There has been a lot of puffins in my life lately. Like, hundreds of thousands. As you might have seen on Facebook, last week I participated in a Puffin Patrol and set free a baby puffin. Hearts exploded all over the Internet.
That’s another story, though. But I was introduced to the idea by some puffin-lovin’ folks at Molly Bawn, a whale and puffin tour group. They invited me out for an afternoon, and since I hadn’t been to the bird islands in years, I was happy to oblige.
The best part about this tour for me was the size. The boat was small. Like, the kind of boat your fisherman grandfather would take you out in as a child and you’d be all traumatized by the open water and swooping seagulls. Every other tour I had been on was chocked full of people jostling each other for the best photo-taking opportunities. This boat takes a maximum of 12 people, and on this trip, there was only one other tourist besides Lesley and I on our little adventure.
The bird islands are crazy. The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve has four main islands, Gull, Green, Great, and Pee Pee. Yes, Pee Pee. Over 260,000 PAIRS of puffins come here every year, to make babies and eat capelin. It’s the largest in North America. They also have the second largest Leach’s storm-petrel colony in the world, with 620,000 pairs.
On top of all that are black-legged kittiwakes, gulls, and the common murres.
I saw a gull chasing an eagle chasing a puffin. I can’t even make that up.
When you near the islands, the sky darkens all ominously. Scenes from The Birds start flashing in your head. But here it’s just thousands and thousands and thousands of birds. If the boat’s captain were to cut the engine, the sound becomes deafening. One big series of squawks and calls and caws.
Do NOT look up with your mouth open.
We didn’t see any whales on the way out, sadly. I seem to constantly miss whale/iceberg/puffin season. But halfway back to shore, the captain came out and excitedly said something to our German tour guide, Jeanine. I asked Jeanine what was up, and over the noise of the boat, all I heard was “black fish.” I asked, “Are they big?” She demonstrated their size with her hands. Long and BIG.
I turned to Lesley excitedly. “Black fish! I don’t know what that is, but it’s big!”
We motored over to where two other boats sat idling on the waves, their onlookers leaning over the sides of the boats in fascination. A spout of water blew up into the air, and then another. Two black fish! The crowd cheered. We watched the spectacle for awhile.
Halfway through the performance, I asked Jeanine what a black fish was. She looked confused…then realization dawned. “No, Black Fish is the boat!” She pointed to the Zodiac that had alerted Molly Bawn to the scene. All my worldly, nature-y knowledge down the toilet, just like that.
We stayed out a little later than we should have just to see the minke whales, although they didn’t breach or dance for us. We expected angry tourists from the group we had kept waiting back at the dock a bit longer than usual, but it’s hard to be anything but delighted when there are puffins circling overhead and the wide open Atlantic in front of you.
Thanks for the superb hospitality, Molly Bawn. And the lesson in humility.