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A year ago I knew as much as the next person about Atlantic Puffins, assuming the next person didn't know all that much. Now, after being involved for over half a year in a "puffin project" I consider myself a puffin expert, assuming puffin experts know a tad more than the next person. When Down East Books ( asked if I wanted to work on their puffin project I agreed without hesitation. First, because I've always liked puffins (who doesn't?) even though I didn't know that much about them; and second, I thought at my age, how many more puffin projects are likely to come over the transom here at Storyteller Central?
The project Down East had in mind was to publish a book of beautiful puffin photographs. My job was to write humorous captions for the pictures they selected. Soon after signing on I received my first group of puffin pictures. As my neighbor back home would say: "Ain't they cunnin?" The answer? "Yes they are.
Here were beautiful color images of puffins going about their busy puffin lives: landing and taking off from ocean-bound granite outcrops, seeming to have serious conversations with each other while precariously balanced on slanted, jagged rocks, and my favorite - a self-satisfied puffin strutting purposefully along, a beak full of live eels and squid, looking like he'd just left an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet table.
As a kid I remember the first time I saw puffins up close. It was the summer my father bought what became his pride and joy - a thirty-eight-foot, Stonington-built, cedar-on-oak lobster boat. With it we were able to get out into the Gulf of Maine and cruise by the ledges where puffins hung out in great numbers.
With binoculars we took turns watching as these lovable birds went about their busy puffin lives - just like they're doing in the photographs in my new book. When I saw the first group of photographs from Down East, they brought back fond memories of those first encounters with puffins. Just like now, those puffins were just sitting and relaxing, swaggering from one place to another or standing and looking out at us as we glided by in dad's boat, looking at them.
While working on my puffin book I learned more about puffins than I knew back then. For example, did you know that puffins spend most of their lives at sea and only come ashore on remote rocky islands to carry on their courtship, breed, lay their eggs, and hatch their chicks? Once that important business is completed it's back out to sea.
I also learned that, like politicians, puffins don't like camera-toting media types poking around and will do almost anything to avoid them.
As soon as their land-based business is complete puffins head back out to sea and stay as long as possible.
I also learned that puffins like some diversity in their diets and will eat almost anything from the ocean that's still wiggling. They don't like anything in the veggie family of foods, however. I guess I should have assumed that, but it was good to finally clarify that point. And I never would have known all this if it hadn't been for this “puffin project” that Down East Books asked me to join.
If you like sea birds, or you’ree a maritime person, or you'd eventually like to join either of those groups, you should probably consider this book for your collection, or at least check it out at your local library. Come to think of it, I can't think of a single person in Maine who wouldn't want Nothin' but Puffins for their personal collection.
Everyone's a critic, so I'd be interested in hearing what you think.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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