Birding Brevard: Christmas Counts, Your Path to Holiday Joy
Port Commissioners Approve Avocet Lagoon Viewing Platform
Florida Tech Bird Collection
November General Meeting Will Be at 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 15 - Samsons Island Work Day
Board Member Biographies
Back to SCAS Home...
That $12,000 Life Bird
By Matt Heyden
Every life bird has a price, and some are just more expensive than others. All we wanted was puffins. It shouldn’t be hard. Drive to Maine, take the boat to Machias Seal Island and have the entire puffin experience. After driving FOREVER, the weather closed in, and the boat couldn’t go. The trip back to our camp in Western New York took and extra week because we were broke down about every 200 miles. Dealership after dealership tried to repair the car, but it was just falling apart faster than we could drive it. The last service manager told me that he wouldn’t hesitate to put his daughter in the car and send her back to Florida. What he actually said was that he’d like to put his daughter in the car and send her to Florida! So, this is a warning. When a service manager tells you something like that, ditch the car!
I was planning on getting a giant magnet to tow behind the car to recover all the parts that continued to fall off, when it finally quit again in a cloud of steam and smoke on an interstate on a 90 degree day. It had made it about 125 miles. To break the curse, I had it towed to a different brand’s dealership, presto chango, it turned into a small pick up truck.
So, $12,000 later, we still didn’t get our puffins, razor bills, murres, or worse... our Boreal Chickadee. That was 3 years ago. I vowed I would never, ever go to Maine again... and yet here we were on our way again. Only this time, the cost of everything was at least 50% more. Blowing up the previous car had been such an incredibly unpleasant experience that I couldn’t bring myself to travel the interstates again around Boston.
This time I picked a route that would be mostly back roads through Vermont and New Hampshire on the way to Maine. I found a rails to trails bike path that actually went through some covered bridges. The path was along the Sugar River from Claremont to Newport, NH. I wouldn’t be telling you about it if it wasn’t one of the nicest we’ve ever done. Even in the rain, it was a wonderful trip, with a lot of the usual birds you would expect. A special note here is that if you enjoy using the rails to trails system for birding... don’t go on a weekend. Unfortunately, ATV’s have taken over, so do these trails on off peak times.
Taking our time and seeing every quaint little village you could imagine, we finally get to Maine and were in an hour’s striking distance of Cutler where we could catch the boat. It just happened to be that we were staying in an IBA. Surely, I would finally get my Boreal Chickadee. Well, no. Surely, we would at least get puffins... and then the weather turned. Here we go again. The captain couldn’t and wouldn’t commit the night before. Hmmm. The morning of the trip we were out the door at 5:30 to catch the boat. Incredible fog everywhere. Still no decision to cancel. He delayed us about an hour, used a skiff to transfer folks to the 35 foot boat, and out we went into the ocean with eight foot swells, not being able to see anything. We were dressed in our heaviest winter wear with rain slickers over them, in July. Can you tell we’re from Florida?
As we get about half the distance to Machias Seal Island, we have to cross over a shoal. The captain warned us about it. I’m thinking, are we like going to scrape bottom? Why would we care? Well, this area is subjected to the huge tide of the Bay of Fundy so when the tide comes in and crosses over the shoal, it makes the ocean incredibly violent. To prepare, the captain had to double the length of the line that was towing the skiff behind us. A shorter line could cause damage to either boat. A great ride for folks that like things rough (like us).
Approaching the island, the fog lifted like magic. Puffins were everywhere in the water around the boat. They were flying overhead carrying fish, just like the films. It was at this point that we learned why we were towing the skiff. Under good conditions, it could be used to transfer birders on to the island, but not when it was rough. Today wasn’t going to be one of those days. In fact, the other boat from the U.S. and the Canadian boat didn’t try to make the trip. It was revealed that we were delivering supplies and picking up a researcher that had been waiting to get off the island.
It was tricky for the captain to make the landing in such rough seas, but after all, that is his job. To fill the time, we circled the island looking at puffins , razor bills, Common Murres, female eiders with chicks and seals on an island in close proximity. This gave us time to study the small island visually. It’s rocky, small, with just a couple of buildings. Ownership is also contested between Canada and the U.S. It flies the Canadian flag, and is staffed by Canadians and researchers. Not one tree, but birds everywhere. Hmm Great Black Backed Gulls... I wonder what they were eating... oops.
At the appropriate time, we headed back to Cutler, birding as we went. Black Guillemots and Common Eider bachelor groups showed off. Only this time, the tide was done with its massive flow, and crossing the shoal was no different than the rest of the ocean. We booked with Bold Coast Adventures. We had previously booked with Norton out of Jonesport. Had the day been one that we could have actually landed, booking with Bold Coast Adventures would have allowed us to stay longer on the island. It’s simple. Cutler is closer to the island than Jonesport, so the boat ride is shorter, and you would have more time on the island. Both suppliers were the same price. I would probably book again with Bold Coast, for a couple of reasons, one of which is that he actually was willing to make the trip.
A special note here is that some folks were disappointed about not landing. I was thrilled that we actually got to see puffins. But for the folks that want to land, I just wouldn’t book the way we did. Reservations trap you on a date. I would be tempted to tell the outfitters to call me on a standby basis on a day that they were confident they would be going ashore, and weren‘t full.
Getting back on land, I realized that the mechanical curse may have been broken, so we decided to tempt fate and head to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.