Puffins may be seen resting among decoys positioned at the edge of the island, so watch carefully. As the season proceeds, puffins will become increasingly conspicuous on top of the boulders. Mornings and evenings are the best times to see the seabirds, and their numbers will increase as the season proceeds; maximum numbers are usually seen in July and early August. Watching for 'virtual puffins' is much like watching for real birds – sometimes one might see them, other times not.
Audubon's Project Puffin, under the direction of Dr. Stephen W. Kress launched its successful restoration of the Seal Island colony in 1984 when the first of 950 puffin chicks were transported to the island from Newfoundland. Seven pairs nested at Seal Island in 1992 - the first to nest at the island since the original colony became extinct in 1887 due to excessive hunting. Today, the colony continues to grow as more birds return to the island each year. One of the initiatives of the Seabird Restoration program, Project Puffin now manages nearly all of the puffins nesting in Maine at its three puffin nesting islands. In addition, the Project has restored rare and endangered terns to six Maine islands since its inception in 1973.
A second camera featuring Arctic and Common Terns currently focuses on tern nesting habitat in the center of the island. Early in the season, terns are present mainly in the morning, when viewers can watch for these elegant seabirds as they settle into their nesting habitat. After they choose their nesting places, the camera will spotlight individual birds.
Terns were hunted for their feathers in the late 1800s, causing the disappearance of most of their colonies. Using decoys and sound recordings, Kress and his team lured terns back to the island in 1989; since then the colony has grown to be the largest in Maine. Arctic Terns are champion migrants that have been known to travel up to 20,000 miles. They started to return to Seal Island in mid-May and will be present through July before heading south to Africa and Antarctica.
The cameras are set up on Seal Island by Audubon staff members, in conjunction with staff from the Alaska-based group SeeMore Wildlife Systems and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Seal Island is part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The live video is beamed 22 miles to Benner Hill above Rockland, and then relayed to the Project Puffin Visitor Center, located at 311 Main Street in Rockland. At the center, visitors can view live-streaming video on TV monitors and a large screen in the center's theatre. For added fun, visitors are encouraged to try their hand operating the Puffin Cam by zooming in on the birds and their burrows, and panning across the island in search of other spectacular island scenes and wildlife. The center opened June 1 and will remain open daily (10 am -5 pm EDT) until October 31.
This summer, take a virtual visit to Seal Island, where every day is a new real-life adventure, shown in real time! The Puffin Cam is sponsored by Barbara's Bakery of Petaluma, CA, makers of "Puffins' brand cereals. To learn more about Project Puffin, view the Puffin Cam, and find out how you can participate in Audubon's "Adopt-A-Puffin' program, visit www.projectpuffin.org.