Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Approaching a difficult subject

Last Monday was our much-anticipated "puffin/whale watch" trip. Tickets in hand, and after having our bags searched (yes, I for some reason always get chosen for the "random" search), we boarded the boat--a 112-foot long, multi-million dollar catamaran, the Friendship V. After the obligatory safety instructions and warnings about losing your hats and glasses (yeah, right!) we emerged gracefully from the harbor. We had wonderful seats right up front, top deck.
A naturalist sits high atop the upper deck, bundled in a heavy jacket and woolen cap, a hint of what's to come--with powerful binoculars and a microphone, describing everything he sees in terms of a clock face. Sooty Shearwater at 2 o'clock. Fulmars at 10 o'clock. Cormorant--oops, just dove under at 3 o'clock. Heads turn and necks crane in a perfectly choreographed dance.
As soon as we cleared the harbor, we began to pick up speed--considerable speed. And when you're on the open ocean, with no cabin for protection, 40 miles per hour feels not only fast--it's freezing! Soon, land disappears and the line between sea and sky is a blue blur. Are those buoys? Or birds?

Our first stop was Petit Manan Island, one of the Maine National Wildlife Refuge Complex where Atlantic Puffins have been reestablished.
Researchers live in the white house on this small, pink granite-rimmed island 14 miles off the coast in the Atlantic. The lighthouse, the second tallest in Maine, is the only spot visible when the island is completely lost in fog, 70 days out of the year. What it must be like to live there!
The even smaller white boxes are bird blinds. Arctic Terns are in the air, stirred up from their nesting sites by Peregrines in the area. Those white specks...yes, terns.
And then, there they were--the puffins! Can't see them? Those little black specks bobbing around a few feet off shore. Actually, this is my one GOOD picture of them. Boats on water sway and bounce and the breezes are whipping at my sleeves. My eyes stopped watering just in time to focus. (Julie Zickefoose has really nice Puffin pictures.)
But it was enough for me to know they were there. The success of the birds is an indicator of the health of the ocean--the strength of their environment, the efforts to preserve and restore their habitats. And knowing that populations are growing--even if you can only see a speck bobbing in the water, is a wonderful thing.

My other bird photos are equally frustrating.
Climbing along the steep, granite sloping trail, dense spruce-fir forest, camera tucked safely in waist-pack, water bottle swinging--and then, there he is on a branch! We've been hearing his beautiful song every day we hike, but never see the Hermit Thrush! He lights on a branch right beside us! Flip, zip, snap, zoom, click! Ta-da!
Or how about a lovely, still morning on the ocean near Bartlett Island, on the western rim? Gear safely stowed in a "dry bag", paddle in hand...
Some loud cries, commotion in those trees--an osprey nest at the very top!
Now where should I stick this paddle while I try to unwrap my very dry camera? And, how easy is it really to pop off that kayak skirt if we capsize? (Safety drills must be given for some reason--hopefully not me!)

And, is that a loon? Common Loon--hurry, before he dives. I'll paddle while you shoot...oops--did you get him?

My final attempt--if that wave would just...and those birds would stop...

Need a closer look? Check out Sibley's, page 94.

It seems that everything that we did that allowed us the most intimate contacts with wildlife, either on the water or on the trail, were not the sort of activities that make it easy to have a long lens hanging around your neck. I was always wrapping or unwrapping the camera--and, by then, many shots were lost. Next time--I'm going to go and just SIT.

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cestoady said...

As I sat reading your blow -by -blow exploits, I could smell the sea ,hear the squawking birds, feel the sea breezes --- and enjoy the adventure and excitment that comes with communing with Nature.

Mary C said...

Oh, Nina - you certainly did a great job of describing one's frustration with camera and binoculars and the lost photo op as well as lost sight of what you wanted a photo of. But what you posted is still good - and best of all you can still add it to your life list, or whatever list you keep. :-) Thanks for sharing.

RuthieJ said...

Sounds like quite an adventure, Nina. I'm not a very good boat traveler--more of a slowly paddled canoe person. I'm glad you got to see the puffins especially. All of the other birds would be wonderful to see also. The hermit thrush has the most beautiful song--to hear a thrush and loon on the same day would be heaven for me.

Jennifer said...

My daughters went to Maine last summer, now you went this summer... I've always wanted to go... Thanks for sharing!

(Sometimes when I go places I don't take the camera at all, because I just want the experience as it unfolds... But with this new camera, that ain't often!)

Susan Gets Native said...

Yep. Lost bird photo ops. The monkey on all of our backs. I feel for ya.
That island is fantastic! Rimmed in pink stone...like something out of a fantasy movie!

Cathy said...

Sibley's pictures may give more detail, but no where near as much heart and humor. Wonderful photos.