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.

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