I have been to Machias Seal Island three times.

I first went there alone about  Memorial Day, in 1962 or 1963. I  drove my
VW beetle from NYC and spent about a week in Maine, taking the Bluenose from
Bar Harbor to Yarmouth (a two-day trip at that time of year -- I had to
spend the night in Yarmouth and return the next day), and birding around Bar
Harbor, Acadia National Park and Schoodic Point. There were no organized
birding trips to the island then, but I had heard that Purcell W. Corbett, a
lobsterman in Cutler, would take you there for a price. I drove to Cutler
and located Corbett's house. He welcomed me and escorted me into his very
large kitchen, where he placed two chairs  in the middle of the room, facing
each other. He motioned me to sit in one chair and himself sat in the other.
I quickly realized that he did that so that the bargaining could begin.

I cannot think of a more New England Yankee-sounding name than Purcell W.
Corbett or a more Yankee thing to do than to bargain face to face in the
middle of a large, Maine kitchen. Corbett immediately told me that he really
did not need to go to Machias Seal Island. In the spirit of the occasion, I
responded that I did not need to go there either. On the other hand, Corbett
said, the lighthouse keeper there would like him to bring some things, and
he had not been there for three weeks. On the other hand, I said, I had
never been to Machias Seal Island, and I would like see what it was like.
Corbett started at $45. I started at $25. We settled at $35. (I later noted
in the boat log that some had paid as little as $25. Few had paid more than

Early the next morning, Corbett loaded a box of groceries on to his boat and
we set out in a thick fog. He took me first to Old Man Island, which
featured breeding Razorbills, Black Guillemots, Double Crested Cormorants
and Great Blue Herons. Razorbills were a life bird. These only became
visible when we got very close to Old Man Island. From there, we headed out
to Machias Seal island, still in thick fog. As we came ashore we met someone
leaving with a bucket full of Artic Tern eggs. Corbett explained that the
Province of New Brunswick allowed egging up to a certain date, after which
it was forbidden.

I had a good time watching Atlantic Puffins and Arctic Terns from the blind,
while Corbett visited with the lighthouse keepers.  I remember being dive
bombed by terns, but I do not remember being struck. We did not use sticks
or umbrellas for protection, although I may have worn a hat. The sun burned
through in the late morning and I had a beautiful experience there. When
lunch time arrived, the lighthouse keepers invited us into their home and
gave us delicious lobster stew for lunch.

I returned the next Memorial Day weekend with two friends, again going out
with Corbett. The fog was absent then, and I had a camera with me. In
addition to puffins, Razorbills and guillemots, several Common Murres were
present. I had not expected them there, so I took photos of them and sent
them to Aaron Bagg, then Maine's one man bird record committee. Apparently,
the murres were something of a find because Bagg accepted my record
gratefully. I believe they have since been fairly regular there.

In addition to terns and alcids, there were lots of other birds on the
island, both alive an dead. I got good, close up photos of Magnolia Warbler,
American Redstart, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Common
Nighthawk, Veery and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Most of the living birds
were in and around the lawns and wooden walkways that connect the buildings,
but the Black-throated Green Warbler was foraging on seaweed near the
water's edge. There were also quite a few warblers and thrushes dead at the
base of the lighthouse. Altogether, we counted 15 separate species of
warblers, alive and dead, on the island.

I don't recall whether the lighthouse keepers again gave us lobster stew on
that trip, but I think they did.

I took my third trip to Machias Seal Island in mid-summer in the late
sixties or early seventies. Gwen and I went from Jonesport with Bill
Guthrie, an official of our church, whom I knew, and Farrell Lenfesty, a
Jonesport lobsterman who belonged to the church. I remember seeing Sooty,
Greater and Manx Shearwaters between Jonesport and Machias Seal Island. The
breeding season was pretty well over, but there were still a few puffins and
Arctic Terns around. We did not land.

 On the way back, our boat's motor conked out. I remember my wife saying,
"Isn't this exciting! We're drifting toward the rocks!" while Farrell hung
his head in shame. Eventually, the Coast Guard had to be summoned to tow us
home. Gwen thought it was quite an adventure to be towed home by the Coast
Guard.  Unfortunately, for Farrell, there was no place on his boat for him
to hide.

You hear a lot about how little men understand women. It goes both ways!

In contrast to Corbett, Lenfesty would not take any money from us. I had to
hide it under the placemat at the table in his big kitchen.

One breeder at Machias Seal Island that we did not attempt to find was
Leach's Storm-petrel. Depending upon the length of a burrow, it was said
sometimes to be possible to pull one out by reaching an arm in. There was no
ABA Code of Ethic then (There was no ABA), but I am proud to say we never
even considered it.

I have never been out with the Nortons, but I have heard good things about
them. Nevertheless, however accomodating they may be, I'll bet that the
lighthouse keepers don't provide lobster stew to their guests.

Bob Fisher
Independence, Missouri
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