1998 Biology Field Experience: The Northeast  

Part 3


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 7 – from the ashes of defeat...

Up at 5:30 am – it had been a stormy night and it was a cold, gray day. We loaded up, anxious that the weather might keep us from reaching the island where the puffins were. The White House Restaurant fixed us up with a solid breakfast and even provided carryout lunches for the trip. We were at the dock in Jonesport by 7 as promised. Things didn’t look good when we realized that the boat wasn’t at the pier. Still, some other people obviously going out to see the puffins (lobstermen don’t stroll along carrying tripods and binoculars in Jonesport) showed up. Things looked real bad, however, when Captain Barna Norton parked behind another truck. You don’t park someone in when you expect to take a 7-hour cruise! Captain Norton gave us the bad news – a storm system, which had wreaked havoc in the Midwest (destroying a town in South Dakota, among other things), would keep us from reaching the island. Decision time – we were due on Prince Edward Island that evening, but Captain Norton could take us out the next day if we could stick around. After some thought, that’s exactly what we decided to do. At this point, Captain John Norton (Barna’s son) came by and suggested some outings. At that point, we realized we really needed a Maine Gazetteer. These wonderful map books, produced for many of the states, are invaluable to the outdoor enthusiast. Here in Ohio, I routinely will synchronize directions with someone over the phone (... see that little pond to the left of the road – no, I’m on map 72 – yes, the one right off county road 12. Park near the pond, the trail is off to the left.."). Did I mention that the Gazetteers for all of the states are produced by DeLorme in (where else) Freeport, Maine? Cap’n John directed us to a Nature Conservancy property on nearby Great Wass Island, and pointed out several other possibilities on the mainland with the aid of a Gazetteer from one of the other groups.
Great Wass Island is just that. The trail alternates from boreal forest to Canadian Shield granite outcroppings – with bogs everywhere. Not far into the trail we came upon a spruce grouse. It put on quite a show, even doing its display and call for us. We were very proud of our woods skills (until I found the entry in the field guide that called it a "tame bird"). We saw bogs complete with pitcher plants and sphagnum moss. We met a team from the University of Maine studying jack pine. Finally, we came out on what was perhaps the most spectacular shoreline we would see the whole trip. The low gray sky and a foggy haze enhanced the visual drama; a foghorn in the distance completed the experience. We were able to walk over what seemed like miles of rockweed (Fucus sp.); this would prove to be a very useful skill 24 hours later. We had arrived just after low tide, and had to race the tide back to shore. Along the way, however, we made several discoveries, the most exciting of which were the iridescent green Nereis (probably Nereis virens) clamworms.

Trail through a bog on Great Wass Island.


Sphagnum moss (left) and pitcher plants (right) in the bog.


  A spruce grouse on Great Wass Island.

Clam worm (Nereis sp.) of the shore at Great Wass Island.

Candace Tuxhorn exploring the shoreline on Great Wass Island.



Fucus pulled back to reveal mussels.  The wet Fucus protects a myriad of animals which would otherwise be exposed to the elements at low tide.

A red algae.

Laminaria digitata, a form of kelp.

Another form of Fucus showing the air bladders that help the leaves to float near the surface.

Algae in a tide pool.

Ulva, the sea-lettuce - a type of green algae.

More Fucus - the aptly named rockweed covered many of the rocks at several sites we visited, including Great Wass Island  and Machias Seal Island.  Learning to walk on this slippery mat became a vital skill.



After Great Wass Island we set out in search of a Gazetteer. We combed Machias, but were unable to locate one. I was cursing myself for not getting one while at the Bean store, but I hadn’t planned on going anywhere in Maine I hadn’t been before. Finally, at our last stop, we asked the clerk if they had one. They didn’t, and neither the clerk nor several of the local patrons knew where we might get one. Out of the blue, one of the patrons offered to give us hers. She declined our offers of payment, saying she needed a new one anyway. Her copy was pretty beat up, but it got us where we needed to go. Wherever you are, thanks for the Gazetteer!

Gazetteer in hand, we set off for the Great Works Wildlife Management Area, where Captain John thought we might see moose. Unfortunately, well short of our goal we were stopped by a washout in the road. Dr. Tschunko did see a saw-whet owl in the trees by the roadside, however, and we stopped to take pictures. I didn’t have time to get the big lens out, but I was able to take several credible pictures using my 100-mm macro lens. I was astonished at how close we were able to get; the astonishment faded to humiliation later however, when the bird guide described the saw-whet as, you guessed it – a "tame little owl". Still, a spruce grouse and a saw-whet in one day aren’t too bad. Scott Weidensaul was even jealous, saying he has been looking for spruce grouse in Maine for years.

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