facts (Courtesy of the handout at the Elliston Puffin Viewing Site)
• The Atlantic Puffin is the provincial bird of Newfoundland and Labrador.
• About 95% of Atlantic Puffins in North America breed around Newfoundland’s coastlines.
• Year after year, puffins always return to the same island where they were born — they even return to the same burrow and the same mate!
• Puffins can carry as many as 22 fish at one time.
• Puffins swim better than they fly, and keep their eyes open underwater.
• Puffins do not sit on their eggs like other birds; they have to tuck the egg in close and hug it with their wings to keep it warm.
• When the weather gets cold, puffins lose their bright colors — their white feathers turn gray and their orange legs turn dark.
• Puffins spend more time in water than in the air.
• North Atlantic puffins live in the ocean and return each spring to the island where they were hatched.