Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, September 5, 2022

Moosey and Puffy

A boy and his puffin

   Our Alaska tour in June was the first trip Russ and I took since our grandson Walter was big enough to notice we were missing, so we of course had to bring him back some sort of souvenir. But what do you give a two-year-old that you can be certain he’ll love while also giving him a sense of traveling to an exciting new place?

Moose cow and calf

We came up with the answer on our very first day in Nome while looking at a cow moose and her calf. Russ and I both love moose and this was the first time I’d ever photographed any. Moose are hardly restricted to Alaska—indeed, Walter has seen pictures of them in one of his books,  Good Night, Minnesota. But they're still characteristic of Alaska. Indeed, as climate change melts the permafrost, changes in vegetation that are decimating caribou are increasing moose populations up there, even as changes due to climate change are threatening moose here. 

Anyway, moose were a big feature of our trip as we continued to see them in Nome  and then in Anchorage, Denali, and Seward. 

Moose and twin calves

Moose cow and twin calves

Bull moose


I got lots of photos of several more cows, each accompanying not just one calf but two, and also some reasonably good photos of bull moose, their antlers still fairly small and in velvet. So we decided to search out a plush moose for Walter.  

Of course, Walter identifies his grandma much more with birds than mammals, so I also wanted to get him some sort of avian souvenir. That choice also seemed obvious. That first day in Nome, we saw very distant, flying Horned Puffins, another species I’d never photographed. I didn’t want to give him a souvenir of something we’d seen only from a distance, so I hoped that at some point we’d see puffins at much closer range. 

This was a serious birding trip. Except for some  restaurants, we didn’t spend time around touristy places and didn’t get to any gift stores in Nome. There was a big gift shop where we stayed in Denali where we found and bought the perfect plush moose. Mission Half Accomplished.   


But overall, there were too many birds about for me to waste birding time checking out gift shops. Seward was our last birding destination, with very few days left before heading home, so finding a puffin souvenir was suddenly urgent.   

We had a couple of free hours the afternoon we arrived in Seward and another hour or two the next day, after our boat ride before the group would meet for dinner. 

But oddly enough, especially considering the huge mural of Horned and Tufted Puffins on a building overlooking the harbor, we could not find a single plush Horned Puffin at the town’s biggest gift shop, the one in our hotel, or the one in the National Park Visitor Center. If that surprised me, I was even more shocked that no one was selling Tufted Puffin souvenirs—this is a seriously funky looking bird who you’d think would make a very popular plush toy. 

Tufted Puffin

There were plenty of puffin souvenirs—carvings, keychains, Christmas ornaments, and yes, plush toys—but not a single one depicting either of Alaska’s two native puffins. Every puffin souvenir I saw in Seward, Alaska, including at the National Park, depicted an Atlantic Puffin. 

Atlantic Puffin on souvenir from Alaska!
We bought this at a Seward gift shop, and it will serve as our 2022 Christmas ornament despite the fact that the birds depicted, Atlantic Puffins, live thousands of miles from Alaska.

I was puzzled but not too bummed out. We hadn't yet had great looks at either puffin. Advertising for the Kenai Fjords boat tours said they sold souvenirs on the boats, so I figured if I got good looks at Horned Puffins on the boat trip, that would be the coolest place to buy a souvenir anyway. 

On the boat, I got lovely looks and a few decent photos of Horned Puffins. 

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

During a lull in birding activity when the crew was making margaritas, I asked the naturalist whether they were selling plush puffins. He said he’d forgotten to stock them for this trip, but I should try the gift shop associated with the boat tours when we got back. Sure enough, they did have lovely plush puffin toys, but again, every single one of them was an Atlantic Puffin! 

So what does an anal-retentive stickler for ornithological accuracy do when she wants to bring her little grandson a puffin toy from Alaska? I bought the softest, nicest Atlantic Puffin I could find, and named it Puffy the Magic Puffin—because really, a magic puffin could find its way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, right?  

Even stuffed animals know better than to go around in public spaces indoors unmasked.

I took photos of Moosey and Puffy wearing masks in our hotel room, but then I unthinkingly packed them in our checked luggage. We could have taken a great series of photos of them sitting, seatbelts strapped,  in the plane, interacting with the flight attendants, eating Delta's wonderful airplane cookies—what a wasted opportunity! Regardless, Walter was delighted with both of his new friends. 

When we take walks in his neighborhood, he always chooses one of his stuffed animals to come along. His absolute favorite is Bear, but Moosey and Puffy have both made the cut several times, and they’ve also become an integral part of our nap-time ritual. 

So all’s well that ends well, but I’m still mystified why we couldn’t find a single souvenir in Alaska depicting a native Alaskan puffin. Attention must be paid.