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coastal maine trip report part 1: life birds common eider, atlantic puffin, and black guillemot!

2008-06-12 - 6:51 a.m.

all photos � 2008 by elaine radford


atlantic puffin, the target!

Sunday, June 8

A long, long day. Crawled out of bed at the crack of dawn. MSY-MEM-DTW-PWM. I had first class upgrades all the way, and DH had the best possible coach seats in row 5, so it worked out as well as could be expected. No pre-flight adult beverage (or even water!) offered at MEM-DTW, and the puddle jumper for DTW-PWM had a mechanical issue, so we had to switch to another (identical) CRJ900. Oh, and DH had his first trip through the unreality tunnel of hallucinogenic weirdness at DTW since our transfer from a DC9-50 to a CRJ-900 meant a transfer from the main terminal A to the terminal of the puddle jumpers B.

A sad moment during our trip when DH and I looked down and saw an entire flooded town -- a large river and its good-sized tributary had overflowed its banks over a wide area. In some areas nothing poked up but treetops. And even where there were houses and businesses, it didn't look like a happy situation.

It was hot and sunny, and it being June, we knew the sun would be up for hours yet. So DH and I had a nice stroll around town and down to the Old Port. We passed the Dominican Republic Grocery, the African Grocery, the Halal Grocery, and, finally, just the plain old "International" Grocery, as well as any number of no doubt historic old buildings. At some point, we ate a nice crab and avocado wrap in an open air restaurant on the water. And, oops, we drank an entire bottle of Chardonnay.

peaks island harbor
the stony shores of peaks island

Monday, June 9

We caught the ferry to Peaks Island. Along the way, I spotted Common Eiders, a beautiful male among them, but DH was sitting on the bottom level all encumbered with our luggage and didn't see. Once we explored the island, however, we soon learned that Common Eiders were practically a nuisance underfoot, with cute couples scattered here and there on every beach, and in one area that provided lots of rocky coves, there were flotillas of females and their babies in every direction.

Lunch with DH's friends, with the usual awkwardness when the wife asked me what I did. I just now realized that I didn't, in turn, ask her what she did, so she probably thinks I assume that she does nothing but chase after babies all day. Play cards for a living for a few years, and you'll never ask anyone what they do ever again.

Our B&B turned out to be its own cottage, with a patio overlooking the bay facing Portland. Really nice! After a tasty barbecue dinner with DH's friends, we raced home to catch the sunset over the city. Immediately after a pretty pink sunset, a bat flew right past us.

sunset peaks island
sunset in the direction of portland and a small ruined island fort from peaks island, by the way, i know i saw a whale in that area about an hour later after taking this picture but it was dark and i no longer had camera or binoculars to hand, but what else could it have been? so chalk up another mystery of the sea

Tuesday, June 10

Breakfast on our private patio. We had the whole day free, and we first poked around the rocky beach in front of our cabin for awhile. Then we had a light lunch on the deck of "The Cockeyed Gull" restaurant, where we could enjoy that view while I also enjoyed a very spicy Bloody Mary (tee hee) and some scallops. After lunch, we actually walked around the whole island, catching the various scenic views of wave-splashed rocks in the blue ocean and even discovering a small marsh which provided eye level looks at some very tame Cedar Waxwings. Heck, one small bog even featured a Black-Crowned Night Heron who stood so still that I started to fear that he was a Black-Crowned Night Heron little evil Maine joke -- you know, like the Great Egret at Amsterdam that proved to be a Great Egret carved wooden hitching post. When he actually flew, I was much relieved.

Steamer clams and lobsters boiled in sea water for dinner, cooked by our hosts. Truly delicious. This time we may have over-indulged in the wine, and we yakked away for so long that we couldn't make it in time to catch the sunset.

Wednesday, June 11

Took the ferry back to the mainland, then taxi'd back to the airport to pick up our rental car. As, I suppose, everyone does, we stopped in Freeport at the L.L. Bean store. DH was badly in need of new pants, and we actually picked up one pair he liked at the infamous L.L. Bean in question. The others he got at Nautica.

I found a Blue Willow plate in the thrift shop. I guess it isn't that likely to make it past the tender mercies of the airline baggage handlers but for $3 I figured I'd gamble.

Oh, and we had a long lunch in an open air cafe where I inspected each and every Cedar Waxwing that passed by-- many of them had the bright red wax droppings on their feathers. Has science ever figured out the reason for that?

ww2 bunker
the old storage depot for various world war II weapons, now a concrete bunker canvas for the peaks island graffiti artists

Checked into our motel at Wiscasset -- which has proclaimed itself Maine's most beautiful town. (What do the other towns think of that?) Did a scenic drive through other beautiful towns until we reached New Harbor, where we quickly spotted an Osprey overlooking the harbor. Our tour was scheduled to be a little late -- they were trying to fit in a quick school charter -- so we headed for the bar for some refreshment. The Geary's Summer Ale was an interesting drink, but even more interesting was the fact that we were carded, with BACK-UP ID, just in case we were the world's most ancient-looking 19 year olds. Apparently, there has been some weird change in the alcohol law, and if you're under 80, you're lucky to be served at all.

And get this. The new law supposedly says that you can't legally WALK under the influence of more than 2 drinks. Now let me get this straight. It's illegal to DRIVE if you're drunk. And now it's illegal to WALK. What the hell are you supposed to do, teleport? One older gentlemen, upon ordering his third drink, announced his intention to sleep on the dock.

I would hope this is an oddity of Maine drinking laws and not the latest nanny state fad law to sweep the nation.

loitering black guillemots
black guillemots

And so the short tour, complete with Audubon Society employee, to Eastern Egg Rock -- which I persistently referred to as Easter Egg Rock. Well, shoot me. This is where Stephen Kress re-introduced the Atlantic Puffin, and they are doing very well. The Black Guillemots were doing even better. Great looks at both species, which were both life species for us. I have to admit that I didn't understand before that puffins were so small. They really do look like toy birds.

There was a family with small kids -- not so usual on a birding tour, but they were dedicated birders. I noticed the young boy, even before we boarded the boat, because he kept calling the Laughing Gulls every time they flew over. On the tour, the Audubon dude explained that LAGU is doing well here -- and not so well many other places in Maine -- because of the Audubon Society's efforts to protect the birds from the predatory Herring Gulls and Greater Black-Backed Gulls. Funny to think of a common Louisiana bird like Laughing Gull being a rare treat for someone to see. But it's true I saw nary a one in Portland or on Peaks Island.

We also saw something we never quite expected to see -- a blind birdwatcher? Things that make you say WTF.

Our tour ran late and we discovered that beautiful Wiscasset rolls up the sidewalks at 8 PM -- a bit of a nuisance when you roll into town at 8:10. Oh well, we just grabbed some chicken fingers from the convenience store.

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