Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rocky Shores

The scenic view from the harbor and the allure of seafood captured our attention.  

It was a special day. We were going to find the Atlantic Puffin and visit one of their nesting grounds on Eastern Egg Island!

The morning began with a bit of a breeze.  As the day went on, the breeze became something stronger. 

Gulls, like the Great black-backed gull, soared and swirled above our heads. 

We boarded our vessel and began to leave dock.  By now the wind had become rather gusty.  The waves grew large as we left the harbor. 

Common Eiders
 As we passed Common Eiders, passengers were warned of the rough conditions.  But we had come for the Atlantic Puffin.  It was a life bird for all of us.  There was no turning back. 

Eastern Egg Island
The boat began to rock.  Waves began to splash the passengers.  Three boys on the bottom deck screamed with delight as each cold spray hit their faces.  The Audubon guide bravely stood his ground as the ship pitched and turned. Yet even after being pelted by shards of ice water, he kept going. The ship seesawed even more.  As we crept closer to the island, I began to see little white darts in the sky.  Terns!  And rare ones!  Several passengers became sick.  Others attempted to lock their bodies around rails.  This was going to be a challenge. 

The vessel lurched forward throwing some passengers to the side rails. Someone screamed, "LOOK!  A PUFFIN!"  For a brief moment, the ship stopped moving long enough for everyone to observe the amazing Atlantic Puffin!

Atlantic Puffin
The Atlantic Puffin disappeared from the coast of Maine during the early part of the last century.  They were hunted for their eggs, meat and feathers. After years of work by Audubon, these birds have made a comeback to the coast of Maine where they now breed once again. 

Everyone locked their binos and cameras on the birds.  Or at least tried.  Some had their heads in a bag.  Others clung to their loved ones.  Was it worth it? 

As we approached the island, I noticed my second target bird!  The Black Guillemot!!!  It was a thrill to see so many around the rocks! The vessel rolled and I was knocked over a bench. Ouch!  I CAN DO THIS!  CONCENTRATE!  FIND THEM!  OBSERVE THEM AS MUCH AS YOU CAN!  YOU'LL HAVE TIME TO COMPLAIN LATER ON!

I tried to keep my shaking hands steady.  Focus you desert rat!  There will not be another opportunity to do this again!

Black Guillemot
And the Guillemot flew with what looked like a twizzler in its' beak!  Puffins were gathering small fish and eels as well.  I would stare, amazed, at the crazy things they were pulling out of the water.  

On shore, the "Hilton" was home to several human guardians.  They observed the nesting birds, collected data and protected the Puffin's breeding grounds. 

TERNS!  The true test for me began.  Not many people were interested in the terns twisting and gliding around our vessel at light speed.  I was.  
Another sway and rooooooollllll!!!
Two terns would be life birds for me......IF I could ID them.  A lot of my energy went into finding the endangered Roseate Tern and Arctic Tern. There were a few scattered in between many Common Terns.  With the boat constantly pitching back and forth and the terns banking sharply around us, it was hard to focus visually.  As Obi-Wan told Luke in the first Star Wars movie....."Luke, let go.  Use the force."  I switched off my eyes and listened for the calls to hone in on their location.   

Roseate Tern
ki, RIK!!!  ki, RIK!!!!  HIGH UP!  A CLOUD OF "NOT" COMMON TERNS!  SOMETHING DIFFERENT!  ROSEATE TERNS!!!!!!  One banked sharply to the port.  CAMERA ON!  NOW!!!  SNAP SNAP!

Arctic Tern-bill is reddish, but in this pic the lighting makes it look a tad orange

LURCH!!!  I HEAR YOU!  I HEAR YOU!  THE STARBOARD! keeeyuuuuurrrr! And SNAP! 

A seal passes by our vessel
And just like that, it was over.  It was one of the most satisfying experiences in my life.  I did it!  All target birds achieved with great observations.  However the aftermath wasn't pretty.  I'll let Kathie tell her story:) Both of my comrades fell ill during the voyage.  However, they survived the experience and won't forget their encounter with the Atlantic Puffin anytime soon. Some life birds can be painful.  

As the last Atlantic Puffin flew from my sight, I looked over the rough ocean waters and thought about how exciting this life of discovery is.  

This is just the beginning of our Maine story.  There is still so much more to come.  As of this write, I have observed and discovered 432 birds this year in North America.  We began in California, scoured Arizona, got a taste of New Mexico, walked the beaches of Northern Mexico and explored Florida.  Life is truly a dream. For more about the Puffin tour, check out the Hardy Boat Cruises. And for more birds from around the world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday!


  1. I haven't been to Maine in ages and that was way before I became a birder. AH! How I would love to return NOW!

  2. A fantastic journey and post! Such beauty!

  3. Chris, you told this so well and so full of excitement! I can feel the boat rolling once again! Excuse me, I need to go "toss my cookies" again! thanks for the memories! I had no idea you saw a seal. I was too busy puking! it was worth it though! LOL!

  4. Great story and great pics. But next time guys, remember your Dramamine!
    Kathie is my sister-in-law, by the way. She shared this post with me.

  5. Excellent. I enjoyed that little journey and didn't even get sea sick.

  6. A super post Chris and congrats on the lifers .. definitely worth all the rocking and rolling.

    I'm fortunate to have seen all those species without my feet leaving dry land!

  7. A wonderful post Chris! I love the photos and the narrative!

  8. Bravo!! I was hoping you'd get out on a pelagic tour. Well done. I'm sorry the seas were so rough, but you persevered and came through the other end like a champ!! Great shots of the puffins and guillemots. The first time I saw puffins, I remember being so amazed at how small they are!! Great post. I was filled with goosebumps all the way through!!

  9. Great collection of birds and scenic shots, Chris! My favorites are the puffins! Happy Birding!

  10. Good that Kathie thought it was worth it. Well done with the terns, and managing to capture the Puffins and Black Guillemot. Pelagics are a challenge in most places, but the birds are fantastic!

  11. It's great to see you enjoying the sights and sounds not to mention the sea.

  12. Your a wonderful story teller Chris, and I enjoyed every moment of your post. You got some great pics, what an adventure!

  13. HI What a truly marvelous adventure and fantastic getting the lifers you wanted. Pity about the other 2 being sick.

  14. Puffins are great birds! They always make me smile - shame we don't have any in Australia.

    Cheers - Stewart M

  15. A great post and story Chris - you really made it all come to life :) Wonderful photos and well done on the Lifers. It sounds the most amazing experience :)

  16. Wonderful birds and an amazing experience. I'd love to see puffins one day.

  17. Fantastic islands, and the waters full of birds, the Puffin, Black Guillemots and Artic Tern.

  18. You're a great story teller Chris. I'll bet some of your companions weren't in the mood for your pelagic tales. At least nothing would go to waste!You had some great species and lifers there, most of which we see here and it truly is a small world that we live in.

  19. such cool birds! all of them! but i'd be yacking into a sick-sack, myself. :)

  20. Superb! You made it.
    What a roller coaster! What an experience.
    I love your pictures. Because of the glass it looks like each background has been worked on in a lab.
    Now I will go and check Kathie's story.
    I found a bird at the DBG for you (don't laugh at me pleaaase...)http://tournefeuilleatoz.blogspot.fr/2014/06/un-defi.html

  21. What a great trip, Puffins are one of my favorite birds, thanks for sharing these ones.

  22. What a great adventure. YOur photos are beautiful.

  23. Great trip I would have been one of the sick people and missed all the birds.

  24. Maine looks so picturesque, I love your images! How exciting to observe the puffins and terns. :D

  25. What a cool trip. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more!

  26. How very exciting to see the Puffins but a drag that your cohorts got sick.

  27. My goodness I am so glad the seas were calmer for my Puffin sighting, poor Kathie :(

  28. Soooo exciting, Chris! I am so happy for you getting to see the puffins and the other birds. Wow! It looks like your visit to New England was amazing, and this Maine boat tour is great. I would love to do that some time!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to look at some of my past bird posts, and to comment. I really enjoyed reading your comments! I guess I always look for your approval, you and two or three other birder friends on the blogs that I really look up to. Glad you're back! I know you will enjoy your trip upcoming too though. I saw FEW birds on the trip, but at least I saw those few!

  29. Marie, it looks like you've been having fun and anything I can do to help out with the ID stuff is my pleasure. However, I've been known to be stumped once and awhile on a bird. I'm not perfect, but I'll try my best. As for the area you were in, we figured there wouldn't be as many birds but there is one special bird known as the Black-billed Magpie that only comes to that corner of the state. If we can find it, it will be a wonderful state find. So cross your fingers.....4 of us will be combing the area for this pretty amazing bird. It's related to Jays, Ravens and Crows....part of a group known as the Corvids. Keep birding! I've been enjoying your discoveries!


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