Road Scholar seabird and service session concludes 2010 season

The final Audubon Camp in Maine session for the 2010 season was titled ‘Maine Seabird Biology and Conservation’. This service learning program was a collaborative venture with Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel). It represents the strengths of combining the on the ground seabird management of Project Puffin with the power of 32 people — motivated to not only learn about seabird biology, but participate in direct conservation actions.

The group assembled on Hog Island on Sunday, Sept. 19 for the five day program. This was the second Road Scholar program at Hog Island this summer. Like the late May-early June program which focused on censusing nesting seabirds, this program connected eager volunteers with service projects that required many helping hands.

Hog Island volunteers raise a sign for the Cruickshank Wildlife Sanctuary

Like other sessions this summer, this group represented every corner of the country — 16 states in total. Ages ranged from 52-75 and included a great diversity of semi and retired professionals. All actively participated in the program. In addition to the registered participants, eight members of FOHI (Friends of Hog Island) volunteered their time to assist in the kitchen and join in on the field projects.

The group was fortunate to have exceptionally good weather, even though mid September is typically one of Maine’s best weeks for outdoor activities. Flat calm seas prevailed for the first two days with temperatures in the 70’s — ideal for landing the entire group on Eastern Egg Rock. Once ashore the group divided into four teams that set about various projects that included:

  • Cutting overgrown vegetation from the artificial puffin burrows that once housed Newfoundland puffin chicks and digging new entrances to adapt them for Leach’s storm-petrel nesting. Soon fifty burrows were restored and ready for storm-petrels to nest next summer.
  • Pulling abandoned lobster traps from seabird nesting habitat. Past storms had tossed the traps onto the island creating danger for nesting seabirds. Two black guillemots and a laughing gull were found entangled in the traps, tragic reminders about the issue of entanglement. By the end of the 2nd day, more than 50 lobster traps were pulled out of the nesting habitat and several hundred abandoned buoys and other plastics were collected.
  • Removing vegetation from the Allan D. Cruickshank sanctuary sign, repainting the letters and re-installing it with new posts.
  • Clearing vegetation from overgrown Common and Roseate Tern habitat and installing outdoor carpet mats to serve as weed barriers, thus creating new habitat for these threatened seabirds. About 200 square meters of new habitat resulted.

The 32 participants donated more than 200 hours of work to help the Egg Rock seabirds. The equipment to cut the vegetation and purchase the weed barrier was provided by a grant from NAWCA (North American Wetland Conservation Act) administered by the U.S. Fish and wildlife Service and LL Bean.

When advance winds from Hurricane Igor made landings unsuitable at Egg Rock for the remainder of the week, the group happily turned their service inclinations to entering seabird data on Project Puffin computers, cutting invasive barberry shrubs and scraping and painting window trim on Hog Island buildings! In addition to the service projects, the group found time to visit many local birding hotspots and hear lectures on backyard landscaping for birds from Stephen Kress and bird migration from Scott Wiedensaul.

Ornithology on Hog Island

Before considering Millicent Bingham’s proposal to use Hog Island as a site for an Audubon Camp in 1935, John Baker — who was then president of the National Audubon Society — enlisted the help of eminent Bowdoin College ornithologist, Dr. Alfred Gross, to determine its ornithological importance. Gross was well-known for his studies of gulls, cormorants and storm petrels in the Gulf of Maine and was therefore a natural choice.

Roger Tory Peterson and Allan D. Cruickshank, among the first teachers at the Camp, ignited popular bird watching in the United States.

Gross then assigned one of his students, Olin Sewall Pettingill, Jr., to investigate the birdlife on Hog Island and vicinity. Pettingill was a natural choice for this assignment. A native of Wayne, Maine, he had conducted studies of Maine seabirds and later went on to write ornithology textbooks, bird-finding guides and eventually, assumed the position of Director of the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell — and for many years traveled with his movies about penguins and other seabirds as part of the Audubon Wildlife Film series.

Early Hog Island instructors
Early Hog Island instructors

Pettingill visited Hog Island and enthusiastically recommended that Audubon acquire the present camp property and secure it for the purpose of bird protection and education. Based on this recommendation, John Baker found a donor to purchase the site and work began immediately to prepare for the first Audubon Campers in 1936. To staff the Camp, Baker hired school teacher and amateur naturalist, Carl Buchheister, as its first Director, an appointment that would last for 22 years, until Buchheister took over leadership of Audubon as its President. Among the first teachers at the Camp, Buchheister and Baker hired Roger Tory Peterson and Allan D. Cruickshank. The careers of these two extraordinary birders ignited popular bird watching in the United States.

Peterson’s effect is now legendary, authoring dozens of books and illustrating these with his dramatic art. The Atlantic Puffin was always one of his favorites and he returned to Maine many times to paint them, always perching them on classic Maine granites, posed against stormy skies (his personal favorite hung in the Camp’s Fish House). This initial Maine seabird exposure developed into his passion for penguins and other south polar seabirds. In the first year of the Camp, Peterson’s ornithology colleague was Allan D. Cruickshank, a charismatic Scot, a pioneer bird photographer who used “state of the art equipment” — a cumbersome 8 x 10″ format black and white view camera that used glass plate film.

Burdened by awkward wooden tripods, he scaled trees and cliffs to document the birds of Hog Island and its neighboring seabird colonies. Many of these original enlargements hang in the Hog Island Bridge, Fish House, and Porthole sleeping quarters, reminders of Cruickshank’s dedication to birds and teaching. Cruickshank and his wife Helen spent 20 summers at Hog Island, photographing birds and documenting their occurrence in “The Birds of Lincoln County, Maine.” A recently discovered picture shows Cruickshank standing on his head aboard the bow of the PUFFIN I as it returned from a day at sea, a signal to campers on Hog Island that a bird rarity had been spotted during the trip.

FOHI campers on Hog Island in 2002

Joseph Cadbury, an instructor who shared teaching duties with Cruickshank for nearly two decades, is remembered for his passion for teaching birdlife and for banding thousands of land and seabirds. These banding efforts revealed much about the migration and winter habitat of Muscongus Bay birds, including the winter haunts of Cormorants that concentrate in Tampa Bay, Florida.