Plenty About Puffins: Family Fun
When I ask our visiting families what local information I can help them with, they invariably say, “What advice do you have for activities with the kids?” In a world of excessive screen time, it is such a delight for families to discover high quality adventures that are also (gasp) educational. Don’t tell the kids, but they are going to actually absorb quite a bit if they experience the mid coast adventure of learning about Project Puffin.
About Project Puffin
Project Puffin is an Audubon conservation project that takes place on Eastern Egg Rock and other islands off of the mid coast. A very persistent scientist named Dr. Stephen Kress pioneered an effort in 1973 to bring back the nearly obliterated population of puffins in Maine. It didn’t happen right away, but he and his team eventually achieved a near-miracle, repopulating the area with about a thousand pairs of them, to date. The conservation efforts have also included other endangered seabirds, such as terns.
Project Puffin Visitor Center
The story of this man and his perseverance is probably the most interesting aspect of Project Puffin for adults. For kids, the puffins are the main attraction! These spunky, colorful little birds captivated my children from the outset. The good news is, the Project Puffin Visitor Center in Rockland provides you with a free resource (donations are encouraged, but optional) for teaching your kids about puffins. The center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays during May, and then daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until 7 p.m. on Wednesdays from June through the end of October, so there are plenty of chances to stop in. The center is closed for the 4th of July holiday and then also in the winter (November through April).
We took our boys to the Project Puffin Visitor Center on a rainy day early during our last visit. We walked in spontaneously off the street and were greeted by an ornithologist in the gift shop and information area of the visitor center. After telling the boys a little bit about puffins, the guide invited us into the back of the center, where we found a room containing chairs and a screen, a simulated life-size puffin blind, a huge puffin “burrow” for the kids to try, and various touch-and-feel items. While in the screening room, we got a great talk about puffins prior to watching a 20-minute documentary about their story in Maine. If your youngest kids can’t sit through the entire documentary, they can play in the puffin burrow or the puffin blind. Everyone in the room seems to expect that kids will have shifting interests and doesn’t seem to mind their scampering.
My energetic boys of 6 and 8 actually did enjoy the documentary, which is a testament to its entertainment value. Whether or not yours see the film, the other resources in the center will ensure they will be ready to go out and view the puffins firsthand. If your visit falls in the summer months, you can actually do this! My recommendation is to get tickets for one of the Monhegan Boat Line Nature Cruises (which run from early June to mid-August) or Hardy Boat Cruises (mid-May start) and serve as a wonderful follow-up activity to your visitor center experience. We used Monhegan Boat Lines, so I’ll tell you all about that here.
Monhegan Boat Line Puffin and Nature Cruise
Monhegan Boat Line is located about a half hour from Rockland in the village of Port Clyde, which is really easy to find. I recommend making reservations in advance using the phone number on their website, since these cruises are quite popular. Ours seemed full. Parking is available for a small fee on the pier, where the ticket office is and where the boat docks.
I had worried about what we’d do if there was rain, but I needn’t have. The Laura B. (which serves as the boat for the cruises) also has ample seating both indoors and out. Luckily, the weather happened to be absolutely gorgeous, so we were able to fully enjoy the 2-1/2 hour cruise, nearly half of which is spent getting out to Eastern Egg Rock where the original puffin colony is situated. The time passes quickly, though. On the way, the captain entertains you with lots of interesting stories about the islands and homes you pass. Space permitting, we were free to roam up and down the boat, and had lots of great photo opps. The boat also stopped to pull up some lobster traps, which is always great fun for the kids.
Upon arriving at Eastern Egg Rock, we did spot some puffins, although those little suckers move fast! Thanks to the commentary from the captain on the way, we were easily able to distinguish the puffins from other birds. After hearing so much about them at the visitor center, seeing real ones was a thrill for the boys.
By the time we had returned to the dock, we’d seen all kinds of wildlife, learned about the area islands and some of their history, and seen quite a lot of gorgeous water on a fine summer day. I’d highly recommend this whole experience to anyone with (or without!) kids who wants to learn a lot about these wonderful birds and the people who have brought them, along with other endangered sea birds, back to Maine.
A few key pieces of info for parents:
- Yes! There are bathrooms on the boat (like you didn’t wonder?)
- You should bring food. The trip is 2 1/2 hours and picnic lunches and snacks are encouraged.
- Even on a fine day, it will be cool with the wind hitting you on the water. I would suggest bringing sweatshirts for everyone.
- Binoculars are a great help to anyone trying to see those fast little puffins or any other sea life you may encounter.
Don’t be intimidated if this is your first boat cruise. The folks at Monhegan Boat Line are incredibly friendly. They seem to really enjoy what they do and they are a treasure trove of information about the area.
I’m so thankful we’ve discovered this great fun and educational resource right in our own backyard. Check it out for your next trip to the mid coast.
If you’d like a handy full-day schedule of kid-friendly eating and fun, check out our handy infographic for one day with the family!