(The Puffins are coming – just not today.)
This was a BIG day with lots happening. Tuesday had been forecast from a week beforehand to be wet – usually that means one of the days either side will be wet instead, but as the date approached it became clear rain really was in our future. The scheduled trip that day was to Machias Island for Puffins and Seals but fortunately Quest managed to renegotiate the schedule with the boat people and instead we went on what was officially a whale-watching cruise. For most of the group that meant we were going to have opportunities to see pelagic sea birds while whales, if found, merely being the icing on the cake … rain for that sort of day was not an issue.
Boat trip … We were expecting stair-rods, see above, but mostly it was just steady, regular rain rather than blatter. Yes we got wet, but it was very much worthwhile. This was our first of three sailings with the people from Sea Watch Tours sailing out of Sandy Cove Harbour. This boat and its crew are brilliant … too many whale-watch operations rush you out, show you a hump and then dash back to shore for another load of paying punters. These guys stay out there and let you get “soul satisfying” views. If you are interested in birds as well as whales then you see birds, in huge numbers and they work hard to make sure you are satisfied. Quality birds about which the crew know a lot. Wonderful people.
In the winter months the crew go lobster fishing and by chance Rick Mercer and a seasick cameraman went out with them a couple of years ago. Canadians will know who Rick Mercer is, the rest of you have a treat in store … have a look at this short video, it’s informative and a lot of fun. This was the boat and crew who consistently found us good birds – if you go to the island we heartily commend this boat to anyone wanting to get out on the water:
So. The boat took us out heaven knows how many kilometres to the south-east of the island, into an area where whales are likely to be seen. They knew they had birders on board and so had a big crate of ‘chum’ on the back which was liberally scattered into the waves and brought in attack squadrons of sea birds … and not only your basic Herring Gull, though heaven knows, there were plenty of them, but two species of Shearwaters and two of Petrels. There were rafts of Phalaropes … mostly (like 99% mostly) Red-necked but a small number of Reds were skulking amongst them, though you’ll need to take my word for that as the camera didn’t get a focussed enough picture to share. That boat was bouncing … as the next video demonstrates.
Whales? Oh yes, quite a few. Fin whales, including a mother and calf, a Humpback and groups of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins with them. These are the Dolphins that the Faroese drive into bays and slaughter in large numbers because it is “culturally significant”. Sadly, we weren’t able to get pictures of these smaller Cetaceans as their surface appearances tended to be fleeting.
A totally brilliant, if damp, day. I think brilliant is an appropriate summary here.
Common Eider, Common Loon, Great Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, Leach’s Storm-Petrel, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, Bald Eagle, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Red Phalarope (in penny numbers), Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Herring Gull,Lesser Black-backed Gull.
The Shearwaters are being closely studied by the people at the Grand Manon Whale and Seabird Research Station. There is an interesting (short) piece on their website about their work with these birds and the reason so many birds of all varieties come to the Bay of Fundy to feed.
Check this link: http://www.gmwsrs.info/research/seabirds/shearwaters/ to know more.
After the bumpy-ish and wet trip to see whales and nice seabirds – the use of ‘chum’ was fairly liberal – a couple of slightly damp hours in the afternoon were spent walking a trail in the forest behind the hotel, at the end of which was the ‘Hole in the Wall’ rock arch which you can canoe through at high tide. Nearby was the Swallowtail lighthouse. The lighthouse is no longer manned in these days of GPS and radar but it has its enthusiasts (I found a note by someone who had led a visit to island by 21 lighthouse enthusiasts – bet they were a riot at parties) and a small store selling trinkets and T-shirts to raise funds for its upkeep. Very attractive though – a classic postcard scene if ever there was one. The access to the forest trail was via a campground – the lady on the gate told us it was impossible for anyone with even the slightest mobility issues to walk on and so didn’t charge us her usual access fee but, while steep and rocky in parts, it was very easy going and brought us some Warblers and the like.
Forest and shore checklist:
Double-crested Cormorant, Herring Gull, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco
Although this is about the wildlife and plants we saw, there is a nice story attached to the Marathon Hotel where we were based. It was built in 1871 by a retired sea captain to cater for the rich, mostly American, tourists who cruised the Maine coast in their big yachts during the Victorian era. As you can see from the photograph, there are two parts – the main building on the right in which we had rooms and an adjacent annexe. We learned that the annexes was originally a competing hotel that passed into the hands of the (one time) owner of the Marathon as a consequence of his having won it at a game of cards.
Tomorrow – We will be bringing you a wandering Burrowing Owl and a some not so common Sparrows
(Click to enlarge – note to see all the pictures in sequence, visit the gallery the bottom of the page)