1998 Biology Field Experience: The Northeast  

Part 2


We set out on May 26 on a 2-week, 4,000+ mile odyssey to explore the flora and fauna of the Northeastern United States and Maritime Canada. Five souls and a lot of equipment were packed into an all-wheel drive GMC Safari minivan. We had everything we needed for our trip except for  Jesus hats and a Maine Gazetteer.

Day 4 - A Pilgrimage to Mecca


In ancient times, people built temples and other structures in exact alignment with certain celestial events. Many of the Indian Mounds in Marietta bear this out. It is a little known fact that the Sleepy Pilgrim Motel in Plymouth Massachusetts is built along these same lines. I think the place was designed so that the first peek of sunlight at dawn on May 29th would insinuate itself between the blinds on the door and awaken me in my bed. We were unimpressed by Plymouth Rock. They may have known how to get a belt on a hat, but the pilgrims didn’t know much about sailing. We had breakfast between the sewage plant and Cranberry World. Cranberry World is the world headquarters of Ocean Spray, the cooperative who has figures out how to get us all to eat what has to be the bitterest, least appealing fruit on the east coast. Have you ever noticed that they always mix the cranberries with something? Cranberry World is well done as museum/propaganda outlets go (we’ll get to Chocolate World on Day 15). You can learn a lot about how cranberries are grown, harvested and marketed. Or, you can just walk through, nod politely at a few exhibits, go downstairs for the complimentary treats, and wander outside to the tidal flats. More gulls, lots of barnacles, and more than a few molluscs, which got Tanya, our consulting conchologist, excited.

Plymouth Rock is in the structure at the left of the picture above

Plymouth Rock.


Cranberry plants growing at Cranberry World in Plymouth, Massachusetts. 

Sarah Beck with her notebook at the shore in Plymouth. 

From Plymouth, we traveled to Scarborough Maine to see the salt marsh there (whoops – New Hampshire, state 10, time in state = 20 minutes). Maine is state 11. The salt marsh at Scarborough is the largest in Maine. The Maine Audubon Society has a giftshop/interpretive center there; you can rent canoes there on weekends. This was a Friday. We decided to go for the commercialism of Freeport Maine and forgo the tranquil waters of the marsh. But, before leaving we got to see the "yellow-slippered" snowy egrets, some entertaining swallows, and even some glossy ibises.

Freeport Maine. Home to L.L. Bean and with outlets for every other yuppie-oriented outdoor marketer (there’s an oxymoron) marketer in the world. Fortunately, late May isn’t the height of the tourist season, so we didn’t have to fight our way into the town. Our first stop was the Bean outlet store. My wife calls Freeport "mecca", and I had (well, I lost it, but at one time I had it) a list of must-buy bargains. Of course, they had none of these at the outlet store. We did pick up a few bargains however. While in the store, a huge cloudburst came over and kept us there a bit longer than we had planned. We were examining the Gore-Tex racks when the sky cleared. After a trip to the van to unload our purchases, we were off to dinner and then – to the big store, Mecca central.

It was at the big store that I bought the Jesus hat. We didn’t call it that at first, but the die was cast. Tanya and Almuth saw me with it; as the resident entomologist I explained about blackflies. They bought their own Jesus hats. For the uninformed, the Jesus hat is a mesh covering designed to be worn over the entire head to keep the bugs (technically adult female Simuliidae, Ceratopogonidae, Tabanidae, and Culicidae) away from one’s skin.

  Day 5 – Away From the Tourists.

  The next morning we were off for more exploration. However, our first trip was back to mecca. After some more explanation about blackflies, Sarah and Candace decided to purchase their own Jesus hats. As to the name, I don’t want to give away how it came about, but rest assured we meant no blasphemy. While the additional hats we being purchased, I checked out Mecca Jr., the L.L. Kids store. In many ways, it’s better then the regular store. At the big store, they didn’t mind when I stuck my feet into the trout pond, so I was somewhat surprised when they wouldn’t let me on the rotating climbing wall in the kid’s store.
We went out to Wolf Neck Woods State Park. We took the little bog trail; as advertised the little bog is evidently so little we walked right past it, much to Dr. Tschunko’s consternation. Still, she was able to introduce us to many of the Maine wildflowers including mayflowers and bunchberries. We came out to the seashore for more beachcombing and saw an osprey nest.

  Two views of the shoreline at Wolf Neck State Park, Maine. 



Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), a relative of the dogwood. 


  Pink Lady's Slippers, also known as Moccasin-Flower (Cypripedium acaule).  

A northern orchid; also found in the Appalachian Mountains. 


  We then drove along the coast to Castine, Maine. A scenic trip, with but one stop at a Subway for lunch. It was after overshooting the Subway that we learned to make the distinction between an observation and a request when commenting on roadside attractions; this distinction would later come to the aid of many a stressed bladder. Castine is a lovely town. Marietta College has a good friend there in Dan Jones, our former director of admissions who now holds the same post at the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine. Dan had arranged wonderful accommodations for us in the graduate house at the academy, and our check-in instructions told us to give Dan a call. We had been running late all day, and Dan told us we had to hustle to catch our harbor tour. Morgan, a student at the academy, was indeed on the sloop as promised, and took us on a tour of the bay. Once he knew we were biologists he was sure to take us by the harbor seals pulled up on a rock. We got back to the academy and moved into our spacious quarters. After 4 nights with 5 people in 2 hotel rooms (with one of us on a cot), it was a real luxury to spread out into 3 apartments. We unpacked and took a walking tour of Castine, followed by a dinner at a nice restaurant where we could eat out on a pier overlooking the bay. At Castine we got a good look at cormorants for the first time. Although it was a little cool, I couldn’t pass up Maine Black Bear ice cream at the corner store. Sarah and Candace later wandered off to give the tackling dummies on the football field a little attitude adjustment.    


The Maine Maritime Academy Docks in Castine, Maine.

    For more about Castine, see our friends at the Maine Maritime Academy!  

Day 6 – Acadia National Park

Dr. Tschunko was up at dawn to look for birds – and dawn comes early as you head north. I met her on her way back. We watched some cedar waxwings working an elm for bugs. An elm? Yes, Castine has somehow managed to retain its stately american elms. These trees have been literally wiped out by dutch elm disease across the country, but have held on in Castine (and in several other places in New England as we found out). I was able to smell the unique and pleasant aroma of the elms for the first time since childhood. We had our breakfast on the dock; it was now low tide and we got a feel for the extreme tidal range as one approached the Bay of Fundy.

From Castine we made the short drive to Bar Harbor. Parking at the College of the Atlantic, we made our way to the seashore for more beachcombing. The college, on the edge of Bar Harbor, had some very productive tide pools and very strangely attired students. The stalls in the bathrooms have chalkboards; I’m going to lobby for that at Marietta. They also had a very informative flier discussing various aspects of "womyns" hygiene. I actually checked to be sure I hadn’t wandered into the wrong venue for a person of my gender, but was reassured by the sight of male-specific plumbing; I guess they just wanted everyone to be informed.



Candace consults with Dr. Tschunko over a find.


As I said, the tide pools were productive. We had seen lots of barnacles, but here we were able to see them feeding. More seaweed of course, but also a variety of molluscs. Sarah found a sea star (starfish) wedged in a crevice under a large rock. Candace found an orange-footed sea cucumber; later we would see several more. We found a number of green crabs both young and old, and in fact found one female carrying eggs. Under the rockweed we saw a number of amphipods as well.

Barnacles on a rock in a tide pool at Bar Harbor. 

A barnacle "open for business" and actively feeding. 


A female green crab (Carcinus maenas) on the beach at Bar Harbor. 

  The same crab, showing the eggs she is protecting under her abdomen.  We were sure to return her to a protected area to await the rising tide, 


An orange-footed sea cucumber (Cucumaria frondosa) washed up on the shore.  Digital camera image by Tanya Troutner-Jarrell. 



We then moved into Acadia National Park. The weather began to turn on us at this point, and the sky was threatening. On the loop road we saw several beaver dams, and Dr. Tschunko pointed out the various types of birches. We couldn’t find the peregrine falcons nesting at the Precipice, and Thunder Hole was quiet. At otter cove, however, we saw our first loon of the trip. We ascended Cadillac Mountain in a driving rain. At the top we went to the gift store and waited for a break in the rain. When it slowed to a mere wind-driven drizzle, we dashed around to try and take some pictures. I was glad to have my Nikonos underwater camera at that point!

From Acadia, we drove further up the Maine coast to the charming Blueberry patch motel. On Cape Cod we had seen cranberry bogs; here we say blueberry patches, which are burned periodically to discourage weeds and encourage the blueberries. We also saw a larch tree! The people at the motel put us on to the adjacent White House Restaurant – good food, great prices. We drove down to Jonesport to be sure we knew the way – the next morning we’d be up early to go see Puffins!


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