The Business Birder:  Way Down East

 

We have a “Down East” in North Carolina.  I grew up nearby in Morehead City.  Turns out we knew little about East.  Parts of the Northeast also consider themselves “Down East”.  Nantucket may be somewhat east.  I have just discovered really Down East - Maine’s “Way Down East”.  One of my destinations for this trip, Lubec, is the easternmost town in the United States and a large rock formation, Sail Rock, off the Quoddy Head State Park is the easternmost point. 

 

Somewhere up there is the largest whirlpool in the northern hemisphere; however, given the bizarre, cosmic events already occurring, I was afraid to go see it.  I will discuss the confluence of galactic forces below.  For now, let’s just say it was a scary time.     

 

In the hot, muggy doldrums of August, affectionately know as “dog days”….well really, “daaaawg days”….North Carolina birding is boring at best.  Nothing is singing and nothing can be seen, except for early migrating Black Terns, Whimbrel, or Black-bellied Plovers.

 

I should not complain because I took a chance on a mid-summer pelagic trip off the Outer Banks of North Carolina that turned out better than expected.  We chalked up a White-tailed Tropicbird and a Masked Booby among the other sea birds. 

 

Anyway, with a US Airways voucher sitting on the shelf going bad, I thought it would be cool to head to Maine for a few days. 

 

I usually have to purchase supplies after I arrive.  This time I was helped by fog in Philadelphia.  Due to a late connection in the Brotherly City, my baggage arrived the night after I did so I had to purchase sunscreen, bug repellant, a hat, and a cooler upon arriving.  This often happens.  I have an unbelievable supply of each at home.  It may be time for a yard sale.

 

After this trip my inventory, in the back of my SUV, included a can of Deep Woods Off, four containers of Coppertone sunscreen, three bottles of Off Skintastic liquid spray, and two tubes of Off Skintastic insect repellant with sunscreen.  I use all, sometimes in combination; however, the Skintastic combination product seems to be really protective for all pests and the sun.  Caution: use care in putting these chemicals on your skin at the same time.  So far I cannot detect any skin damage but I faintly glow in the dark and the EPA has designated my SUV a superfund site.

 

I almost always forget to bring one of my collapsible, portable coolers.  This trip I purchased The Slim Cooler by Rubbermaid which is made for that space between the front and back seats of a car.  I enjoyed it so much that I brought it home and recommend it to you, the birding public.  It will not show up in the yard sale with my other coolers.

 

Hats?  Whether or not mine was in Philadelphia when I arrived in Southwest Harbor made no difference.  I generally buy a hat on every trip and you can rest assured that you will never see my hat collection in a yard sale until I attend that last big birding festival in the sky.  You know, the big dirt nap.

 

One of my preparations for this trip was to subscribe to the Maine birding listserver (http://www.mainebirding.net/mainebirds) to receive rare bird reports and other sightings.  I posted a “request-for-information” message and I received great guidance from several birders.  One even sent two draft chapters of a birding guide he was writing.  Actually with permission, I borrowed the “Way Down East” title from the file name of one draft chapter.  Even though the phrase is generally used, I still thank Bob Duchesne for his assistance and the title.   

 

I flew in to Bangor on Thursday, August 14 and drove to Southwest Harbor, to spend the first two days birding the Acadia National Park and other areas of Mt. Desert Island.  My destinations were the Wonderland/Seawall Bog, the Big Heath opposite the Wonderland parking lot, Bass Harbor Head, and Western Mountain Road.  My birds included:  Common Loon, American Black Duck, Common Eider, Osprey, Black Guillemot, Hairy Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gray Jay, Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, Swainson's Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, and Purple Finch.

 

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, I stayed at the Island Watch Bed & Breakfast in Southwest Harbor (“The Quiet Side”)(for reservations, call the owner, Maxine Clark, at 207-244-7229).  The Island Watch is on Freeman Ridge overlooking Southwest Harbor. 

 

I spent a couple of hours Thursday night on the deck of my upstairs apartment above the garage.  It had a great view over Southwest Harbor and, as I hoped, a view of the Southeastern horizon.  The view was perfect.  The almost-full moon came up directly in front of me, with Mars preceding it.  I had a great view through my scope.  Mars was my reason for scoping the heavens that night.  During my trip, Mars was to be closer to Earth than at any time in the past 60,000 years. 

 

When I am birding, I usually save the newspaper for dinner. Also, I usually ignore televisions and phones.  Sometimes they are not even available.  I (along with most of Maine) was completely oblivious to the Great Blackout of 2003.  When I saw the headlines late Friday afternoon, I bought the Bangor Daily News, Boston Globe, and New York Times to catch up on this event.  The front-page pictures were incredible! 

 

I know what you are thinking and I agree.  The closeness of Mars and the blackout are not just a coincidence!   The Martians sent an Earth probe to take advantage of the planetary flyby and they siphoned off our power to get home!  After all, we sent probes to Mars to take advantage of this opportunity, why shouldn’t they?

 

Not convinced?  My case is strengthened by the blackout experienced by London, a week or so later, on the very day that Mars was closest to the Earth.  Obviously, a second ship was taking off to return to Mars and also needed a power boost. 

 

I believe there was an immediate, multi-government conspiracy to cover up expected extraterrestrial weapons of mass destruction.  There were no public statements from the authorities; except for innuendoes from Canada that Ohio had attacked them.  And of course, there were the normal leaks in Washington, London, and Canada that the French were somehow responsible.   

 

I decided to research the situation on my own.  Of course, I started with the movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”.  This movie documented a blackout where aliens sapped the Earth’s power supply.  

 

My Google of TDTESS yielded over 59,000 hits.  I realized after a little reading that this is regarded as the best science fiction movie of all times.  It was always one of my favorites, just behind The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

 

Even today, I remember “Gort, Klaatu barada nikto”.  There is speculation that this meant “Gort, do not destroy the planet!”  However, scientists using the latest cryptography and listening devices, now believe that it meant “Gort, let’s twist again like we did last summer!”  This was years before Chubby Checker uttered this same phrase, proving he was a spaceman.  And don’t even get me started on David Bowie and Tiny Tim. 

 

More proof of a Martian visit?  Remember California’s power problems?  I should not even go there but consider the fact that roughly one third of the candidates that ran for governor in the California recall election were space aliens.

 

Anyway, after my web research and viewing the movie, I am able to confirm that Martians borrowed some power to get home and I am able to debunk the myth that France was behind the missing wattage.

 

Enough of this seriousness!  This is suppose to be a light-hearted, informative piece about Maine birding.  On Saturday, I experienced the pièce de résistance of my trip!  I took the Machias Seal Island Puffin trip out of Jonesport on the Chief to visit over three thousand Puffins.  (Contact: Captains John and Barna Norton, 8 Sea Street, Jonesport, www.mainebirding.net/puffin/norton, 207-497-5933 or 888-889-3222). 

 

The total driving time for the seventy-five mile trip from Southwest Harbor, with a little fog, was about 90 minutes.  From US 1, take a right on ME187, turning left when you come to a stop sign in Jonesport.  Go 1.2 miles and turn right to the docks just after crossing a cement bridge.

 

But not so fast my friend!  The Chief leaves at 7 AM, so if you have time, breakfast can be had at the Homeport Diner, beside the convenience store on the left as you turn toward the docks. 

 

It was a great trip regardless of the fog because the sea was fairly smooth.  One of the deck hands was Chip the Black Lab.  He entertained us on the way out with tricks performed with his rawhide chewy.

 

Due to the fog, we only observed:  Greater Shearwater, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Common Murre, and Atlantic Puffin.  The sea was calm enough for us to be ferried to the island in small boats, walk up the slippery rocks, and view the Puffins from blinds. The Murre was nesting on the island.

 

I was hoping for a Roseate Tern, because two were being seen around the island, and a Razorbill, but we had no luck.    There should have been many Razorbills; however, they had all dispersed for the winter. 

 

The Puffins were simply unbelievable!  I could not get over watching them from the blind at a distance of only three or four feet.  Overhead, there were always four or five sets of feet landing, taking off, and scurrying around on the metal top of the blind.  

 

The island is part of the United States; however, the light and research station are maintained by Canada, a product of a border dispute that may not yet be settled.  Before we left, one of the Canadian biologists let us pet a young Puffin she was relocating while she held it.

 

The Machias Seal Island trip is a must for anyone’s trip to the Maine coast.  I had previously seen Puffins on a boat out of Bar Harbor; however, that experience pales by comparison.  Be prepared for fog, the possibility of cancellation due to conditions, and the possibility of not being able to go ashore due to the seas.   Even if you cannot go ashore, the trip is worth it because you will still see a thousand or so Puffins plus the other birds at a relatively close range.

 

Unfortunately, I left my digital camera in car trunk.  I still have not forgiven myself.  I have elevated self-loathing and self-flagellation to a new art form.  One of the participants, Stephanie, who was in Maine for several months attending a photography workshop promised to e-mail puffin pictures to me.  I plan to award her the designation of “Official Photographer of the Business Birder”.  At the time of this writing, however, Stephanie has not delivered.  If anyone out there ever reads this and knows her, please tell her to send me some pictures.  Please! Oh please! Oh please!

 

I always meet great people on my trips and this trip was no exception.  Phil and Marla Brown, who recently moved from Michigan to Waterville, Maine, were aboard the Chief, in what was their second weekend in Maine.  They had a commitment with movers the first weekend.  Now this couple has their priorities in order. 

 

After the pelagic trip, we had lunch at Tall Barney’s Restaurant on Main Street. They then asked me to joined them at the Nature Conservancy’s Great Wass Island Preserve for a little land birding.  The preserve is reached via Beal’s Island which is over the high bridge from Jonesport.  My only trip birds were Golden-crowned Kinglet, Palm Warbler, and possibly a Nashville Warbler.  We took the beautiful, fairly strenuous Little Cape Point Trail that runs two miles to the ocean.

 

On Sunday, I left Southwest Harbor driving east again to bird Quoddy Head State Park.  I did not want to stay in Southwest Harbor Saturday night; the driving back and forth to Jonesboro was tough.  I was able to get reservations at the Bluebird (207-255-3332) for only Sunday and Monday nights because the town was having their annual Blueberry Festival.  Such is life and, by the way, think I will try the Blueberry pie. 

 

Machias is a good central place to stay; a good base camp for Way Down East birding.  The Bluebird is adequate and has air conditioning.  Machias has the accommodations needed by birders who do not want to waste time finding the basics: a McDonald’s, a grocery store two blocks from the Bluebird, a Laundromat, and several decent restaurants.

 

For future reference, from the Bluebird to the junction US 1 and ME 189 is a little over 17 miles and the entrance for Quoddy Head State park is 28 miles.  “QWA-ddy” is the phonetic spelling for Quoddy, which is derived from the Passamaquoddy Bay.

 

Quoddy Head State Park was not productive for birds this day but worth taking for the unique scenery and hiking trails.  Be sure to take the bog trail.  It features a boardwalk interpretative trail around the bog which explains the evolution of the bog with its hummocks, hallows, and various tundra plants.   The bog was formed by glaciers and evolved in various stages over thousands of years of decay. 

 

The bog’s most unique plant, the Baked Appleberry, is an arctic plant found in only two other sites in Maine.  Other lessons in botany featured two types of Sundew (one round and one spatula shaped), Pitcher plants, and moss.

 

Unfortunately, I found no birds at the bog.  I expected to see some heath bog birds like Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Palm and Canada warblers, and others. 

 

After the bog, I took the Thompson trail.  The trail sign said one and a fourth miles to Carrying Place Cove; however, it seemed a lot longer than that to me.  Just before arriving at the Cove, I flushed a Grouse.  I am not sure which one and I never could find the covey.

 

At the cove, I took the Lighthouse Trail back to the parking area.  At this point I had only seen one other person, back on the Bog Trail.  The sign said two miles to the lighthouse and, since I am one of those people who never retrace my trail if I can help it, I pushed forward.  Soon the going got rough. 

 

Fortunately, it was about a mile and a half back to the parking area.  I was breathing hard.  This last leg featured ups and downs and thousands of wet, slippery tree roots to walk on.  On the way back, I saw only a couple of hikers at Green point. 

 

The first mile of this trail which led to Green Point was the worse part.  I accidentally stepped into a soft area on the trail between the roots and rocks and was mired in above my ankle and boots.  I recommend this hike for its beauty and solitude; just make sure you do not sprain you ankle or fall off the trail because you may wait a long time to be discovered.

 

As I approached the parking lot, I found a small feeding wave that included Yellow-rumped Warblers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Juncos, and a couple of Chickadees, one of which may have been a Boreal.  I had only a glimpse of that Chickadee as it moved quickly around a limb.

 

Earlier that morning, I arrived at the park at 7AM, after a two hour and fifteen minute drive from Southwest Harbor.  I spent the first hour on the cliff overlooking Sail Rock, watching its seabirds, and the sparrows and flycatchers around the Lighthouse. I started on the trail about 8AM and was back at the lighthouse at Noon so the hike was about four hours but worth the huge dose of nature. What was unique was that this site is supposed to be one of the foggiest places in the country and that day it was perfectly clear.

 

Other birds at Quoddy Head State Park included: Great Cormorant, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Black-bellied Plover, Bonaparte's Gull, Ruffed Grouse, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, American Robin, and Savannah Sparrow.

 

On the way back to Machias an adult and baby ferret crossed the road.  The adult stood up in its alert pose as I passed.  I did not know there were ferrets up here.  Wild Ferrets?  After exhausting research at my private library (Barnes & Noble), I now believe they were weasels.

 

Richard “Turk” Duddy, from Portland, was one of the birders who replied to my request for information.  He sent me great information and told me of his plans for a trip to Campobello, arriving on Sunday.  He invited me to join him on Monday.

 

Due to lack of a phone and cell phone coverage, I did not call him until Sunday afternoon, just after I checked into the Bluebird.  Now this was a coincidence.  I do not think the Martians were involved…..but who knows. 

 

The number I called was his cell phone.  Turk and Linda Woodard, who is an educator for Maine Audubon and Director of the Nature Center at Scarborough Marsh, and Zeus, the German Shepard, were on their way to Campobello and they were just turning into a grocery store two blocks away from the Bluebird.  We met in the parking lot and made plans for me joining them for birding on Campobello Island.

 

On Monday morning, I drove through historic Lubec which is just before the bridge to Campobello.  It looks like a quaint, interesting place to stay.  A couple of miles before Lubec is the Eastland Motel which was recommended to me.  The Lupine Lodge was also recommended to me as a good place to stay on Campobello, a few miles east of Lubec.

 

I entered Canada on the nearby Roosevelt Bridge after a one-hour drive from the Bluebird. This entire area is very scenic.  After a quick stop at customs, I was in New Brunswick and in the Roosevelt International Park which is at West Quoddy Head.  East Quoddy Head is on the eastern end of Campobello Island.

 

My first stop was the visitor center for the park and I birded the parking lot.  I found a Tennessee Warbler, a few Robin sitting around, heard Chickadees and nuthatches, and saw many small birds that I could not identify.  The Chickadees may have been Boreal but they moved so fast, I was not certain.  I moved on to find Richard’s hotel.

 

Caution: Campobello Island is on Atlantic Time which is one hour ahead of Eastern Time.  I got there about 7AM thinking that I had an hour to bird before our rendezvous.  Of course Richard and Linda were expecting me at 8 AM Atlantic time so I was a little late because of my stop.  I saw Richard out on the shore at Friar’s Bay in front of their motel.  I stopped and walked down to his location through hundreds of gulls and Yellow-legs.

 

He had found a Black-legged Kittiwake and we spent about twenty minutes trying to turn a Bonaparte’s Gull into a Little Gull, based on the amount of black on the primaries.  Eventually, a couple of Bonies flew in and ruined our dream. 

 

We were joined by a birder from Florida, Lloyd Davis, who saw us from his car and walked down to see what we had found.  Lloyd cannot be all bad, he is a Florida Gator!  I saw him and his wife at the Bangor Airport as we were waiting for our return flights and found that he works for The Department of Agriculture in Gainesville and we knew many of the same people in Alachua Audubon.

 

The bay has a huge number of gulls from behind the Roosevelt house around its shore to the west in three large, separate groups.  It would take quite a while to pick through all of them so we hit and ran. 

 

Richard and I proceeded to the East Quoddy Head Lighthouse while Linda finished the move to a new motel because of thin walls at their first motel.  Richard and I climbed down and made it about half way from the cliff to the lighthouse, crossing one dangerous chasm between the rocky cliffs.  I balked at the second, only because of the slippery seaweed on the rocks.  The warnings jumped out at us, especially those about being trapped or washed away by the incoming tide.  This is a portion of the Bay of Fundy.

 

We saw Black-legged Kittiwake, Black Guillemot, Cormorants, and thousands of Bonaparte and other gulls.  These cliffs are a great place for watching seabirds and whales pass. Unfortunately, we did not see whales or Razorbills this day. 

 

Linda and Zeus joined us at the park visitor center.  While in the parking lot, we met Joy Rising (I did not make up her name), who is an Elderhostel organizer in the Eastport-Campobello area.  She was interested in creating a birding Elderhostel.  I would jump on that!  I asked her just how much of a geezer one would have to be to attend the event.  Well, the age is fifty-five and older and so I am that much of a geezer.

 

Other Campobello Island birds included: Peregrine Falcon, Short-billed Dowitcher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, American Redstart, and Song Sparrow.  Our best warblers were found at the parking lot in a large foraging wave that included many other birds already mentioned. 

 

We also worked the gravel car trails through the international park to Cranberry Point.  I learned a valuable lesson from Richard: that you can pish from a car.  Funny, I had just never thought about doing that.  I have played bird songs from my SUV’s CD player, just never thought of pishing.  Duh!

 

I plan to go back to Campobello soon, regardless of the Elderhostel availability.   The First Annual Down East Spring Birding Festival for the Cobscook Bay Area will be held Memorial Day weekend in 2004 (www.downeastbirdfest.org) and I plan to attend.   This should be a much better time of the year to find the birds.

 

On the way back to Machias, I spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk on the highway in Whiting, where I had seen it the day before.  This time I turned around and went back to find the bird where it disappeared in the undergrowth.   Instead, I was rewarded by finding a Ruffed Grouse, with a look of grave concern on its face.

 

After Campobello, I had had lunch at Helen’s in Machias.  I recommend the Pot Roast Burger and I had the uncooked Blueberry pie.  The pie was loaded with whipped cream and very tasty.  Of course, I returned for dinner and had the double-crusted baked Blueberry pie to compare.  You, the birding public, deserve such dedicated research.

 

After a little rest, there was enough daylight left for a side trip.  I took Bob Duchesne’s Machias-Cutler-Bold Trailhead loop via ME 191.

 

I found two American Eagles on the river behind Helen’s, just where he said they would be.  One was directly across the water from me on a rock at the water’s edge.  I had heard an eagle when I drove up but it took a little while to find it.  The second bird was in a spruce tree above its mate. 

 

The gate for the Cutler base was about a mile in from the highway and it was locked.  There were many blueberry patches and scarecrows on this road plus many Cedar Waxwings but no other birds.  Back on ME 191, there is a turnoff about a mile from the Cutler road which provides a great vantage point to scan the bay for shorebirds.  The tide was in so I moved on.

 

When you first turn onto ME 191 from US 1, there is a sign that reads “Bold Trail System 17 miles”.  I found the parking lot but only had a few minutes of light left and just walked a short distance down one path.  The total distance from the Bluebird was 23 miles.  This site has a great reputation and deserves to be a full stop on my next trip.

 

Cutler is a quaint town and harbor and it looks like a great place to stay on a future trip.  There are accommodations at the Little River Lodge overlooking the harbor.

 

One final stop on the way back was at the canning company to check for Godwits again.  The tide had gone out a good distance and more mudflats were exposed.  In Maine, birding on the mudflats requires timing between low and high tides.  The tides are large, so you want to get the birds before the tide goes out too far so that the birds are close enough to be seen.

 

Species added on this leg included:  Yellow Warbler, Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, and Canada Geese at a bridge along ME 191, a Kestrel near the Bold Trail parking area, and a Common Nighthawk at the intersection of US1 on my return trip.

 

For dinner, I had Helen’s fried Haddock Burger.  I recommend this local specialty which is basically a fish sandwich with bun, Haddock, and tarter sauce.  Never, never, never order the clam chowder, especially the large bowl as I did.  It was Horrible with a capital “H”! 

 

The baked Blueberry Pie, warmed and topped with vanilla ice cream, was wonderful and made me forget the chowder.  Which pie was best?  They were so close; it will require more research on my next trip.

 

On Tuesday I stopped at Schoodic Point, part of the Acadia National Park, on my way to the airport.  From Machias, Schoodic Point was 51 miles.  I observed a feeding Peregrine at Blueberry Hill and an eagle on a large rock near shore.  I sampled a portion of the Alder Trail and it yielded the warblers expected for this habitat.  Just up the road is the start of the Anvil trail and I covered a small part of it.  My Schoodic Peninsula birds included: Black Scoter, Mourning Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Canada Warbler.

 

One key guide for my trip was A Birder’s Guide to Maine, by Elizabeth Pierson, Jan Erik Pierson, and Peter Vickery.  Though a little dated, I also recommend Native Birds of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park by Ralph Long.  Other guides may be found at the Port in a Storm Bookstore on Main Street in Somesville.

 

Unless you really want to spend the big bucks for the Maine DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer or you have GPS or OnStar, I recommend the Hiking Trail & Carriage Road Map for Mount Desert Island and the Acadia National Park.  It is published by Friends of Acadia (www.foacadia.org) and has adequate detail and topology.  The free map available at the national park visitor center is also good.

 

I am happy with the warblers and Puffin but I did not do as well as I had hoped with the other species.  I had three target birds, of which I expected to get one or two:  Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Spruce Grouse.  Three strikes against me.

 

Mid-August is not the best time to bird this area.   Yes, I was in time to see the Puffins just before they dispersed to sea.  Many of the other birds, however, were very silent and wandering in little feeding waves. 

 

The best example of post-breeding wandering was the wave we found at the Roosevelt International Park visitor center.  That wave included Black-throated Green, Yellow-rumped, Black and White, and Blackburnian Warblers plus Red-eyed Vireos, Chickadees, Nuthatches, and others.  Most were quiet except for the chickadees and nuthatches.  They never shut up.  Look for them and you may be surprised at the company they keep. 

 

I will be back next spring!  With or without the Martians!  My camera will be chained around my neck.

 

***

 

The author, John Ennis, is a full time healthcare consultant and a part time birder, who wishes that it were the other way around.  He lives in the Wilmington, North Carolina area. 

 

 

 

John B. Ennis ã 2003

TheBusinessBirder.com