Puffins!

Downeast Maine is known its rocky coast line, cold waters, abundant lobsters, and maritime heritage. Enter any tourist shop and you’ll also see key chains, mugs, and bags decorated with the colorful Atlantic puffin, which breeds on a handful of offshore islands. The fact that puffins are so well associated with the Maine coast is thanks to the dreams and persistence of ornithologist Dr. Steven Kress. With backing from the National Audubon Society and help from a cadre of student interns, Kress has been restoring puffins to the Maine coast since the 1980s. Absent for more than a century due to extensive hunting and predation, puffins are once again breeding in Maine. (Visit Project Puffin to learn more.)

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The Hog Island Audubon Camp is home base for Project Puffin. During Arts and Birding, the week long workshop that I direct at Hog Island, we take participants to see the puffin nesting colony on Eastern Egg Rock, a small island at the outer edge of Muscongus Bay. From the boat, we photograph, sketch, and delight in watching these “clowns of the sea,” along with a host of other seabirds. Though I made some quick sketches from the boat (a first—thanks to extremely calm seas), I did this page back on land. Three cheers for puffins, seabird restoration, and a week in Maine!

Tips & Techniques– Throw out the black paint in your watercolor set. Instead, try combinations of blue and brown to mix a more interesting dark. Ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, or indigo (which contains some black pigment) and burnt umber produce rich results.

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22 thoughts on “Puffins!

  1. It’s a privilege to be able to see them – I’ll content myself with your sketch, and the knowledge that they’re on the increase. Those are great details you’ve written onto the page, too. A little good news – not a bad thing these days, eh?

    • Definitely. I have had the privilege of seeing Puffins nearly every summer for 14 years. We were treated to sightings of razorbills, common murre, and a northern gannet this year too!

  2. Lucky you, Jean, to get to see these guys up close and personal! I enjoyed your post about it and yes, I agree with you about the blacks – pre-mixed blacks are mostly too dense and ‘dead’ for nature 😉

  3. I love Puffins – this page – and the good news you shared about the colony! As always, you are an inspiration!

  4. The Aquarium in Newport, Oregon has a seabird aviary that contains a variety of formerly wild Puffins in the large salt water pools. It is a learning experience to stand outside next to the pools and watch the Puffin behavior. They are an entertaining sea bird with individual personalities; talking to one of the birds near where I was standing, he paddled over in front of me and started showing off his diving and on surface skills: deep diving, rolling around and swimming on his side with the opposite wing flapping. He’d always return to where I was standing. I think he was really showing off his male bird skills to the female standing on a rock close to me.

  5. My husband and I were at the Hog Island Audubon Camp during the summer of 1979 when Steven was just enticing the Puffins to return to Egg Rock, using decoys. The week we were there, Marlin Perkins filmed a Wild Kingdom episode with Steven on Egg Rock. My husband and I felt like we were a part of history in the making. Our time at the Camp was magical and one we will never forget.

    • Wow, Barbara- what a great connection! 1979 was really the early days of the project. Hog Island participants continue to feel the magic of the place. I’m very privileged to teach there– this was my 12th year!

  6. What wonderful work done to help the puffins. I love your sketches and am envious that you could get close enough to sketch them. We do have puffin colonies in some places around Great Britain, mainly Wales, Scotland and Northern England, but I have yet to see them.

  7. Beautiful! My partner (whom I co-write our blog with) and I also experienced the joys of seeing puffins here in the UK. As my home country is New Zealand, I had always dreamed of seeing them but wondered if I ever would get the chance… How lucky I was that my chance came around! Such gorgeous birds.

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