Not Seeing a Tufted Puffin at Machias Seal Island…but not really caring!

I don’t chase birds too often. But every now and then, I do get the urge. When a Tufted Puffin was spotted on Machias Seal Island, off of Cutler, on June 17th, I knew that this was one that I was going to chase: it’s one of my favorite birds in the world, and this was only the 3rd of 4th record for the entire Atlantic Ocean.

Since then, it has been seen only sporadically; nothing consistent. It can go a week between observations. Machias Seal is not exactly convenient for a quick check. The Bold Coast Charter Company – now the only access in Maine to the island – is booked solid this time of year. We had to charter. I needed enough people to not spend a fortune. The weather had to cooperate. I went to Colorado. So yeah, this was going to be a challenge.

But Captain Andy Patterson was game, so I put thing together. After the first two attempts were called off due to weather (including the passage of Tropical Storm Arthur), 14 of us joined Andy on Sunday afternoon.  And conditions were glorious.

I have never seen it so glass-calm out here! The lighting was great, and there were boatloads of birds on the water. We spent over three hours around the island, slowly cruising through and around rafts of loafing alcids. We scanned each and every rock of the island, twice. We checked out every bird commuting to and from the island.

In the end, I believe that we looked at every single Atlantic Puffin, Common Murre, and Razorbill at least three times. Not that the Tufted was a challenging ID, but everyone was being extra careful. But alas, finally we had to throw in the towel and motor back to Cutler.

Rarely have I seen so many smiles on a “dip” (when you miss a bird you are “chasing.”). But of all of the chases I have been on, few could compare to the enjoyment of a gentle boat ride in calm seas out to a remote offshore island with thousands upon thousands of breeding seabirds. So yeah, there are worse places to have not been seeing a specific rare bird. In fact, if all chases were like this, I might chase more.

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Everyone on Little River Island paused to take a look at us, too.

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Northern Gannet on Gull Rock, a recent occurrence.

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Harbor Seals.

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Common Murre departing.

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Like I was saying, there were a lot of birds on the water!

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1st-summer Atlantic Puffin.

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