Maine! The puffins of Machias Seal Island to Acadia NP in Bar Harbor to Camden and Ogunquit


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July 16th 2011
Published: August 27th 2012
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July 16

Puffin Day! We left our motel room in Machias at 6:15am for the half our drive to Cutler Harbor and the Bold Coast Charter Company. Fifteen eager photographers and members of the Massachusettes Audubon Society plus myself were met in a little dingy by Captain Andy Patterson who explained the days procedures. The tide was out (all seventeen feet of it!) and the boats in the small classic New England harbor were moored near large seaweed covered boulders or on long lines attached to tall piers that were exposed by the low tide. The weather was perfect for our half day excursion to Machias Seal Island, the largest puffin colony ten miles off the coast of Maine! All sixteen of us were well bundled in layers except for Andy who was in shorts and a tee shirt. The temperature was in the mid 50s but it was flat calm and a beautiful cloudless blue sky, a good omen for our visit to this summer home to the spectacular nesting colonies of Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Common Murres and Arctic Terns. As we began the ten mile journey to the island in the Barbara Frost (a custom forty foot Coast Guard vessel named after Andy's mother) Andy repeatedly exclaimed that we were incredibly lucky to have such fine weather. He said he could count on one hand the number of days that would be this warm and this calm in this area.

I counted my blessings all the way to the island passing lighthouses and rugged pine treed coastlines until we were well beyond shore. When we finally approached the island and saw our first Puffins floating in the water the boat tilted to one side as everyone jockeyed for position to photograph or view these adorable little diving birds.

We all were given strict instructions on how to behave on this bird domain. And then we landed and were met by the lighthouse keeper who led us up a boardwalk path and ultimately to the blinds that we would each share with two other people. The blinds are small wood framed buildings about the size of an outhouse with several wooden slats that can slide up and lock into place for viewing these marvelous birds without disturbing their habitat or being seen. We were to stay in our little boxes for over an hour quietly observing and photographing the mating, feeding and general behavior of the Puffins, Razorbills and Common Murres. I was enthralled. We were so close we could almost touch the Puffins with their adorable little clown faces and bright orange feet. I took movies and countless photos of these birds before the dreaded knock came on our door to tell us it was time to leave. With a few last minute photos we all reluctantly left our little boxes to prepare to leave the island sanctuary.

It was approaching noon when we left Machais Seal Island and since it was so calm Andy took us for a spin around the island to observe this habitat from another vantage point. It was then that we spotted Eider Ducks, a Loon and a Gannet along with the other birds we had been observing. Before heading home we took a spin out to a smaller island to see the large “horse headed” gray seals and countless gulls in a similar type of habitat but quite obviously better suited to these species than Machais.

Dave was waiting for me on shore when I arrived and was kindly attentive to my enthusiastic tales of my adventures in birdland. I grabbed a quick lunch and we left this picturesque little fishing village for Schoodic Peninsula about an hour and a half south west of Culter Harbor. Schoodic is a small Downeast community on the edge of Acadia National Park, Schoodic Side. This rocky coastline juts to a point with harbor and island views framed by tall thin fir trees and soft pink rugosa roses. We stopped by the side of the road to watch lobstermen haul their traps into their boats in the harbor below.

We left the Schoodic Peninsula to head for Bar Harbor for dinner and our night's lodging. It was a Saturday night on one of the busiest summer weekends and we had no reservations but once again we were lucky. We found a room at the Belle Isle Motel near the edge of the entrance to Acadia National Park and close to the center of Bar Harbor. The owners referred us to the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound with outdoor seating in a nice garden. I had absolutely the sweetest 1 ¼ lb soft-shelled lobster for only $5.95! I haven't seen prices like these for years! After licking my fingers and scouring the shells we walked the Shore Path (akin to the Marginal Way in Ogunquit) in Bar Harbor and shopped in the cute little boutiques before calling it a day.

July 17

The sun was shining brightly as we began our trek into Acadia National Park. We started with a quick film about the park and from there made our plan for the day. The Ocean Trail is reported to be the most popular trail in the park so we decided to begin there starting early enough to beat the crowds. Dave wisely decided to park at Otter Point, the furthermost point, and walk back up to Thunder Hole and Sand Beach where we could take the public bus back down to our car. Excellent decision! We got to see the best part of the trail before the crowds came, and come they did! A cruise ship was in town but after the morning rush on Ocean Trail we saw little of this crowd because the park is so big, plus I think the shops in town might have been more appealing to many.

After hiking along the ocean, smelling the balsam, rugosa roses and the fresh salt air we took our appetites to Jordan Pond House Restaurant set high on a hill with a gradual sloping lawn that leads down to Jordon Pond. By 11:30am there was already a long line waiting to get in for lunch so it was good that we got there early. We were seated outdoors on the back lawn with an incredible view of the pond and the “Bubbles”(twin mountains that resemble bubbles) beyond. Dark green umbrellas sheltered us from the hot sun and looked so summer cottagy with the weathered gray wood tables. I was unable to resist temptation. For the first time I cheated on my diet by having a famous Jordon Pond Popover. Ever since I heard about the popovers I was salivating and although I have been able to resist everything else, this was the final straw. I was helpless, I gave in to these luscious, buttery, moist delicacies. But I drew the line at the strawberry jam. Instead I had blueberry iced tea with my lunch. While Dave and I took our time over this wonderful meal Dave recognized a woman from Cutler who was at the dock for the Puffin Tour. It turns our her son was the skipper on our boat! After lunch we walked down the trail through fields of lowbush blueberries to Jordon Pond in an attempt to work off our lunch. I followed that by a workout in the gift shop.

I was interested in Northeast Harbor, a small village outside the park that we had considered staying in while visiting this area, so we drove out of the park to check it out. I am so glad we did. The village is lined with gorgeous old estates facing the ocean but beyond the appeal of the views, the sailboats and the summer cottages, I discovered the Asticou Azalea Garden. This little gem of a garden sits quietly at a bend in the road overlooking the ocean. Charles Savage, owner of the Asticou Inn acquired the plantings that had been at Beatrix Farrand's Reef Point estate and with the help of John D. Rockefeller, established the Azalea and Thuja gardens. These Japanese inspired gardens were a wonderful little bonus in my already amazing day.

Dave and I were getting pretty tired so we took a load off and went on a horse drawn carriage ride with Carriages of Acadia touring the back roads in Acadia National Park. We were in a brand new Amish made carriage that had been delivered that morning from Pennsylvania. The Belgian draft horse team had also come from Amish country. This company has several carriages and twenty teams plus a spare so they offer many types of tours each day. Our hour long ride on rustic carriage trails created for John D. Rockefeller was so peaceful Dave fell asleep.

Acadia National Park is circumnavigated by a 27 mile long road called the Park Loop Road. This road takes you along oceanside cliffs and balsam scented mountain forests with plenty of pulloffs for photo-ops. It had been a long day and a long six weeks so we took the easy route and drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain for our end of the day outing. The haze from industrial pollution from states as far away as Pennsylvania obscured much of the distant mountains but when we reached the summit the 360 degree view was so spectacular that it almost didn't matter. The skies were clearer over the ocean and we could see that strong breezes filled sails on Frenchman Bay and out to the Cranberry Islands. It was here that Dave and I decided that we would return to spend a week exploring all the wonderful trails and entertainment options in this region. We had just enough energy left to walk the Shore Path in Bar Harbor and have a nice quiet dinner at Galyn's Restaurant, a cozy waterfront favorite in town.

July 18

At 5:30am the rooster informed me that it was another beautiful day. Of course he may have informed me much earlier but he would have been a dead rooster if I had heard him. Even so I managed to sleep later, get into the pool for my exercises, do a load of laundry and get on the road by 10am.

We drove to Camden for brunch at Boynton-McKay Food Co. This funky restaurant used to be an old apothecary and soda fountain, now its interior has been transformed to a seat yourself non waitress restaurant with fair trade organic coffees and excellent food. We later found out it was written up in Food Network Magazine...we know how to pick them! We spent a little time shopping and sightseeing in this cute little seaport town before taking a trip down memory lane for Dave in Bath Ironworks. There wasn't too much to see so we pushed on to Freeport for some more shopping damage before finally arriving in Wells where we quickly booked a room at the N'er Beach Motel, had an enormous dinner at Mike's Clam Shack and found my kids in Bill's house in Ogunquit .

July 19

I was up early for breakfast at the Pine Tree Farm Market Cafe, in Wells, a trendy little roadside cafe next door to our motel. Soon after Dave and I checked into The Colonial Resort By The Sea in Ogunquit and hit the beach with my grand babies.. We spent a wonderful day dipping toes in the cold ocean waters, watched members of my family swim with a disregard of the icy waters. We ended the day with a lobster feast with clams, corn on the cob and caprese salad followed by watermelon and ice cream. What says summer better?

July 20

We all enjoyed a great extended family breakfast at Merriland Farm Cafe out in Wells before heading to the Little Beach. I thoroughly enjoyed myself while spending a wonderful day with the babies and I finally ran fully into the ocean (it was up to 61 degrees!). The ocean is invigorating (even if you don't go in the water) and the hot sun can wear a body out (not to mention very active babies) so an afternoon rest followed by another nice family dinner (amid the invasion of Japanese beetles) and a walk into town was about all we could handle.

Week 7: July 21

The heat was rising rapidly in the early morning with projections of 90+ degrees in “cool” Maine so we took advantage of the shady veranda to have our coffee and breakfast before going to the beach. We walked down to the beach inhaling the sweet rugosa roses and the tangy salt air anxious to play with babies in the sand. And sand there was! The tide was out giving us the biggest beach yet and the river between the sandbar and the ocean was a warm 58 degrees....bath water (for some). I did run in and get submerged and then ran out to dry in the hot, uncommonly humid air to run in the sand with my little Hazel.

When it was time for Hazel's morning nap we decided to walk the Marginal Way into Perkins Cove. I couldn't go to Ogunquit without doing that walk at least once. As reported in a brochure: “In 1923 this magnificent strip of Maine coast 'on the margin' of the ocean was given to the town by Josiah Chase of New York. The 1 ¼ mile footpath offers breathtaking views of the bold Atlantic coast while winding past tangled honeysuckle and bittersweet bushes, gnarled shrubs of fragrant pink and white sea roses and shaded alcoves formed by wind twisted cedar trees.” In dreamlike fashion we walked along this path stopping at craggy ledges to watch sailboats drift on the ocean's swells and gulls cry out as they glided by above us. What I hadn't expected was the ferocious biting greenheads and deer flies and numerous Japanese beetles! In all the fifty plus years I have been coming here I don't ever remember this invasion of bugs.

The heat was rising rapidly so we all beat a path to the beach where I again ran into the cold ocean waters to cool off. I watched from the shore as my adult children and their spouses, one by one, stood on the stand up paddle board and paddled out on the sea. I knew that I was not likely to escape the pressure of doing it myself so yes, I finally strapped my right ankle into the safety harness, kneeled on the board and paddled out to sea. Nathan and Kate made it look so easy but the ocean swells and river currents made standing a strenuous business. On my knees I paddled out beyond the current of the river to a safer place to begin my paddle. Once up on the board I realized that I had to turn around or get my passport for entry into Spain. Turning around was no easy task and required a lot more effort and balance than I had expected, but between kneeling and standing I paddled my little craft around and headed into shore. I only fell off once when trying to catch a wave but felt I did pretty well until I landed and was told that the lifeguard focused his binoculars between me and my family wondering if he needed to paddle out to rescue me.

Exhausted from my adventure, I spent the rest of the afternoon chasing little Hazel on the rock-strewn sandy beach as the tide came rolling in. When the heat became oppressive in the late afternoon we all left the beach to prepare for dinner and our farewells. The only saving grace for my leaving my children and grand babies was that I was going to see a long time friend in nearby South Berwick, but leaving these sweet babies was not easy.

We drove along the beautiful winding Shore Road from Ogunquit to York Harbor with its magnificent old homes and panoramic views of the rocky coast of Maine. I stopped on Route 1 at the York Corner Gardens veggie stand for some fresh raspberries, organic basil and other yummy veggies before dining on the York Harbor River at Bosn's Landing. After dinner we followed my friend Sally's directions to her home in South Berwick driving over bucolic country roads, past farmlands, salt marshes and classic New England homes. We passed a stately gray saltbox home overlooking a peaceful marshland on the way into this charming village where I finally reconnected with my friend Sally and her husband Maury.

July 22

Good friends, good conversations and spiritual re connections were had with my amazing friend Sally and her husband Maury. We stayed cool inside while the thermometer reached around 98 degrees outside on the usually cool border of Maine and New Hampshire. And then we left for home!

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9th September 2012
Puffins!

Awesome photo!

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