Blown Away

Posted by Jane N on

This past Saturday I had a chance to visit with Chris & Mark in Maine. There was a large storm just off the coast and the wind and waves were intense along the shore. Sometimes during extreme weather conditions along the shore, a “fallout” can occur. This is when large numbers of birds are pushed ashore due to high winds, they are seeking refuge from the storm and are looking for a safe place to land. This particular time of year is migration for many of the inland birds who follow the coastline as they travel South, so the possibility was there that many birds could be seeking refuge along the shore. It was a good time to hit the beach!

I got to the camper before Chris did, she had a few things to tend to and planned to meet up with me in the afternoon. Mark was there but had gone to the library, so I had some time to myself to look for birds. That’s OK by me! As soon as I got there I headed out to the rocks to look for birds. Wow, was the ocean angry! I have been there during storms before but this time was different, the wind was blowing harder than I had ever experienced, it was gray and damp. But there were birds! I had brought my spotting scope so I could scan the rocks but the wind was so strong that it kept knocking over my scope.

I gave up on the scope and stuck with my binoculars. There were dozens of Common Eiders, Herring Gulls, Ring Billed Gulls, Great Black Backed Gulls and a small group of Surf Scooters all crowded into the cove riding the big swells. And there among them, all was a male and female Canvasback. SCORE! A new bird sighting for me (birders happy dance) Mark had told me he had seen these shy ducks last year so I was on the look out for them this season.

As I was watching the birds from my perch on the rocks a young man (maybe 15) came over and asked me what I was looking at. I told him about the birds gathered in the cove, he asked me what the little black birds were. I told him they were Surf Scooters and offered him my binoculars so he could get a closer look. He told me he had been on the rocks earlier and taken a picture of a cool looking duck, he showed me the picture on his phone, it was the Canvasback.

We talked birds for a bit, he seemed knowledgeable enough about the subject, then he dropped the birder's bomb on me. He says to me “Oh you should go over to Nubble Light House, there are Puffins gathered there on the rocks I saw them this morning”. WHAT??!!! PUFFINS!!! The Atlantic Puffin has a very limited range along the Northern Maine coastline, rarely seen on shore, frequents the small offshore rocky islands. I have wanted to see this rare seabird but have not had the courage to go out to sea on a boat to find them.

Immediately I say “I’m outta here, I'm going to the lighthouse!” as I head for my truck. He walks along with me, telling me how to get there, I have been there before but I was not quite sure of the directions. I consider waiting for Mark to get back so he can take me but I can't take the chance of missing the Puffins so I head out on my own. I call my sister Chris on the phone but she is still driving on the highway still a ways away. I'm too impatient I can't wait, I have her talk me thru the directions turn by turn as I am driving. She is as excited as I am, she also would love to see the Puffins and is going to meet me there.

As soon as I arrive at the lighthouse I grab my binoculars and jump out of the truck. I am immediately thrown back as the strong winds force the truck door shut. I wasn't expecting that I push hard against the door and head for the rocks. The wind is fierce, the ocean is rolling and heaving huge breakers onto the rocks. The waves crash onto the shore and spray water high into the air, this is a scene I have not experienced ever before. The intensity and force of the wind were incredible. I made my way to the edge and tried to look over to the rock outcroppings by the lighthouse with my binoculars for Puffins but the wind was so strong that it pushed me side to side and I had trouble focusing my binoculars on the rocks. Never mind focusing with my binoculars, I was having trouble even standing against the fierce winds, with each crashing wave I got misted with cold sea water. I could see birds there, all seeking refuge from the storm. Could there be Puffins there among all those birds crowded on the rocks?

It was so frustrating, I could see many black birds on the rocks but many had their heads safely tucked under a wing to protect themselves from the cold wind. All I could see was a black blob sitting on a rock. Ahhh! Were they Puffins or not? I decided to try getting back in the truck to get out of the wind to see if I could get a better view. But that didn't help much, the truck was rocking back and forth as each fierce gust of wind hit and the sea spray was covering the windshield and I couldn't see out.

Finally, Chris & Mark arrived, now I had reinforcements. Mark was kind enough to be my stabilizer and he let me lean back to back on him so I could steady myself with the binocular to scan the rocks. Unfortunately, most of the black birds ended up being just Cormorants, bummer. My eyes were watering from the cold winds so I gave the binoculars to Chris to see if she had any luck focusing on the black birds. All she saw were Cormorants. But I just couldn't give up yet.

I decided to get closer to the edge of the rocks. Chris wasn't so sure I should but I told her to watch the waves and warn me when a big one was coming in. I just had to see if there were Puffins out there! I hear Chris yell “Jane Jane get back up here!” as a wave crashes ashore and the cold sea water splashes my legs. Chris comes to where I am and tells me to take her hand, we are getting away from the edge.

There aren't any Puffins out there. I was cold and damp, she was right there weren't any Puffins out there. It was time to give up. It was a long shot anyways, I had to consider my source, did I really trust the word of a 15-year-old in his PJ's hanging around the camp site telling me he had seen Puffins at the lighthouse that morning? Ummm I think I just got pranked.

I have included a picture Mark took of Chris & I sitting on the rocks. Consider this when you look at the picture before laughing at me, I had on a t-shirt,  long sleeved shirt, sweatshirt and fleece jacket with gloves on and was still cold to the core. Of course, I HAD to wear my birding hat, as silly as it looks it brings me birding luck. Notice Chris & I are holding hands, this is the first time we have held hands since we were children. I'm not even so sure we even held hands then. But it sure was nice to have someone “mothering” me, and watching out for my safety. After all, I easily could have been blown away by those fierce winds while trying to focus on my search for the Puffins.

Thank you, sister Chris.

Happy Birding, Jane

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