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The puffins of Machias Seal Island

August 10, 2012

Beginning of July I finally made a trip I had been thinking about for a long time – a visit to Machias Seal Island to photograph Puffins.  Together with my friend Vicki Braden, who flew over from the west coast just for this, we headed out for 2 days of photographing these adorable birds.

Machias Seal Island is a 15 acre island located about 10 miles of the coast of Maine in the Bay of Fundy.  It is the largest nesting ground for puffins off the coast of Maine, but also inhabited by Razor bills, Arctic terns and Common murrs.   Only a few tour operators have a landing permit that will allow you to get on the island. I had chosen Bold Coast Charters, based in Cutler, ME.  Since landing on the island  can not be guaranteed due to weather conditions (there is no harbor) we had booked the trip 2 days in a row and were glad we did. The first day greeted us with clear blue skies, but we were informed by Captain Andy that an island landing might not be possible due to oceans swells. A one-hour boat ride brought us to the island, but as predicted, a landing would have been much too dangerous. Instead, we were split up in small groups and transferred onto a small skiff which allowed us to get closer to the birds on the water.  The birds were not afraid at all, some even seemed curious. We spent several hours in the waters around the island, photographing close-ups and trying to catch some in flight (not easy, since they are FAST!)

The next day we were elated to find out we would be able to land on the island! After the skiff dropped us off on the island we were greeted by the lighthouse keeper and a scientist (the only 2 people living on the island) and were taken to a waiting area. More opportunities for practicing flight shots! From there we were taken to our blinds. Each blind holds up to four people and we were glad we ended up with only three in ours. Four would definitely be very tight quarters! The puffins come within a foot of the blinds and actually like to walk around on top of them (which provided a rather interesting soundtrack 🙂 ). Time passed much too quickly and we had to return to our boat.

(“Honey, stop flirting with the photographer and catch some fish for dinner.”)

A few tips if you decide to go:

Book well in advance since only a limited amount of people are allowed on the island and the tours sell out quickly.

Book two days to have a better chance of an island landing.

No need for a tripod (there is really not enough room in the blinds).

Bold Coast Charter lists some local accomodations. We stayed at the Riverside Inn in Machias, a wonderful B&B. The owner is an amazing cook!

And don’t just photograph the puffins! The Razor bills are quite elegant birds!


And in case you were wondering: It is called Machias Seal Island – are there seals??? Yes, there are. But they are living on neighbouring Gull Island. I guess they did not get the message about the names 🙂


More images can be found on my website

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Robert Scriba permalink
    August 10, 2012 7:31 pm

    You have a couple of great photos here Beate. Keep up the great work.

  2. John Heneghan permalink
    June 30, 2013 10:05 am

    I did the Puffin/Whale watching tour out Bar Harbor last summer. Got glimpses of puffins but want to do the Machias island trip like you did. Thanks for the report.and pics.

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