It only just occurred to me, eleven years later, that all this time the island was calling me back.
Seal Island, located 23 miles off the coast of Maine is where I am spending another summer, in the company of four other seabird researchers. We’re here to study the fascinating lives of puffins, terns, razorbills and black guillemots, while living among
I’m returning after an 11-year hiatus, having the ultimate pleasure of first visiting the islands managed by Audubon’s Project Puffin in 2003 and again in 2005. The project was started in the early 70’s by an enterprising young ornithologist named Steve Kress. The near extirpation (local extinction) of puffins from coastal Maine islands due to the hunting and the feather trade led him to devise a way to harbor their return. By transplanting puffin chicks from an abundant colony in Newfoundland to Maine’s Eastern Egg Rock and raising them with vitamin fortified fish in artificial sod burrows, he watched them fly out to sea where they spent the next handful of years before some precious individuals, miraculously, returned to their “natal” island to breed.
Project Puffin now manages seven Maine islands to preserve and protect these ideal breeding habitats for puffins and, consequentially, terns and various other alcids as well as seaducks, known as common eiders, which also nest on the islands. In order to protect these seabird colonies it is, unfortunately, important for our human presence to remain throughout the breeding season to deter gulls and other predators that feed on chicks and ducklings. Without us, the more prolific gull species (Black-backed, Herring and Laughing gull) would take over these islands. These species are generalists and their populations have skyrocket thanks to human-provided food sources like landfills, lobster bait and french fries. Terns and puffins suffer since they’re very specific as to where they will nest and generally don’t exist near human populations. Therefore, protected islands like these provide these sensitive, less abundant birds a chance to persist.
Fast forward several decades and here we are! Puffineers or “island stewards” like me have been managing and monitoring the birds on these islands ever since.
So follow my adventures as we follow the birds for yet another glorious season!