Before I launch into telling stories about my experiences this summer, I should probably explain where I am and what I am doing. On May 26, just a day after my graduation ceremony at Cornell, I began an internship in Maine with the Audubon Society’s Project Puffin. I assist with a number of functions, such supervising the weekend Seaside Explorers camp and manning the Visitor’s Center in Rockland. My primary duty, however, is narrating boat tours out to Eastern Egg Rock, the site where Project Puffin’s seabird restoration program began. The history of the project is a tale I tell almost daily on the boats and at the center, so I will briefly recount it here.
The Atlantic Puffin historically nested on several islands off the coast of Maine alongside a wide array of other seabirds. Although this species is found at high latitudes on both sides the Atlantic Ocean, it was nearly wiped out as a breeding bird in the United States. Human disturbance and hunting for meat, eggs, and feathers had led to their disappearance from many southern colonies. Additionally, rising populations of gulls which thrived alongside civilization led to increased predation and competition for nesting islands. Project Puffin was conceived in 1973 for the purpose of restoring these charismatic little birds to their former homes. Chicks from Canada were fostered in man-made burrows on Eastern Egg Rock, and social attractants like decoys and audio recordings were used to encourage returning birds to nest. Due to the drawn-out life history of the puffin, which spends its first 2-3 years at sea and doesn’t breed until reaching 5-6 years of age, it took some time before evidence of success could be seen. Finally, on July 4, 1981, an adult bird was seen delivering food to a burrow for its offspring. The colony has grown from 5 pairs in 1981 to a peak population of 123 documented pairs in 2011. Puffins have since been restored to Matinicus Rock and Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the Project also manages 4 other seabird nesting islands.
My job as a wildlife guide is to provide this context for visitors as well as point out and interpret the creatures we see along our journey to the island. Being out on the sea is always a treat, with unexpected sightings cropping up from time to time. I have encountered a variety of seabirds, fish, and marine mammals on these tours, as well as meeting many interesting people. There is no shortage of posts waiting to be written from my time here, and I still have several months of work at the Visitor’s Center to come once tours stop at the end of August. Stay tuned for more surprises, successes, and struggles!