This it it, the proverbial home stretch...the last post from Maine. I've been stretching it out, I know, although at least I haven't given it the Costa Rica treatment (that trip ended two and a half years ago, yet the blogging continues...). Right. I haven't been birding much post-Maine, but with shorebirds coming through now and pelagic trips to lead rapidly approaching, that is all about to change.
So as I alluded to last time, we did actually get to land on Machias Seal Island. Machias has the distinction of being claimed by both the United States and Canada. You would think that having a territorial dispute with Canada is not actually a very stressful thing (sure, I'll play up the stereotypes), but according to first mate Tyler it is a significant source of contention for the local fishermen. Canadian fishing regs are very different from Maine's, so apparently the fishermen get into it from time to time when it comes to what laws apply in waters nearby and effects on local fish stocks. I wonder if any birders ever jump into the fray whenever a Vague Runt shows up out there (a Tufted Puffin was on the island last year, for example).
As soon as we set foot ashore, we were surrounded by Arctic Terns, which, as it turns out, is a very good thing to be surrounded by. Lots of courtship behavior, carrying fish back and forth, landing nearby for photo ops and generally carrying on.
Classic sexy tern pose on sexy lichen boulders. Brilliant.
It's really strange to be all up in a breeding colony of birds that you have only had poor to mediocre looks at for so many years, crushing them without remorse. Strange and wonderful.
Not only do Arctic Terns "winter" at the edges of Antarctic pack ice (where it is summer), it is speculated that during the Northern Hemisphere winter, they may actually circumnavigate the continent before flying north again. Seabirds...the mind reels.
Arctic Terns are maneuverable, but you knew that already.
Ralph, the lighthouse keeper, shows his portfolio of crushes to Dipper Dan, Flycatcher Jen and assorted Geri. Ralph is not only the island's lighthouse keeper, he is also a birder, and not someone to be fucked with either. He will be nice to you if you ask him birding questions but otherwise any conversation you have with him will somehow leave you with the feeling that you are a complete moron and generally Wrong...about a great many things. Ralph informed us that most years they get multiple fallouts, which is just fucking crazy...but in my experience, if you put in enough island time, good birds happen. Christ I want to see a fallout. The migrant passerines we saw on the island during our short visit were limited to a Gray Catbird, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and a Common Yellowthroat. Meh.
Oh, hello there Atlantic Puffin. I wasn't sure if you were going to get all up in my face like this, but I really don't mind. My personal space is Puffin Space. What wrinkly, orange lips you have.
It turns out Atlantic Puffins act much like Horned and Tufted Puffins on the west coast. They look really funny, waddle around like old men with bent spines, perpetually wear a slightly embarrassed expression, and make hilarious groaning sounds from under the ground beneath your feet. And much like Horned and Tufted Puffins, seeing them hella close to you will leave you quite chuffed.
Hopefully the puffins and other seabirds of Machias are having a good summer. Breeding colonies of seabirds are at the mercy of local water temperatures; if the water gets too warm, their food source goes elsewhere. With a warming climate, things look grim for many seabird populations, who also have to deal with pollution, overfishing, rats and cats in breeding colonies, etc. Being a puffin ain't easy, although being a puffin is adorable.
Can you believe that people still eat puffins? Isn't that fucked? Deec article about puffin consumption here.
Along with Arctic Terns and puffins, the other seabird you can easily befriend on Macias is the Razorbill. They hang out in the same areas as the puffins, and while we were there many softly bellowed. I've heard a lot of alcids before, but I've never seen any just sitting out in the open, softly bellowing over and over again. It was weird and amazing.
I assume the Razorbill bellows for traditional bird reasons, although checking the species account in Birds of North America, there is nothing about Razorbills just sitting on boulders in broad daylight and just bellowing endlessly.
It was a pleasure getting to know the Razorbill. They are so murreish, yet so different.
Machias had been good to us. After we finished our time in Lubec, we headed inland to the Greenville area, our last target area for birding...we all needed Bicknell's Thrush, after all, and Big Moose Mountain had them. Birding in the area was ok, but hampered by repeated storms rolling through the area. Black-throated Blue Warbler and Philadelphia Vireos were nice trip birds, and I could have sworn I heard a White-winged Crossbill, but never laid eyes on it.
We gambled on when to go for the thrushes, hoping to catch a break between storms, but it turns out we are not good at gambling. The hike up Big Moose Mountain was...hard, especially for this biologist who is morbidly deskbound and is utterly out of shape. The hike was not hella long, but it was steep as shit. And it was raining the entire time...for once wearing all of my rain gear really paid off. We started out hella early, but it was a while before we got up to the summit...it turns out it didn't matter, because the top of the mountain was in the rain cloud. Luckily a shack up top for one of the radio towers was not locked so we had a place to get inside and get out of the rain once in a while. While standing next to the shack, soon after we got there, This Machine Nate called out from down the trail that he was looking at a Bicknell's Thrush. Holy shit! Sweet redemption, it would all be worth it! Well, the thrush took off down the mountain and none of the rest of us ever saw one, or heard one. It was dismal, a dip for the ages. Essentially, Dipper Dan, Flycatcher Jen and I were all Nate's Bicknell's Thrush support team, and we didn't need to see a goddamn Bicknell's Thrush anyway. All that mattered was that Nate saw it...right? The trip's birding essentially ended when we got off the mountain, although back in Portland we did see a confiding Brown Thrasher (a decidedly unabundant bird in much of Maine) and a Peregrine Falcon stoop on a Ring-billed Gull from the parking lot of a Motel 6.
The trip was a great success...I managed to lifer Spruce Grouse, Purple Sandpiper, Roseate Tern, Black Guillemot, Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin, and saw a shitload of other good birds. Just as importantly, our nerd group had good chemistry and did horrible and shameful things while drinking to excess and generated countless inside jokes along the way. It was how a birding trip should be.