The word on the birding street was that if you can get to Machias Seal Island, you should go...who was I to argue with that? While not a large island, nor someplace you are going to rack up many species, it is the only seabird colony in Maine the birding public can access on a regular basis...and being a veteran of seabird colonies, I wanted to be in one again. If you haven't worked in/visited a seabird colony, I assure you that your life is not being lived to its full potential. With that in mind, we booked a boat trip many months in advance, hoping for encounters with friendly puffins and Razorbills...but would the ocean be calm enough?
The day of our boat trip, we were weathered out. Captain Andy said we could just reschedule for the next day...but that was weathered out too. As luck would have it, we were still in the area, so on the third day of trying the wind finally switched and seas calmed down. We still were not guaranteed an island landing, but we were certainly going to get there. Geri had us completely surrounded on the boat, but knowing that lifer puffins were waiting in the fog, we were steadfast, although the Geri photography class tormented us constantly. In the end...it was worth it.
Razorbills are one of the most abundant seabirds at and near the island, if not the most abundant. Having seen precisely zero (0) before this Maine trip, suddenly seeing so many was hard to grasp. A few pairs looked like they were doing courtship flights, gliding in formation on wings held in a high dihedral (top photo). I saw Thick-billed Murres doing something similar up in Alaska, when they leapt off high cliffs, but their wings seemed too puny to be able to do this in sustained flight. Razorbills look much more comfortable in the air than murres do, I know this now.
This. This bird was no surprise, and was one of the reasons we all decided to #Maynerayge in the first place...between the four of us, a lot of lifers were had during the trip, but this was the one and only life bird for everyone! Welcome to my life list Atlantic Puffin, I have been waiting for you a long time, a long time.
Thank the birding gods there were puffins. Can you imagine going to Maine in late May, without ever having seeing a puffin, and then leaving without seeing one? I would have just quit birding. I got very well acquainted with Tufted and Horned Puffins while living and working in the Aleutian Islands, so it was great to be back at a breeding colony, of a new species no less. I just wish there were more kinds of puffins...someone please change the name of Rhinoceros Auklet to Rhinoceros Puffin, I think that will help.
The first birds I really noticed when we first broke out of the fog that morning were the terns...there were a lot of them, and they were practically all Arctic Terns. Tyler, one of the leaders, kindly informed us all that it was almost impossible to tell Common and Arctic Terns apart by sight alone, and it took all of my inner strength to not whip out my Global Birder Ranking System USA #7 card and do a citizen's pelagic arrest on the grounds of felony Sterna libel. The kid has probably seen 10 times the number of Arctic Terns as me, for god's sake.
But I digress. I've seen a few horribly distant Arctics up in Alaska, so this was really the first time I've been somewhere they breed. It was an honor, and a great way to complement the lifer Roseate Terns I had gotten earlier in the week.
Watching Arctic Terns at a breeding colony is much more satisfying than watching them from a distance on a rocking boat in the middle of the Pacific, I know that now. I will also appreciate them more. This is an ultra-migrant, after all, and it is not often you get to spend time with such well-traveled and worldly birds.
The Machias Seal Island lighthouse has a protective vanguard of auks.
Though not as numerous as the Razorbills, Common Murres were present in numbers as well. Note the two murres wearing spectacles on the left (lifer form!). I had hoped we would be absolutely choking on Black Guillemots out there, but found out that they don't really nest on Machias. I flogged myself bloody that night for my profound ignorance on the subject.
A Razorbill masterfully puts the Economy of Style to good use.
Another bucolic shot of the lighthouse and auk vanguard. I wish my house had a vanguard of auks.
On another rocky islet a couple miles from Machias, Captain Andy motored us out to check out/flush a bunch of hauled out seals. I got my lifer Gray Seals (I'll spare you my bullshit photos), which was mammal of the trip (short-tailed weasel was runner-up).
A Harbor Seal gives the geri-ridden boat the stink eye.
Dipper Dan and his sad but oddly empathetic companion. Dan is wearing an odd, disgruntled-seal look on his face (see previous photo)...for what reason, I cannot say. As you probably know already, we did actually get to land on Machias and spend some time crushing the living hell out of some seabirds. My camera was smoking by the end, and even Flycatcher Jen, who hates blazing grits, was chain-smoking after our birdgasmic couple of hours ashore. That's all coming next time, on BB&B.