Vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians share a vocabulary for traffic direction, based on proximity to the shoreline. It doesn’t matter where you are going on the island. If you are moving away from the water you are coming “up the road.” If you are going toward the water you are going “down the road.” On an island it’s actually possible to be going up the road and down the road at the same time. As you may have already figured out, the changeover occurs somewhere in the middle of the island. For example, Bruce and I live closer to the shore on the back side of the island. Several people, including David and Cindy, live down the road from us, even closer to the shore. When they go by our house on their way to the town dock, we say they are headed “up the road.” Bruce’s mom lives in the middle of the island, halfway between our house and the dock. When she sees David and Cindy going by her house on the same trip to the town dock, they are headed “down the road.” Meanwhile, on Great Cranberry, Polly Bunker is watching traffic cross the road.

Three times a day, over two dozen Guinea hens follow the leader to Polly’s yard to see what she has to eat. Winged traffic is more frequently observed on the islands than anything vehicular. Residents play their part to encourage avian commuters by keeping their bird feeders full. We look through our windows, frequently, to be reassured by the regulars, and in hopes of seeing something new. The regulars are the black capped chickadees, the red breasted nuthatches, and the juncoes. With their mutual colors of gray, white, and black, it’s no wonder that Cranberry resident Ruth Westphal refers to them as the “little pilgrims.” They faithfully come to the feeders all year. This winter, on both islands, we were treated to visitors who don’t show up every winter. Flocks of finch-like birds with jaunty red caps, Common Red Polls, traveled south from the arctic to vacation in the Cranberry Isles.

At the Islesford Post Office, postmaster Joy Sprague has the most bird traffic in town. Near the trees and bushes just outside her office window she provides a variety of food for her feathered friends. She has socks filled with thistle seed, cages with suet, compressed seed blocks, long feeders with sunflower “meaties,” and cracked corn scattered on the ground. She goes through a 28 oz. can of the meaties every day. With so much bird food being imported to the islands, one might wonder where it all comes from. When I run low on my supply of black oil sunflower seeds, I buy them from Buddy Brown in N.E. Harbor. I like our little conversations that begin with his question, “Are you getting any birds out there?” I also like that Brown’s Hardware will put a bag of bird seed on the mailboat, when I am not off island to pick it up. Jennifer Westphal, on Great Cranberry gets her birdseed from E.B.S. because her husband, Mike, a contractor, often has supplies coming from there. Joy has an economical system worked out. She buys her meaties from Salisbury Farms, her bird feeders, suet, and thistle seed from Mardens, and her seed blocks (which attract woodpeckers) from Walmart. One time Marden’s had suet with hot peppers in it, and Joy’s birds thought that was great. Some people stop feeding the birds in the summer, figuring the birds will find plenty of wild food on their own. Joy keeps her feeders full all year, knowing that the mothers will bring their babies to her feeders to learn where to find food. Some of the mothers have two clutches in the same season. Joy said, “Those mothers are like human mothers, who want a fast meal from McDonalds to quiet their hungry kids. The suet is quick and easy to feed to the baby birds. It’s kind of like a drive through meal!”

Cranberry Islanders talk about birds almost as much as we talk about the weather. Denise McCormick saw the first robins of the spring on Town Meeting day. Some of us saw the Barred Owl, that spends time in Jennifer and Mike Westphal’s yard, as we walked back to catch the boat at the end of the meeting. Soon we’ll be remarking that the Red Polls have left for their boreal home, or we’ve heard Canada geese overhead, or we’ve seen the first blue herons arrive. It’s time to send in our parking permit applications. In a month more cars will be showing up on the mainland, and visiting school groups will increase our island pedestrian traffic with their day trips. On a small island all traffic gets noticed, but the best traffic reports are for the birds.

-March 16, 2011