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Seniors participate in own version of Puffin Patrol in Witless Bay, N.L.


Conservation has become a major shift in today’s society.
Things that we used to take for granted are now being looked at as relevant and if we as all members of society don’t take a stand on those things and creatures, there is a possibility the next generation won’t have an opportunity to enjoy those things.

So when residents of Alderwood Estates in Witless Bay sat around and talked about these issues … and in particular the plight of puffins, they decided they needed to jump in and be part of the conservation efforts that have been highly publicized the past several years in the small southern shore community located on the Avalon Peninsula.

On any given day, those residents could be startled in the evening by a puffin slamming off the window of their seniors home, attracted to the bright lights of the facility. That puffin, likely stunned by the contact with the hard window surface, would be nursed back to health and then taken back to the seashore and released, likely coming to rest in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, one of three of the world’s largest areas that aim to preserve the puffin population.

Nora Normore, 98, from St. Vincent’s in St. Mary’s Bay, likely gets the distinction of being the world’s oldest puffin patroller. She and approximately 10 of her Alderwood friends decided to start their own puffin patrol and follow the lead of the younger generation and do their part to preserve the seabird population.

In fact, she may have been the very first puffin patrol member as she has been working on behalf of the population for more than a quarter century. 

Mike Keiley holds a puffin for a delighted Maureen Brown during the Puffin Patrol activity. — Elaine Vickers photos
Mike Keiley holds a puffin for a delighted Maureen Brown during the Puffin Patrol activity. — Elaine Vickers photos

A chance encounter more than 25 years ago started the process.

“I was driving home on a Saturday night with my daughter Sister Anne Normore, who was a teacher in Bay Bulls,’’ she said.
“We saw a puffin on the road in Witless Bay and stopped to help. The bird was injured so we wrapped it up in a coat and took it home to Tors Cove where we were living,’’ she added.

The women had a plan and sprang into action.

They even stopped at a local store on the way home to buy a cup of worms to give the puffin something to eat and proceeded to use a pair of tweezers to feed the bird and it devoured the entire cup.

They made a nest and decided to put it in the barbecue to protect the puffin. A great idea, but that didn’t work out so well as the neighbour’s dog found it right away.

This meant they had to move the puffin to a safer resting place and put it in the shed. Not having the information available to conservationists today, she left the light on. The puffin, which are attracted to bright lights, similar to the moon and the stars which they are draw to at sea at night, caused the puffin to be restless and fly towards the light.

“I had to turn off the light to settle it down and once I did, it rested for the night.”

“The next morning, we were up at 6 a.m. and took the puffin down to the wharf. There were a bunch of fish plant workers there and of course they were obliged to say to Anne, who was a teacher in the community, ‘Whattayat? You coming to work down here,’’ she chuckled?

She explained about the puffin and what had occurred and then released it.

Necessity calls

Releasing puffins was something that was not always the norm for people in the Witless Bay area.

So too is the size of people’s families today, compared to what they would have been in the 1930s.

Resident Dave Melvin remembers those days. His family had 19 children so including his parents there were 21 to feed in his household.

He grew up in the community of Lamonche, which was abandoned from its location between Lamonche Park and Bauline.

What do you do to feed 21people? The answer is anything you can.

“When the caplin came in, we took the punt out to Great Island, which is now part of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve,’’ Melvin said.
“In addition to the caplin, we gathered puffins, turrs and bull birds. This was not a sport for us as it was a necessity to be able to feed our families,’’ he adds noting they seldom hunted the birds with guns, but rather caught more in their nets than they shot.

“We would come in with our catch, clean them at the fish stage and take them home and make soup or stew,’’ he added.
Puffin meat, like that of many most seabirds, is dark meat similar to duck.

He said the puffin patrol was a lot of fun.

“We had some good laughs,’’ he said.

“It was also nice to see the kids out participating in something like this that matters,’’ he added.

Another resident who enjoyed participating in the Puffin Patrol was Maureen Brown, 89, and a self-professed townie hailing from St. John’s.
She has no experience with seabirds, but was more than happy to be part of the activity with her senior friends.

“My family couldn’t believe I was living in Witless Bay, let alone taking part in this Puffin Patrol,’’ she said.

“I think it is wonderful to participate in this and be part of a conservation effort,’’ she added.

Brown’s granddaughter Kim Holloway said it was incredible her grandmother was participating in such a wonderful experience and was happy to see she had become part of the new community she was living in as well as performing acts of conservation.
 

samuel.mcneish@thetelegram.com

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