Friday, June 29, 2012

Puffin Watch Cruise

Atlantic white-sided dolphins in Muscongus Bay
Atlantic white-sided dolphins

Headed out on a gorgeous summer night to see puffins with the Audubon naturalist on the Hardy III out of New Harbor. The boat leaves every evening at 5:30 PM. The captain does several slow loops around Eastern Egg Rock and there is plenty to see! We were sighting puffins gliding low, almost touching the water, as they headed out to fish and then flew back in with their catch. 

The dolphins above followed the boat for awhile and then headed back out to sea. The naturalist on board said he had never seen this type of dolphin in Muscongus Bay. It was a rare sighting and very exciting for everyone. There were 3-4 separate groups with 5-12 individuals in each group. They larked around, disappearing as we got close to them and then reappearing to chase the boat's wake.

I had to wedge myself between the seats and the boat to steady myself enough to get even this photo.

black guillemots
Black guillemots
On Eastern Egg Rock itself were hundreds of black guillemots, terns, gulls and puffins. These black guillemots were sunning themselves in the last evening rays. We saw eider ducklings in the water, terns zipping around everywhere, laughing gulls and cormorants.

naturalist bird blind
Naturalist in blind

Every summer naturalists come to the 'island' (all 7 acres of it) to study the nesting and feeding habits of the migratory birds. If you've got a sharp eye, you can spy out a naturalist hiding on one of the blinds. This one is surrounded by terns. The puffins nest in caves in the rocks. This blind is overlooking a series of puffin nests. As they fly in with a beakful of herring, the puffins land on the rocks and then scramble down into the nest cave.

In case you were wondering- the birds stop chattering around 11 PM and start back up around 4 AM. The naturalists sleep with ear plugs! They mentioned the sound of the bird droppings hitting the tents is quite loud.

Muscongus Bay lobster buoys
Lobster buoys in Muscongus Bay at New Harbor, Maine
Everywhere we went in the bay were hundreds of lobster buoys marking the traps where tonight's dinner was waiting to be hauled up! It is a wonderful ride out onto the bay. The scenery is fantastic. Monhegan Island is off in the distance and the Camden Hills are visible to the west.

Eastern Egg Rock puffin
The star of the show- the puffin!
I did get one photo of a puffin in the water. They are fast in flight and I am slow with the camera! My good fortune was this one just hanging out. The water is a deep, vibrant blue. Wonderfully relaxing!

Besides the birds and the dolphins, we also saw harbor seals. Whales have also been spotted on the cruise. But, it's all nature so no guarantees you're going to see the same thing someone else saw!

When you go, here are some helpful hints from yours truly- 
  • Bring a jacket, you may not need it at first but you will if the sun isn't shining right on you. 
  • Bring binoculars, it would have been a lot easier for me to see the birds with binocs. (Which I should have learned from the raptor watch on Bradbury Mountain!)
  • You really need a 400mm+ lens for closeups. The boat rocks quite a bit so bring along someone who can hang onto you while you take the photos!
  • Parking is a 1/4 mile walk from the dock, so plan ahead.You MUST park at the ballfield so if someone has a problem walking, drop them off and go back to park the car.
  • It takes a solid hour to drive from here to New Harbor. It will take longer when it's high summer.
  • Conditions on the bay vary. It was pretty calm when I went out but there were still waves and bumpiness.
  • Sit topside either port or starboard. You get the best view that way! It is not easy to stand while the boat is underway.
  • Drinks and snacks are available on the boat and you can have dinner at Shaw's when you get back.
  • There are bathrooms on the boat.
  • Reservations needed! Here's the website for Hardy Cruises.
As always, you can click each photo above and make it larger.

For more information about puffins, check out Project Puffin. For a seasonally available puffin cam, check out the puffin loafing ledge.

White Cedar Inn Bed and Breakfast 178 Main St Freeport, Maine 04032

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