Thursday, July 14, 2011

Machais Seal Island - Maine

One of the highlights of the Brookline Bird Club trip to Down-East Maine is the voyage out to Machais Seal Island. The Machais Seal Island is famous for the breeding colonies of Atlantic Puffins, Razorbill Auks and Common Murres and is one of the very few places where visitors are allowed to land on the island and are able to get close to the birds.
First the history of Machais Seal Island, it is located in the Gulf of Maine approximately 10 miles southeast from Cutler Maine and its sovereignty is disputed both by Cantor and the United States since both claim ownership. This difficulty ranges back to the Revolutionary War and the Treaty of Paris, where they tried to establish the boundaries between United States and British North America.
MB1_0799 Machais Seal Island Lighthouse NIKON D300S July 04, 2010
Machais Seal Island Lighthouse (taken last year)
At present there is a Canadian lighthouse on the island which is maintained by the Canadian Coast Guard (the payment for the maintenance of the lighthouse is paid by the Canadian Foreign Service) and the Canadian Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a sanctuary.
Cutler Harbor - low tide fog Machais _ROT9316 NIKON D3S July 03, 2011
Cutler harbor -low tide
Cutler harbor MSB_7879 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011
On the boat leaving the harbor
At present there is only one boat operator in Maine that runs regular trips out to Machais: Capt. Andrew Patterson of the Bold Coast Charter Company in Cutler Maine ( runs the daily trips, weather and seas permitting. Landing on Machais Seal Island can only be made when the weather and sea conditions permit, a very breezy day or rolling seas can prevent landing.
Landing on the island has the passengers transferring from the tour vessel into a large outboard powered skiff which is navigated to a designated landing area on the rocky shoreline. Conditions are slippery, and a degree of physical mobility and surefootedness is required. Please note that landings on Machais Seal Island can be hazardous, and while every effort is made to insure safety, participation in such activity is at your own risk.
We left Cutler in the fog and on basically smooth seas and were able to land on the island. On the island we were segregated into groups of four and then we were taken out to the blinds, once we were placed into the blinds we had to stay until the people came to let us out, because if we left sooner we could not return. This is to keep the disturbances of the colony down to a minimum.. We were then able to observe and photograph all the birdlife around us. Normally, you are allowed up to an hour and a half in the blind, but our visit was shortened to only one hour because the seas were increasing in intensity and which could make it more hazardous for us trying to leave the island.
Razorbills -MSB_7969 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011
Razorbill Auk
Puffin MSB_7979 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011
Atlantic  Puffin
All three of the Alcids on the island were able to be viewed from the blinds and the sheer numbers of birds were mind-boggling. You had to concentrate on a particular bird so you wouldn't keep jumping from bird to bird, especially if you were photographing them. Because of the fog that kept coming and going it did make some of the photography harder . I was happy that I was able to capture birds in flight, and a puffin  carrying fish back to the nest.
Atlantic Puffin Flight Fish wings up MSB_7938 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011
Atlantic Puffin with Fish
Common Murre and Bridled Form MSB_8070 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011
Common Murre the one on the right is the "bridled" form
There are two forms of the common Murre on the island, the normal form and the "bridled" form which has a white ring around the eye extending back as a white line.
Puffin in water MSB_7907 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011
Razorbill flight MSB_7919 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011Puffins in fog MSB_7965 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011Puffin MSB_8328 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011Puffin LandingMSB_7956 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011Puffin intense landing MSB_8308 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011Puffin D300S July 03, 2011Here are additional photos from the IslandPuffin PotrtaitMSB_7984 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011Puffins MSB_8245-Edit NIKON D300S July 03, 2011Razorbill MSB_8217 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011
Common Eiders MSB_8456 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011
Common Eiders
Common Loon MSB_8450 NIKON D300S July 03, 2011
Common Loon
On our return to Cutler we were able to see common eiders and a common loon.

A great morning was had by all.