Friday, July 30, 2010

Bucksport Maine – Big Birds Aplenty

One buzzard, ugly. Three buzzards, a warning that something dead is nearby. But a dozen buzzards? Fascinating. What brings them to Bucksport/Verona Island? Bucksport’s main industry is Verso paper, there are no seafood or meat rendering plants there. So why do over a dozen turkey vultures hang out on Verona Island?

I thought it might be a rookery, and checked the trees for nests. Turns out Buzzards don’t build nests. They nest in hollow trees, caves or thickets, just laying two eggs on the ground. They hide the nest, since the sharp smell of regurgitated carrion makes it easy for predators to find the helpless chicks. There was no odor with this batch, and no small chicks either. The eggs are laid early in the season, by now the chicks have hatched, grown and are flying.
I wondered if the turkey vultures might feast on shellfish. I can’t find any reports of that, but they do eat some shore plants. And they are social animals. Apparently this group is happy on Verona Island, just south of the boat launching, roosting in the dead trees at night, and flying off to scavenge by day. (Turkey Vultures on Wikipedia)The buzzards also kettle about on the wind, the video is below.

Other birds in the area; herring gulls, cormorants, osprey, blue heron and a loon.
We headed down under the bridges helped by a northwest wind. In no time at all we’d made it to Odom’s Ledge, where, as I hoped we saw plenty of seals. Actually I’d hoped to find a few calm seals; but what I saw was nearly a dozen nervous seals. As a whole seals do not care for kayaks, generally abandoning their ledges long before we can see that they are there. Other boats don’t seem to bother them, but kayaks disturb some primal memory of sharks or other predators. For that reason, the first two weeks of June, when seals are pupping, we avoid any ledges or known seal hang out. Pups nurse only for two weeks, disturbing even one feeding can be harmful. In some locations, Castine, Stonington, Naskeag harbor, seals seem to adapt to kayaks and will linger on the rocks.

But not Odom’s Ledge. Here the seals tumbled into the water, but then they became curious, surfacing high to keep an eye on us, then splashing loudly back into the water. (Not that I was able to capture any of those hi-jinks on film.)
Heading back from Odom’s Ledge the steady wind quickly became a drag, so we crossed from the Verona island side to Stockton Springs to find some wind shadow.
On that side we found a wonderful calm eagle sitting in a tree. Across the Penobscot a young eagle came screaming, heading for the same branch. I thought there might be a branch breaking incident, but the mature eagle took off, abandoning its perch for its offspring. The next time we saw the mature bird, it was sitting in a white pine.

We did not circumnavigate Verona Island because I find the back side dull; I love the high walls and current of the main channel, along with the scenic bridges, fort and town. On the main channel, the current can reach 4 knots going downstream, never as much on an incoming tide. On the back side the incoming tide fills from both sides, and is never all that helpful. On this day we launched at just about dead low, had absolutely no trouble going downstream against an incoming tide with the strong wind to our backs. Going back on the lee side was cooling. The wind was still there and the incoming tide barely noticeable, though I’m sure it assisted us.

We launched from the Verona Island Boat Launch. Parking for about 10 cars, rarely more than a couple cars there, no facilities; but public facilities are available at the Bucksport Harbor and private facilities at a myriad of stores and fast food restaurants.
Launch 8:20AM, finish 11:10AM, Low 8:19AM 9 miles.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stonington Maine

High 8, launch 10, return 1:30, 9 miles

Stonington is well known as a destination for sea kayaking. Dozens of islands within five miles of shore, many open to the public, some for camping, others for day use only make Stonington an incredible place. And the day was certainly hopping at Old Quarry Adventures. Old Quarry offers stress free access to the water. It has two ramps, parking, toilets and showers available for small fees. There is also camping, kayak tours, boat rentals, taxis to Isle au Haut and many other services available.
At the launch ramp a group of ten kayaks was preparing for a tour, a family was building a klepper kayak which they planned to take out for overnight camping, two kayaks were headed in after spending the night out on the islands, another pair was launching. And why not? It was a beautiful clear day, not too humid, though rain was expected in the evening.

We had planned a moderate trip out to McGlathery and back, but Todd, a guide, mentioned Gooseberry, near McGlathery as a recent addition to accessible islands, so that became our goal. Gooseberry was added to the Maine Coastal Heritage Trust in December 2009.
Old Quarry Adventure shares Webb Cove with a granite company and a fish processing plant. As a result lobster boats and larger fishing vessels make frequent trips into the Cove. You need to watch out for them, since they often can’t see us.

Grog Island.

We went out to the Channel Rock, by Grog, past Bold and Devil and through the Coombs. A bar joins the two Coombs for about half the tide cycle. We passed through two and a half hours after high with no trouble.

Heading through Coombs with Isle au Haut in the distance.

Then it was out to Ram, past McGlathery to Gooseberry. McGlathery is a common anchorage for sailboats, a few were anchored there.
We landed on a shell beach on the north side of Gooseberry, at higher tides the east side might provide better access. We had a delightful lunch, and wandered about the island admiring the incredible views. You could make an entire scenic calendar of Maine from that one island. I took over 60 shots. That so few are here reflects my limited skill.

On the way back we passed west of McGlathery and Round, between Wreck and Round, west of Bare and through the Potatoes to take a break on Russ. We saw other kayaks as we got closer to town, but on the outer layers we were on our own.
When we returned to the landing the Klepper was making its final preparations. It was an older boat, loaded above the brim in the middle. Toward the back sleeping bags and pads were piled high on the desk. I tried to refrain myself from speaking, but when I met the owner in the bathroom, I couldn’t help but ask where they were headed. “Out near Isle au Haut; we’ve made the trip many times.” she replied in a tone that said she’d heard enough about how unstable the load looked.
Old Quarry has a list of islands which allow access and the limits.
Boyce’s Motel in Stonington is another place to stay; we stayed there once after a trip to Isle au Haut and were delighted by the cottage. There are also several Bed and Breakfasts.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bucksport Harbor

A lot of variety in a small area. We launched from the boat ramp on Verona Island. No facilities there. Bucksport has public facilities in its harbor area. It is possible to land and use them, or drive over. Private facilities are available in several stores and restaurants along Route 3. There is not a lot of parking at the boat ramp, but we’ve never seen much of it used. It is sometimes closed for town events.
We launched at low tide, 9:09AM. I was hoping to see the bottom, but rain a few days ago left the water silty. In fact it was not a terribly promising day, the sky was gray. The temperature was reasonable though and, if it was a bit humid, at least there was a comforting breeze.
As we launched a large crowd of buzzards took off from the trees. We’d seen them in other years. Unlike the three temporarily upstream feasting on a deer, these ones seemed to have a colony on Verona Island. They circled by the hotel a few times, then headed on over the town, to who knows where.
Hoping they were not an omen, we crossed over to the canoe and kayak dock on the Bucksport side. At low tide the dock is resting on the bottom. At all tides the dock rides high above the water. It’s probably fine for canoes, but kayaks might find it challenging to exit there.
Then we paddled through the harbor taking time to admire the beautiful boats. We’ve also landed at the far side of Bucksport Harbor, in the area behind the public dock. It would be pretty muddy at low tide, but it’s OK at other tides.
In fact, I think this was our first time visiting the area at low tide. There are several pier structures in the harbor used by osprey, on other trips we felt we paddled right along side them, this time though they were high above.
There was a good crop of osprey though, as well as cormorants at all stages of maturity.

Beyond Bucksport Harbor is Verso paper, a bright spot in the Maine economic scene because they added 200 workers for the summer. Two of the workers were outside for breaks, but the rest were inside busily working.
We went just shortly beyond Verso, to see the start of some beautiful cliffs.

Usually we go further to abandoned piers, but the currents in the harbor can be tricky, especially just north, where the ledge juts out into the river. I know at some high tides we’ve ridden through on a current which is stronger than we’d like to try paddling against. Just after low tide the current was slow, but building.
On the Prospect side of the harbor sits Fort Knox, a huge granite fort built to protect the Penobscot and, in particular, Maine’s lumber from English raids. Twice before the fort was built the British had claimed land up to Bangor. But never since. It was not that the Fort was effective, for it was never fully manned or used for anything but training.

Just before the fort this playful mink ran along the shore. She ran up and hid under a rock, but peeked out the different sides.

Fort Knox has a variety of festivals held at it, re-enactors from the civil war, pirate days, haunted tours, SCA events, paranormal and Scottish Tattoos to name a few. Friends of Fort Knox keeps the schedule.
But during the week, it is more likely that the bridge observatory is the draw. At least we saw no one moving about the Fort and several cars headed to the observatory.

It’s fun to be on the water looking up at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. As a child we’d climb hills and look down on the toy cars. This was rather the reverse with small motorcycles and RV’s crossing overhead. The Winnebago headed to the bridge observatory was halfway down, and was like the Tonka model my children played with for years.
We crossed back to Verona at the bridge, as two deer pranced along the far shore. Then it was back to the landing.
6 miles.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Around Orson Island

We launched from the Old Town Boat Launch, located on Fourth Street by the Elks. Lots of Parking, but no facilities. There is a nice public restroom in downtown Old Town, on North Main Street right by Riverfront Park playground. It’s heated in the fall and cooled in the summer. But it is not always open as early as we like or as late in the season as we like. Stillwater Avenue, running from the highway has a variety of fast food restaurant as well as a Hannaford, all with restrooms.

We went counter clockwise around Orson, a hard mile and a half against the current and the rest downstream. There is a squeeze point to be wary of though, about a mile up, just after the beach on Indian Island. After a heavy rain storm or in the spring the water can rush through there at 3 to 4 knots. One of our friends is so nervous about the squeeze point that she only does the circumnavigation clockwise. Even then it would be best to let the weaker paddlers ride down through the squeeze first, because you might not make it back to help them.

Generally this area is rich in eagle sightings, but not on this hot morning.

Rounding the west side of Orson, we went by Socks Island. All the islands in the Penobscot River are a part of the Penobscot Indian Nation and all request no trespassing.
Right before the Twin Islands there are two picnic tables on the mainland. These are part of the Cutler Family Land which was donated to Old Town for use as a park.

We paddled between the Twins, in the delightful cool shade. Overhead a family of four Kingfishers darted back and forth noisily, making sure we planned no harm.

At the end of the Twins we were greeted with a display of water lilies.

Then it was back to the steep banks of the side, where many animals, mostly beaver live.
The water was crystal clear today. At one point we passed over a huge crop of fresh water clams, a treasure trove for any raccoon.

Where Route 116 crosses over Birch Stream is an unofficial launch point and potential resting area. Several cars were parked there and a boat was launching. We saw five or six fishing boats, leading us to believe Monday is fishing day on the Penobscot.

The supports for the old Veazie Narrow Gauge railroad remain on the river, and in a few cases provide the foundations for houses.

These trunks bear witness to winter struggles.

This tree refuses to give up.

DeWitt Field is home to many float planes.

I often think of the Orson trip as a good location for fall foliage and eagle spotting. Evening trips in the summer are good opportunities to spot beaver. But our trip today reminded me that even without those attractions, Orson Island is a scenic adventure.
Old Town is justifiably proud of its waterfront and has arrangements with several guides to introduce visitors to the area.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Kennebec River from Augusta

Why do the sturgeon jump from the water? No one really knows, but we were headed to the Kennebec to see the fish jump. It’s always a hit or miss proposition, and we’ve never had any luck getting our kids to see them.
Usually we see the fish on the seventeen mile Fort to Fort paddle, but we didn’t participate in that this year. The Fort to Fort commemorates Benedict Arnold's attack on Quebec, but goes in the easy direction. He went upstream; the Fort to Fort paddle goes downstream, a much easier proposition.
There are other attractions Augusta, however sturgeon were our goal, an evening adventure was our plan. I’ve heard sturgeon jump most in the evening, so ideally we would enjoy a dinner at Panera and paddle.
We launched from the East Side Boat launch, which is tucked behind Fort Western off Howard Street. All the parking there is deep spaces which allow trailers. There are restrooms, but the stalls don’t have doors and on multiple occasions the toilets have been toilet paper free and clogged with paper towels. These are clearly restrooms which cry out for air dryers. I didn’t even check them on this visit; we just planned on them not being available.

The East Side Boat Launch

The sturgeon were jumping, I saw them even as we got our kayaks ready to launch. But we never had a fish jump when we were near and the largest fish we saw was only three feet long.
I don’t know if we were just unlucky or if this reflected a reduced sturgeon population. Last year we had six solid weeks of rain and several sturgeons were found dead at the mouth of the Kennebec.
We launched at about 5:30PM, high was supposed to be 7:30PM. As a note, that high was five hours behind Bangor’s high, so it was definitely worth checking the tide charts. If I was doing it again, I would launch closer to high, as at the old dam site it took everything we had to make it through. As we drifted back we saw the water was just enough higher to level out that passage. Not that the current disappeared. No matter how far you plan to go, upstream first would be a good idea.
We went upstream and made it beyond the route 3 bridge, which was our goal. There were some shallow sections, some fast moving sections, and some shallow fast moving sections. There were a few eagles, lots of osprey and up to four herons hanging out together. The herons would be outnumbered by osprey on the downstream trip (much faster) when seven osprey circled above.

Since we were sure of our paddling abilities we continued on down as far as the old Maine Insane Asylum. It was a stately gray building, with heavy screens on the windows, and looked to be totally abandoned.

We saw jumping sturgeon primarily between the bridges. In truth, it would have been just as easy to sit on the shore and watch for them. But it was more fun to get out on the water and beat our way upstream, while we worked off some of our dinner.
Some great shots of Kennebec Sturgeon.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Further Afield: King's Bay Florida

King’s Bay, specifically, Three Sisters Springs is well worth a visit. Get there early in the morning, get there directly, and enjoy the beautiful clear water in the quiet sanctuary surrounded by trees.
On our way to Three Sisters

Abandon boats and swim!

King’s Bay in Crystal City Florida is noted for divers and manatees, both brought there by the abundance of springs. The manatees are particularly drawn there in the winter months when cold water drives them to seek warm water. Divers are there year round, drawn to the sudden depths at the various springs. (Look down the page at the link for a side cut of a spring)
King’s Bay is not a large area, but it is an interesting paddle, there are marshes, and miles and miles of developed areas. There are also restaurants, ice cream stands and a town park (with parking, restrooms, swimming and picnic tables) for destinations. It is a huge gathering place for parties on weekends, the boats just line up and anchor in huge mobs.
These boats are gathering by Banana Island

We’ve been to Crystal River twice. When we were there last year in May a storm was in position just off the coast. High winds, temperatures in the mid 50’s and rain were the order of the day. The storm also kept the water in the bay at low tide, so manatees were unable to get into Three Sister’s Springs, but hung around the outlet in the warm water. This year, it was hot, with temperatures in the 90s.
Last year we went swimming at Three Sisters and were quite chilled. This year the water felt perfect. If you have never seen a spring, it is a place where water bubbles up from an underground source. The place where it bubbles up is a deep dark hole and the movement of water attracts many fish.

With last year's cooler temperatures, algae growth through King’s Bay was not as bad. We could see fish in many areas. Hunter’s Spring, the town park, was quite clear, and we saw alligator gar lounging on the side. This year the only clear water was at the mouth of Three Sister’s Spring, everywhere else the water was green. At Hunter’s Spring green algae crowded around the edge of the spring threatening to coat us as we swam to shore.
However, in the steamy hot weather, the abundance of springs throughout the bay showed a true advantage. All that cool water bubbling up made a microclimate over the bay, where it was a reasonable temperature for paddling.
Fish love the bay, birds love the bay, we even saw a dolphin driving fish into dead ends to catch them. The dolphin was chasing mullets, so with each cornering half a dozen mullet would leap in the air. And manatees love the bay. We were surprised and delighted to spot several manatees last year, and this year we saw a lone manatee, hanging around the kayak launch point. I wasn’t expecting it, I thought the cloudy water would keep our sightings down, but I was pleased nevertheless.

Kayaks and Beyond has the closest launch to Three Sister’s Spring. To protect the manatees, Three Sister’s Springs is closed to boats, including kayaks, from November through April, as are several other areas in the bay.
Another trip report.

Facilities at Hunter Spring