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Friday, May 23, 2014

Maine-ly 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 we 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

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