On this boat tour in less than ideal weather, we saw a couple of Humpback Whales, several Atlantic Puffins, and a few other bird species we hadn't seen before.
For our last day on Mt. Desert Island, we were struggling to decide whether to get up really early and take in some park highlights, take a sea kayaking tour, or take the Puffin & Whale Watching Tour offered by Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.
We chose the puffins and whales. I love whales - always have, always will. We both love puffins, and we had never seen Atlantic Puffins, so they would be a "life bird" for us. Also, we knew that the nesting season for the puffins was just about over, and they would be going out to sea in the next couple of weeks.
Our only hesitation at going on the tour is that the boat holds 350 people - not exactly the intimate experience we like. However, because they take so many people on each tour, the prices are pretty decent.
When we were farther north, we checked into the puffin tour out of Cutler, ME by Bold Coast Charter Company. They go to Machias Seal Island which has the largest population of nesting puffins off the coast of Maine and it's a much smaller boat. But it is more expensive and the tours book up months in advance.
So, we got up early and headed into downtown Bar Harbor. We were supposed to be there by 7:45 to get our tickets for the 8:00 boarding and 8:30 departure.
It was supposed to be a warm, clear day, but it was cloudy with a little fog hanging in the air as we boarded the Friendship V.
It's a three-deck catamaran with a galley for drinks and snacks. We were told to prepare for 45-degree temperatures out on the water even though it was supposed to be near 80 degrees today. We had hoped to get a seat on the top deck for better whale viewing, but it filled up quickly. Later, we weren't too disappointed. :)
Our boat made its way through the harbor past the smaller boats ....
and the lobster trap buoys. As we went past the Porcupine Islands ....
Cadillac and Champlain Mountains on the mainland were still shrouded in clouds and fog.
We went past Egg Island with its small lighthouse.
Our naturalist guide pointed out a Bald Eagle on the rocks and a couple of seals in the water. A few people got to see those as well as a small pod of Harbor Porpoises that made a quick appearance.
Before we got very far, we saw a Northern Gannet flying by the boat.
That was a first for us. We may have seen one before, but that was the first one identified for us. They are large sea birds that you may have seen on nature shows plunging into the water from great heights and diving as far as 70 feet.
Along the way, we saw other sea birds that we didn't have marked off in our field guide such as the Greater Shearwater, the Sooty Shearwater, and the Wilson's Storm Petrel. So, before we got very far at all, we had four new bird species.
But of course, everyone wanted to see the puffins. We made our way out to Petit Manan Island, and soon we were seeing Atlantic Puffins in the water. They are only about the size of a pigeon, so binoculars were pretty important and zoom lenses on cameras were necessary.
I had to crop the photos to get anything decent to post.
Thankfully, they were in the water, 'cause the birds on land were way too far away to get a good look. They looked like tiny black specks on the shore below the Petit Manan Lighthouse (the second tallest lighthouse in Maine).
The puffins weren't shy or skittish and several of them did fly-bys.
This tern also did a close fly-by with a fish in its mouth.
We also saw Razorbills which were swimming close to shore mixed in with the puffins. They made the sixth new species for us on today's trip. Cool.
Just wish the weather would have been better so the pictures would have shown the brightly-colored bills of the puffins. They are sometimes called "sea parrots".
We had plenty of time to look at puffins, and then we headed farther out to sea to look for whales. We so hoped that the fog would lift, but it never did.
We were lucky that it stayed clear enough to spot two Humpback Whales. It was difficult getting decent photos of them, however. It was just dark and gray, and you couldn't see down into the water. Plus, it was misty and many shots had to be taken through glass.
They would stay on the surface and their backs would appear a few times. Then they would arch their backs and take a deep dive with their tails coming out of the water. I got a few good tail shots.
When they dove, we could expect them to stay down for about ten minutes, and then they would re-surface somewhere nearby. We watched the two whales for an hour or so. But then the fog closed in even more and we lost our ability to see them come back up.
We tried to move to get out of the fog and perhaps find more whales, but it just wasn't happening. We had to settle for our two Humpbacks, but that was a heck of a lot better than getting shut out.
So we trudged back toward Bar Harbor, and it was cold. I had on four layers, gloves, and an ear protector while Linda had all that plus a scarf and a blanket. Those that had filled in the upper deck in the beginning were now cramming themselves into the two indoor sections.
It wasn't until we reached the harbor that we once again saw blue skies and it warmed up.
So, all in all, we had a pretty good cruise. The weather was a bit dismal, but we saw what we came to see and a bit more. I would have loved to have had bright, clear skies and to have seen more whales and more species of whales, but we were very fortunate to get what we got. Whale viewing tours are always a bit of a crap-shoot and there are certainly no guarantees on seeing whales.
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