Isle au Haut Ferry
Special trips to Seal Island
May 28 Puffins 2pm
Jun 11 Puffins 1 pm
Jun 18 Puffins 1pm
Jul 2 Puffins 2pm
Jul 9 Puffin 3pm
Jul 23 Puffins
Jul 30 Puffins 1pm
6 Puffins/Lighthouses 1pm
Aug 13 Puffins
come ashore to breed in late April and
begin returning to the sea in August. Some linger into September, but
the fruitful season for visitation is only about a dozen weeks long.
Tours begin at the end of May and usually finish for the season in mid
Puffins are truly pelagic. When fledged, young puffins
will not return to land until they are mature enough to breed, about
five years later. Once they leave their islands, all the puffins disperse
across the ocean and are seldom seen, even from boats. Puffins are rarely
seen from the mainland. Puffins are abundant from Newfoundland to Iceland
to Scotland, spanning the cold regions of the North Atlantic. Maine
is historically the southern edge of their breeding range.
are members of the alcidae family. Other alcids on the east coast include
Razorbills, Black Guillemots, Common Murres, Thick-billed Murres, and
Dovekies. The latter two species do not nest in Maine but are seen in
Maine waters in winter. Razorbills nest on four of the puffin islands,
as well as a couple of other islands in downeast Maine. Common Murres
frequent puffin colonies and nesting may occur on the northernmost of
the five puffin colonies. Black Guillemots are the only alcid to nest
along mainland cliffs and are readily seen from shore along the entire
A century ago, puffins were nearly eliminated
from the state as the colorful birds were prized for their feathers
and their eggs were gathered for the dinner table. In 1973, the Puffin
Project was established in an attempt to bring them back to their historical
range. Although the project has been a resounding success, major threats
still remain. Open air dumps in the 1900s caused an overpopulation of
gulls, which competed for space on nesting islands and they often preyed
upon puffin chicks. Gulls remain a significant obstacle. Food resources
are also in great peril. Overfishing and the elimination of spawning
habitat has greatly diminished herring and other small fish species
relied upon by the puffins. Climate change is warming the Gulf of Maine
Eastern Egg Rock
is a 7-acre island located six miles from New Harbor. It is owned
by the state and managed by The Puffin Project. This is the world's
first re-established seabird colony. Techniques learned here are
now being employed throughout the world.
This is one of
the most-visited puffin islands due to its southern location and
nearness to shore. Because boats from several parts of the Midcoast
area make trips to the island, there are more departure options.
The island is less exposed to challenging seas and this can be a
good choice for those prone to seasickness. Also, the boats are
large enough to handle rough water, reducing the possibility of
getting splashed on windy days.
Common, Arctic, and Roseate
Tern colonies are established on the island and it is one of the
most reliable places to see Roseate Terns in Maine. While Common
and Arctic Terns nest in bare scrapes, Roseate Terns prefer vegetative
cover. As a result, they are usually easy to see in their favorite
spot at one end of the island.
On two of the tour boats
shown below, the Hardy Boat and Capn' Fish, educators from National
Audubon's Project Puffin Seabird Restoration Program) provide the
narration. These are the only tours in the state narrated by the
folks who have actually done the puffin restoration.
The Hardy Boat visits Eastern Egg Rock every day during
puffin season, departing from New Harbor. Call 1-800-2-puffin.
Cap'n Fish circles the island up to four times a week
from Boothbay Harbor. Call 800-633-0860.
The Monhegan Boat Line in Port Clyde visits the island
daily and four evenings a week during the puffin season, mid-June
through August. Call 207-372-8848.
is the most remote puffin colony, located 23 miles southeast
of Rockland. Due to its remoteness, it was the last island to retain
nesting puffins into the early 20th century. In 1901, the light
keepers were hired by National Audubon to act as wardens and protect
the remnant population. Its 22 acres supports many nesting seabirds
and in recent years the island hosted the only known nesting site
for Manx Shearwater in the United States. Besides Atlantic Puffins,
Razorbills nest in good good numbers and Black Guillemots are plentiful.
Several thousand Common and Arctic Terns nest on the island and
Roseate Terns are occasional nesters. The island is owned by the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and is part of the Maine Coastal
Islands National Wildlife Refuge. There are no regularly
scheduled commercial trips. Charter trips are available
Matinicus Excursions . Call 207-691-9030.
Seal Island is not to be confused with Machias
Seal Island, which is much farther north. At 65 acres, it is three
times the size of Matinicus Rock and lies 22 miles off the mainland
and about 8 miles northeast of Matinicus Rock.
hunted for their meat and feathers through the 19th century and
egg-gatherers raided most of Maine's islands. What seabirds weren't
extirpated by the middle of the 20th century were quickly finished
off by the U.S. military which used the island for bombing practice
until the 1960s. Seabird restoration began in 1984 and the success
has been astounding. Besides the abundant Puffins and Razorbills,
Seal Island is home to a significant colony of breeding Great Cormorants,
making this island the top preference for those who want to see
both Atlantic Puffins and Great Cormorants. Black Guillemots are
abundant on the way to the island, and the trip passes through waters
that are good for pelagic species.
Two vessels make scheduled
trips to the island beginning during the Wings, Waves, and
Woods birding festival over the third weekend of May. All
trips leave from Stonington and generally pass Isle au Haut on the
way out to sea, making this a particularly scenic puffin trip.
Isle au Haut Ferry makes Sunday trips to the
island every summer.
Old Quarry Ocean Adventures makes regular trips to
the colony beginning in May, and additional visits are available
by charter. Call 207-367-8977.
Petit Manan Island
is a 16-acre island covered in birds. It supports a large population
of Laughing Gulls and Common Terns, almost as many Arctic Terns,
and several pairs of Roseate Terns. Many pairs of Razorbills visit
the island, and actual nesting began in 2007. Leach's Storm-petrels,
Black Guillemots, and Common Eiders also nest on the island. The
island and the nearby Petit Manan peninsula are part of the Maine
Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge and is under the supervision
of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The 119 foot lighthouse
is second only to the Boon Island lighthouse (133 feet) in southern
Maine as the tallest in the state.
The island is a good example
of the sometimes unbalanced competition that occurs on nesting islands.
Over 1500 pairs of terns were documented until 1971 when the lighthouse
became automated and light keepers ceased to discourage gulls from
overrunning the terns. By 1983, all terns were gone.
began in 1984 and today the diversity of nesting seabirds is much
improved. This is such an important colonial nesting colony that
cooperative research is conducted all summer by the USFWS, the Maine
Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the College of the
Atlantic, the University of Maine, and the University of New Brunswick.
Bar Harbor Whale Watch makes daily morning trips to
the island before heading out to the whaling grounds. This is an
ideal trip to take for those who wish to combine puffin-watching
with pelagic birding. The boat is large, fast, and stable. Call
Bar Harbor Boat Tours now visits Petit Manan every
afternoon on a trip that also features other seabirds and lighthouses.
Robertson Sea Tours visits the island on board the
Kandi Leigh from its headquarters in Milbridge.
The shallow draft of the boat allows it to get in closer to shore
than the larger boats from Bar Harbor. Both the Kandi
Leigh and its sister vessel, the Susan
Jane, also make whale-watching and pelagic birding
excursions. Call 207-483-6110.
Machias Seal Island
is the granddaddy of puffin islands. Thousands of nesting Atlantic
Puffins populate the 20-acre island, accompanied by hundreds of
Razorbills and Common Murres. Large colonies of Common and Arctic
Terns have historically nested here, but recent nesting success
has diminished, possibly due to food shortages or gull predation.
This is the only puffin colony that allows visitors to land.
A very limited number of people each day are allowed to go ashore
and watch puffins from blinds, often within arm's length. The puffins
are accustomed to the visits and readily approach the blinds so
long as they are not disturbed.
Visitors are shuttled ashore
by small skiff and climbing onto the wet walkway when there is wave
action can be tricky. When winds are from the wrong direction, landings
are impossible and the captains will circle the island instead,
which still provides exceptional views of all the alcids ashore.
Foggy days are not discouraging because fog often keeps the birds
closer to the island and numbers can be particularly exciting.
Only two boats land passengers, one each from the U.S. and Canada.
Captain Andy Patterson operates
Bold Coast Charters from Cutler, Maine, and visits
the island daily. Call 207-259-4484.
The Wilcox family has
provided trips from Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Monday-Saturday
since 1969. See
Seawatch Tours or call 877-662-8552.
is an historic artifact, as ownership has remained in dispute between
the United States and Great Britain (later Canada) since the American
Revolution. The Treaty of Paris settled most of the boundary between
the nations, but agreement on several islands and waters was not
reached until the Treaty of Ghent following the War of 1812. However,
that treaty failed to mention Machias Seal Island. Canada maintains
and staffs the lighthouse that was built by the British long ago,
but this possession is not recognized by the United States as legitimizing
Canada's claim to the island.
In truth, stewardship of the
island has been cordial and passports are not needed to visit the
island. Lobster-fishing rights around the island are the main cause
of tension and disputes over this "gray zone" erupt periodically.