Archive for July, 2015

Girl’s Weekend (With Puffins, et als)

The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica).  It's hard not to anthropomorphize this bird.  Flying football or Clown of the Sea; they are endearing.

The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). It’s hard not to anthropomorphize this bird. Flying Football or Clown of the Sea; they are endearing.

I got together with three bird banding friends for a girl’s weekend, leaving husbands, children and pets to fend for themselves while we birded north coastal Maine.  Our ringleader had arranged for us to visit Machias Seal Island, a sanctuary for nesting Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Common Murres, Arctic Terns, Common Eiders and Savannah Sparrows.  This proved to be the very most fun of our very fun weekend.

I loved the Puffins but the Common Murres really fascinated me.  I've  not had many opportunities to see them and they've only been breeding here for a few years.  About 10% of the birds we saw were

I loved the Puffins but the Common Murres really fascinated me. I’ve not had many opportunities to see them and they’ve only been breeding here for a few years. About 10% of the birds we saw were “Bridled” having the white eye ring and streak. The non-bridled birds had a crease there, but no white feathering.

Due to the restrictions on visitors (only 15 people at a time) and the popularity of the trip, she had made our reservations several months earlier.  A little risky, but the day was as calm as our Captain Andy had seen all year and the sky was clear.  We set out from Cutler, Maine for the 10 mile trip to the island.  Its ownership is in dispute between the US and Canada but no one asked for our passports, so not a problem for us.  We had a brief orientation next to nesting Arctic Terns and then were taken to blinds in the midst of all the thousands of birds.  The next hour was heaven.  The birds were so close we could almost touch them.  What a thrill to see them going about their daily interactions, oblivious of us, lurking in the blind.  We saw birds enter burrows from time to time but they spent most of the time just loafing on the rocks, seeming to chat with their neighbors.

Razorbills:  I had a chance to see the lovely white markings at close hand.  What a delight!

Razorbills: I had a chance to see the lovely white markings at close hand. What a delight!

This is a trip every birder should consider.  The birds seemed undisturbed by our presence and it was a rare opportunity for a glimpse into their lives without disrupting them.

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Visit to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons

This lonely barn is near where I saw my

This lonely barn is near where I saw my “life” Sage Thrasher, one of seven life birds for the trip.

I must admit that Yellowstone/Grand Tetons had not been high on my list of places to visit until my friend wolf biologist Cristina Eisenberg told me about the birds and wildlife in the Lamar Valley and the positive effects the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone.  I wasn’t able to attend either of her two seminars there in May, but we traveled there in early June with friends and I found it’s much more than Old Faithful.  The geothermal features were interesting to be sure but we found them crowded with tourists even so early in the season.

Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the U.S., was strangely beautiful.

Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the U.S., was strangely beautiful.

The wildlife was the thing.  The Lamar Valley was instantly recognizable from PBS Nature shows.  It is a true wilderness, sliced through by a road that allows one to view the animals with minimal impact on their lives.  It was the birthing season and the valley was alive with Bison calves known as Red Dogs.  We also saw the harsh side, when we came across a calf next to its dead mother, a certain meal for a wolf.

Bison mothers and calves

Bison mothers and calves

We also got a chance to visit friends Connie and Frank Madia who spend the summers serving as camp hosts in the Indian Creek Campground.  They had an American Dipper family at the entrance bridge and we spent at least an hour watching as the parents came and went on the rushing stream with food for their chicks.  We located a pair of Trumpeter Swans  along the banks of the Madison River.  These Swans have come back from near extinction and the Park has high hopes they will nest along the river.

High hopes that this pair will nest here.

This pair may return nesting Trumpeter Swans to Yellowstone.

We had a close encounter with a Black Bear and her three cubs when we encountered them in a grassy glen about 30 feet off the trail on the Roosevelt Lost Lake hike.  All ended well when we backed gingerly away and bushwacked around the area, giving them their privacy.  This was for me the highlight of the trip.

The wildflowers were lovely.  I saw an exquisite little orchid I didn’t recognize on the Lost Lake hike which I later identified as a Fairy Slipper Orchid (Calypso bulbosa).

Fairy Slipper Orchids along the Lost Lake Trail.

Fairy Slipper Orchids along the Lost Lake Trail.

Not all the wildlife was truly wild.  We did not feed this friendly Raven but clearly someone has been.

Not all the wildlife was truly wild. We did not feed this friendly Raven but clearly someone has been.

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