One of my wishes for our Alaska trip was to see and photograph puffins. Ahead of our trip, I read about Gull Island, a small rock island three miles off the coast of Homer, on the Kenai Peninsula, in Kachemak Bay. Gull Island is a rookery for 8,000 to 10,000 black-legged kittiwakes and 5,000 to 8,000 common murres. But what really caught my attention was that Gull Island also has puffins, a bird I've wanted to see since my youth. I read further that Mako's Water Taxi would take tourists out to visit Gull Island for a reasonable price. We had a tour scheduled to go grizzly bear viewing that was canceled because of rainy weather. So we contacted Mako's and made arrangements for them to take the two of us out to circle Gull Island in a boat. We left within about 15 minutes of contacting them. I expressed to the skipper of our boat my desire to see puffins and he was wonderful in spotting wildlife. He shared his observation that puffins are solitary birds that avoid large bird congregations. That observation by itself was very helpful in spotting solitary puffins floating on the water.
|Red bill with yellowish at the base of the beak, white face and yellow tufts streaming off the back of the head.|
|This photo gives a much better view of the yellow tufts.|
|This back view shows that the yellow tufts fly loose from the back of the head.|
|Here the wings obstruct the face and the yellow tufts have the appearance of a University of Michigan football helmet.|
|This photo gives a better view of the stubby wings.|
A tufted puffin was one of the first birds he spotted, noting that they are much more common near Gull Island than the horned puffin. The tufted puffin has a thick bill, almost like a toucan's, mostly red with some yellow and sometimes some green markings. They have a white facial patch and yellow tufts. The balance of the body is black, except for their feet which are bright red. What I did not realize is that this is their breeding and summer plumage. In the winter their bill and feet turn yellow, they lose the white face and yellow tufts and turn gray-brown, or even a kind of blue. In their winter plumage, they look more like a dodo. I was very happy to see them in their summer plumage. They have short wings that are used for swimming underwater. When they fly they have to beat their wings very quickly and they are unable to glide.
|I photographed this puffin with his/her mate, but those photos did not turn out. This was on Gull Island.|
I only got a picture of this one tufted puffin on the water and several apparently nesting on Gull Island. I saw a few others on this trip as well as a boat trip in Kenai Fjords National Park, but was unable to get good photos of them.