Atlantic Puffins - Nesting Colonies in Newfoundland

June 20, 2016
Atlantic Puffin - Elliston, Newfoundland
1/800, f/5.6, ISO 250, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm

During late May and early June I visited four nesting colonies in Newfoundland.  Three of the colonies, Cape St. Mary's, Elliston and Witless Bay Ecological Reserve provided great photo opportunities, while the fourth, Cape St. George, has potential but would have required more time and a several hour trek to get within acceptable photographic reach of the birds. Although I didn't have the time to do it full justice, I hope to return one day to Cape St. George and give it another go.

Without question one of the major highlights for me was photographing Atlantic Puffins, which I was able to do at Elliston and Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. These birds are pelagic and dispersed outside of the breeding season, but can be present in colonies from late April to mid-August. At other times they can often be found over the deeper waters of the continental shelf ( Dunne, Pete 2006).

Atlantic Puffin Gathering Nesting Material- Elliston, NL
1/800, f/5.6, ISO 400, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm

The frantic activity level I witnessed kept me busy as I tried to capture images like the one above I made at Elliston, which shows just how much nesting material these little guys can grasp in one mouthful. They breed in burrows and among rocks of sea islands. During my visit, a number of puffins, including the one above (up to 10 or so at one time) would occasionally fly across the water from the main colony and land within 20 feet of where I stood. They did not seem nervous at all and, as a result, I was able to capture several full-frame images of these adorable birds.

Atlantic Puffin - Elliston, Newfoundland
1/1600, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm

Capturing good bird-in-flight photos was challenging to say the least. Thanks to digital photography, I snared a few keepers like the ones above and below. In flight, Atlantic Puffin is stocky and eliptically shaped, with a slightly downturned bill as shown in the above two photos. The bright orange feet are easy to discern in flight.

Atlantic Puffin - Elliston, Newfoundland
1/1600, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm
Atlantic Puffin Portrait - Elliston, Newfoundland
1/800, f/5.6, ISO 400, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm

Birds often have same mates each year. In courtship, the male repeatedly flicks its head up and back so that bill points up; this may continue for several minutes. In the photo below I tried to capture some of this behaviour.

Atlantic Puffin - Elliston, Newfoundland
1/800, f/5.6, ISO 500, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm
Atlantic Puffin Coming in for a Landing on Nesting Colony
1/2000, f/4, ISO 400, Canon 1D X, Canon 400mm DO II

At Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, out boat approached close to shore and I was able to grab this photo of an Atlantic Puffin landing on the rocky island. If you still have a thirst for more puffin photos, be sure to check out my photo galleries, which include these and other puffin photos. For comparison purposes, I've included a photo of a Horned Puffin and a Tufted Puffin below I made in 2014 at St. Paul Island in the Pribillof Islands, Alaska. There are a number of similarities between Horned Puffin and Atlantic Puffin, but upon closer inspection two notable differences are the yellow bill base and high calmed ridge, which slopes down to forehead on Horned Puffin. In addition, Atlantic Puffin is the smallest puffin with a length of 12.5" compared with 15" for Horned Puffin.

Horned Puffin - St. Paul Island, AK, USA
1/500, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm
Tufted Puffin - St. Paul Island, AK, USA
1/500, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm

New Gallery Photos Added                       Gallery

Atlantic Puffin                        Alcidae (Auks, Murres & Puffins)

 

Happy Birding,

Claude

 

References:

Dunne, Pete, 2006. Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, New York

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