Monday, May 26, 2014

St. Croix International Historic Site

Looking out towards St. Croix Island - which looks a bit like an emerging submarine
After docking in Eastport early this afternoon,  I was quickly off again, north, to check out St. Croix International Historic Park. I took the turn off the main highway, but no park. So on I drove to Calais, and after checking out the town a bit, and an even quicker visit to the Baring Division of Moosehorn Refuge, I went to the Calais Visitor Center. It was raining – and the two ladies at the center looked bored silly. I told them I wanted to visit St. Croix, and where the heck was it? The ladies marveled I had managed to miss the park. Still, cheered up with someone to talk to other than each other, one gave me a St Croix post card, telling me the St Croix ranger would give me a gift if I presented it. I was again off south, and this time, when I turned of the main Highway, the park was a quick-like-a-bunny right turn. I wasn't surprised I missed it earlier in the day. 

The St. Croix International Park's Visitor Center. Note the clocks that show the US and Canadian times, which disagree by one hour. So just by standing there I was in a time warp of one hour. Where is the Tardis when you need it?
There were Plenty of 'show
& tell' items I enjoyed investigating

The lady Ranger was quite friendly, and though I think I may have been the only guest in the entire park, she gave me a personable tour. I was told the history of the lost French colony that settled in, almost perished in one of the worse winters ever and almost died before another Frenchman came – late – to collect up the colonists and take them away.

My Precious...!

When she was done, I showed her the post card I was given in Calais, and she gave me the best possible present - a beautiful cloisonne pin. The pins must be leftovers from the celebration of the four hundred years - now four hundred ten years - when the original French settled on the island.

I could not be happier with my present! The only souvenirs I bring home from vacations these days are a free ink stamping in my National Park Passbook, and one cloisonne pin. So, as this park is international and it has no stamp, I was able to get a beautiful sky blue pin. Yes, I am that easy to please!

The ranger recommended I take the short park hike. Being my usual lazy self, I hemmed. hawed, thanked her and left. It was pouring down rain, and I raced to the car and left, driving along the shore, and in only a scant quarter mile I was on an overlook, that faced St. Croix Island which can only be accessed by the prudent tourist with a boat.  I sat and watched the rain beating down on the rip rap for a while.

A view from where I parked towards St. Croix Island, on the horizon to the right

The rain slowed a bit, and there were stone steps nearby so I climbed them. At the top I saw a gezebo, housing a bronze model of how the lost St. Croix colony may have looked in early 1600s.
Fairly impressive settlement if you ask me
Now, just outside the little brick gezebo I spyed the first of several impressive bronze statues.

Pierre Dugua who is the size of a yeti at 8 foot tall. He was looking pretty dapper for a man standing out in the rain.

I picked up from the signage he was the settlement's leader who hoped to make a fortune in animal furs.

I looked further down the little winding trail, and spied a tall metallic settler, his head lowered in reverence. He glistened with raindrops, and if he weren't made of bronze he'd have caught his death.

 Now I was curious. What was with the statues? Interesting!  I meandered down the trail and found the next statue. A man of the continent as there wasn't yet an 'America' or 'Canada' for him to come from. He was an aboriginal whose people had lived on the land since the first grass grew.
He was a Maine Indian acting as a guide for the French.
There was then this guy is shown, 'helping to build a community'
Easy enough to figure out this man's activity
Next up was an Indian mother
with something on her back...
Her baby who was wet - with rain  -and I'm glad
he was bronze because he looked ready to cry
At this point, I realized I had walked the entire trial the lady ranger had suggested I walk. RATS! Nothing more annoying than unintended exercising and stretching of the legs. Yes, I'm kidding - and anyway the Wonessonuk Trail really was just a hop, skip and half a jump. I headed back to the beginning.
I walked back down the trail
So I walked the trail backwards, but then, I am a bit backwards from time to time. I left the park and drove back north to Calais, where I checked into a cute & tiny International Motel. The Down East Birding Festival ended today, so I'll be on my own to explore this northernmost bit of Maine.

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!