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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

The Puffins of the Pribilofs

October 29th, 2013 · No Comments

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Long before I left home in June to visit Alaska this summer I knew that the birds I most wanted to see there were puffins. This was the main reason why I traveled way out into the Bering Sea to the Pribilof Islands where they nest.

I had seen many photographs of puffins and couldn’t believe that any birds could be that cute. I just had to see and photograph them for myself.

Actually, even before going to the Pribilofs, I got glimpses of puffins when I took cruises through Kenai Fjords National Park and Kachemak Bay two or three weeks earlier. But all the puffins I saw there were sitting on the ocean at a distance.

Puffins belong to the alcidae, or auk, family of seabirds. While we call three species puffins, we know now that four of them exist. Three of them live in the North Pacific Ocean, while the East has only Atlantic puffins in the North Atlantic Ocean. Here in the West we have tufted puffins and horned puffins — and rhinoceros auklets, which don’t look at all like puffins, but anatomically still are puffins. I saw them in Kenai Fjords.

The Most Unusual Puffins, Rhinoceros Auklets Have Strange Vertical White Plates at the Back of Their Bills

The Most Unusual Puffins, Rhinoceros Auklets Have Strange Vertical White Plates at the Back of Their Bills

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If rhinoceros auklets look strange, horned puffins don’t even look real.

The Horned Puffin Gets its Name from the Horny Projections About Its Eyes

The Horned Puffin Gets its Name from the Horny Projections About Its Eyes

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I saw all the species of puffins that visit Alaska. The third one is the one I like best, although it is a tough call. It’s the tufted puffin, the largest of them all. I love their long, straw-colored feathers that extend back from the crown during the mating season.

Reef Point, which is the southernmost point of Saint Paul Island, has to be one of the greatest places in the world for bird photography. While I was standing at the top of a cliff more than 100 feet high, I was completely safe because I was surrounded by a natural wall up to my waist. And there, just to the left of me rested tufted puffins on ledges of the cliff. I love the cliffs too, because they are covered in colorful lichen.

About 10 Feet from Me, This Tufted Puffin Sits on a Ledge Overlooking the Bering Sea

About 10 Feet from Me, This Tufted Puffin Sits on a Ledge Overlooking the Bering Sea

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A Tufted Puffin Arrives

A Tufted Puffin Arrives

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Near the close of my last full day in the Pribilofs I got the photos that I most wanted to get, but didn’t even dare hope to capture.

I photographed tufted puffins carrying mouthfuls of fish and squid. Only puffins do this and only at a certain time of the year. That time started just before I left the Pribilofs. I got several shots of them in flight, but my favorites were those of one puffin who landed just a few feet below me.

“You Can’t Have My Fish!"

“You Can’t Have My Fish!"

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A marine biologist working on the island identified the fish for me as probably capelin, but possibly herring, as well as squid. Puffins can carry several fish back to their nest at a time. The puffin’s beak is specialized to hold them.

I Think the Other Puffins Would Like a Share

I Think the Other Puffins Would Like a Share

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I like puffins so much that I bought a book, Penguins, Puffins, and Auks by William Ashworth with photos by famous nature photographer Art Wolfe. Actually, I bought two copies of it: one for Marveen at a bookstore in Homer and one for myself at Amazon.com after I got back home.

Even better than the book is a stuffed puffin doll that I see and smile at every day. Marveen and Wayne gave it to me as a present for my 78th birthday, which I celebrated the day I returned to their home after my wonderful journey to the Pribilofs.

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