The moment my alarm went off at 5:30am, I immediately regretted my decision. Luckily, Susan and I had previously made a pact to meet each other in the lobby at a quarter to six and I couldn’t leave her hanging. Besides, we were going to see PUFFINS!
The previous afternoon, we had visited the tiny town of Elliston — hoping to see these birds up close. I’ve spent time with puffins before — in the Treshnish Isles of Scotland — yet I felt just as excited to spend time with them here, in Eastern Newfoundland.
During our first visit to the puffin lookout in Elliston, we had arrived on an unusually hot afternoon in early August. We were surprised to find the puffins on an island about 100 feet away from us, with no access for humans. I peered through my telephoto lens to snap some photos from afar, but couldn’t help feeling disappointed.
I had a magical experience the first time I saw puffins in the wild and literally sat within a few feet of these well-fed birds while they built their nests and made lawn mower-like noises.
That evening, we met the owner of the Artisan Inn and Twine Loft Dining in Trinity and she gave us the inside scoop on how to see the Elliston puffins up close.
We arrived to Elliston the next day, just as the sun started peeking its way above the horizon. I practically ran down the trail, hoping we were the first people to arrive. My heart sank as we reached the top of the hill and saw three early birds (of the human variety) at the lookout point, with cameras ready. No puffins were to be found.
Susan and I sat at the edge of the cliff — taking in the view and watching the puffins from a distance. They were busy building nests and flying to and from the water, picking up their breakfast. Every time one took flight, I secretly wished they were coming over to our side.
Over an hour passed before our fellow bird watchers finally gave up and headed to their car. I was determined to see some puffins up close, but I have to admit my enthusiasm was diminishing.
Just as I was about to throw in the towel, I looked over my right shoulder and noticed one puffin had quietly landed about 50 feet away from us.
“Susan.” I whispered, “There’s a puffin behind us — at the edge of the cliff.”
As if we had done this a million times before, we both immediately rolled over onto our stomachs, getting as low to the ground as possible. Our cameras were locked and loaded.
The curious puffin slowly hopped along the cliff, inching his way towards us. Once he got within about ten feet, I tried to keep my giggling to a minimum so I wouldn’t spook the adorable puffin. Apparently he felt no fear because he literally waddled up to within a few inches from our faces, stopped along the edge of the cliff, and posed for a photo shoot.
The photographer in me half-jokingly whispered, “This is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
Unidentified bugs began biting my bare legs, but I didn’t care. I felt as if we had been chosen. Our little friend then called one of his buddies over to our side of the cliff. Now there were two puffins within arms reach.
The puffins were so close that I had to switch from my telephoto lens to my iPhone. I was so excited to be within such close proximity to these wild birds that it took me over ten minutes to realize I should have been taking video of this encounter.
Just after I recorded the video above, I heard Susan’s voice.
“Christy! There’s another puffin to your left.”
This newcomer landed on a rock near the edge of the cliff and spent a few minutes checking us out before he joined the other two birds for what seemed like a puffin meeting. I began giggling uncontrollably and continued to take as many photos as possible.
At some point — I’m not even clear how long we spent with these three puffins — they all decided to fly away, in search of more fish to fill their bulging bellies.