One morning while we were staying in Lake Clark, we took the opportunity to go with one other couple to Puffin Island. We departed late morning on a low-tide loading. The boat is moored far off from the high tide line where it can still float at low tide. We probably walked 1/4 mile in the soft, mucky, boot-sucking sand to the water’s edge. Oliver, our captain/guide, and another of the lodge guides carried a canoe out. Once at the water’s edge, Oliver rowed the canoe out to the boat and impressively hauled himself aboard.
He then slowly drove the boat as close to shore as he safely could. Wearing hip waders and timing our approach with the trough of the surf, the 4 of us climbed the bow ladder onto the boat and off we went. It was a beautiful mild day. We stopped by a Kittiwake rookery where the birds were building nests and engaging in courtship behaviors. This is odd behavior to see in August. If they nest now, their eggs won’t hatch before they need to migrate for winter. Then we stopped by an old salmon cannery – a beautifully rusted, wood compound. At one time this was one of the busiest canneries in Alaska.
As we approached our destination, “Puffin Island”, we were greeted by the resident sea otter. He’s been living out here by himself for several years. Usually otters are social and live in communities, but he is here alone. One year he had a girlfriend and the lodge staff was hopeful, but she didn’t stay around. The otter swam (well, sort of bobbed, locomoting with just one flipper) right around the bow of the boat certainly checking us out. It was quite an encounter. Over the years he’s gotten quite used to the lodge’s boat is no longer put out by it.
All of the seabirds (horned puffins, tufted puffins and murres) were in the water when we arrived. Rob spotted a bald eagle on the west side of the island and a bit later I saw a peregrine falcon (photo below) working the rock ledges along the south side. These two predators are here to eat the seabirds, so the seabirds were taking refuge in the water where they can easily dive to safety. The puffins can dive down 200 feet!
The puffins nest in the rocks in caves they dig out that can be 4 feet long. We watched them fishing to feed their families. They will dive and fill their bill full of sandlance fish, circle several times (in consideration of photographers, I’m sure) and then fly directly into their nest cavities without landing outside first.
They run across the water to attain flight and seem to crash land. In fact, mid-air collisions aren’t uncommon! They really are designed more for diving than flying. This trip was an expert course in tracking with the camera. I was standing on the deck of a small boat, rocking and rolling in the waves, trying to steady myself while looking skyward through the viewfinder, spinning around and following birds up and down. Of note, I did not get seasick and I actually caught a lot of birds in flight in focus! I was thrilled. It was such a fun morning.