HOLDEN – Recently, 90 members of the Maine Audubon Society boarded a boat in Bar Harbor in the dark at 5 a.m. on their way to find birds far out at sea. Some left home at 3:30 a.m., others spent the night in Bar Harbor in order to be ready in time. The boat was the Friendship V, usually a whale-watching catamaran. This time, birds were the target of its quest.
The goal was to go far offshore to see birds that spend their entire lives flying on and swimming in the ocean. These birds need land only to build nests, lay eggs and raise young. They can’t do that on the waves. However, once the young learn to fly, it’s out to sea for a life of wind and water.
The boat headed into the Gulf of Maine, the area between Nova Scotia and Cape Cod. Slowly the sky grew lighter and the sun rose. The sky was cloudy and the forecast was for rain, so travelers were delighted to see the sun at dawn.
Participants also were delighted when they saw the first birds of the ocean. They were greater shearwaters, birds with a beautiful way of flying – with wings outstretched in an arc, one wing high, body tilted, the other wing almost but not quite touching the water. They often soar that way in the trough between two waves, hence the name “shearwater.”
Their flight is so beautiful, a birder who lives far inland and comes on this annual Audubon trip said, “Once you see the first shearwater, it’s all worth it.”
Another intriguing aspect of greater shearwaters is that they build their nests in December, on the Falkland Islands off Argentina. December is summer there. Thus they live in eternal summer by coming to the Gulf of Maine in June.
Puffins delighted the birders, too. Several birds were spotted sitting on the water close to the boat, near enough to see their colorful bills. Puffins nest on several Maine islands, and spend October through April far out in the North Atlantic. Unlike the shearwaters, they spend their lives in one hemisphere.
Puffins and shearwaters were only two of the oceanic stars of the show. Birders also saw four whale species, including the rare right whale; porpoises, many more oceanic and land birds, and even monarch butterflies on their way to Mexico.
The forecast of rain held off until participants were well on their way back to shore.
For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.