Summer Camp For Adults

Most of the time I am a grown up. On the outside, I am a woman who is just beginning to realize she is “elderly” to some. I am retired and always on the lookout for the next adventure. Birding is a huge area of interest for me and I follow the blog of a birder/rehabilitator/writer/artist named Julie Zickefoose. When she mentioned she was going to instruct at Hog Island she had my attention. Hog Island? What is that? She steered me to hogisland.audubon.org.

Hog Island is a jewel of an island in Muscongus Bay, Maine. It is owned by the National Audubon Society. Rocky beaches surround the mostly wooded land. It was once a working farm. In the interior there is a swampy area where pitcher plants and sundew grow.

Summer camp for adults! Wonderful! And the camp counselors are the superstars of birding – Steve Kress, Scott Weidensaul, Bill Thompson III, Julie Zickefoose and Kenn Kaufman, to name a few. To enhance my experience I chose a dorm room which was shared with five other women. Not coincidentally this was also the least expensive.

Campers are to arrive on Sunday between 2-4 p.m., to be taken to the island by launch. Campers were from all over the U.S. We had a greeting and orientation at the building named “The Bridge,” which houses the dining hall, offices and camp store. There are several buildings used for lodging of staff and campers and we were given our assignments at this time. The most recent building was constructed before I was born. My aeire was in the third floor of “The Queen Mary.” This is right on the water and the first building you see on arrival. There are also some double rooms and on the first floor a lab and classroom. I should mention that there was no plumbing on the third floor, and no air conditioning anywhere.

First night dinner was a time to learn the procedures (and quirks) of the camp. Dinner is served family style and each table is headed by one of the instructors. You can rotate your table to sit with all of them during your stay. One person is assigned as “hopper” for the table. This person clears the table. I have to say the food was wonderful!

The schedule for the day is gone over at breakfast and you are free to attend or not. Each camper is assigned to a group such as the Puffins, The Guillemots, Corvids, etc. This helps in planning field trips such as a sea voyage to Egg Island to view the real puffins and guillemots, or a mainland trip to bird. This year the program I attended was “The Arts of Birding” and we had a professional photographer on staff, as well as writers, artists, musicians and crafters. Birds of prey were brought so that they might be photographed and drawn or painted. We made a field trip to view a collection of bird art that included letters written by Roger Tory Peterson, and rough drafts of early guides.

There is a program every evening which includes a bird count, and a presentation by one of the instructors.

One of the groups, The Corvids, consists of teens. Call me ageist, but the first year I was apprehensive about being on an island with a group of teenagers. I am happy to say my fears were groundless. These young people were nature geeks. So knowledgeable and willing to learn more. And they were delightful.

Bedtime comes early because at the other end of the time zone the sun sets earlier…of course it also rises earlier. The early morning program this year was a walkabout at 5:45 a.m. in the tidal pools formed by the extreme low tide caused by the Supermoon. I saw many things I had only read about before like nudibranchs, which are gastropods, and rock eels, which are eaten by guillemots and give them the deep red-colored feet.

Thursday evening dinner is special … a lobster boil. And the program encouraged campers to display their skills and silliness with songs and photographs and skits. An award was given to the best Hopper, judged by the kitchen staff.

Everyone leaves the Island after breakfast on Friday morning, exchanging contact information and juggling newly purchased and autographed books. This was my second year at Hog Island and I think my next trip will be as a volunteer. If you would like to spend an exciting week on an island in the ocean, look up Hog Island. Scholarships are available.

Bonnie Bowen is a volunteer at Audubon.