Sunday the 9th I was determined to see Atlantic Puffins and to try for the Red-billed Tropicbird at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge. Tropicbirds are rare off the U.S. Coast but especially this far North. They are usually found in tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern Pacific. “Troppy”, as he is known, has been coming to this area for the summer for many years. I guess I’m not the only one who thinks coastal Maine is pretty nice in the summer!
Seal Island is a 65 acre refuge, home to colonies of Arctic Terns, Puffins, Great Cormorants, Common Terns and Guillemots. It’s a great destination. There’s only one minor problem–you can only access it by private charter. I contacted John Drury who has been running birders out to the island for years and we made a date to meet at 2 p.m. on Sunday in Vinalhaven.
I took the ferry to Vinalhaven with plenty of time on my hands. This entire area is dotted with rocky islands, lighthouses and beautiful water. The town of Vinalhaven is a quaint fishing village accessible by ferry. The ferry ride itself is a treat and walking around the island makes you feel like you stepped back in time. I could have stayed there all day but Puffins were calling.
It was sunny and warm. A far cry from the damp fog the night before. John picked me up at the docks and away we went. As soon as we started approaching Seal Island, the sky was busy with Arctic and Common Terns, and Northern Gannets. Puffins, Razorbills and Black Guillemots zoomed by. My senses were overwhelmed as I tried to take it all in. Any of these birds are great to see alone. Here, I had an assortment of goodies.
I was oohing and aahing as soon as I saw the Puffins, snapping pictures like crazy. For a minute forgetting the most important bird of all.
We came out mid-afternoon because that’s when John had been having the best luck finding “Troppy”. We circled the island but there was no sign of him. Meanwhile, I was entertained with all of the nesting activity going on. This is one of the few places you can see nesting Great Cormorants.
On our second pass, we found him. I see a lot of beautiful birds but I can’t imagine anyone not being impressed with a Tropicbird in flight. What a beauty.
We hung out on the waters near Vinalhaven and I was able to add a Manx Shearwater to my year list. Our adventure took about 4 hours so I missed the last ferry back to Rockland. John was shocked when I told him I hadn’t made a reservation for a plane ride back to the mainland. As you guys might have figured out by now, I kinda go with the flow. Mind you, I had a 6 a.m. flight out of Bangor to head to Nome, Alaska.
John dropped me off at the airstrip after a quick call. I waited there in an open field for about an hour, no plane showed up. There was a pay phone so I called the company and they were waiting for me on the mainland!! They finally picked me up at 8 p.m. as the sun was setting. I was their last passenger!
I was able to add 3 birds to my list after taking a car to a ferry, a ferry to a private charter, the charter to a puddle jumper, the plane to a taxi, the taxi to my rental car, my rental to the airport.
I slept 5 hours and boarded my first of 5 planes headed to Nome, Alaska. As I type this, I’m ready to board my last plane from Anchorage to Nome where Lynn Barber is waiting for me to join her. A very special bird is hopefully waiting for us as well.