Monday, May 26, 2014

A Mulligan Kind of Day

The graceful little Lady H Chugging to the dock in Eastport Maine
A Mulligan is a new slang for me, meaning a 're-do'. As happens I told the festival people how I missed the boat trip on Saturday and I was told I'm not the first person screwed up because - my iPhone had switched over picking up the time from a Canadian cell tower, showing an hour later than Maine time! So it wasn't the rental car's clock that threw me, the car had the correct time. It was my always trusted iPhone that threw me off! That means back on Saturday, I was at the dock at the right time and when I drove off thinking I was a half hour late for the trip, but I was really 20 minutes early. Damn it! Never even occurred to me to ask any of the folk there at the Fish & Chips stand about the time.

So today I drove on back north to Eastport, only this time ignoring my iPhone. I walked to the pier, and there sat the innocent Lady H, the small boat I'd be taking a trip out of the harbor on. It was actually 8:50 before anyone, even the captain arrived. At 9:10 AM we pulled out of the port.

It was rather a somewhat miserable, ergo normal maritime journey, raining on and off. Periodically the icy salt water would blast over the sides and douse passengers – we'd smile, because I swear, Neptune has a sense of humor.  

East Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Campobello Island

Maine has Bald Eagles, the way Alaska has Bald Eagles - they're everywhere you find water, and that is practically every place you go.

I bet flinging yourself off a snag is an E-ticket ride

The highlight of the trip was stopping at White Horse Island, where hundreds of Black-legged Kittiwakes nested. Am pleased with my photos, of Kittiwake pairs on their nests, looking like concerned parents.

Wall of Kittiwakes
Kittiwake Condo
Black-legged Kittiwakes
Common Eider Drake on some of the island's lower lying property
 I got a nice shot of one Kittiwake on the water, wings spread, and you can see its lovely ink dipped wing tips.
Black-legged Kittiwakes with ink dipped wing tips

Unlike my two previous Maine Pelagic trips, there was no disembarking onto any islands. We just enjoyed watching the birds, seals and even weirs, as we worked our way around the waters of the Atlantic and Passamaquody Bay.

Stopped to look at Salmon pens/weirs, for commercially raised salmon
Salmon Weir/Pen
I never get enough of flying Eiders
In the early afternoon when we docked in Eastport I took off north, already plotting my next adventure of the day.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Back to Machias Seal Island

Some of the only virgin forest left in Maine is on its islands
Before I arrived in Maine, I already knew one just can't get enough Puffin watching, and also you never know if the weather will cancel out a voyage, so I signed up for two trips to Machias Seal Island. So Sunday I was back on the beautiful blue waters of Fundy Bay, headed for another bout of sea bird viewing.

Shortly after landing on the island - the boat
we arrived in, Barbara Frost, is off shore
No two days on the ocean are alike, and today was no exception. It was beautiful and sunny and apparently the fishing was great so most of the Atlantic Puffins were out fishing. It was strange to see the Seal Island rocks, that two days ago were covered over with Puffins, were now nearly devoid of the little birds. There were plenty of Razorbills and a scattering of Common Murres that I guess weren't up for fishing today.

Razorbills lining the rocky coastline - Puffins were out fishing
It's a GOOD day to be a Razorbill!
Nice profile, eh?
Cocoa-tinted Common Murre
I chose I different blind than the one I was in on Friday. This time I was closer to the place ramp where we got on the island. Loads of Razorbills and some Murres were on the rocks, Enjoyed my hour watching the Razorbills march around and make their weird noises. Oh, and the smell! I don't think I mentioned the smell - it's sort of a fishy odor. I think the odor is seabird poop.

When our hour was up in the blinds, one of the researchers came to fetch us and another group of people went back out to sit in the blinds. Meanwhile, back on the lighthouse patio, everyone watched and birded. Little Savannah Sparrows, the same kind we have back in California though slightly different in color, marched around our legs. We saw several nice warblers in the grass not far from the lighthouse.

For me the best warbler was a male Blackpoll. I was thrilled to get photos of it. Blackpolls are an eastern species so I don't see them normally. There was also a little Yellow Warbler, a species that can be found nationwide. 

Blackpoll Warber
Little Yellow Warbler
As on Friday, after our adventures on Machias Seal Island, Captain Andy took us on a little tour around the island. Got some good shots of Gray Seals (lifer Mammal!) and a Harbor Seal, that had a cute little pup by her side.

Back on shore, I headed back to Cutler in time for a homemade dinner at the Cobscook Community Learning Center, the Headquarters for the festival. All the food was from the local farms and prepared by volunteers. All the festival participants, leaders and crew were there for a big ole Down East Feast. I sat with a nice couple and we laughed our heads off telling each other our 'the mosquitos were so bad...' stories.  Oh, and I had the seafood pie and cobbler ala mode, which was all quite yummy.

In the early evening around twilight, I just north of Machias and was passing a small meadow I saw the past couple of evenings. As on the other evenings, White-tailed Deer were browsing. The deer, all does, looked shaggy as though they had left home without any grooming. I pulled over, parked and spent a good half hour with the little sisterhood of deer.
The entire herd

Each needed a good session with a curry comb
This bossy doe meted out instructions to the others as needed

'Oh yeah? You're not the boss of me!', That's what I shudda said.

Here are my video takes for the day's pelagic trip. You can clearly hear the noisy shuffling around of myself and the other two in the bird blind. They didn't know I was filming anything. Oh well! The birds undoubtedly heard us, but were weren't spooked our noise.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Boreal Forest and a case of the Maine Measles

Yesterday afternoon when the Puffin island voyage was over, I headed for the Down East Birding Festival HQ ASAP. From there I joined up with an afternoon hike at southern Edmunds division of Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. We traveled by van and when both vans arrived, we got out and a general slathering of various insect repellants began.  Now I've been to many places famous for  mosquitos, e.g., Alaska, Florida and Texas, but they have nothing over Maine for mosquitos and a new horror to me - Black Flies. Quickly I realized that as far as boreal insects are concerned, the insect repellant on my skin was a tasty condiment. My fellow birders stared at me in amazement as notable black clouds of insects hoovered over my head.

A kindly couple of birders gave me a sort of green mist net that covered my entire head. I could see through a verdant mist, and when I held binoculars to my eyes, I could see well enough, again, through a pea green haze.

A clearing in a Moosehorn Refuge forest

We walked along a dirt road, surrounded by bird afternoon bird song. Parula, Black-throated Green, Chestnut-sided and Bay-breasted Warblers noisily told us of their presence. A Northern Waterthrush - a fairly shy one - flew back and forth across the road, daring me to get a photo of it, which I managed - but only barely.

Super shy Northern Waterthrush, that hid itself well
Equally blocked view of a male American Redstart

at last, a bold male Bay-breasted Warbler in all his 'chocolate & cream' glory
The hike through the boreal forest of Moosehorn, was something of a death march for not only myself, but several other birders, though I must admit those birders had a good decade on me age wise. I have been working out for months in hopes of avoiding such major energy glitches, but sometimes distances walked and jet lag sustained win out. Ugh! Thought I was going to die, but I did make it through the day without dying and that's all I ask for in the long run.

Bright and early today, I got up driving north on a pleasant drive to East Port, Maine, where I was scheduled for another bird watching cruise aboard the Lobster boat, the "Lady H". On the way - it was about a two hour drive - I stopped often to enjoy the beautiful Maine scenery and of course the birds. I stopped at a beautiful meadow to admire several Bobolinks, with their pretty tawny hats. I can always recognize Bobolink song, because their song sounds like R2D2.

A male Bobolink singing his R2D2-like song
I got a kick watching this male Bobolink singing
as he did his fancy, 'show off his stuff' flight
When I arrived at Rockport I was early at the dock - the boat was to leave the dock at 1:30. So I took a little drive around the town. Afterwards, back at the pier I bought some fish & chips at a little kiosk. I was lollygaggin' around when I happened to notice my iPhone... it was 1:45 PM! It was a total out-of-body experience. I mean, I was suddenly missing an hour of time and I had no memory of where it went. Had I been abducted by aliens or was am I just getting senile?  How did I miss the freakn' boat! I was totally upset and sadly I headed back south, down to my room in Machias. I have never, ever missed a festival event before and I am completely flabberghasted that I somehow managed to miss this one. 

I should mention I am staying at Machias Motor Inn this week and I really like it.

My room faces the river, which is only a stone's throw from my patio door. There are lots of cormorants and ravens flying around by the river.
The view from my room in Machias
 Oh well! It is the end of my second day in Maine, and it certainly has been memorable - and you can take that as a good or a bad thing, your choice.
Maine Measles

Oh! One last thing... after the hoards of Black Flies finished with me today, I look like I have a case of the measles. Their tiny bites actually hurt and I smashed the stupid things as they bit me, but at least the bites aren't itchy or sore. Stupid, stupid flies! 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Mainly Birds

Little River Lighthouse, passed on the journey to Puffinland
A couple of months ago, while fiddling around on line, I discovered there are two Maine birding festivals that occur within a week of each other. I have always wanted to visit Maine so I thought, "Why the heck not?" So, with the sort of planning normally associated with a trip across time, a l-o-n-g cross country flight, & after stuffing all my luggage & birding gear into the rear of a spiffy new Prius in Portland, by the birds, here I am! 

The first of the pair is the Down East Birding Festival. The festival events are spread all over the coast, but my first event was not even on the mainland. I signed up to take a pelagic trip to Machias Seal Island so I could sit cheek to jowl with the cutest birds on earth - Atlantic Puffins.  Oh, and not to mention many others I've either never seen before or don't get to see very often. I'm getting ahead of myself - first I had to find the adorable tiny village of Cutler.
Our Captain and crew await

There at the Cutler Harbor, participants met our Captain Andy & crew.

Climbing aboard the shuttle skiff

 It took three trips to get all the participants across the harbor and into our main transport.

I was on the first load over to our 40 foot boat the Barbara Frost. Once on board I was so tickled! I immediately had a go a the boat's loo - better to go while the toilet wasn't a moving target, you know?

In a remarkably short time were on our way. The Little River Lighthouse was beautiful and we were told it can be rented out as a vacation home.
Black Guillemot

Better yet, I heard Cap'n Andy call out "Black Guillemot!"  Not, not a Down East slang pointing me out, but a new bird for my life list. The Guillemot is a pigeon sized sea bird with a white epaulet on each shoulder. When they fly you can see their fetching, crayon red webbed feet.

The day was on the overcast side, but that's what one expects in these parts. Our target, Machias Seal Island was 7 miles as the Gull flies. Soon the island's lighthouse was looming in the distance. Captain Andy told us, interestingly enough, the ownership of the island is continuously in dispute. The United States claims the island, and so does Canada. From my perspective, as all the research and buildings on the island were put there by Canadians, I say, "Welcome to Canada!"

Machias Seal Island, New Brunswick, Canada
Once we were near the island's ramp, we were again, loaded onto a little boat and transported to the cement landing ramp.

I was on the second boatload to the island.
The first load of passengers wait for us at the top of the ramp.

AHA! It's not only me who believes the island is Canadian.
The island is used by many species of sea birds for breeding. The island is used by Canadian Biologists for research of the afore mentioned sea birds. Therefore there were lots of rules for us landlubbers to abide by, the number one rule being be quite, move quickly past the birds, not stopping to take pics on the ramp and be quiet! There are terns attempting to nest near the ramp and they haven't nested on the island much so they are of special concern.

Now! The cool part is there are bird blinds on the island, in the midst of where the various species are nesting among the boulders that rim the island.

Once we were all on the island by the lighthouse and researcher's quarters we were told the rules on occupying the bird blinds without freaking out the birds. 
Part of the island's wooden boardwalk

This view is from where we all sat, looking towards a few of the bird blinds, the two tiny boxes on the horizon. There are wooden boardwalks that help one to traverse the soft and delicate island turf.

Enough of the minute details! What about the birds! Ok, Ok! With two other birders, we were quietly escorted to a little birding blind. Inside, I lifted a little window and there they were - BIRDIES! They were so close we could have reached out and touched them - if were were nuts.

Puffins love to stretch their wings
Razorbills look sharp in their tuxedo-like plumage
I don't think I've ever seen anything as adorable as walking puffins
Shocking discovery: the inside of a Razorbill's mouth is mango yellow
Look at the aerodynamics of a Puffin's thick bill

Bit of a Puffin Jam
Puffins pattering around on the blind opposite the one I occupied with 2 other birders
The amount of photos taken by myself and the two others I shared the blind with, made us grateful for the age of digital cameras. Hate to think how much it would have cost in time, energy and development costs to take the zillions of photos we got.

Our hour in the blind was over in what seemed like a flash. We treked back to the lighthouse, made sure we signed the island guest book. We were ferried back to the good ship Barbara Frost. Captain Andy took us on little tour around the island before we headed back. There were Gray Seals lounging on the shores - a species I've never seen before. They were larger than Harbor Seals and had rather horsie shaped heads.

Lifer Mammal!  Gray Seals
Male Common Eider winging its way, like us, towards Cutler
Common Murres
When we made it back to shore in Cutler around 1 o'clock, there was no time to fool around, I had to race off to my next event for the day.

Post vacation Productions: A little bit about the Puffins and the Island