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Well, it’s been a great summer here on Petit Manan. Tomorrow we say good bye to our little island, our birds and our bird people. 

Over the last week we wrapped up our Alcid (puffin, guillemots and razorbills) monitering for the summer. This summer we found 47 puffin, 68 guillemot, and two razorbill burrows. The razorbill chicks have already fledged, while most of the puffin and guillemot chicks are very close. Fun fact: male razorbills act as the post-fledging caretakers of the chick and teach the young how to hunt for fish!

We also wrapped up our season bird list at 106 species. As far as we know this is by far the most bird species seen on PMI in a summer. Not to brag or anything. Maybe we’ll put another one on the list tomorrow morning though….

Now we are packing up the research station and Jordan (our crew leader) is furiously assembling our data to be presented at this years Gulf of Maine Seabird Working Group (GOMSWG). It’s a bittersweet feeling at the end of an amazing summer filled with beautiful birds, good laughs, good food, and good people.

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Last Days

The Eastern Brothers Island crew checking in here with one last update before our departure.  Our days are coming to an end for the 2013 season, which brings about bitter-sweet emotions.  I find it hard to believe how quickly the summer has gone by and yet the other part of me thinks “My, won’t it be nice to take a real shower and eat ice cream!”  It has been a wonderful experience living out on this beautiful island and we have definitely come to feel as though the little cabin feels close to home.

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Fresh picked flowers and welcome sign on cabin.

Due to quite a few early storms, as well as the presence of a mink on the island early season, the black guillemots had a wide-range of laying dates.  There are several chicks that have already fledged or will in the next few days, yet there are also a few that hatched just days ago.  Black Guillemot chicks will fledge on average after 33 days in the burrow and do not migrate south and so there is not a huge rush to get them out the door, per se.  Here are pictures of the two stages:

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A one week old chick practicing how to be fierce.

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The oldest chick, just a day or two before leaving the burrow.

As a parting thought, some people believe that a pot of gold lies at the end of a rainbow, but we have reason to believe otherwise (see last photo).  We hope you have enjoyed reading our posts and that you continue to have an interest in seabird colonies and the work we do on the Maine coast!  Cheers!  ~Mary and Jake

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Somewhere over the rainbow lies Eastern Brothers Island.

Metinic Migration

 

It’s the end of the season and migration time for all of us. Hard as it is to believe, Zak and I have already been off Metinic for more than week.  We’re not the only ones heading out – our tern chicks will soon be off on their own travels.
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Common Terns will head for South America, a pretty long haul for chicks only a few weeks old. The Arctic Terns have even farther to go – all the way to Antarctica! Lucky for them, they’ve got parents to guide them. Chicks will often complete their first migration by following Mom or Dad. This is because tern parents usually have lots of migratory experience – Common Terns can live to be twenty years old, Arctic Terns more than thirty, and they typically migrate every year.

 

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The rest of our feathered friends are getting geared up for migration too. Shorebirds that we haven’t seen since May are flying south from their Arctic breeding grounds and stopped by to say hi before we left. It’s only a matter of time before the songbirds head out, too.
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It’s been a pretty good breeding season for our terns, especially in light of last’s years troubles. The Arctic Terns in particular did very well thanks to good food, good weather, and few problems with predators. We hope this bodes well for future years on Metinic. We (or next year’s crew) will let you know, starting next May!

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Thanks for following along with our work here on Metinic. Zak and I have had a fantastic time out here and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about what we and the birds have been up to.

Wish our terns chicks luck!

- Amy

(All photos by Zak)

In the last few days we began our island wide Alcid (puffins, guillemots and razorbills) monitoring. This means we get a look at our first puffin and razorbill chicks! At the beginning of the season we searched within the rocks, ledges and debris around the edge of the island for burrows of Alcids. After marking their nests, we planned to return once the chicks hatched.

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(above: Jill with a razorbill chick)

Alcids are burrow nesters, meaning they lay their eggs inside a tunnel or crack in the rocks or soil. This keeps the eggs and chicks safe from most predators and also keeps the temperature for incubation fairly steady. Puffins and razorbills put all their eggs in one basket (so to speak) and lay only one egg in their burrows, while guillemots lay two. It’s interesting to note that guillemot eggs and razorbill eggs are speckled white and puffin eggs are solid white. I wonder why that is?

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(above: Jill with a Puffin chick)

Alcids are burrow nesters, meaning they lay their eggs inside a tunnel or crack in the rocks or soil. This keeps the eggs and chicks safe from most predators and also keeps the temperature for incubation fairly steady. Puffins and razorbills put all their eggs in one basket (so to speak) and lay only one egg in their burrows, while guillemots lay two. It’s interesting to note that guillemot eggs and razorbill eggs are speckled white and puffin eggs are solid white. I wonder why that is?

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While we were checking alcid burrows Jordan came across a beautiful find. A leach’s storm-petrel! (see above photo) These strange pelagic seabirds nest throughout Petit Manan in burrows dug into the soil and sod. At night we can hear their strange calls that sound a lot like giggling. They are truly mysterious and beautiful creatures!

With the season coming to a close we are saying goodbye to our field tech and friend Andrea. It’s been a great summer with all four of us here and we are sad to see her go. Andrea will be getting back to school this fall at Umaine where she is studying Zoology with a focus on seabirds. Good luck Andrea!

 

Our first reachable chicks, Ally and Barnabas, are really growing! When they first hatched 2 weeks ago they weighed 40g and have now reached 230g! Their diet is mostly rock gunnel along with herring that is delivered by both parents to them in the burrow. Along with their weight gain they are gaining pinfeathers on their wings which is the beginning of their juvenile molt.

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20 cm wing chord at 2 days old

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60 cm wing chord with pin feathers at 2 weeks old

 

We are finding new chicks that have hatched almost every other day! We now have 11 chicks that we are collecting data from and we’ve noticed adults delivering food to several other unreachable burrows.

In our free time we have been identifying plants around the islands and have tasted several of the edible plants. There is a variety of berries on the island including raspberries, cranberries, blueberries, bearberry, and crowberry. Mary made a tart jam by combining the cranberries from last year, which are still on the plant, with honey and lemon.  We have tried the leaves of rose root and seaside plantain and the inner stalk of bull thistle. There are also some beach pea pods, raspberries, and bearberries that will soon be ripe!

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Rose root

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Beach pea

We have decided that since we are essentially living in our own society, that we can create and celebrate our own holidays.  Yesterday was our 14th of July celebration (combining National Guillemot Day and the Fourth of July), where we grilled and set off sparklers!

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Enjoying the sunset in front of our freshly painted cabin on the 14th of July!

 

 

Black-backs Attack!!!

I can’t believe the season is more than halfway over! Yet there is still so much to observe and enjoy here on Petit Manan island. Recently we have begun to see the first of the arctic migrants, such as dowitchers and sandpipers. We have even seen some wandering passerines like mockingbirds, mourning doves and a fledgling robin. It says something about islands life when seeing a robin is a big surprise!

Unfortunately, the terns have had a rather bad stretch of luck. The combination of bad weather, predation and (seemingly) lack of food have had a huge impact on chick numbers. Parts of the island have done better then others. However, the colony doing okay. We even have a few fledglings flying around!

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Most disconcerting, for us researchers, has been watching the great blacked-back gulls swooping in and picking off tern chicks. They are efficient predators. It is equal parts interesting and terrifying to see them hunting. Jill got a great photo of one taking an eider duckling, so you can see one in action below.

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This weekend we have been joined by Bangor high-school student Max. He’s been an excellent addition to the crew and has been a great help with our research. Here he is examining a tern egg this evening.

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Our Forest Friends

It’s almost the end of the season here on Metinic, and we’ve just spotted our 145th species: a Bonaparte’s Gull. A significant part of why we’ve been able to spot so many different species out on this year is that in addition to seabirds, our island is the breeding ground for many birds found in forests and fields. Previous years’ crews have caught some of these birds and banded them, but we won’t be running a banding station out here this year. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate our feathery friends in the woods! Here are photos of some of our local songbirds looking their best. There are too many to cover in a single entry, so I’ve picked out some of our favorites. As usual, click the photos to see a

Savannah Sparrows are without a doubt our most common songbird. They are found mostly in the relatively open portions of the island and build grass nests directly on the ground. We wake up every morning to their buzzy songs – one Savannah Sparrow in particular has claimed the top of our outhouse for his favorite singing perch.

Savannah Sparrow - Photo by Zak

Savannah Sparrow – Photo by Zak

A cousin of the Savannah Sparrow, the Song Sparrow is also quite common on Metinic. They’re a bit drabber – no flashy yellow eyebrows here – but their song is much more melodious.  Song Sparrows also prefer shrubbier habitat than the Savannahs.

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Song Sparrow – Photo by Zak

Our first truly forest-dwelling species of the day: a Myrtle Warbler. These lovely little birds are lumped together with the Audubon’s Warbler as a single species, the Yellow-rumped Warbler. These brightly colored “butter butts” (as some birders like to call them) are found throughout the Metinic woods, particularly around the edges.

Myrtle Warbler - Photo by Zak

Myrtle Warbler – Photo by Zak

Metinic is home to two champion singers: the Winter Wren and the Gray Catbird. The Catbird knows the most songs of any bird on the island – although some might say he cheats, since he’s a mimic. Listening to a Catbird you can pick out any number of other bird songs from his enthusiastic solo concerts. You might also hear the occasional cat-like “meow” that gives this bird its name.

Gray Catbird - Photo by Zak

Gray Catbird – Photo by Zak

The Winter Wren, on the other hand, composes and performs his own music. There may only be one or two Winter Wrens on the island, but we can hear them all over the woods.

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Winter Wren – Photo by Zak

 

Our last and smallest (but not least!) bird for today is the fiery-headed Golden-crowned Kinglet. These tiny birds make their home in Maine year-round – they’re one of the smallest birds to spend the winter this far north.  They’re even smaller than Maine’s ubiquitous Black-capped Chickadees! We spotted their cousin, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, earlier in the season as well, but only the Golden-crowned decided to stick around for the summer. Check out that bright orange and yellow crown the kinglets use to attract mates and scare away competition!

Golden-crowned Kinglet - Photo by Zak

Golden-crowned Kinglet – Photo by Zak

The season may be drawing to a close, but you haven’t heard the last from Metinic 2013!

-Amy

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