Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Each year we find ourselves going further north to get away from the crowds of New Yorkers and Bostonians who've "discovered" "pristine" space downeast and seem hellbent on turning these areas into the next P-towns or NoHos. Last year we made it up to Lubec, Maine and Campobello Island, NB. This year, we headed ten miles out to sea to visit a small rock called Machias Seal Island. Population: three humans and countless seabirds. We were particularly interested in Atlantic Puffins and Terns.

Our boat left early in the morning from Cutler Harbor.

Cutler isn't terribly developed - there's no restaurant nearby, no grocery store that we could see.

Just a number of houses, a church, a nice working waterfront with a harbor filled with lobster boats and pleasurecraft. (In the distance between the black and yellow lobster boats, you can see the Barbara Frost - white with aqua trim.)

Andrew Patterson (or Cap'n Andy) approaches shore in a skiff used to transport us to the larger vessel.

Once on board, we headed out to Machias seal. The conditions were really hazy, so it was strange not being able to see land from anywhere on the boat.

I occupied myself with a small knitting project (des chausettes en couleurs de Deer Isle) while listening to the Captain's lectures on all aspects of the Maine Coast, the Bay of Fundy, Machias Seal Island. His breadth of knowledge and clear enthusiasm for his work impressed us.

Land Ho! Our landing ended up being delayed a bit due to the spring tides and relative roughness of waters (swells going up about thirty feet in some places).

When the tide went back a bit, we were transported to the island where we were assisted ashore by the lighthouse keeper. It's a very slippery walk and the water's pretty cold and rough, so one really had to take a lot of care.

(an image of the shoreline after the tide went back some more and the fog burned off.)

Machias Seal Island's ownership is somewhat in dispute: both Canada and the United States claim it as theirs. The Canadians have set up shop there with research facilities and one of the few manned lighthouses remaining, but they allowed us passage without any ID control. The spirit between those who staff the island and their visitors/neighbors seems to be one of cooperation.

After making our way up the shore, we headed towards a little compound where the dormitory, the lighthouse and the building that housed the facilities was located. Here we were confined to a small area with a couple picnic tables where we waited our turn to visit one of the bird blinds.

Our captain gave us some more information about the island: flora, fauna, climate, etc.

We were also joined by a young woman who was a biologist from the University of Nova Scotia. She was there originally to study breeding in terns, but since tern season was prettymuch over, she was hanging around helping out with work on the puffins.

We were treated to an up-close and personal view of a baby puffin that she'd found trapped under a boardwalk. Before setting off to give the little one a chance to get out and make its way in the world, she decided to bring him around for us to meet. Hal took full advantage, of course.

Finally, our turn came to head to the blinds. We passed something like an hour in the blinds snapping pictures, listening to the suprising sounds the puffins make and just staring. When our time was up, we were stunned. Our hour felt like perhaps five minutes.

After we were certain that everyone was out and ready to go, we headed back to the boat. Took off, circled the neighboring Gull Island (appropriately named, yes?) to see its inhabitants, then headed towards home.

On reentering Cutler Harbor, we were immediately put on lookout for bald eagles. Didn't see any while on the boat. Walking back to the car, though, we saw a pair pass overhead.


For more information on the tour we took, take a look at the Bold Coast Tours website. If you're more into the 'de luxe' sort of ecotourism, it probably won't be for you. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, though, and can't recommend them highly enough.

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