Along the Natchez Trace

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bar Harbor - Part II

The boat trip was scheduled for 5:00 pm....  we got to the dock early and met up with some other volunteers from Aroostook.  While we were waiting we did some bird watching...
This Roseate Tern and Atlantic Puffin were hanging around on the dock, directing tour participants to the sign-in desk.

Notice how overcast the sky is?
Right before we headed out it began raining...  and the fog drifted in.

It didn't get any better.....
We had hoped we were leaving the dark skies behind... such luck.

You can see Egg Rock lighthouse out in the distance.  

The boat had an upper level that was open, but the rain was such that nobody stayed up there very long.  The middle level was under cover and actually gave us all a good view of the water, the islands and the birds.  Last year this tour was packed...  this year, probably due to the weather, everyone could walk around or sit pretty much wherever they choose.

The "bird of choice" was the Atlantic Puffin (of course) and while the boat was fairly close to them (and there were quite a few out there), I didn't get many photos as I didn't want to get my camera wet.

Not just the Puffins, but we saw Razorbills as well.
(upper left)

More Puffins....

Bill and an Atlantic Puffin
Three staff members of the refuge were dressed as seabirds...  the two girls in the first photo as well as a guillemot.   As a fundraiser, you could donate some money to vote for your favorite bird.  Those girls had such a good time mingling among the guests, and we had a good time watching them.  Naturally we voted for this Puffin....  and she was everyone's favorite.  The Roseate Tern came in second, and the guillemot  came in last.  I bet they did very well with the donations.

Of course what everyone wanted to see (besides the puffins) is Petit Manon NWR...
This island houses various personnel...  mostly biologists of one kind or another.
Studies are constantly being done to monitor the seabirds and their interaction with each other; the number of nests, eggs and chicks.  

The nesting colonies are numbered and kept track of.

Problems between the gulls and other seabirds are studied.  A Peregrine Falcon created all kinds of problems in the past...  causing the puffins to abandon their young.

Near the end of the tour recognition was given to the sponsors and many thanks to all who participated.  While this tour wasn't heavily attended, I'm sure that many folks supported it in other ways.

We docked around 7 pm....  it was still raining, and even starting to get dark.  Bill & I headed back to our car and drove about 30 miles up to Ellsworth where we spent the night before returning to Aroostook NWR on Monday morning.

It's always an adventure to volunteer at wildlife refuges, but being given an opportunity such as this is a bonus that is certainly appreciated.

That's All for Today!

Monday, July 27, 2015

An Outing to Bar Harbor

Sometimes, when we are volunteering at a National Wildlife Refuge, an opportunity comes up that is really special.  The Maine Coastal Refuge has a fund-raising benefit giving folks the experience of taking a sight-seeing boat out into the Atlantic (or at least into the bays) and viewing Atlantic Puffins and other seabirds on Petit Manon NWR.  The manager of our refuge bought tickets for any volunteers that would like to go.  Of course we wanted to!  If you've been reading this blog for a while you might remember that we went on the same excursion last year.

It is a 450 mile round-trip drive for me and Bill to drive to Bar Harbor and back, but we got coverage for our work here and Sunday, off we went.

Today I'll just write about our time in Bar Harbor.  Tourist towns just aren't our thing, but we did enjoy walking around the streets for a while... 
Sitting in the park overlooking the bay...
Watching people...  checking out the boats and other sights.

We did a little "window shopping"....  
Neither of us are big shoppers, but Bill did find a bottle of bug spray that is hard to find.
Yep... we're the last of the big spenders.

There's all kinds of things you can buy...
I bet you are just can't wait to have one of these lobster trap chairs.
We would have bought one but really don't have any place in our motorhome to put it. 
(right, she says, rolling her eyes)

But...  WoooHooo
Everyone needs to eat...  and we came across this funky restaurant.
I think it was the "Highway 66" diner.  It had memorabilia from the 1940's through the 1960's or so...  even had a model train running around on a track along the second floor balcony.  (where we were seated)

Every restaurant in town offers lobster...  and clam chowder...  and blueberry pie...  all the things you associate with the coast of Maine.
I had a lobster roll, clam chowder and fries.

We still had time before heading to the dock for the 5:00 boat ride, so...  what else to do but find a geocache!
I got on-line and found that one was hidden close by the city park.  So off we went.
The clue was "Ammo Box"
If any of you are familiar with an ammo box, it is about 10" across, about 3" wide, and maybe 8" deep.  Big enough to hold a library book...  so it's not small.  
We looked...  and looked....  and looked some more.
Finally Bill found it...

It had magnets holding it to the bottom of that park bench that Bill is sitting on (in the background).
Isn't this about the cutest geocache there could be?
After I quit laughing I logged it in...  and added it as one of my favorites.

(for any cachers out there...  the size did have a "?" ....  that should have been a clue)

At 4:00 we headed for the dock to meet the rest of our fellow travelers.
And that will be the blog tomorrow.

That's All For Today!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Unscheduled Tour...

Aroostook NWR was Caribou Air Station before the US Gov't made it a wildlife refuge in 1998.  In the late 1940's it was developed into bunkers and a high security area... the bunkers housed nuclear bombs during the cold war and the service men who were stationed here sometimes didn't even know what the total security system was all about.  Most of the bunkers are still here along with a few of the other buildings, such as the "guard shack" and the "vault".  The base closed in 1994 and since that time there's been a multitude of tests and massive clean-up done to determine the extent of contamination and to make it a safe place for both wildlife and the public.

I'll take y'all on a tour of the place one of these days, but today I'm going to write about a related subject.

The entry to the main road through the refuge is blocked by that big yellow gate.  Signs on either side let visitors know that no vehicular traffic is permitted.  (lots of reasons for this; safety being one) You can walk or bicycle in the refuge between sunrise and sunset.  This gate is closed most of the time, but often, during working hours we'll leave it open just enough to get a service truck or Gator through...  especially if we know we'll only be at the Visitor Center or the Maintenance Shop just a short time.  But by 4:30 of an evening, the last person through (that's either Bill or me) shuts and locks the gate.

A couple nights ago we were done for the day...  locked the gate and headed home.  Our motorhome is parked about 2 miles down the road and as we neared it, we could see about a quarter mile ahead that a car was parked in the road.  Rats!  Unless they had a key, which was unlikely, as they sure didn't look like the Game Warden, Border Patrol, or the National Guard (all have keys to the gate), they were locked in for the night.  Up the road we went.  Now... volunteers aren't "enforcers".  We have no authority or power - but we can "inform".  (Say, did you see the sign at the gate?)

The guy standing in the road immediately started out by telling us he'd been stationed here in 1977-78.  He had driven out to see his old Air Force stomping grounds...   Naturally he "didn't see" the signs.  We go through our spiel about no vehicles etc...  and tell him he's locked in, but we'll follow him back to the gate.

I took this photo through the side mirror in the truck...  but I can just hear the explanations about not seeing the signs etc etc etc.

Now...  when this happens, we tell the folks that if they want to schedule it we'll be happy to take them on a tour of the refuge.  We made arrangements that I'd take Andy and his daughter out at 11:00 the following day...  I'd meet them at the visitor center.

Eleven o'clock came and went.  I hung around until 11:20, then headed home for lunch.  About a half hour later, Bill came down the road in the refuge truck...  with Andy and Erin on board.  Seems they got lost driving out of Caribou and had to backtrack..  They did finally make it to the Visitor Center and started walking to the weapon storage area.  (yes, that's permitted) and Bill picked them up.  Hmmm... this isn't getting off to a real good start, but Bill gave me the truck and the passengers and off we went.

The Game Camera picks us up driving past....

We tailor our refuge tours to what the visitor wants.  Some folks don't give a whit about the military history... they just want to see a moose.  (good luck)....  But Andy was only interested in the Weapon Storage Area and the buildings there.  I unlocked the guard shack and we all went inside.  He showed Erin where he'd put a hard boiled egg in a microwave to see what would happen.  (we all know how that came out)....  they worked the windows...  checked out the bullet-proof glass...  and he relived his days as an 18 year old here in the Service.

We stopped at a couple of bunkers so they could go inside.  He'd never been in one before as they were totally off-limits when he was here.  He was part of the security police...  he was on patrol while on duty here.  We stopped at an area he said used to have an above-ground vent...  and a sign that warned that nuclear waste was buried there.  He searched and searched, but couldn't find it.  (I asked Bill later...  that vent has long since been removed and filled in)

Finally we got to the "vamp" house.  Some folks call it the school house...  but whatever you call it, it's the building that housed the detonators that fired the bombs.  

The top floor is solid concrete....  the ground floor has concrete walls 10' thick.  Inside are 4 small rooms where there were racks that held that component.  There is no electricity here now, so when we were making the arrangements for the tour I told Andy he might want to bring flashlights.  Oh my...  he had those kind that strap on your forehead...  he was prepared.  He and Erin went in and must have spent a half hour to 45 minutes checking it all out.  Erin finally came out and we sat in the truck talking.  Seems her Dad talks about this place all the time...  he's 56 now and they live in Alaska.  But he comes back here when he can to visit relatives.  Each visit back he's tried to come back to the old base where he has such interesting memories.

He told me about hanging out on Inspiration Hill...  a section of the patrol road that overlooks the area, and when they'd see someone important (their sergeant? coming, they'd move on to the next point.  We drove around to the different areas and Andy told me he wished it could have been preserved as it used to be.

I showed them some of the old bunkers that are falling apart and explained about the life of the concrete...  some of the hazards...  some of the concerns.  While the area is definitely of historic value and the State Historic Preservation Association controls much of what we can do, they or no one else provides the funds to keep things intact or make things safe.  When the gov't decided to make this a wildlife refuge the focus changed.

Most tours take about an hour....  I spent at least 3 hours with Andy and Erin.  When I dropped them off back at the visitor center I took them inside to show them a book from the early development of the base.  The VC closes at 4:00 and I think they were there until the last.

I'll admit I'm not real happy with folks that ignore signs and go where they're not supposed to.  But I'll also say that this was one of the most enjoyable tours I've given.  I'm glad it worked out so well.

That's All For Today!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

This One's For George....

Y'all know I read a lot of blogs, and sometimes we even have the opportunity to meet some of those bloggers in person.  We've met up with George and Suzie in Texas.  George writes an awesome blog about their awesome travels.  And he usually includes photos of the awesome meals he fixes.

Bill & I went into Caribou yesterday to the S.W. Collins hardware store.  Although they have stores in several Maine cities, it's not a chain like Lowe's or Home Depot.  But it's a big place and they have everything...
Just walking in the door can be overwhelming.  There are plenty of clerks, though, and they are always happy to help you.

Bill had a long shopping list.  It's budget time at the Refuge and that means if anything is left over from last year it has to be spent before the end of this fiscal year.  Bill is stocking the workshop with items it lacked...  and we returned several tubes of caulk that weren't needed on another project.  Turned out the credit for the caulk was $42.45....  and our new purchases came to $33.17.  Looks like Bill can go shopping again soon.

Now...  this is why I thought of George...
Q-Weber Grills!
Just look at the colors they come in!!!
They cost $209.99 each....  hey, George...  I think you need one in each color!

Somehow, I don't think these pretty colors will enhance the flavor of the foods they cook...  and besides that, George already has one that he does right fine with.  But... I just couldn't resist a little rib-eye ribbing.

That's All For Today!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Workshop... Woodshop.... and Bill

This refuge had a new maintenance shop built 2 or 3 years ago.  The old one was a leftover building from when this was an Air Force base and while it was adequate, things were going bad...  roof leaking, hard to heat, and on and on.  Also, it is located 2 miles from the headquarters office.  Winters are pretty severe up here and snow can get quite deep.  Two miles is a lot of plowing to do just to get to work in the mornings. 

So the regional office decided to have this new shop built close to the main entrance and across the road from the headquarters office.  It's a fairly large building...  it has 3 bays which house the service truck and the Gator and whatever small equipment is being used.  During the winter months Kirk does a lot of maintenance on the equipment making sure it's ready for summer use.

There is also a room that was set up to be a woodshop.  It's surprising how much carpentry of various kinds is going on.  Everything from making or repairing bird boxes to building boardwalks or small buildings.

I've written that Kirk is a one-man show up here.  He doesn't have time to do everything he needs to get done let alone any extra.  When Bill & I are up here during the summer Bill uses rainy days and some hours on the weekends to "putter" around.

Let me show you the results of some of his puttering...

Here's the Woodshop...
See that network of metal pipes coming out of the ceiling at the upper right?  Bill designed, put together and installed a vacuum system.  The vacuum stuff is in the room overhead, but with this system you can clean up your sawdust or other debris by opening one of the 3 ports over the workbench.  He wired it so that you can turn it on from a switch near the workbench.  In the left corner he built holders for the woodworking clamps.  The pegboard is pretty classy....  it is nicer than the usual pressed stuff you usually see.  

I really like this...
He had a metal shop build this holder for measuring tapes.
It is angled so you can clip your tapes on it and they'll be handy for quick use.
Notice the hole underneath the tape holder?  They used old doors as the surface for the workbenches.  As with most places, money is always tight, so any way they can save, they do.  Bill is an expert at utilizing, recycling and making do.

I took this photo Sunday morning...  by afternoon he'd already taken down the clamps and painted the corner holder.  Bill has some great ideas about organization and efficiency.  He'll have the whole place in great shape before we move on.

The back wall of the main garage houses the maintenance tools.  Some of these tool chests were brought up from the old shop..  a couple are new.  He usually has this place in order, but that flat metal piece sitting on the workbench closest to the front is the front of the electric box that Bill had opened to wire in the vacuum system.  I see today that it's back in it's correct place.

Looking from the maintenance shop through the door into the woodshop.
Bill's been mostly occupied with the woodshop so this area, while getting some attention, will take a few more rainy days and weekends to be organized the way he wants it.

It's raining again today...  I see a shopping list laid on the workbench....  items he needs from the local hardware store to continue on with this task.  It's great that the Refuge gives him pretty much a free hand in his work.  But, personally, I think it's great that they have Bill around to "putter around" and put some of his ideas to work.

That's All For Today!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Loon Survey

A lot of you know about the Christmas Bird Count, but yesterday, up here in Maine, there was a statewide Loon Survey being conducted.

It was held July 18th, from 7:00 to 7:30 am with the purpose to get an idea of how many loons are living and nesting on the ponds and lakes in Maine.  Our refuge manager asked if Bill & I would canvass E. Loring Lake, here at Aroostook NWR.  Of course we were happy to, and we were provided with very specific instructions on what to do.

You could conduct your survey either on land or by boat.  We chose to take the flat-bottom boat out on the lake so we could cover more area.

The water was like a sheet of glass...
No wind at all and temps in the lower 60's.

This lake was built by the Air Force during the 1950's.  The bunkers that housed the nuclear bombs were built above ground, but earth was needed to cover them up so they'd be camoflauged as seen from the air.  By using the soil, the lake was created and provided a recreational area for the servicemen stationed here.  The lake is fed by Butterfield Brook, but the beaver population pretty much controls the water level these days.

We already knew what to expect in the way of loons here...
 There is only one pair of resident loons.  In all my years volunteering here we've never seen more than the 1 pair, and we've never seen baby loons.  Sometimes we'll see a lone loon fly in and hang around with the pair, as we did today.....  but we knew we weren't exactly going to be overwhelmed with trying to count birds.

We started our survey at 7:00, as specified.  At 7:02 we spotted the pair down by the old boardwalk, which the beavers use as the backside of their dam.  Bill rowed the boat towards the upper end of the lake to see if by chance any other loons were around.

We didn't see any, but it was interesting to see one of my favorite spots from a different angle...
This photo blind was an Eagle Scout project.  I painted it a couple years ago...  Bill chose this spot up on the bank of the lake and placed it there.  It's not far off the road, but you feel like you're in the middle of nowhere... surrounded totally by the outdoors.  There are all kinds of songbirds in the surrounding trees, and I frequently see Cedar Waxwings or Kingfishers hanging out on those snags at the water's edge.

And, speaking of Kingfishers...
We saw a family of Kingfishers...  looked like the baby had fledged recently.  That's the baby and parent in both photos.  He was doing the quivering, fluttering thing baby birds do...  and his parent flew in to feed him (on the right).  I always love watching kingfishers... especially when they dive into the water for food.

This young Bull Moose emerged out of the woods and wandered down to the water's edge.
He checked us out but proceeded to browse through the grasses and water for his breakfast.

The fireweed is just starting to bloom up here...
It's just beautiful...  especially when you come across huge areas of it.  

The third loon came flying in at 7:20 am.  He/she landed in the water close to the pair that were already there, but there did not appear to be any interaction between the pair and the lone one.  We watched them for quite a while and one of them performed some kind of posturing or something...  kind of standing up and running back and forth across the water....  calling very loudly.  

While the survey ended at 7:30, we stayed on the lake until 8:00 or so...  when we left the pair of loons were still down by the beaver dam and we'd lost track of the loner.  I know our count of 3 loons seems rather meager...  but the fact that there were only 3, that there were no babies, and no signs of nests is still data.  

The day got colder and drearier as it progressed... finally the rains started in the afternoon.  I'm glad the survey was conducted while it was still fairly nice outside.

The End

That's All For Today!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Goin' Fishin'.....

Not every day is a work day here on the Refuge.  Sometimes the refuge offers us a special tour or trip, like the one we'll be taking in a couple of weeks for a birding tour off Bar Harbor.  Sometimes we just take a day and do something fun.  Yesterday was one of those days...

We went fishing!  Now I'll tell you right off that neither Bill nor I have done much fishing in our lives.  When my kids were little I used to take them fishing at Dow Lake...  they'd catch a bunch of bluegills and their Grandpa would help them clean them when we'd get back.  It must have taken a dozen of those little guys to feed one little kid.  But I just haven't done much fishing since.

Kirk loves fishing the brooks in this area and told us about the brook trout he'd bring home.  Bill & I have a great memory of a trout dinner when we were volunteering in Alaska....  Didn't take too long to decide we all needed a fun day off from work and maybe bring home some fish for dinner.

We loaded up a boat and headed for a nearby lake.
Guess this should have been "the end" shot....  but here's Bill getting the boat into the water.
That canoe you see in front of Bill is for a Loon Survey we'll do on Saturday.

No motor...  just oars and manpower!

Bill caught the first fish and handed it back to Kirk to put on a stringer.
It's kind of curled up here, but actually was big enough for a person's dinner.

It was quite cold and windy....  I swear I saw white caps on the lake.  It was so windy that we had to drop anchor just to keep from blowing around.  Bill caught a second fish...  Kirk and I didn't catch any.  But seeing this moose at the far shore was enough to keep me from being disappointed.

It felt like it was getting colder...  and windier...  so we headed back to the docking area and loaded up.  Kirk knew of a brook that would likely have trout...  off we went.

Bill and Kirk both caught several nice trout....  
I took a break and headed back to the refuge as I had to get to the Post Office before 1pm.  By the time I got back to that brook, the guys were about out of worms and ready to head home.

Kirk gave us his fish, and between what all of us caught, we had enough for dinner last night and a few to put in the freezer.

Trout don't have scales so are easy to clean..... except for being really, really slippery!  I lived on a farm long enough that those kinds of things don't bother me.

I fixed fresh trout for dinner last night...  it was wonderful!  I didn't think to take any photos, but....  trust me...  it looked great too!

Here y'all thought we spent every minute here working, didn't you?

That's All For Today!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Catching Up... Again

We finally have summer up here in Northeast Maine.  The temps have actually gotten to 80 degrees a few days.  Nights are still in the 50's, but once the sun is up the temperature rises quickly.

The critters don't care much for the heat and so either hang out in the woods or in the water.  At any rate, wherever they are, I'm not seeing as many.

My game cameras continue to catch the night action...
This White-tail Deer is checking her fawn.

We see coyotes occasionally, but this guy passes by this corner fairly often.

Yep...  those cameras even catch me...
Here I am on my "Barney Bike"  (it's purple)...  and using my new Black Rapid camera strap (but not the way it's intended to be used)....  tooling along yesterday afternoon.  That black spot on my face is  my little rear-view mirror.  You just never know what those cameras will reveal...

This Cow Moose hangs out in the Bucky Beaver Pond...  sometimes she'll just watch as we drive by, but this time she got a little nervous and decided to quit eating (see the grass hanging out of her mouth?) and head to the woods across the road.  I think I was in the Gator when I took this...  it does make a lot of noise.

The Purple Finches have been bringing their babies to the feeders.  It's funny to watch the little guys flutter around...  hang their wings to their sides...  and do all the baby bird things.  They look as big (sometimes bigger) than their parents, but they are so easy to tell apart by their mannerisms.

Not much going on with me...  I'm having some wrist problems (carpel tunnel?)....  and so am not mowing this week.  I'll see if that helps ease the pain.  Bill & Kirk are still working on the new road, but are taking some time to work on the Beaver Pond Trail as well.

The Friends of ANWR met last night...  it's always interesting to hear what they have planned.  They are a very active group and have at least one activity planned for the public each month.  There is a core group who do most of the work... (that's usually the way it is)...  but they do a fantastic job.

And so....  this is....
The End...

That's All For Today!

Thursday, July 9, 2015


This week has been an exciting one...  really busy for all of us.  I've not done any of the actual "work" on the new road/culvert....  I'm more the "go-fer"....  and I've taken hundreds of photos to document all the work.  My first photo was taken in 2012...  I guess that will be the "before" shot....  the road won't be done for a while yet so the "after" shot may have to wait a while.

Since I've been down at the site a couple of days and spent most of today mowing the trails at Chapman Lake, and then some trails here, about all the photos I've taken are of the job site...  and I'll save all those for later.  

My trusty game camera works non-stop...
It captured this Bull Moose last evening.  He's not the big guy I've seen a few times, but he sure has a nice rack developing...  and his muscles and hide look sleek and fit.

We'll be here at Aroostook NWR until Labor Day...  not sure if we'll head out before or just after.  But we plan to stop and visit some family on our way west...  and stop in Ohio to check on the rentals.  

We have plans to attend the Albuquerque, NM, balloon fiesta the first weekend in October.  We've been there a few times in the past, but this year both of Bill's daughters will be going as well.  One lives in Pennysylvania and the other in Texas, so it will be good to have at least part of our family together again.

Right after that we'll head to Texas...  we fly out of DFW on October 18th to head for a cruise that leaves out of Ft Lauderdale, FL.  This is one of the genealogy software cruises (seminars on board) that we've done for years.  Only this time we'll head to the Panama Canal.  It's a 10 day cruise and only goes part way through the canal then returns to Florida.  Doesn't matter... it will be something new to us.  The genealogy conference will be about DNA this year.

Then a flight back to Texas, where we'll spend the month of November getting our annual physicals and whatever else...  dental, eyes...  it's always something.

On December 14th we'll be heading to Mexico.  Not going to take our RV this time...we'll be flying in to Puerta Vallarta.   We've rented a bungalow on the west coast...  town of Lo de Marcos....   it's about 30 miles north of Puerta Vallarta, and south of San Blas.  We'll be there until March 15th...    I guess I better start working on my Spanish....

We have lousy phone service here so all this is more for the benefit of our family...  sorry if I've bored my faithful readers.

I'll include one last photo of the refuge...
Taken this morning about 4:45 am.
It was only 45 degrees at that hour...   but now it's nearly 3 pm and I have shed the sweater, jacket, scarf, wool gloves and wool cap...  still have on the t-shirt, jeans and boots as I've been mowing.
But it's turned out to be a beautiful day.

That's All For Today!