25 years after a house was built on it, an island in Maine was returned to the birds


In 1994, when the owner of an island called Jordan’s Delight started building a house there, officials from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust believed that the island would never be completely wild again, and people of sea birds that had nestled on its grassy cliffs for millennia could be moved forever.

But Thursday, 18 years after the house was deconstructed and moved, USFWS officials set a separate cabin on the island on fire in a controlled burn, removing the last vestige of human habitation. of the 30-acre island, which is located a few miles off the coast of the town of Milbridge, in Washington County. As the black smoke rose into the sky, the birds circled above us and watched from nearby rocks as if awaiting the departure of the last people.

People can continue to take seasonal day tours to Jordan’s Delight, which in 2007 became part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, but now that the Wildlife Service owns the entire island, access is not not allowed in spring and summer, when birds nest on the island.

Credit: Bill trotter

And on Thursday, with the shack being destroyed, conservation officials fully restored Jordan’s Delight to a natural state, a quarter of a century after believing its days as a seabird nursery were almost over.

“This is one of the highlights of my career, in terms of [the wilderness restoration of] an island that was so critical for seabird nesting habitat that we thought we had lost, ”said Brian Benedict, director of the Federal Wildlife Refuge on Thursday. “Habitat is finally back for birds, starting today.”

Seabirds that nest on Jordan’s Delight include Herring and Herring Gulls, Black Guillemots, Common Eiders, Double-crested Cormorants, and Leach’s Petrels. During the winter, purple sandpipers and harlequin ducks are known to forage for food on the island’s intertidal ledges, according to the National Audubon Society.

Credit: Bill trotter

Although predators such as the bald eagle and mink can be found on the island – the wildlife service sets traps for mink – its remote location and exposed topography make it inhospitable to other predators such than foxes and bobcats.

Benoît said the presence of the buildings on the island and their use by the owners threatened to disrupt the island’s role in the ecosystem as a seabird colony. Jordan’s Delight was once considered to host the largest black murre nesting colony on the entire east coast and is considered one of Maine’s best nesting sites for storm petrels and eiders.

“This island is truly majestic in that it is home to a number of different resident species,” said Benedict. “Even if they have been nesting there for years, if there is enough disturbance in the area, they will generally look for a more protected area, away from human presence.”

Credit: Bill trotter

Jordan’s Delight, which has relatively few trees and along much of its shoreline has high cliffs that overlook the surrounding waves, was already on the radar of environmentalists before anyone built it. Much of this was due to Mary C. Rea, a founding board member of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust who owned and spent the summer on Trafton Island, about 2 miles from Jordan’s Delight.

Rea died in 2015 at the age of 98, but when the trust acquired most of the island and removed the larger house in 2001, she said Jordan’s Delight was well known as a bird colony. and that she was shocked to learn that the previous owner had started building a 3,000 square foot house – which stood out “like a sore thumb,” she told the Bangor Daily News.

“There was no reason to inhabit this island except to have a view,” she told Maine Public Radio in 2001. “And it seemed such a sacrilege to build a house on this beautiful place and, with the view around us and the wildlife, and it seemed absolutely out of character for the whole island to have anything man-made. “

Credit: Bill trotter

In the early 1990s, when the island still had no structures, it was put on the market but the Maine Coast Heritage Trust was unable to purchase it. Instead, a New Jersey resident bought it, built the cabin, then started building but never finished building the larger house.

“Like a lot of people out there, he thought it would be ideal to come to Maine and build a house on an island where it will be warm and sunny,” Benedict said. “He [mostly] built the house and realized that there is sometimes fog, cold and humidity, more often. I don’t think it was quite his dream of what he originally planned.

In 2000, the island was offered for sale again, for $ 1.6 million, and was purchased by a Boston venture capitalist, who donated 27 acres of it to the trust but kept the 3-acre property, including the headland where the cabin was located, so he and his family could stay there outside of bird nesting season.

According to the records of the Washington County Deeds Register, in late 2017, he transferred ownership of the cabin plot to the trust, which ceded it last summer to the federal government, completing ownership of the shelter for the wildlife of Jordan’s Delight.

Ciona Ulbrich, senior project manager for the Maine Heritage Coast Trust, said Thursday that although Jordan’s Delight was ultimately saved from development, the fact that its rare role in the coastal environment of eastern Maine was almost wasted 25 years ago serves as a caveat.

“We all knew this island was really important. Many of us have tried to hold onto it over time and we haven’t been able to. A private buyer bought it, ”Ulbrich said. “What happened to her is what you would never imagine being able to come to a pristine and special place that is truly there for the birds. And it happened. It’s a lesson for all of us. Today we were able to undo that.

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