Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Machias Seal Island & A Morning With Puffins

Machias Seal Island is located about 10 miles off the Maine coast in one direction, and 10 miles off the coast of Grand Manan Island in the other.  Grand Manan is part of New Brunswick, Canada, and is about twelve miles long and maybe 5 miles wide.

There are two tour companies who are permitted to bring tourists to Machias Seal Island.  One is out of Cutler, ME, and the other is Sea Watch Tours, which operates out of Grand Manan and which we took a puffin cruise with last Saturday.  Each company can bring 15 tourists, six days a week, during puffin nesting season.  The Maine cruise is booked until next spring, which is why we were brave and adventurous, and went with the Grand Manan cruise.  It too is mostly filled; however, because of the extra effort needed to get to Grand Manan, and for Americans to get across the border, it does have a few openings.  We happened to snag two of them.

Machias Seal Island is actually a disputed territory, and has been for over a hundred years.  Both Canada and the U.S. want it - not so much for the actual island, but for the valuable fishing beds around it.  Apparently both countries have adopted a "live and let live" attitude toward the place, but the sea captain indicated that it could possibly re-erupt at some point.

During the nesting season, several biology researchers live on the island.  Lighthouse keepers also live there, year-round.  Two keepers alternate in four-week blocks.

Lighthouse on Machias Seal Island
Thousands of seabirds nest on Machias Seal Island every year.  While the puffins are best known, just as many razorbills and common murres build nests there.  All of those birds are members of the auk family.  The nests are deep in the rocks, unseen.  The pairs take turns sitting on the nests while the second member of each pair stays above ground and also goes to sea to catch food.  However, arctic terns build nests right on the ground.  In fact, there were several nests very near the area where we were oriented to the island.  And those terns make sure that their babies are protected.  Anyone who goes to close runs the risk of being dive-bombed by an angry tern!  That makes it difficult to go to and from the boat, as several nests are located close to the boardwalk.


If you have read this far, and are not bored yet, the following is my journal record, as written on the plane ride back, of this memorable day for Mike and me:

Saturday, 6/25/16 - Up at 5:00 to prepare for the main event of this trip - the puffin cruise.  The captain's wife had said on the phone that we should dress warmly.  I added Mike's long johns and hoodie to my other clothes.  We collected binoculars, cameras, and guidebook, and headed out.  

Rose and Pop's convenience store was the first stop, for breakfast biscuits.  There are very few places to get an early breakfast on this island.  The biscuits were OK.  They were in a cooler and had to be warmed in the microwave.  They were similar to Egg McMuffins.  Then on to Seal Harbor and Sea Watch Tours!

We parked at the harbor and made our way down the steep metal ramp. Several people were already on the boat.  It was an unusual combination of people - One lady we called the "African Explorer" because she was so decked out in expedition clothing and boots.  She was one of several people who brought massive camera outfits, that they had to work on getting set up, throughout the 1 1/2 hour trip to Machias Seal Island.

As we approached the island, birds were everywhere - puffins as well as other sea birds we didn't yet recognize.  They all looked so small, floating on the open ocean.  

Getting on the island was not easy.  We each had to transfer from the boat to a 15-foot skiff, which had to be used for three trips to relay everyone to shore.  Once there, each person had to transfer to the walkway, which was covered in wet seaweed.  I had to go first, and was relieved that it went just fine.  But everyone had to be extra careful not to slide down that seaweed.  And as we walked up the boardwalk, we were dive-bombed by Arctic terns whose nests were in the grassy areas on either side. They were serious about protecting those nests.

We were taken to an orientation, held in a small picnic table area, and reminded that to be on Machias Seal Island to see the puffins close up was a privilege, not a right.  The first mate on the boat, who served as the host, reminded us that he was authorized to remove anyone who did not follow the guidelines.  The longer we remained on the island, the more we realized what a privilege it truly was.
Waiting and orientation area.  Boat out at left.

Then he split us up into groups of 3-4 to go into the blinds.  He had been talking to us on the boat, and must have liked us, because aside he said he would see to it that we didn't get in a blind with someone who had one of those huge camera outfits (which because of their size can completely ruin the experience for other watchers).  And he kept his word.

So we were divided into our blinds groups, and were taken along wooden walkways to the blinds, which were tiny wooden sheds with wooden windows that could be raised on all four sides.  Four people could fit inside.  Barely.  There were no places, or room, to sit.  We were paired with François and Isabelle, a very nice French-Canadian couple.

One of the blinds at left.

As soon as we were in the blinds, the door hooked shut, and some of the windows pushed up, the show began.

Mike and I agree that this was by far the best experience we have had in thirty years of birding together.  Puffins were everywhere, as were razorbills and common murres.  They were at a distance; and they were also as close as 3-4 feet away.  They would run across the metal roof to the blind, and then would jump down to the rocks directly in front of us.  They would do a running take-off every time they flew.  They came so close that we could see individual feathers and could have reached out and grabbed some of them.

This show continued for an hour and a half - a ninety minute period that felt like ten.  It was an incredible experience, and I do not use that word lightly.  No painting of puffins, no cute little drawings, or stuffed animals, or any memento of puffins, came anywhere close to the opportunity to see them in the wild, in the close proximity that we were to them.

A Razorbill.  No, not a puffin, but impressive in its own right.

Great Black-Backed Gull also on the island.  Gulls are not appreciated too much as they like to turn baby puffins into lunch.  Most gulls are the common herring gull type; this one is more unusual and was the only one I saw out there.
After the ninety minutes were up, we were escorted back to the picnic area to wait for all the group to come out.  By this time the boat from the American side had arrived and needed to get in our blinds.  We also had to wait awhile for the tide to come up, to make the transfer to skiff and then the boat easier.

The lighthouse keeper came out to talk with us.  We also met one of the summer researchers.

There was so much to see even when not in the blinds.  The thousands of birds around and on the island could still be easily seen.  The arctic terns nested all over the island, some so close to us that we could see their chicks.  There was a porta-potty close by; however, a tern nest was close to it, so someone had to "go" very badly to risk the attack.

Arctic tern, with fish for the babies, right next to the outhouse!!  It is perched on the rib bone of a whale.  

We added the Atlantic puffin, common murre, razorbill, Arctic tern, and northern gannet to our life lists.  We're also adding the black guillemot, because we did get a brief look at a pair of them flying.

After transferring back to the boat, the captain took us around the island, and also to another one called North Rock, which was covered with seals.  They were interesting to see, but after the experience with the birds, that was not very exciting.

Mike spent a good bit of time on the trip back talking with the captain, and then with the first mate about hunting.  So he was well occupied.  I just enjoyed the surf, and the ocean birds, and seeing Maine on one side, Grand Manan on the other, and open ocean off in the distance.

We disembarked, saying goodbye to the new friends who had shared this wonderful experience, and returned to the Inn at Whale Cove.  We were in awe of the experience we had just participated in, and very grateful for the opportunity to experience God's marvelous creation in a new and beautiful way.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Two Years Ago Today

Andrew put this picture on Facebook this morning - it popped up on his feed as a memory from two years ago.  Apparently I landed in Beijing on June 20, and this is the selfie he took.  He wrote:

After 3 reroutes and about 36 hours, my mother finally made it to beijing!(I was asked to qualify that she had been traveling all day before this picture Welcome to china Ann Klopfenstein Bailes!
That was an incredible trip.  There is a verse in Lamentations 3, paraphrased, "My eye affects my heart."  That certainly happened to me with this trip.

Yes, seeing the Great Wall of China was a great experience.

So was seeing Tienamen Square and the huge government buildings in downtown Beijing.  I really appreciated our missionary hosts who took a detour to that area just so I could see it all.

But what I really appreciated about this trip was seeing China - regular, everyday Chinese people in everyday situations that no average tourist would ever see.

Sights such as the employees of the restaurant right in front of Andrew's residence building, taking a Sunday afternoon break to cook "chuar" (barbecue).  This was my very first day in his city.

Sights such as the "dumpling lady" who had a little booth on the street.  She knew Andrew well and was glad to see us coming.  

Sights such as a dumpling party with some of his students in the home of a teacher at his university.

Sights such as delivering a small afghan made by women here in Anderson, to a "sister" there who would really appreciate the gift and the expression of Christian unity that it expressed.

And sights such as this one - the street outside Andrew's residence.  That street has probably made the biggest impact on me.  It is so regular, so normal.  Chinese residents living Chinese life in a remote part of the world (to us).

My eye affected my heart.  Two years ago starting today.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Friday's Fave Five, 6/10/16

LINK to Friday's Fave Five host blog

1. We had a beautiful wedding last Friday night, for my son Andrew and his new bride, Teah.  There will be many more pictures to come; however, we haven't seen them yet.  The bride and groom have just gotten back from their honeymoon, and the photographer (Mike's brother) wants them to see the pictures first.  Understandable.  So right now all I have are a few phone shots.

This is our family before the bride joins it.

And here is the lovely bride at some point before the ceremony.

2. I got to wear a lei for the first time in my life!  The bride's aunt brought beautiful flowers from Hawaii and made them into leis.  The girls had flower leis, and the men wore tea leaf leis.  They were beautiful, and such a treat to wear.  A corsage is nice enough, but a lei is extra special.

3. Many friends and family were so helpful to pull everything off.  To have people who are so willing to help in many ways is a joy in itself.

4. We had a family breakfast the next morning at my folks' house, where my sister Rhoda made her pancake specialties.  She loves to put together family events, and she does a nice job.

5. This week has been LOW KEY!!  For me anyway.  Mike has had to work an awful off-hours training shift, getting in at 3:00 each morning.  So he has that "night shift" feel again, something he's not had to endure for a couple of years now.

A funny from that:  I am sleeping in our daughter's old room this week, so that in the mornings I can get up without waking Mike up while he's working these odd hours.  The first night I could not get to sleep - just too many odd noises for some reason, as well as concern for him to be driving home (over the lake no less) so late at night, when he is not used to it.  I finally fell into a restless sleep, but woke up at 3:30--and instantly jerked awake because he should have been home by then.  I just knew I would hear the alarm when he came in, and then hear him coming up the hall.  Well, I lay there for about half an hour, yes, worrying--when it occurred to me - Maybe I ought to check?  And sure enough - our bedroom door was closed, and the entry light in the hallway was off.  He had come in, and gone to bed, and I hadn't heard a thing!!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

EVICTED by Matthew Desmond

This book was reviewed in WORLD magazine as well as CHRISTIANITY TODAY, and on a lark, I ordered a copy off of eBay immediately.  It was good reading.  The author, Matthew Desmond, spent months in the city of Milwaukee, interviewing members of eight families and two landlords.  EVICTED is the result of that research.  This is a style of non-fiction that I really enjoy.

This book causes the reader to look through a different lens at the problems of the inner city poor.  While still acknowledging that many of the miserable situations these people find themselves in are the result of their poor decisions, I found that there is another side--that of people who have no "leg to stand on," so to speak, to get out of their predicaments.  Landlords take up to 80% of the income of their renters.  And if there are problems in the apartments - major problems such as sinks and tubs that won't drain, leaky roofs, holes in walls - landlords won't fix the issues if tenants owe any back rent.  A municipal board is available for tenants to go to for mediation in these circumstances, but if a renter with any back rent due turns to this board, the landlord will then promptly evict him.  And anyone with an eviction on his record has a difficult time finding assistance to get a new place.  Meanwhile, the landlords go on vacations to Jamaica and other places.

The book has some objectionable elements in that it does recount some of the sinful situations and language used by people with little spiritual background.

The prescription to help the situation, according to Desmond, is more government.  Marvin Olasky (publisher of WORLD magazine and reviewer of the book) disagrees:

"Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown, 2016) is a well-reported, street-level view of people with messy lives who need compassionate help. Sadly, Desmond’s government-heavy policy prescriptions would help some but make things worse for most."

Desmond's writing style is excellent.  Once started, I found this a difficult book to put down, both because of the writing style and also because of the descriptions of lives very removed from mine.  It is also a strong reminder to a Christian reader that society without spiritual principles devolves until it is a mess with seemingly no way out.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

And We Had A Wedding!

Well, we had a wedding last night.  It was beautiful.  The rain stayed away and the heat was bearable.  These are a few snapshots that we got from phones.  Mike's brother took many great "official" photos, but we do not have any of those yet.

This was taken beforehand.  I don't have any of us with Teah yet, but am sure we'll get some later.

My two precious children--

Sweet ceremony--

ML with Bryon and Tessie.  Bryon is Andrew's best friend, and Tessie, his wife, is Teah's sister.  Does that give any clues to how Andrew and Teah got together?

Precious friends from China.  I met them there at Andrew's English corner, and they also came to visit us at Christmas when they had traveled to the States for graduate school.

Sending the couple off with sparklers--

And this isn't of the bride and groom, or anyone else in the wedding party, but I like it.  :-)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Friday's Fave Five, 6/3/16

LINK to Friday's Fave Five Host Blog

This will be a little brief because - My son is getting married tonight!!  Needless to say, there is a lot going on.  But I'm putting my feet up for awhile (so that those strappy gold sandals will fit tonight) and so will post.

1.  Beautiful rehearsal & rehearsal dinner last night.  We pulled it off with LOTS of help.  My dear friend helped me cook and set up yesterday; my sister and her friend got everything done while we were at the rehearsal; some former students and the mom of one of them did serving and cleanup help.  My own mother made the delicious brownies for the dessert (we added ice cream and hot fudge sauce).  And the father of the bride made delicious Hawaiian barbecue for the meal.

And--somehow I got NO pics.  How does that happen?

2. Everything so far has gone very smoothly.  I've got a lot of things on my mind but do not feel stressed.

3. Went to three showers this week - two for my son and his fiancé, and a baby shower for a lady at church.  Enjoyable to party for other people.  :-)

4. Earlier this week I heard on a birding list that there is a scissor-tailed flycatcher about 20 miles from here.  That is WAY out of range.  The last time I saw them was at my sister's house in Dallas (which is in the middle of their range).
 So we were running errands and I talked Mike into taking me there.  At first we thought it was a wild goose chase.  But almost on command, the bird appeared and put on a show - flying from wire to pond to tree to sticks on the grass.

This is what one looks like - Not my picture; I pulled it off the internet.  (Getting a nice camera with a good zoom is next on my list.  Might take awhile.)  And when this bird flies, it really looks like the tail is "scissoring."  A nice find.

5. We also got a close-up view of a red-headed woodpecker.  I do believe that that is my favorite bird - probably because black and red are my two favorite colors.

That's it - it's wedding time now!!