Sunday, July 13, 2014

Two weeks left

As of last night, we have two weeks left on Kent Island. Time really does seem to fly by. Everyone is in the final stages of data collecting or panicking because they don't have data. In my case, it's the latter. Nothing has really settled out on my settlement plates, which is concerning since I will be leaving shortly. Not that this is a bad sign - it's still data that I'm getting (that nothing is settling out between late May and late July). I will be coming back to Kent Island in mid-September to do a final look at my plates. It is at this point that I hope to see some growth; I believe that the season for planktonic dispersal and settlement is much, much later than in Casco Bay (where we have another settlement plate in the water) due to colder water swinging around the tip of Nova Scotia west into the Bay of Fundy. Since a lot of organisms seem to need 10-14 degree Celsius water to spawn, we could just not be getting that kind of water here (although they can live in much colder water).

We went on a day trip to Seal Machias Island, a tiny islet southwest of Grand Manan which is disputed between the US and Canada. It is administered, in a way, by Canada since they have two or three people living there year round to operate the light house (last manned one on the eastern seaboard) and to ostensibly prevent the Yanks from coming in and setting up camp. The island is also home to thousands upon thousands of Puffins (largest in the Gulf of Maine), Razorbills, and Murres all congregating around this tiny rock like northern penguins, only capable of flight. I did not have a telephoto lens with me at the time, so a lot of my pics are from a distance but I am including one or two from my friend Jackson ( who had a zoom lens at the time. As a final bonus, we saw an extremely rare accidental species from the Pacific, the Tufted Puffin. It hasn't been seen in the Atlantic since 1830, which has attracted an immigration en masse to Grand Manan to seek it out (apparently news travels among birding circles faster than CNN breaks stories) However, the magnitude of the task of finding a single, slightly larger puffin with a black breast and yellow hair tufts really dawned on me when we got to Seal Machias. But the unwavering eye of one of our birder Kent Islanders found the one puffin amidst thousands.
We are getting some of our lowest tides this summer this week, allowing me to walk out to a ledge which normally appears to be a kilometer or more offshore. While not so dramatic as in the cliff locations on Grand Manan, the tides at Kent Island are extraordinary in the amount of dry land they uncover. When you are down in the intertidal, you look all around to a lunar landscape of undulating hillocks and boulders stretching over acres and acres.

View from same Western ledge. Gannet rock lighthouse out in the distance (about 2-3 nautical miles away)

Gannet rock close up. Note the giant storm wall in front of the light-keepers house, to prevent massive storm surf from destroying the buildings.
An assortment of Murres (narrow-billed) and Razorbills (thick bills with white stripe) on Machias Seal. It's fascinating how they all sit with one another in complete harmony (in contrast the anarchic cacophony of a gull colony).

One of the more amusing things about any of the Alcids (the family of puffins, razorbills, auks, murres, guillemots, etc.) is that while they seem to tolerate a close presence, they clearly begin to get nervous as you penetrate through their comfort perimeter. They will shit around until one individual with less nerves than the others will let out a despairing little squawk and will bodily heave itself into the air. As if they were waiting to see who's more chicken, the rest of the birds will follow quickly afterwards, relieved that they had not caved to this pressure to soon.

A flotilla of razorbills

Only decent photo of puffins I could take.

When in flight, puffins splay their red feet out behind them, making them look completely ridiculous.

The rare, Pacific Tufted Puffin taking off to the left. Photo by Jackson Bloch.
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