Let me begin by sending a huge THANK YOU to the Board members of Presque Isle Audubon Society for granting me the scholarship to the Audubon’s Hog Island Joy of Birding camp in June. My husband, Charles Houpt, decided to come along and participate also. So we set off with binoculars and cameras and field guides packed and at the ready. After a side trip to the ER at a hospital in Maine for an eye problem I was having, we arrived at the Audubon center and the dock where the Snow Goose waited to ferry us out to Hog Island.
Scott Weidensaul was on the island to greet us and give us an orientation talk. “Author and naturalist Scott Weidensaul has written more than two dozen books on natural history, including Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds (a Pulitzer Prize finalist), The Ghost with Trembling Wings and Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding. His next book, The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America, is due out in the spring of 2012. Scott’s writing has appeared in publications including Smithsonian, the New York Times , Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife and Audubon . He lectures widely on wildlife and environmental topics and is an active field researcher, specializing in birds of prey and hummingbirds. Scott lives in the Appalachians of eastern Pennsylvania.” See http://www.scottweidensaul.com
After we settled into our room, Charlie and I took a walk around the island to view some of the scenery. We were delighted to see the Osprey-cam set-up behind the dining hall building. This is the nest that the whole world could watch online as the dutiful parents fed, groomed and protected their younglings!
We paused often to get looks at the birdlife, seals and scenery. Typical New England rock outcroppings; Indian pipes blooming amid moss and lichens.
On the first evening we gathered in the Fish House for introductions and details of our schedule and activities for the week. Scott Weidensaul discussed the line-up and conducted the orientation. The program presented Sunday evening was Steven Kress telling about Saving Seabirds and the story behind the protection of the Puffins and other seabirds.
We were up bright and early Monday morning for a nature walk before breakfast. One of the many interesting botanical sites included this small bog with pitcher plants in bloom. And a very popular bird site that week was a well-hidden Northern Parula nest. The nesting Parulas posed all week for the photographers.
One of the first life birds we got was the Black Guillemot. They celebrate this bird with a Guillemot Appreciation Day midway through the week. We all were given red felt Guillemot feet to wear all day. This photo shows one in breeding plumage. When we went out on the Snow Goose on some of our excursions, we saw plenty of seals.
After breakfast we went ashore for a field trip on the mainland. One of our week’s leaders was Lang Elliott, who is the most prolific birdsong recorder. If you have any bird song ID programs, chances are you have Lang to thank for the recordings.
“Lang Elliott’s numerous audio compact discs and books featuring the sounds of nature have been purchased and enjoyed by at least a quarter million people. Lang authored, mastered, and provided most of the field recordings for the well-known Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs, Eastern Region and provided field recordings and photographs for books accompanied by audio compact dics, including Common Birds and Their Songs, Music of the Birds: A Celebration of Bird Song, The Songs of Wild Birds, The Songs of Insects and, most recently, The Frogs and Toads of North America.” See http://www.langelliott.com.
One of the stops during our busy day was at Camp Mummichog where we saw Bobolinks galore amid the raindrops! Unfortunately, I was unable to get a good shot of one, but you can see the habitat they can be found in.
Common Eiders feed on mollusks and nest on the rocky islands of the area. A mixed flock of Double-crested Cormorants, Great Cormorants and Eiders on Eastern Egg Rock.
Puffins! At Eastern Egg Rock. These are the little guys that so many people have worked so hard to save in the Gulf of Maine.
“The National Audubon Society started Project Puffin in 1973 in an effort to learn how to restore puffins to historic nesting islands in the Gulf of Maine. At that time, literally all the puffin eggs in Maine were in two baskets – Matinicus Rock and Machias Seal Island. Although puffins are not an endangered species (they are abundant in Newfoundland, Iceland, and Britain), they are rare in Maine. The two surviving colonies were very vulnerable to a disaster such as an oil spill, or accidental establishment of predators such as rats or mink.
“The Project began with an attempt to restore puffins to Eastern Egg Rock in Muscongus Bay, about six miles east of Pemaquid Point. Puffins had nested there until about 1885 when hunters took the last survivors of this once-flourishing colony. The restoration of puffins to Eastern Egg Rock is based on the fact that young puffins usually return to breed on the same island where they hatched.
Young puffins from Great Island, Newfoundland (where about 160,000 pairs nest) were transplanted to Eastern Egg Rock when they were about 10 – 14 days old. The young puffins were then reared in artificial sod burrows for about one month. Audubon biologists placed handfuls of vitamin-fortified fish in their burrows each day and, in effect, took the place of parent puffins. As the young puffins reached fledging age (the time when birds leave the nest), they received leg bands so they could be recognized in the future. After spending their first 2-3 years at sea, it was hoped they would return to establish a new colony at Eastern Egg Rock rather than Great Island. Because this was the first time an attempt had been made to restore a puffin colony, the outcome was unknown.
Between 1973 and 1986, 954 young puffins were transplanted from Great Island to Eastern Egg Rock and 914 of these successfully fledged. Transplanted puffins began returning to Eastern Egg Rock in June of 1977. To lure them ashore and encourage the birds to explore nesting habitat, wooden puffin decoys were positioned atop large boulders. These were readily visited by the curious young birds, which often sat with the models and pecked at their stiff wooden beaks. The number of young puffins slowly increased. In 1981, four pairs nested beneath boulders at the edge of the island. The colony has since increased to 90 pairs as of 2007.
In 1984, National Audubon Society and the Canadian Wildlife Service began a similar puffin restoration project at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in outer Penobscot Bay (6 miles east of Matinicus Rock). Hundreds of puffins once nested at this large mid-coast Maine puffin colony, but hunting for food and feathers decimated this colony by 1887. Between 1984 and 1989, 950 puffin chicks were transplanted from Great Island Newfoundland, to Seal Island and 912 of these fledged. Seven pairs returned to nest in 1992 – eight years after the project began. The colony has rapidly increased to more than 300 pairs by 2007.”
Project Puffin is based in Ithaca, NY at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Todd Wildlife Sanctuary on mid-coast Maine. Read Egg Rock Update for the lastest news – http://www.projectpuffin.org/ERU.html.
Here is an end of the day view from the porch of our lodge. Each sunset was beautiful.
For several days, a Luna Moth took up residence on our lodge’s stairway railing during the day. Other insect and plants of interest included a White Admiral butterfly and an Indian Cucumber-root-the tallest specimen I think I’ve seen at about 24+ inches.
Two of our leaders for the week were Julie Zickefoose and her husband, Bill Thompson, III. Julie is a widely published natural history writer and artist. Educated at Harvard University in biology and art, she worked for six years as a field biologist for the Nature Conservancy before turning to a freelance art career. Her observations on the natural history and behavior of birds stem from more than three decades of experience in the field. She has presented illustrated lectures for nature organizations and festivals across the country, and exhibited her paintings at universities, museums, galleries, and in juried shows. Her husband, Bill Thompson III, is the editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest. He’s also a keen birder, the author of many books, a field trip leader, and an ecotourism consultant. See http://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/billbiography.php and http://www.juliezickefoose.com.
Sarah Morris and Tom Johnson both participants in the Puffin Project were also leaders for the week. Sara R. Morris is a professor of Biology and the Director of the Environmental Science Program at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. Tom Johnson is a graduate of Cornell University who spends almost all of his time pursuing birds. In addition to serving on two state bird records committees, Tom writes for several birding and ornithological publications.
One of the unexpected surprises of the week, a delightful surprise, was the cuisine. Gourmet! Our final meal was served outdoors (fresh lobster for the omnivores, and vegetarian choices for those of us who are vegetarians.
And Janni was our colorful chef! In the interest of conserving water, we each had assigned clothespins for hanging and reusing our cloth napkins.
The end of the week came all to quickly. I hope to return someday.
Posted by Lee Ann Reiners