Thursday, July 2, 2015

Canada Day, Grand Manan, and the Greasy Pole

Some traditions should never be broken.  That's how we feel about spending Canada Day over on Grand Manan.  For Kent Islanders, the holiday falls squarely in the middle of our season, when island fever is setting in and we all just need a break from our work.  Plus heading over to Grand Manan allows us to take part in all the celebrations you find in a small town (one surrounded by the Bay of Fundy at that!).

Anticipation built all week here on the island, with students anxiously watching the weather and asking about departure times, schedules, and where to get the best ice cream.  So it was a relief when the day finally arrived, and at the crack of dawn, our caretaker, Russ Ingalls, came to get us aboard Island Bound.  Not surprisingly, it was a gray, foggy day, and the boat dripped with condensation as we headed over to the big island.

Heading over to Grand Manan in the foggy light of dawn.

Can you tell who the real Canadian is?
Once we arrived on Grand Manan, we had to get ready for the festivities.  Red face paint from the dollar store is always a good choice!

We tried to disguise ourselves (pictured here is a Frenchwoman and an American)!

But there wasn't much time to dawdle; the main event was before lunch:  the greasy pole competition.  The greasy pole is just about the funniest sport I can imagine.  It's held in the village of Seal Cove, and can only happen at high tide, as the creek is dry at low tide.  A long, tapered pole is suspended out over the water, and a barrel is pushed over it.  The pole is "greased" with dish detergent.  Competitors launch themselves off the wharf on the barrel, trying to ride it all the way to the end and grab the tiny Canadian flag at the end.  If you don't get the flag, you fall into the (bracingly cold) water; if you do get the flag, you also fall into the (bracingly cold) water -- but you win $5. 

Three generations of the Ingalls family set up the pole.
Soaping up the pole.
And adding the tiny flag to the end.
The greasy pole always draws a crowd.  Young and old try to get their hands on that flag; and young and old also like to watch as the competitors are dumped into the frigid water. 

The crowd starting to arrive.

A brave competitor!

He looks determined!

Our student Katie; a fierce young lady.

She came close to getting it!

There was a lot of this going on!
Some people needed a little help.
That flag looks pretty far away from this perspective!
Of course, it wasn't all fun and games.  After the Greasy Pole, our students got down to the real business of the day.  They ate ice cream (twice), hiked, had lunch at a greasy spoon (not the same as the Greasy Pole), took in a baseball game, and had a grand time all around. 

Eating breakfast; a bagel and ice cream.
Dulsing dories on the beach at the Whistle lighthouse.

It was a long day.  Luckily, one of our students had baked a cake the night before, and when we got back, everyone tucked right into it.  We were tired, but well fed.  And we'd had a great break from the every day grind here on the island.  With only three weeks until the end of the season, we're refreshed and ready for whatever the Bay of Fundy throws at us (good thing, because the fog has come back with a vengeance here on our island!)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Pond Cove, some big things, and a blogging hiatus

Headed to Kent Island on our caretaker's boat, Island Bound
So I've been a little busy lately.  And it shows in the number of blog posts I've been making.  But as can happen, life has gotten a little crazy.

Damon and  I are embroiled in the midst of our normal annual craziness -- getting ourselves, a dozen undergraduates, all our gear, and most of our food out to Kent Island in New Brunswick.  This involves finding a dog-sitter, stopping the mail (although I am realizing just as I write this that I forgot to do that!), packing two giant bins of ratty field clothes, cleaning the house as spotless as possible, reassuring parents, getting our office work done, and then herding cats all the way across the border, onto boats, and over to the island.

Since this regular brand of craziness hasn't pushed us over the top (yet), we decided to add a little more into our lives:  we are selling our house in order to downsize to a smaller home (and life).  I'll write a bit more about it when the ink is dry, but in essence, we had too much house, not enough warm weather to work on it, and a hankering for "less".  In the meantime, it's meant lots of home repairs and staging, paperwork to be signed, and extra stress added to our spring.

That hasn't stopped me from getting out and exploring, but has dug into my writing time by quite a lot.  So I'm going to take a little blogging break, in order to get through the next month.  We (hopefully, if all goes as planned) pass papers to sell our wonderful house AND buy a little condo on June 19, and after that I feel like I'll be able to breathe again.

Before I go, I wanted to share a terrific visit I had to Pond Cove in Cape Elizabeth with a Meetup group called "Southern Maine Tide Poolers."  This awesome group is the brainchild of Megan McCuller, a young biologist from Portland. It's just a bunch of people who like to look at cool stuff in the ocean, who meet up at dig around in tidepools.  Brilliant.  
Tiny barnacles that have just settled out of the plankton and onto rocks.  They love rough surfaces best, so you tend to find them all lined up in the cracks of rocks.  Note you can see this pattern in the big ones too.
We met this month at Pond Cove in Cape Elizabeth.  I'd never been there, so it was really exciting to find a new spot to tidepool.  This is a great place -- parking at the land trust lot, good rocky tidepools full of cool stuff, and a terrific shallow cobble pool perfect for kids to get into.  If you'll forgive me, I'm going to just post some pics and get onto the work I have to do on the island today.  But if you like tidepooling, check out the Meetup group -- it was really fun!

A tidepool out in the breaking waves

This green crab was carrying eggs -- but was dead.  Interestingly, we found TONS of Asian shore crabs and no green crabs.  This is a trend I've heard others mention this spring too.  What's up with that?

Horse mussels and coralline algae

Poking around in a tidepool

The cobbles are a great place for kids to turn over rocks and find cool stuff
TO GET THERE:  From US1 in Portland, take Rt 77 south; cross the bridge over Portland Harbor. In South Portland, Rt 77 turns right and becomes Ocean St -- do not turn with it but go straight on Broadway to Cottage Rd and turn right. This road becomes Shore Road.  After Fort Williams State Park, go another Mile and look for the parking lot for Robinson Woods (thanks Cape Elizabeth Land Trust).  Look just across the road; you'll see a path with a little "Pond Cove" sign.  Follow this and you're there!

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.