Sometimes, living in Maine, you forget that people come from all over the world to see things that are within an easy drive of your home. So occasionally you just need to be a tourist in your own backyard. We’d never seen puffins in the wild so Sue and I watched the weather for a good forecast and booked a Puffin Watch with Hardy Boat Cruises out of New Harbor, Maine. You can book online or by phone. This tour leaves New Harbor at 5:30 PM which, on sunny days, provides beautiful light
Getting there was easy. It’s about 50 Miles from Freeport following US 1, turning off toward Damariscotta, and driving south to the end of the peninsula. Given the usual slow down through Wiscasset we made it in about an hour fifteen minutes.
When you arrive, you can drop folks off near the wharf but must park in a field about a quarter mile away. The field is clearly marked and parking is very reasonable at $4.00 cash only for the day. You’ll need your parking receipt to pick up your cruise tickets at the wharf. The ticket window is on the mid level of the red building under the restaurant. It’s a good idea to take a light jacket, even on a warm day, because the wind over the ocean can be quite cool. The tour runs from late April or early May into August.
I’d offer a couple thoughts for you if you decide to try this trip. Puffins are small, only about 10 inches tall and they can fly up to 50 mph. Bring binoculars. Except for pictures of Eastern Egg Rock Island or the beautiful area surrounding New Harbor your cell phone camera will not be useful.
If you really want pictures you will do better with a camera with an optical zoom lens but still you’re pushing the capabilities of most cameras. The pictures I took were taken with a reasonably high quality 70-300 mm zoom lens which was almost always zoomed to 300 mm to catch images of the birds even on the water. When the birds were in flight the autofocus on my camera couldn’t keep up. I shot more than 250 pictures to get what I have here so most went into the trash. Just enjoy what you’re seeing and don’t worry too much about pictures.
We boarded the Hardy III, a sturdy 60-foot boat in operation since 1990, with an enclosed lower level and open observation deck. We went straight to the observation deck to settle in. Once out near the island, they slowly cruise the circumference one direction then turn and cruise the other direction so there is equal opportunity for those on both sides of the boat to get front row seats for observation.
The trip includes a narrative by a member of the National Audubon Project Puffin. Our narrator, Bridget, provided a succinct history of puffins in Maine. I had not known that puffins were eliminated from the Maine coast by the late 1800’s by hunters seeking the meat, which was prized, and feathers for stylish hats that were the rage for women of the time. The birds we now see are the result of a project of the Audubon Society to re-introduce puffins to their native habitat in Maine.
Bridget had placards, some pictured below, of the most common birds we might see and I think most of them showed up at some point during our trip.
While this is a tourist activity I’m glad we went and I’d recommend it as something worth doing while in Maine.