and Description: Matinicus Rock is the most remote of our seven field stations. It is a 22-acre offshore island located in outer Penobscot Bay, 23 miles southeast of Rockland, Knox, Co. Steep sea cliffs and boulder fields dominate the northern, eastern and southern boundaries of the island; while the west side slopes from the high point to an inter-tidal zone with rock and pebble beaches. This treeless island’s interior undulates; the exposed high terrain is characterized by granite with low-growing vegetation, while the protected drainages have deep, peat soils dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants. Matinicus Rock is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Maine
Coastal Islands NWR (MCINWR) and is cooperatively managed by the National
Audubon Society and MCINWR.
and Restoration History: The first light station was built in 1827 and there are many tales of heroism associated with the light keeper era, none more famous than that of young lighthouse heroin Abbey Burgess. The light is now automated and the buildings and facilities are maintained by MCINWR and the Seabird Restoration Program. The island has a long-intertwined seabird and human history – the first wardens were light keepers of Matinicus Rock, hired by the American
Ornithologists Union in
1901 and soon thereafter by the National Association of Audubon
Societies (National Audubon Society).
The first wardens were charged with protecting nesting birds from widespread slaughter by millinery hunters. Most seabirds were already extirpated from Maine at this time, including puffins, but one pair survived here in 1901. In the 1930’s Carl and Harriet Buchheister (he was past Audubon president and first Director
of the Audubon Camp on Hog Island) began a long tenure of studying petrels and continuing the role of Audubon warden for the island. They resided in what is known as ‘Audubon House’ most summers from 1936-1981. In 1979, Project Puffin staff first visited to study puffins; in what then was the only Maine nesting colony. Unlike most Maine seabird colonies, nesting puffins, terns, petrels and other species continued using the site throughout the 20th century due to the consistent presence of wardens.
Access: The Island is closed to public visitation during the seabird breeding season (April 1st to August 31st). Staff transportation to the island is provided by charter or by MCINWR staff; MCINWR staff depart from Rockland, while the charter usually departs from Vinalhaven Island (a 1hr 15 minute ferry ride from Rockland). The trip to Matinicus Rock takes approximately 1½ -2 hours depending on departure point, weather and sea conditions. All food, gear, water and personal equipment are rowed ashore by dory or a small inflatable rowboat (stored on the island); the landing can be very difficult and sometimes landings are prevented for days at a time due to surging waters. High tide is generally the preferred time to land on the island’s boat ramp. Island staff and volunteers are responsible for securing supplies and groceries before heading to the island.
Living and Accommodations: During the field season, the resident supervisor and assistant stay on the island from late May until mid August. They are joined by 3-5 interns and volunteers.- each for about 2-3 weeks. Supply runs are scheduled at one-two week intervals. The Matinicus Rock light station is the hub of the living quarters and serves as a kitchen, “dining room”, office, and sleeping quarters. Staff also sleep in nearby Audubon House which provides access to the nocturnal serenade of Leach’s Storm-petrels and Manx Shearwater. The kitchen is by far the most luxurious of any on the Puffin Project. It has a propane stove, and refrigerator. There is an indoor shower and an outdoor composting toilet (with views of puffins). A solar system powers research and lighting for he station. The island remains continues to be the site of a Coast Guard light and foghorn.
Nesting and Migratory
Birds: Matinicus Rock supports one of the most diverse seabird breeding colonies on the US Atlantic Coast. Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Black Guillemots, Leach’s Storm-petrels, Arctic, Common and occasionally Roseate Terns, Laughing Gulls, and Common Eiders nest. Matinicus Rock is also the only known nesting place for Manx Shearwater in the United States. Common Murres are regularly present, though not breeding on the island. By 2008, the island supported 350 pairs of nesting puffins, about 375 pairs of razorbills, 1,800 pairs of terns and about 1,000 pairs of Laughing Gulls. Black Guillemots and Leach’s Storm- Petrels are also common; Spring migration can be outstanding- 194 species (including breeding birds) have been recorded on the island since 2000, including several Maine rarities; Yellow-nosed Albatross, Red-billed Tropicbird, and Plumbeous Vireo.
Monitoring, Research and Management Projects: The
Matinicus Rock field season begins in mid May and continues through
mid August. The island supervisor is responsible for coordinating
the timing of specific projects and participation by staff and
volunteers throughout the field season. Work includes, but is not
limited to the following projects; annual tern, eider, and laughing
gull census; tern band resighting, tern chick provisioning, productivity
and chick growth studies; razorbill and puffin census, productivity,
banding, band resighting and provisioning studies, Leach’s Storm-petrel
productivity, daily weather and bird lists and gull management.
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