Tufted Puffin Observations for August, 2018

In the following text are observations I dictated into my phone while standing watch at Face Rock over several days. While I confess that it is not “finely crafted” writing, it gives the reader an idea of what I was seeing on these few different days. And perhaps it reveals the excitement I was feeling for these apparently successful puffin nests. It’s my first viewing of puffin burrows that “appear” to my untrained eye to be successful. But I never actually saw a chick (a “puffling”). Others who are more knowledgeable may conclude something else, which I would love to hear. I hope you enjoy these observations. I know that I was thrilled by what I was seeing day after day. A few of those days are recounted below. Enjoy.

 (Note to the reader: The terms I use for the burrows refer to the locations on Face Rock. The “penthouse” is nearest to the top of the head and is a large boulder with a wide entrance. The North, Middle, and South burrows (sometimes called simply “apartments“ are further down the head and further North.)

 

8/6:

7:00AM: Upon arrival, no puffins were in sight. I kept watch on the 3 burrows I’ve identified these past couple of months as likely active. The furthest to the south is behind a small, green shrub. I call it the South burrow. About 30 feet north is what I call the middle burrow. It is a vertical slit in the boulder grouping. The North burrow is in a wide opening just below a somewhat tall green shrub. It’s furthest North of the large boulder field.

Yesterday a puffin had to bump a gull out of the way because it was standing right in the entrance to the middle burrow. Today, when a crow landed near this burrow, a puffin flew back and chased it off and then stood guard over it.

Second puffin just arrived at middle burrow. First one flew off. Oops. No, still there. Neither have brought fish.

7:20AM Both puffins hovering around the middle burrow. No sign of a chick. Puffin just came out of the North burrow. Second puffin just arrived at North burrow. Three puffins currently in sight. Two at North burrow, one at Middle burrow. South burrow seems inactive. One of the puffins at North burrow flew off. I believe I saw a puffin fly into the middle one while the second puffin remained on rock.

So now there is one puffin on rock outside North burrow, one puffin on rock outside South burrow, and I believe one puffin inside Middle burrow. A third puffin just arrived and is standing midway between the two burrows. Puffin between the two burrows is slowly heading towards North. Now just flew off. Gull just landed near middle burrow and is entering empty burrow to the left of the active one and the puffin is now on guard and has become very alert and is moving out watching the gull. I can see the gull inside that empty burrow. (That’s the one next to the puffin burrow.)

Second puffin is now at North burrow. I couldn’t see where it came from. At middle burrow the gull is now too close and the puffin has moved down right on top of borough looking prepared to take on the gull. Puffin just flew away, leaving the gull full access to burrow. No. There is another puffin coming out of that burrow. Walking out and keeping an eye on the path of the gull.

So now I have seen 4 puffins at one time. Two at North and two at middle. Both puffins are standing guard at middle burrow while the gull remains standing close to top of burrow. Could be a battle brewing. The drama of birds. A fifth puffin just arrived. Couldn’t tell if it came out of a third borough or not but now there are two puffins standing south of the middle Burrow and one puffin standing directly at the entrance to the Middle burrow, plus 2 puffins at the North burrow. Hey, 6 puffins are now in sight. One is standing quite a way south of the middle burrow. One puffin just went into a burrow that is on the other side of the Boulder south of the middle burrow. Newly arrived puffin standing far south is right next to a murre. Nothing seems confrontational there. 2 puffins at North burrow are still outside and look very relaxed. Gull is still at Middle burrow. Puffin in the burrow just south of Middle burrow just came out of that burrow. There’s a lot going on!

Another puffin at North burrow now. How fun! Good Lord! Puffins are flying all over the rock! The one in burrow adjacent to Middle burrow just flew off. The one left of Middle burrow is standing on boulder just above the South burrow now, right at the bush. Both at North burrow are still there. Puffin just flew past South burrow but did not land. Gull remains standing above middle burrow. A puffin just landed near the ledge way below Middle burrow where the rocks are white. 4 puffins currently in view.

The gull finally flew off. Drama ended. Third puffin just arrived at North burrow, so three puffins now standing there. One remains standing out on boulder on top of South burrow. Middle burrow now looks abandoned. However, I think the south puffin is keeping a watch on it. So also may the 3 puffin at North burrow. One of the three puffins at North burrow just flew off. Puffin just flew back to North burrow and appeared to drop fish at entrance, but cannot confirm. Magnification not great enough.

Fourth puffin just arrived at North burrow and does not have anything in mouth as far as I can tell. But now 4 puffins hovering around North burrow; one still standing on boulder above South burrow. None around middle burrow. Latest arrival at North burrow is now walking to Middle burrow, as is a second puffin heading that direction. The one closest to Middle burrow flew off. 4 puffins remain in sight. Wait! Fifth puffin just came back. No fish.

Puffin standing inside entrance to South Borough. Two puffins remain in North burrow, one at Middle burrow and one inside South burrow. Third just returned to North burrow and appeared to drop fish at entrance. At least it was shaking its head in a way that it appeared that it was dropping something. Puffin standing guard right at the entrance to Middle burrow now entering. Gull approaching entrance with something in its mouth. One puffin remains inside South burrow, one inside Middle burrow and 2 puffins at North burrow.

The gull has been playing with whatever is in its mouth for about 5 to 10 minutes, not devouring, just chewing and then dropping. Now there is one puffin sitting in entrance to each of the three boroughs. And I hate to do this, but I have to go. Fun morning.

 

8/7:

6:56AM

One puffin standing above middle burrow. No others in sight yet. Just spotted second puffin next to the first. Third puffin appeared, and now a fourth. These last two went flying off and now a fifth just appeared coming out of small crevice above the middle burrow. Now the first puffin I spotted just flew off, so three may be out fishing and two remaining at the burrows

Two flew back and then immediately flew away and back again in a matter of seconds. Now four are standing out on the boulders. Now all four have flown off the rock. Time for morning exercise, I suspect. All activity is around the middle burrow. First puffin this morning that I’ve seen go into the North burrow. He is now out again. Two have returned to take a post above middle burrow.

There seems to be another entrance to the Middle burrow or a separate burrow just above it. It’s hidden from view by a big rock, but a puffin just emerged from there to join the other one above Middle burrow. The puffin at the South burrow finally emerged and is standing at the entrance.

Two puffins have flown directly and immediately into the North and middle burrows. I assume they have been bringing fish. Disappear into the burrow. Second puffin just emerged from the Middle burrow and flew off. For, maybe five or 10 seconds and then returned.

Amazing! A puffin has just emerged from a burrow very close to the top of face rock. A long distance above and to the south of the three Burrows I’ve been watching for the last two months. Could this be a fourth burrow?

Could this top burrow be what Dave and Diane call the penthouse? It’s a big wide opening for sure. Let’s call it the penthouse. The puffin in this penthouse remains on guard at the entrance, with a gull 5 feet in front of it. One puffin standing above Middle burrow. No others in sight for the last 20 or 30 minutes. A second puffin appeared at the penthouse standing watch on the Boulder above it.

We have four puffins at the penthouse and one above middle burrow. They’re standing around telling stories about the big one that got away. Saw five at one time in the apartments. Plus, one at the penthouse, so six at once. Five are now standing above the North burrow. South burrow seems to be inactive again.

Well it’s about time to leave, and I leave with three puffins at the penthouse and three standing above the north burrow. Middle and south appear deserted, although the hope is that chicks are in there.

 

8/8 @7am

4 puffins in sight upon arrival. One at north, two middle and one at penthouse. Scratch that. Three at middle for total of five. The one at North came over to middle and now there are five at middle and one at penthouse I see a second one at the penthouse so now there are six in sight.

Once again, they seem to prefer moving between North and middle. Two now going over to North leaving two at middle; one is flown off and one is at the penthouse for total of six.

None of the behavior this morning would lead me to think that there are checks in these nests. But if there aren’t, why are the puffins still hanging around? Do they have an internal clock that tells them when it’s time to head out to sea and that’s what’s keeping them here? Or are there chicks in their burrows?

One puffin is now at South nest. One between middle and north and three on top of middle, and one back at the penthouse.

Much like the past few days, the puffin at the South nest prefers to remain either just inside the entrance or right at it. This morning it’s just moving inches in and out.

One puffin just walked out of the middle nest. Hadn’t seen anyone go in, so I’m assuming he woke up from a nap. Another puffin came up from somewhere on the lower rocks and walked slowly up to join the puffin at the middle nest and now another flew back and landed on top of the nest, so there are four at the middle. One just went back inside and out of sight, and I believe the one at the penthouse is also inside and out of sight. No puffin at North. Four at Middle burrow.

At 8:06 AM there four puffins standing guard at the middle nest, two at the entrance and two right above it. What does that mean, if anything? For about the last half hour one puffin has been standing at the very top of a tower of boulders just below and South of the crown of the head. Wonder what that one is up to? One just came out of the north burrow. Two of the four at middle flew off.

 

8/22: 10AM This is my first time back since 8/15. Upon arrival at Face Rock at 10 AM, there is one puffin at the penthouse. No others in sight. For this first five minutes there are no birds on the nose, mouth, chin or forehead of the face. At the far south side of the top of the head there are seven cormorants and three gulls. Further down near the apartments there are four gulls. Face Rock is pretty barren today. What a stark contrast to May through July.

Also, I see no birds in the water anywhere near Face Rock, the kittens, or anywhere on the water between Face Rock to Elephant Rock. Wow! Barren of life for the moment.

There are maybe 20 cormorants on top of Elephant Rock’s south portion and perhaps another 20 on the northern portion of Elephant Rock. About the same number of gulls in each of these places. Maybe a dozen or so pelagic cormorants on the side of Elephant Rock.

Just found one more puffin behind the rock on top of the middle of the three apartments at Face Rock. It’s possible there’s a second puffin next to this one, but I cannot yet tell for sure.

(Watched a squadron of about 14 pelicans fly north past Face Rock and the kittens, and when they got to Elephant Rock they went over the top circled around and then proceed north on the west side of Elephant Rock. It was an interesting maneuver.)

Conclusion: Our tufted puffin population had a good summer. In all likelihood, some pufflings survived and will escape (or already have) in the security of darkness to fend for themselves at sea while parents take off without them. It’s a harsh reality of survival for this species that the young live by their own efforts after they fully fledge. Here’s hoping that all the chicks make it and will return in a couple of years to continue the cycle of life.

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