Sunday, June 17, 2012

Machias Seal Island 40 years later

In 1972, John and I decided to go to the total solar eclipse on the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada. (We were clouded out!) We flew into Boston and rented a car. We were already pretty intense birders, visiting SE Arizona twice. While there, we kept running into the same small groups of birders. There weren't as many of us back then.

John had heard about Machias Seal Island so we decided to visit it while we were in the area. We got to Cutler, Maine, found the captain's house and asked if we could go with him to the island. The next day was the Fourth of July, but he took pity on us, and we had bought the book about him and the seal island. So the next AM, early, we boarded his little mail boat and headed for the island. What a magical day. The Canadian lighthouse keeper led us to the photo blind through hundreds of nesting birds. We had to wear hard hats to avoid diving tern beaks. Once our guide left, the birds relaxed, not realizing that we were still in the blind. Somewhere on the island, there was a team of videographers making a film on remote islands. Otherwise, we were alone. We got lots of cool pictures, donned our hard hats again and made our way back to the boat. Sated with puffins.

Almost 40 years later, June 14th, 2012 John sailed to the island with Bold Coast Charters from Cutler, Maine, in a much bigger boat. The island light house is still maintained by Canadians and the bird population is monitored by them. There are more blinds than before, lots of Atlantic Puffins like before, but you don't have to wear hats to avoid being dive bombed by Arctic Terns. Their breeding population collapsed several years ago and they have not successfully bred since. University students do research on the island during the summer. The boat lands all the passengers a few times a week, other days, it just sails around the island. I booked John on a day when they could land. So there were a lot more humans on the island this time. Boardwalks have been constructed that you must keep walking on, only stopping where there are benches or blinds. The lighthouse keeper still guides you around and you still get great pictures. John had another magical day 40 years later.

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