Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Alcids & Tern - Machias Seal Island

Last week we traveled to the northernmost coast of Maine, known as “Down East” (see note at end of post). The purpose was a trip to Machias Seal Island, a fifteen acre patch of land located about ten miles southeast of Cutler, Maine, at the boundary between the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy.

The island is a bird sanctuary which hosts the major regional breeding colony of Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills. There are also smaller breeding populations of Common Murre, Arctic Tern, Leach’s Storm Petrel and Savannah Sparrow.

Machias Seal Island is a spot of land which every birder should visit at least once. This was my third trip, but my first trip with a good camera. It was a photographer’s dream! This is the first of several posts.

Alcids are a family of oceanic species which come to land only to nest. In the North Atlantic, the Atlantic Puffin is the icon of the Alcid family, a 12" package of charisma and charm ...

Atlantic Puffin
Atlantic Puffin
Atlantic Puffin (Razorbills in foreground)

The Razorbill is larger (17"), chunky, and thick-billed. If the bill were a nose, you would describe it as possessing Jimmy Durante proportions (older readers should remember him), or if you have a literary bent, of Cyrano de Bergerac proportions ...



Common Murres are less common on the island; these are sleek and handsome birds ...

Common Murre (aka Thin-billed Murre)
Common Murre
 Arctic Terns in recent years have had very limited nesting success on the island. Their nest is on the surface and in the open (we saw one egg in the grass close to our boardwalk). This tern nests in the far northern latitudes, and “winters” in the summer of the southern latitudes, making an annual round trip flight of some 24,000 miles. A champion traveler and graceful flyer barely does it credit ...

Arctic Tern
Arctic Terns

Note: Down East, The Magazine of Maine explains the origin of the term, "Down East" in New England: "When ships sailed from Boston to ports in Maine (which were to the east of Boston), the wind was at their backs, so they were sailing downwind, hence the term 'Down East.' And it follows that when they returned to Boston they were sailing upwind; many Mainers still speak of going 'up to Boston,' despite the fact that the city lies approximately 50 miles to the south of Maine’s southern border."

IF YOU GO - Machias Seal Island

Bold Coast Charter Company, Cutler, Maine - - Captain Andrew Patterson is the only operator currently taking visitors to the island from Maine. He exceeded my best expectation: knowledgeable, personable, equally concerned for the safety and well-being of his passengers and the birds. (Link on website to accommodations in area)

Riverside Inn & Restaurant (East Machias - 20 minutes from Cutler) - comfortable B&B on the East Machias River. The restaurant was as good as any restaurant anywhere.

Good Birding!!


esther said...

the wind was at their backs,

JM said...

Looks amazing, gotta go there one of these days. Great photos!


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