Every summer, the islands of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve are filled with seabirds, and the most famous among them is the Atlantic puffin.

The best way to see these funny little birds is from one of the whale watching vessels that visit the reserve islands – from these boats you’ll see puffins on the cliffs, on the water, and in the sky all around you:

Atlantic puffin – Gull Island, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Puffins take off – open water, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Puffins everywhere – Great Island, Witless Bay Ecological Reservewit

While it’s not as easy watching puffins right from the East Coast Trail itself, it’s certainly possible if you put in some effort. Hiking trails with the best puffin encounters are those closest to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve where puffins have their summer homes. From north to south, these trails are Mickeleens Path, Beaches Path, Tinkers Point Path and La Manche Village Path.

The trick to getting close to puffins is to to sit down on the cliffs at a time when capelin are in the bay, like they are right now. Puffins and other seabirds that are present when you arrive will see you coming and swim away, but if you stay put, and remain motionless, new arrivals will take you for part of the scenery and get closer and closer until you have a real beak-to-face meeting with a puffin:

Atlantic puffin near the trail – Beaches Path

I had to be pretty patient to take this puffin’s portrait, but it was well worth the wait!

If patience and careful planning aren’t for you, that’s fine, there’s always blind luck: I’ve walked some trails where puffins were too preoccupied with fishing to care about hikers on the trail above, have a look at these guys hanging out below the cliffs of Cape Spear Path:

Puffin Party – Cape Spear