Downeast Maine, July 3-7, 2005

April and I flew nonstop from Indianapolis to Portland, Maine, rented a car, and spent five days exploring southeastern Maine and Campobello Island, New Brunswick. We'd reserved a cabin in Trenton, just north of Mount Desert Island. Mount Desert Island includes the towns of Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, and others, and most of Acadia National Park. We reached the area in time to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain to view the sunset. At the summit of Cadillac Mountain, elevation 1532 feet, we were at the highest point on the Atlantic from Maine to the tip of South America.



We couldn't pass up an opportunity to visit the L.L. Bean store in Freeport, Maine. Here's a size 1000 Bean boot.

We stopped for lunch in Topsham at the Sea Dog Brewing Company, where I ordered a sampler of 10 different kinds of beer. When the waiter delivered the 10 glasses in a special wooden holder, I remembered someone once telling me, "I'd rather have a free glass in front of me than a prefrontal lobotomy." I agree with that.

On the drive to Cadillac Mountain we saw the 151-foot, four-masted schooner the Margaret Todd sailing on Frenchman's Bay.

April atop chilly Cadillac Mountain at twilight. Behind her are the Porcupine Islands, the Schoodic Peninsula, and coastal eastern Maine.

A breathtaking sunset atop Cadillac Mountain. This is the first place that sunlight strikes North America each day, on sunny days.

Our rental car and our cabin at the Isleview Motel and Cottages in Trenton, Maine.



Rather than fight the masses of tourists on Mount Desert Island, we opted to spend our first day exploring the Schoodic Peninsula portion of Acadia National Park, which occupies the lower third of the the Schoodic Peninsula, just east of Mount Desert Island. Sunrise during our visit was at 4:20 a.m., which seemed somewhat inhuman. As we'd hoped, there were far fewer tourists there than on Mount Desert Island. The temperature on this day as well as during the entire trip was in the 60s and 70s inland and in the 50s along the ocean. Black flies were absent, and mosquitoes were bothersome only in the deep woods.

As for birdlife, seabirds seemed to be flourishing, but landbirds were very scarce. On average we saw two or three individuals per hour in the forests, an astonishing drop from the numbers I observed there 23 years ago. The most common species were Herring Gull and Common Crow. In the forests the most common species were Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, and Nashville Warblers, with small numbers of Northern Parulas and American Redstarts. We found no chickadees at all.

Here are some images from our day on the Schoodic Peninsula.



Common Eiders (sea ducks) on a seaweed-covered granite shelf. Red granite alternated with black basalt "dikes" like the one in the background.

Close-up of Common Eiders. Males are mostly black and white, while females are all brown. Their ski-slope profiles are distinctive.

April scanning to the east, over Schoodic Harbor.

Red algae, seaweed (bladderwrack?) and edible smooth mussels (blue mussels) in a Schoodic Harbor tidal pool.

Red algae and barnacles in a tidal pool.

Green algae, barnacles, blue mussels in a tidal pool.

Seaweed in an intertidal pool. The long brown leaves are kelp.

April stepping carefully on barnacle-carpeted rocks exposed by the falling tide.

Barnacle- and seaweed-carpeted rocks.

A basalt dike intrusion in red granite. The best examples we saw of this geological structure were on the Schoodic Peninsula.

Tourists at Schoodic Point. Mount Desert Island in the distance.

April on Schoodic Point. Cadillac Mountain in the background.

April relaxing with a book on Schoodic Point.

Herring Gulls, the most common species of gull along the coast.

Herring Gull.

Common blue flag grew abundantly in brackish or freshwater situations, even on apparently bare rocks like these.

Native to Asia, rugosa roses grew wild just about everywhere. They withstand immersion in salt water and very low temperatures.

Orange hawkweed, which with yellow hawkweed formed attractive borders on roadsides and in fields.

Canada dogwood, an abundant ground cover in the boreal forests.

Ground cover in the coniferous forests consisted of reindeer moss, lichens, blueberry, chokecherry, and seedlings of canopy trees.

This sandy track ran through the southern part of the park. Common trees included wild cherry, gray birch, eastern hemlock, black spruce, white spruce, poplars, and sugar maple.

Higher elevations near the peak called Schoodic Head supported spruce, fir, and other conifers, with scant ground cover.



Tuesday morning we arose at 3:15 a.m. Indiana time and drove 50 miles east, to Jonesport, where we had reservations for a trip to Machias Seal Island. Captain Barna Norton had passed away since my last visit in the 1980s. His son John now runs the business of ferrying people 10 miles out to sea in his boat, Chief.

  Map showing the remote location of Machias Seal Island.

Machais Seal Island is located in the lower Bay of Fundy, 10 miles west of Canada's Grand Manan Island. Machias Seal Island is about one mile long at low tide and a few hundred feet wide. During the birds' nonbreeding season, the only occupants on the island are the two lighthouse keepers. The lighthouse has been maintained by the Canadian Coast Guard for over 100 years.

Machias Seal Island serves as an important breeding site for seabirds. To minimize disturbance to the nesting birds, only 30 persons per day are allowed on the island.

We left Jonesport at 7 a.m. in thick fog, which burned off long before we arrived on Machias Seal Island about an hour later. En route I spotted many Black Guillemots, a Northern Fulmar, my first for North America (I'd seen them last year in Ireland), several harbor seals and porpoises, increasing numbers of Arctic Terns, a single distant Atlantic Puffin on the water, and lots of gulls. The air temperature stayed in the 50s from the time we left Jonesport until we returned, which made us glad that we'd dressed in many layers of warm clothes.

April had hoped to get some good looks at Atlantic Puffins. Her hopes were more than realized, as you'll see below. We left the island after enjoying one of the most enjoyable experiences of the trip. Few people get to spend time so close to wild seabirds. We were grateful for having had the opportunity to view these unusual birds at such close range.



April in Jonesport aboard Chief, awaiting our departure.
Click here for a 13-second audio cut of April describing the morning so far.

Captain John Norton sporting his patriotic suspenders.

Motoring slowly out of Jonesport in the fog.

A fog-shrouded uninhabited island.

April views a distant headland through the fog.

We leave the harbor and fog behind, and Captain John opens the throttle.

Thirty-three miles later we're viewing Machias Seal Island. The 82-foot lighthouse is visible for 14 miles. Note the cloud of Arctic Terns over the island.
Click here for a 15-second audio cut of Bill aboard Chief.

Captain John ferried us to shore in a small, maneuverable boat that he often leaves anchored near the island. In rough weather, the high swells make it too dangerous to land the boat.

Once ashore we walked to a picnic area, as terns swooped and screeched at us. Note the heliport and photographic blinds (the gray structures).
Click here for a 14-second audio cut of the sounds during landing.

Six persons walk to each blind, avoiding tern eggs and chicks while adult terns divebomb and strike us. Puffins perched on the roof. It was interesting to hear the sound of their claws on the boards above us as they shuffled across the roof.
Click here for a 13-second audio cut of the sounds outside the blind.



Views from the blind.




Images of Atlantic Puffins from the blind.







  A juvenile Atlantic Puffin - note the dark face and less colorful bill.

Images of Razorbills from the blind.



Images of Common Murres from the blind (look for the thin beak).



Images of nesting Arctic Terns (note cryptic chicks in rightmost image).






April and Bill ready to reboard Chief.

Leaving Machias Seal Island behind.

Captain John "Z.Z.Top" Norton.

April showing a side-effect of the meclizine tablet -- yawn... drowsy... sleeeep...

Sleep-deprived grizzle-faced Bill.

A friendly sea-dog companion, Chip, liked to sleep on peoples' feet. Captain John towed the landing boat back to Jonesport.

The cabin with Captain John and navigational equipment.

Motoring into Jonesport.



After leaving Jonesport we headed back west. Along Route 1 we saw lots of blueberry barrens (burned-over fields dedicated to blueberry growing). Blueberries weren't in season -- they ripen in August -- but strawberries were being sold along the roadside, along with the omnipresent lobsters.

We spent most of the afternoon exploring the Petit Manan Point section of the Petit Manan National Wildlife Sanctuary. The Petit Manan Point section lies south of the hamlet of Pigeon Hill, which lies south of the town of Steuben. The refuge was almost deserted, as were most places we visited on our trip. We explored meadows filled with lupines, hawkweed, and other wildflowers, then hiked a trail that led through boreal forest to the shoreline.



The John Hollingsworth Trail into the forest. Mainly gray birch and various kinds of poplar with an understory of blueberry.

April examines one of the many kinds of ferns on the refuge. The shrub in the foreground is an alder, the dominant ground cover in boggy areas.

Trail through the boreal forest.

Swamp laurel (thanks to Kyle Arvin for the identification).

Relaxing along Pigeon Hill Bay.

April contemplates the complexity of a tidal pool.

A panoramic view from Petit Manan National Wildlife Sanctuary. The distant lighthouse is on Petit Manan Island.



From Petit Manan National Wildlife Sanctuary we returned to our cabin in Trenton, rested, then headed into Bar Harbor to explore this trendy town. During the afternoon the sky clouded up and fog rolled in. We never got rained on, but we didn't see blue sky again until we'd returned to Portland.



Thick sea fog rolls into Frenchman's Bay, about to engulf the Margaret Todd.

Bar Harbor at night.

April browsing boutiques in Bar Harbor.



On Wednesday we decided to drive 100 miles east to explore Campobello Island, New Brunswick. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt spent their summers at their 34-room cottage on Campobello Island. It was there that FDR contracted polio in 1921.



View from the Cobscook Bay side of the Roosevelt cottage, the same scene that FDR and Eleanor would have seen, except that there were no trees back then.

The Roosevelt cottage. A Canada Park Service guide give us a excellent tour of the house and grounds.

East Quoddy Head on Passamaquoddy Bay at the northern tip of Campobello Island. The tidal change is almost 20 feet.

At low tide you can walk from here to the lighthouse, but the tide was approaching high. If you don't return in time, it's 8 hours till the next low tide.

East Quoddy Head light as seen from the eastern side of the peninsula. The light was built in 1829 as an aid to navigation in the Bay of Fundy and Passamaquoddy Bay. It is reputed to be the most photographed lighthouse in the world. I don't know about that, but it is the most photographed lighthouse on Campobello Island.

A fine trail through boreal forest in Roosevelt Campobello International Park, at the southern end of Campobello Island.

April in the boreal forest.

Chokecherry, ash, and other shrubs bordering a freshwater stream on the Bay of Fundy.

Yellow lady slippers, an orchid we found in the boreal forest.

A quiet Bay of Fundy, with Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, in the distance.

A New Brunswick license plate.

Lupines and salmon-farming equipment along the Cobscook Bay side of Campobello Island near the village of Welshpool.

Weirs (fish traps) abandoned and decaying in Cobscook Bay. Overfishing by commercial vessels have made such fishing techniques unprofitable.

Lubec, Maine, as seen from Campobello Island.

Lupines of various colors were abundant everywhere in eastern Maine as well as on Campobello Island.

"Welcome to the United States. Are you terrorists?" After the bombings in London that morning, we anticipated a higher level of homeland security than what we encountered.

An isolated homestead on an island west of Lubec.

April found a beautiful 2-acre sanctuary called Cottage Garden, where we spent an hour admiring the gardens and watching a video on the natural history of coastal Maine.

Cottage Garden flowers.

April at Cottage Garden.

Heart-stopping gasoline prices in Lubec were shown per gallon in Canadian dollars, not U.S. dollars. Whew!

The harbor at Cutler, Maine.

More of the harbor at Cutler, and the town doctor's house on the promontory.

Old (read "rotten") herring ready for packing into lobster-trap bait sacks.

Cutler resident Pam Wood showed us how she packs the herring into the bait sacks and secures them. She makes the sacks by hand. And you think your job isn't much fun! She does this from May until the end of November, while doing maintenance at the University of Maine in Machias as well.

Part of the Navy's immense Very Low Frequency (VLF) 24-kHz LORAN antenna array at Cutler.

A restaurant in Machias where we had breakfast and dinner that day. Said to have the best blueberry pie in Maine.



On Thursday, our last day, we took a boat cruise from Northeast Harbor on the south side of Mount Desert Island. A National Park Service employee narrated as we motored among the islands. We saw Black Guillemots, Common Eiders, Osprey, an adult Bald Eagle, porpoises, seals, and stunning scenery.



A lighthouse on one of the islands in the bay.

A real overachiever of a nest-building bird, this osprey (see its black-and-white face atop the nest) had added annually to its already monstrous nest of branches and twigs.

Harbor and gray seals lounging on rock shelves.

Lobstermen cleaning their boat on the ocean.

We stopped for 45 minutes on Little Cranberry Island, now called Isleford.

The Maine economic equivalent of petroleum, fresh from the sea.

A quiet walkway.

A great place to warm up with a hot chocolate.

Back on the mainland looking over Southwest Harbor.

Southwest Harbor boats.

Bass Harbor Head Light, probably the most photographed light on Mount Desert Island.

Bass Harbor Head Light

Tourists exploring the red granite shoreline at Bass Light.

April on the Bass Light rocks.



From there we took the coastal route back to Portland, following the same U.S. Route 1 that runs all the way from Maine to Key West. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 9 p.m., but due to circumstances we still don't understand, our TransMeridian Airlines jet wasn't in Portland when we arrived at 8 p.m. It still wasn't there at midnight. When it did arrive and we'd boarded, there was another half-hour delay while they offloaded excess fuel. We didn't get home until almost 3 a.m., two bone-weary zombies who probably shouldn't have been driving in that state. In any event, the mysterious missing jet situation made for a very, very long day.

I hope you've enjoyed this narrative. Please email comments or questions to me.