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December 18, 2018

Maine & New Brunswick with

Blount Small Ship Adventures

by Matthew C. Perry

 

 I knew the cruise with Blount Small Ship Adventures up the Northeast coast to New Brunswick would be exciting, but I underestimated the trip. It was truly outstanding from the moment I approached the ship moored on a pier in Boston and met our nature guide, Laura Blandford. Laura is an experienced naturalist resulting from her many diverse and widespread jobs with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other government agencies, and local conservations organizations. But more about Laura later.

Docked in Boston, MA


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Their motto, “go where the big ships cannot” is certainly true. But after dragging luggage for several blocks I was ready for a cold beer!! Blount provides free beer and wine for lunch and dinner, and also has a great BYOB policy for social hour before dinner and other times. After walking a mile with a fellow traveler, Jim Gatlin, we finally found a Walgreens and there purchased a 12 pack of Boston’s famous Sam Adams lager for the cruise.

 

Back aboard ship we got ready for the social hour and dinner. I had been on two Blount cruises (both to Belize) and was aware of the advantage of making close friends during this relaxing period. Several of my home town friends had arrived from Rhode Island, where Blount is headquartered, and there also were several folks aboard, whom I had met on my trips to Belize. Blount officials had asked me to give some lectures while underway, and as a biologist I was eager to talk with Laura to learn more about her experiences. We had made some plans for nature trips and had arranged for local naturalists to give lectures at three ports to enrich the experience for the other travelers.

Nesting colony of double -crested cormorants on an island in the Kennebec River. Note guano-covered rocks, typical on cormorant roosting and nesting sites. Photo by Homer Shell.

The ship, under the command of the very competent and gracious Peter DiMarco, got underway early on July 11, 2018, and we headed north towards Maine. We cruised up the Kennebec River getting close sights of beautiful shorelines, lighthouses, and an eagle nest with adult and young. We arrived at Bath, our first port call, around noon and after lunch had the mandatory safety movie and lecture. We then headed off to enjoy the sights in town. One group toured the Maine Maritime Museum, which is located on the site where numerous wooden ships were constructed including the world’s largest, the Wyoming. Another group gathered with local naturalist Derek Lovitch for a nature walk. Derek is a biologist and has written several books about birding in Maine as well as being owner of the Wild Bird Supply shop in Freeport. 

 

From our ship moored in Bath, we traveled by bus back to the mouth of the Kennebec River and visited an old Civil War structure Fort Popham. We looked for birds near the fort and saw many of the common ones expected in that area. We then traveled to the Popham Beach State Park where we hoped to see the rare least terns and piping plovers. We saw the fences around least tern nesting sites, but unfortunately no least terns. Common terns, gulls, and several shorebird species were spotted, and after a long walk on sand we were rewarded with a young piping plover at close range. It appeared that the young plover was deserted, but we soon spotted the parents keeping a close eye on us. After dinner that night Derek gave an interesting talk about birds of Maine and some of the more unique experiences he has had with birds.

                                                                                         Bald eagle adult and eaglet on nest of island in the Kennebec River. Photo by Homer Shell.

 

We left Bath, Maine, early on a beautiful morning, while getting a good view of the Bath shipyard, where several U.S. Navy ships were being constructed. After clearing the rocky islands with many birds at the mouth of the Kennebec River, the captain made a slight detour, so we could go by Eastern Egg Rock Island on our way to Rockland. Most travelers were on the upper deck where they could get good views of puffins, razorbills, and common murres. We also got our first view of the Arctic tern and two new species of gulls (laughing and ring-billed) to bring our gull species to four. Laura gave travelers a good explanation on the work she had done on the island hiding in a blind to observe the puffins nesting in burrows in the ground or between rocks.

 

Shortly after breakfast I was on the upper deck and spotted a tall sailing ship on the horizon about a mile away, which was headed south. I asked the assistant captain, John Medeiros, if he could determine what ship it was. He checked his radar and in seconds told me it was the Rhode Island sailing ship vessel, Oliver Hazard Perry. This ship home ported in Newport, RI, is the official state ship of RI. I had been on this ship in Newport at a fund-raising event two weeks earlier. The ship was named for one of my ancestors, Commodore Perry of Lake Erie fame, and one of my sons was named for the Commodore.

 

After lunch travelers on the cruise had an option to go on a nature trip or an historical and cultural tour of Rockland. The tour of Rockland included the working waterfront that supports a thriving lobster industry and a visit the Farnsworth Art Museum. The Museum featured works of Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. The nature tour lead by Laura included a visit to the headquarters of the Maine Coastal Island Wildlife Refuge, where we met the staff and learned of their restoration and management efforts with colonial nesting birds. We then traveled to the Weskeag Marsh and saw a variety of coastal and fresh-water wetland birds, including black ducks and several shorebird species. After the walk we boarded the bus and headed to the Project Puffin Visitor Center, where we received an informative PowerPoint program about the Project Puffin. This restoration project was the idea and has been led by Dr. Stephen Kress since the mid-1970s. The staff at the Visitor Center emphasized the dominant involvement of Dr. Kress with the program.

 

Dr. Steve Kress and family (center) at dinner with Matt and Georgia Perry (left)
and Laura Blanford and her mother Vivian Kennedy (right).

 We learned he and a crew had transported “pufflings” to the island from active puffin colonies in Canada and how several years later they had used wooden puffin decoys to lure the adult wild puffins back to the island. The techniques have since been used in Japan and Sweden to help reestablish populations of species on island habitats. Dr. Kress and his wife and daughter joined us for a pleasant dinner, and later that evening he gave a detailed lecture about the long-term program. He willingly signed copies of his book, Project Puffin, which described his long restoration project with this unique bird.

The ship left Rockland shortly after midnight and arrived in Eastport around lunch time. While enroute we spotted several adult razorbills swimming alone with just one young. Laura explained that it was a common behavior among razorbills for the male to take a young to sea to learn feeding habits from the adult. We also saw some black guillemots with their distinctive white wing patches, which are visible in flight or when they are on the water.

Male razorbill with young. Photo by Homer Shell

 

 


In the afternoon travelers had a choice to either go on a town tour of Eastport or go on a nature tour. The town tour included the historic Raye’s mustard mill (4th generation local business) and views of salmon farming pens and a modern indoor lobster pound. The town guide shared stories of the great fire in 1886 as well as the “Old Sow” in the bay, which is claimed to be the largest whirlpool caused by tidal action in the world. Those travelers interested in nature were joined by Chris Bartlett, who led a nice trip along the Sipayik Trail leading to the Pleasant Point Reservation, which has a 4000-year history in this area for Native Americans. Along the trail we got good views of several cedar waxwings, showing their distinctive red marks on their wings, several new warbler species, and the highlight of the walk, a Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrow.

The Sipayik Trail also had many plant species in full bloom, including fireweed and red clover, which provided good nectar-feeding sites for butterflies and bees. Red elderberry displayed their scarlet red berries, which also provide food for migrating and wintering birds. That night Chris Bartlett joined us for a lobster dinner and then gave a lecture about his work with the Maine Sea Grant College Program.

At 6 AM on Saturday July 14th the ship was underway and going a short distance farther north to Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada, arriving around 7:30 AM. Most folks on the ship had signed up for the two tours to Campobello Island and the Grand Manan tour, which proved to be truly grand!! Campobello Island is located at the entrance of Passamaquoddy Bay, which has the well-photographed lighthouse with a red cross on it. The island is famous as the summer vacation area for President Franklin Roosevelt. His historic home, which had 34 rooms was called a “cottage.” The beautiful residence is on Canadian land, but is managed jointly by our two governments and is the only U.S. national park not in the USA.

President Roosevelt’s summer “cottage” on Campobello Island

Lobster pots and old fish packing house on Grand Manan Island

On Grand Manan we visited the Grand Manan Museum, which had extensive interesting displays and was very well interpreted. Of special interest for many of the nature lovers on the trip was an old collection of mounted birds that were native to the area. The stuffed birds were the personal collection of Alan Moses, who donated the collection to the museum. His life and wildlife conservation efforts are detailed in the book, Wings Over the Sea, by L. K. Ingersoll.

On Grand Manan island we also visited a private family business that was processing red dulse, a type of seaweed. They had large areas of the seaweed over an area of small rocks drying in the sun. In the small shop they had the finished product packaged in bottles and plastic bags for sale. The business also had a room where two men were very busy separating periwinkles by size for sale as human food mainly in the Asian markets. Our last stop on Grand Manan was an old herring fish processing area. The deserted buildings were a reminder of a very active fishing business in the past. Although the area was picturesque it was also sad to realize how humans have overfished the oceans, which reduces the food available to us as well as our feathered friends.

St. Andrews, NB

While traveling to and from Saint Andrews and to the islands we were lucky to have many sightings of shearwaters (great and sooty) and the Wilson’s storm petrel. The shearwaters typically cut through the surface of the water to capture fish, while the petrels more delicately “walk” on the water while capturing fish. The petrels were named for Saint Peter for their ability to walk on the water. The birding enthusiasts were also happy to record the Bonaparte’s gull and a gull relative the black-legged kittiwake. Throughout the trip, especially in the northern portions, we had good sightings of fin and minke whales, harbor and gray seals, and the playful harbor porpoise. Our sightings of marine birds and mammals were greatly magnified by the experience and great eyes of Laura, obtained from years of survey work along the Atlantic coast.

The tides in Eastport and in Saint Andrews had the largest magnitude (30-50 feet) of any of the ports. The ship’s crew had to move the gangplank to various levels on the ship to aid in our departure and access. At low tide we experienced the close viewing on the exposed piers of many of the marine organisms that provide food to the birds of the Atlantic. Especially common at low tide were the green sea urchins and the Atlantic plate limpets.

In the water in these northern areas we also saw the numerous jellyfish especially the comb and cross jellyfish, but also the rarer lion’s mane jellyfish. Jellyfish are important food for many marine birds and mammals. Unfortunately, many species, especially the albatrosses, cannot distinguish plastic debris at sea from live jellyfish. There is much documentation and many pictures of types of plastic waste found in the stomachs of dead albatross nestlings that came from their parents feeding them plastic they mistakenly obtained in the vast oceans.

Green sea urchins and plate limpets on pier structure at Bar Harbor. Photo by Homer Shell

Lion’s mane jellyfish and cross jellyfish seen near ship in St. Andrews, NB. Photo by Homer Shell

Around 9 AM on July 16th we arrived in Bar Harbor. Acadia National Park is accessible from Bar Harbor and was a must-see area for many of the travelers on the cruise. The park and Bar Harbor are both located on Mount Desert Island and the park is much bigger than Bar Harbor. We stopped at Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the eastern coast, where we enjoyed great views of the area. An interesting natural sight was Thunder Hole, where rushing water from the ocean was forced into a narrow rock crevasse making a thundering sound and much white surf. There are many small islands surrounding Acadia National Park and a view we enjoyed and photographed were unique “cloud blankets” that covered the islands.

Our last port of call before returning to Boston was Portland. Although we had had great weather for the whole trip, our luck finally changed, and we had a rainy day. We cancelled the nature walk to Scarborough Marsh and folks were on their own to tour the town or remain onboard. Those that stayed onboard had good views of a small group of common eiders diving and feeding underwater on organisms clinging to the pier structure. Their food was probably blue mussels, which is the main food of eiders in this area.

Throughout the Maine /New Brunswick cruise there were many opportunities for outstanding photography for amateurs as well as professionals. This cruise had an additional attraction enjoyed by the travelers as we had a professional photographer, Scott Snell, onboard. Scott was using a drone to photograph the coast, especially lighthouses, and the ship moving along the coast. He created an impressive video that he showed to the travelers near the end of the cruise, including some very close views we could only see with binoculars. Scott’s video and talk were an education for many as were other talks at night. On several nights during the social hour or after dinner, we were entertained by fellow traveler John Bercaw, an accomplished jazz pianist, who entertained us on his large personal keyboard that accompanies him when he travels.

On July 18th we arrived back in Boston around noon after an exciting cruise along the Northeast coast. In the afternoon travelers had options to tour the Boston Aquarium or go on a Duck Boat Tour on land and water. Reports by the travelers were very positive for both activities. That night we had a farewell party and dinner, and then an interesting traditional gift-exchanging game called, Yankee Swap. During the 10-day cruise we had made many new friends, seen historic sites, observed interesting and sometimes rare wildlife, and had found plenty of time just to relax. Many of the travelers had been on previous Blount small ship cruises and a common expression as we said goodbye was, “see you on another cruise.”

 

  

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