Saturday, May 9, 2015

Investigative Reporting: Warren's Lobster House

How could you resist a place with a giant lobster out front?  I never can!  And the Seacoast's finest salad bar?  I mean really.  

Anja and I headed down to Ipswich Mass last weekend to check out the grand opening of my friend's 1634 Meadery, and we just had to stop in Kittery to check this place out.  I've always wanted to eat over on Badger Island (because it's in a cool spot), but the lobster place over there lost its lease.  So Warren's it was.

It was a good sign that two priests led the procession of people as we all jammed in just as they opened.  Warren's looks to be the after-church-lunch place in this town (but they let heathens like me in too).  

And yes, they did have a great salad bar.  And a great JUMBO lobster roll (with a jumbo price of $29 to go along with it . . . .)  But it was a great stop.

That's a lot of lobster!

The view from our booth.

Anja doesn't really like seafood I guess.  She had chicken.

Old time kind of place.

A good lobster roll is always worth the drive.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Alewife Report: May 4, 2015

It's not too late!  Go to their website to sign up!
Where there's a will, there's a way.  That's the take home from the Nequasset fish ladder in Woolwich. I'm signed up to count fish coming over the ladder for the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, which manages the ladder along with a bunch of other organizations.  Just like last year, the first week of counting was cancelled due to cold water.  Alewives won't just climb ladders at any old temperature; they're quite specific about their preferences.  From years of research, we know these tenacious little fish are rather fond of 55 degrees, and we were expecting them to hold off until the water in Nequasset Lake got a little balmier than it is just now (it's around 50 now).

But some of our little friends decided they've waited long enough.  After reports last week that the fish were schooling at the mouth of the Kennebec, I took a look at the Google Doc we use to sign up (which it's not too late to do!) and lo and behold, the fish are starting to run.  Go fish, go!

So off Dory and I went, ready to count up a storm of alewives.  There were fish in the ladder, but sadly, none came over the final rung while I was counting.  But it was great to get out there and take a look at the renovated ladder.  Very fancy, and hopefully easier for the fish to get up (that's why we're counting, to see how well the renovation worked).

I'm expecting next week will see the ladder overrun with fish, but 'til then, here's what it looked like:

The ladder from above . . . 
. . .  and below.  Notice the gulls in both these photos, waiting for an easy meal!
Where they fish; the A-frame is for lifting nets of fish.
The net.
Fish scales on the sides of the box; probably decades' worth.
 This is what the fishing area looks like:


A fish in the fishing area, who knows how it got in since that area is closed off right now:


And here are the fish coming up the chutes:


Dory, being a Very Brave Science Dog:


Interested in alewives?  This is one of the GREAT migrations of the world -- right here in Maine. Get out there and check it out.  Here are 3 great places to see the run -- do it in the next few weeks!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Is this crazy?

You read that right:  elvers, little baby eels, are being bought for $1900 a pound.

Elver fyke nets in Camden.

Surprising any fish make it past these nets at all!

I've wanted to look into elvers more for awhile, but this spring has been crazy with personal stuff (which I will write about later).  So I'm just posting these quick photos with the hope that next year I can do more on this crazy seafood market.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Geeking out at Owls Head

Getting into it with Kerry and Sarah!
It was a rumor that had to be investigated.

Somewhere, sometime, I had heard that there were tidepools at the Owls Head Light.  Good tidepools.  Tidepools worth tromping through.  I might have read it in Shumway.  Or I might have heard it on the street.  Either way, I'd been itching to get out there and investigate for awhile.

I tried to get there just a couple of weeks ago.  This is what it looked like in town:

Very striking image, but not encouraging for a tide pool day!
I hightailed it out of there!
But the weather was clearing, and there was a very low spring tide approaching.  And so I assembled my team of intrepid scientists.  Kerry Whittaker, a young biological oceanographer, and Sarah Kingston, an amazing molecular ecologist and all around cool gal, were on the crack squad of tidepoolers this time out.  We dug out our boots, bundled up in several layers, and rendezvoused for a spring tide expedition to Penobscot Bay.

Our arrival was greeted with cold, strong winds.  We thought this might make our trip unpleasant, but it turned out the wind was from the northeast, so we were in the lee of the headland once we made it past the lighthouse.

Typical light house wonderfulness.
A beautiful site!

We scrabbled down the steep trail . . . 
And what did we find?  How were the tidepools?


The headland protects this spot from wind and waves.
First off, this was the slickest place I've ever tromped through -- slick as in slippery, not as in cool.  I looked like a little old lady clamoring around on all fours.  There was a lot of Irish moss very high on the rocks -- surprising because this seaweed doesn't do well exposed to air.  I thought it might be Mastocarpus at first (which looks similar, but can withstand emersion for longer than Irish moss.  But it wasn't; a curious finding!  We found a ton of dog whelks -- not surprising given the fact that waves would have trouble getting to the tide pools here.  That meant we also found an ecological community typical of a place with lots of hungry predators -- very few barnacles or mussels.  We also found a lot of sea urchins in the low tidepools -- super cool.  These hungry herbivores gobble up seaweed at an astonishing pace, so the tidepools looked like the salad bar had been picked clean.

Dog whelks:  voracious predators.

Exposed Irish moss:  unusual.

Smooth periwinkles (and slippery seaweed).

A tidepool dominated by coralline algae.

Loads and loads of sea urchins!

Like this one!
And then there was the rock gunnel incident:


So yes -- there are amazing tidepools at Owls Head.  Investigating them was hard work, but someone had to do it.  We rewarded ourselves with a trip to King Eiders Pub in Damariscotta on the way home.

Spring sun on the lighthouse.
Other Tidepools and How to Tidepool.  Check 'em out; summer is coming!

GETTING THERE:  From US1 in Rockland, turn right onto Rt 73.  Go 1 3/4 miles and turn left onto North Shore Road; go 2.5 miles and turn left onto Main Street (at the General Store and Post Office). At the waterfront, turn left until you see the state park signs.

The tidepools are most easily accessed by taking the left fork in the dirt road once you park your car. Unless you want to scrabble down the cliff.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Maine Maritime and Coastal Studies for Girls

Maine has some pretty amazing educational institutions, and this past week I got to hang out with folks from two of them.  Maine Maritime in Castine is one of the most incredible colleges around -- where students focus on practical experience and leave with hundreds of companies (and the military) clamoring to hire them.  And Coastal Studies for Girls, a young program focusing on semester-long residential learning for high school girls, is an up-and-coming place.

Put the two together and what do you get?  Lots of energy, lots of competence, and lots of exploring.

I'm working with Kerry Whitakker this semester, and she spends half her time at Bowdoin and half at CSG.  She's also a great biological oceanographer and educator, and tolerates my nosiness.  So I just wangled an invite to go up with CSG on their field trip to MMA.  MMA is actively working to recruit more women, so this is a natural fit for them.  The first day the girls got to spend time in the "bridge simulators" -- where they "drive" tugboats, tankers, and other boats through computer simulations. They also visited the amazing planetarium.  Then, on the second day, they hit the water.

A tugboat bridge simulator.  Those "windows" are all separate flat screens, but they work together to make it look like you're moving.  I actually started to get queasy!  Students work on simulations testing their boat-handling skills in all sorts of situations.  Apparently the CSG students had their skills tested in rough seas and calm, and only a few of them crashed!
It wasn't exactly the nicest day to be on the water, but the wind was minimal, so it didn't seem that bad.  We pulled on our rain gear, layered in a bunch of clothes, and boarded.  The girls went out on two boats; each for an hour.  The research vessel collected plankton samples using a plankton net tow and a rosette water sampler, and water chemistry parameters were collected using a CTD -- depth, temp, salinity, etc.  We got a lot of interesting samples and they learned a lot about research methods:

The R/V Friendship is MMA's research vessel.

Kerry Whitakker explains how the water sampling will work.

Captain Zander uses the A frame to deploy the sampling equipment. 

Resting a bit.
The navigation vessel blew me away.  This 70 foot boat is specially equipped with a large wheel house that has multiple navigation stations -- each with a chart table, GPS, and radar.  MMA students use it to plot courses and learn how to get from point A to point B.  What an amazing boat!  Luckily it was a bit foggy so we could really see the usefulness of radar.

Each station has everything you need to navigate.

The girls got to drive, under the direction of an MMA student.
One of the best parts of this trip was watching the MMA students interact with us.  Both boats had an instructor (and captain) from MMA, but they were piloted by students.  Each was exceptionally mature and competent.  As one of the captains told me, "Our students go out for their practical experiences each summer, and when they come back, we can treat them more as peers and students." I could see this was true.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Hankering for Spring: Back Cove Loop

If you're from New England, you're sick of hearing it, so I won't say it.

Or maybe I will:  I really want spring to get here.

We've had some hints.  Like today, it's almost 60 degrees here, making it hard to figure out what to wear for a lunchtime run.  Shirtsleeves?  What are those?

But winter has been reluctant to let go. And that's been a real pain for coastal hiking.  There's not enough snow to snowshoe, but too much to hike.  Trails have been packed down to ice, making a walk in the woods difficult.  There are a lot of trails out there waiting for me, I'm just not enthused about venturing on them until that ice clears a bit more.

Winter lingers in the salt marsh.
So last weekend when the dog gave me her expectant look and sad little whimper, I packed her into the Mighty Kia and headed down to Portland, to enjoy one to the great urban trails that distinguishes the city.  For years I've been driving past happy joggers and strollers as I whiz down 295, and I decided it was time to circumnavigate Back Cove.

The trail is wide and great for walking or biking.
The Cove itself is a huge mudflat, and you all know what I think of mudflats.  Super cool.  There wasn't much to see this time of year, but plenty of ducks and gulls were foraging in the Cove, so it's clear life is there even if I'm too cold to get in there myself.

Dory got a little loopy in her happiness.

Until she saw this sign.  No Dogs?  Bummer.

Fine, we'll just walk.

Looking left . . . 

Looking right.
The path is an easy, flat 3 1/2 mile loop; hard packed and wide enough for several people to pass. The city is a joy to see from the path, with Munjoy Hill rising up and catching the afternoon sun.  I did a little gawking at the houses on Baxter Ave, fantasizing about which I would choose if I were blessed to be rich.  Luckily you don't have to be rich to enjoy this part of the city; there's plenty of parking near the Hannaford on Forest Ave.  Even Dory had a good time!

It was crowded with people having a great day.

Enjoying the sun and blue sky.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Harpswell Stories

 This past winter I got a call from the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, asking if I'd be willing to participate in their Voices of the Sea project.  Sure, why not?  I got to chat with two amazing young men (thanks Brian and Sam!) about things I love.  Who wouldn't want to do that?

Over 25 people with connections to the ocean and Harpswell were interviewed by students from the Harpswell Coastal Academy, a charter school serving middle and high school students.  They interviewed most of us twice, with well-prepared questions, and then transcribed the interviews to carefully evaluate what parts they wanted to use.  These were edited into 3-4 minute portions. 

Earlier this month the land trust had a reception for the students and I got to see not only the fruits of Brian and Sam's labors, but all of the interviews the students conducted.  The range of people they talked to ran from clam diggers to sailors to farmers, and even a scientist and blogger was thrown in for good measure.  This was an impressive effort for kids to undertake, and their teachers and the folks at HHLT are to be commended for all the work they did to set up interviews and put them together into an amazing connection.

One of my interviewers.
Check out Voices of the Sea/Harpswell Stories HERE.  You can listen to me blather on about Leach's storm petrels on Kent Island.