Greetings from the Harraseeket Inn!  Summer's definitely at its sweetest in July, when the sun's warmth hasn't yet worn out its welcome and we winter weary northerners soak it up as our just desserts after such a long dark winter and a cold wet spring.  Fourth of July weekend was perfect here in Freeport, hot and sunny enough to jump in the ponds, lakes and chilly Atlantic waters to cool off. Summers may be the same length as all the other seasons but they seem far shorter, maybe because there's so much to see and do.  

Speaking of things to see and do, if you're planning a visit between now and August, you might want to take a really fun boat ride to a nearby Maine island to view a truly special bird.  Maine's the only state in the nation that plays seasonal host to the Atlantic Puffin. This extraordinary bird, which looks like a pint sized penguin and has the nickname of "sea parrot", lives in the colder regions of the North Atlantic, ranging from Labrador/Newfoundland to Iceland and Scotland.  Maine's at the southern edge of their breeding range.

There are several differences between penguins and puffins. Though they look similar, they belong to separate families.  Puffins can fly through the air at fifty five miles per hour in addition to swimming under water, penguins can't fly.  Puffins reside in the northern hemisphere, penguins live in the southern. Puffins are wonderfully colorful and clown-like birds that stand about ten inches tall and weigh as much as a can of soda. Penguins are much larger. And puffins have a very peculiar song or call for such a small bird, which sounds nothing whatsoever like any other sea bird.  You wouldn't want to hear a puffin calling just outside your flimsy nylon tent in the dark of night.

Puffins spend about twelve weeks on several islands off our coast during their breeding season, which runs from April to August, and this is the only time you can view these birds.  Puffins are monogamous and seek out the same mates when they return to their breeding colonies in April. Their courtship ritual includes something called "billing" where they rub their bills together.  This may also be a sign of affection, since mated pairs also do this while they're on the islands raising their chicks. Females lay just one egg per year, in a nest excavated deep beneath a boulder to protect the vulnerable chicks from predators. When the young are fledged, they won't return to land again until they reach maturity in about five years.  The rest of a puffin's twenty to thirty year life span is spent dispersed across the North Atlantic, where they're seldom seen and thus hard to research.  They're wonderfully adapted to life at sea with their waterproof feathers and ability to drink seawater, and probably figured out long ago that living on the ocean far from humans was the safest place for them.

Puffins were driven to the brink of extinction in the last century by harvesting their meat and eggs for the dinner table and their feathers for women's hats and decorations.  Gulls preyed upon the young and are still a threat on nesting islands today.  Overfishing of herring has greatly reduced their primary food source, creating another hardship when it comes to feeding their hungry chicks.  In 1973, the Puffin Project was launched to save what remained of Maine's breeding population, and today nearly four thousand puffins return every April to breed and raise their young.

One of the most recognizable and photogenic of birds, puffins have a white face, small black eyes, black head and back, orange legs and feet, and a short powerful orange beak that can hold up to ten small fish at a time to feed their hungry chicks.  The best months to view them are June and July, but tour boats run from April to August.  Eastern Egg Rock, a seven acre island six miles off Boothbay Harbor, is the closest location to Freeport.  The Hardy Boat visits the island every day and Cap'n Fish's four times a week.  Both of these tours are narrated by educators from National Audubon's Project Puffin Seabird Restoration Program, so you'll learn a lot about puffins and their environment, and probably see seals, bald eagles and an occasional whale on the trip as well.

Other Maine islands hosting puffin colonies are Matinicus Rock, 23 miles off Rockland, Seal Island at the mouth of Penobscot Bay and Petit Manan Island and Machias Seal Island way downeast.  Machias Seal Island is the only puffin colony where visitors are allowed to set foot.  A very limited number of bird watchers are permitted to visit the blinds each day, and these puffins are so use to the human presence they often approach to within a few feet.  Machias Seal Island has a lighthouse that was built by the British long ago, but stewardship of the island has been a matter of congenial dispute between the US and Canada ever since the American Revolution.  However, both countries are in complete agreement that the puffins are very special birds and need our protection. No passports are required to visit these colorful birds on Machias Seal Island, just a reservation on a tour boat.  If you're a birder, a trip to see a puffin colony on a Maine island should be on your bucket list!


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Recipe of the Month:

Asparagus Ravioli, serves 2

Pasta:
I cup flour
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Combine flour and salt in bowl and create a well in center.  Whisk together eggs and olive oil, pour wet mix into the center well and incorporate flour into egg mix.  Knead pasta for 3 to 4 minutes until very elastic, adding just enough flour so the dough doesn't stick to your hands.  Wrap in plastic and let rest for a few hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling:
3 cups chopped asparagus
1 medium onion chopped
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup ricotta
unsalted butter

In medium pan over medium heat, sweat the chopped asparagus and onions in butter until tender. Dry in towel.  In food processor, combine all ingredients and season with salt and pepper.

Roll out 1/2 of the pasta dough into long sheet on floured surface. Place 2 teaspoons of filling about an inch apart on the dough.  Roll out top sheet and lay across bottom sheet.  Brush with egg wash.  Cut and crimp with cutter into the ravioli pieces.  

Garlic cream sauce:
10 cloves garlic
1 cup cream.
Peel garlic and bring to boil in cold water.  Drain.  Add the cream to the garlic and simmer for ten minutes.  Add salt to taste and puree until smooth in food processor.  Gently heat ravioli in the garlic cream sauce and enjoy the fresh green taste of summer!


Upcoming Events and Special Offers:

***Book your reservation direct with us either on our website or over the phone (1-800-342-6423) and receive afternoon tea and full buffet breakfast free of charge, a $60. value for two!  We have free on-site parking and offer free shuttle service to and from the Downeaster train station.
*Nature programs at Wolfe Neck Woods State Park daily through July at 2 pm.  They begin at the benches near the second parking lot and include walks, talks, activities (like clam digging!).  Presentations last about an hour, weather permitting.  No reservations required except for the clam digging. $4. for resident adults, $6. for non-residents.  Call 207-865-4465 for more info or to arrange for a group visit.  

*Pettengill Farm Tours: Summer tours of the Pettengill farm house and grounds are being offered by the Freeport Historical Society.  Next tour will be held on Thursday July 18th from 9 to 10:30 am.  The house is generally only open once a year so this is a great opportunity to tour this wonderful 140 acre salt water farm that was built in 1800 and remains true to the period with no electricity, running water or central heating.  Tours are also available on request for groups of four or more participants.  Cost is $12./person.  Contact Jesse at info@freeporthistoricalsociety.org or call 865-3170 to schedule a time.  Well worth the visit, this beautiful old homestead is about a quarter mile walk down a shady lane from where you park your car.

*LLBean's  Summer in the Park   Check out their schedule of summer offerings that include free Saturday night concerts, daily yoga, movies and activities for adults and kids alike, all free!
* Take it outdoors with LLBean's  LLBean Outdoor Discovery Schools   Learn to fly fish or kayak and get out in nature, which really is the most relaxing therapy for our fast paced chaotic world.

* Visit Freeport   Sales and fun happenings in town! Everything "Freeport" in one handy website. This is one web site you'll want to check out frequently in this "village of sales".

*Seacoast Tours right here in Freeport offers cruises out to Eagle Island, as well as lobstering and wildlife cruises.  They have a van that will pick you up right here in town and shuttle you to the harbor, a great convenience considering how hard it can be to find parking at the town wharf.  If you want to get a taste of life in and on Casco Bay, this is the perfect opportunity.

*Wolfe's Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment This salt water farm on Casco Bay is such a great place to visit. Check out these farm and garden workshops and dig into the gardening season.  It's not too late to get started.  Wouldn't your child like to go to farm camp? Check it out!

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And now for July's Trivia question, another easy one this month: Which of Maine's islands has the largest population of puffins during their breeding season?
All correct answers win a voucher worth $5. toward food or lodging on your next visit.  One voucher per household, please. You may redeem up to 12 vouchers per meal or overnight stay, a $60. value (unless it's during Double Voucher Days), at one time, preferably in the year they were won. Please be patient with my replies to your answers, there are several hundred each month. Also, I'm heading for Labrador very soon, so if you don't respond within the next two weeks you might have to wait a while. To respond to the trivia just hit "reply" to this newsletter.

Good luck, happy summer and we hope to see you soon!
Warm regards,
Penny Gray
The Gray family