Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Project Puffin by Stephen W. Kress and Derrick Z. Jackson

Why I Read It: For many years, I led puffin trips.

Summary: The story of the reestablishment of the southernmost breeding colony of Atlantic Puffins in the United States.

My Thoughts: This book was a long time in coming. Those of us in the field, leading the birding trips throughout the northeast, had long associated Steven Kress with this amazing tale. We knew when we stepped onto the islands off the coast of Maine that miracles had happened in the world of Atlantic Puffins,

The trips I used to lead were not on the islands on which Kress worked so diligently, but much farther north, on Machias Seal Island, on the Maine-Canda border (the island is disputed). There's much that I could tell about our adventures out there, but they'd be extraneous to this tale, Suffice to say, a puffin colony is a different world, when mixed with a few Razorbills and a couple of Common Murres, perhaps Arctic Terns diving at your head as you make your way to the viewing blinds. I miss it.

Kress had a epiphany after reading that some Maine islands had formerly held puffin breeding colonies, but that those colonies had gone extinct, or, probably more accurately, had been extirpated. He thought something had to be done, but what? How could one attract a species back to a location on which it once thrived, but that was now overwhelmed by predators? Sure, the big problem had gone away, humans weren't hunting them any more, but gulls had moved in, gulls that would love to snack on "pufflings" before or after they came out of their eggs.

Kress believed that translocation of young puffins could lead to an eventual breeding colony. Puffin chicks raised on the island would, theoretically come back. But nobody had tested the theory. He set out to do so, and, in turn, changed the seabird colony restoration world.

This book details the journey, almost chick by chick, from the start in the 1970s to similar restoration projects taking place around the world today. It's a story of perseverance, above all else. It's a tale with a happy ending, so far, as who knows what will pop up next to endanger these little birds? So, let's celebrate it with Steven Kress while we can. He deserves it more than any of us can ever imagine.

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