Growing Guillemots

Hello from Metinic!

We’ve been stuck in foggy weather lately so the sunshine today was great!

On Metinic Island we monitor an assortment of birds, one of these is the black guillemot. On July 2nd we found our first guillemot chicks. So lets talk a bit abut these charismatic birds.

We monitor around 20 nests every three to four days. This monitoring is no easy task, because the guillemots like to nest on the rocky coasts here. The first thing we have to do is traverse the rocks out to places where we have nests marked, and that’s not even the hard part! The next step is to peer into the crevasse where they’ve nested. Sometimes we peek in and see an adult on eggs, other times we spot one to two eggs and recently we’ve found chicks!

Sometimes though we can’t even see the nest so we muster all the bravery we can and stick our hand shoulder-deep into the rocks and feel around. Frequently we are lucky enough to feel eggs. Other times we might get a quick jab from a parent, which always makes you jump. Once chicks are in the nest we might even end up with our hand in chick poo. The best thing to grab though is a fluffy little chick. Once we get ahold of them we gently extract them from their rocky hole, weigh and measure them. Eventually we will be banding them so that they can be identified in the future.

I honestly think the guillemot chicks are one of the cutest. Pitch black except for when they open their bright red mouth. Once they are adults their feet will also turn bright red and they will develop white wing patches that make them very distinguished.

Check back in next week for more from Metinic!

Guillemot Egg

Black Guillemot egg in nest

Guillemot Chick in Nest

Black Guillemot chicks in their nest

Guillemot Chick

“Excuse me! Put me down.”

Guillemot Chick 2

First Guillemot chick found this year

Black Guillemot Jumping

Adult Black Guillemot jumping out of its nest

We celebrated Independence Day on PMI by scouring the boardwalk for black guillemot chicks and checking puffin nest boxes. Walking slowly along the boardwalk and looking between the planks, you can see the white flash of an adult guillemot’s wing or hear their high-pitched alarm calls. Their speckled white and brown eggshells stick out from the dark soil, and an adult may flush from the boardwalk, giving us a hint as to where their nests are. While we were collecting guillemot eggshells to help with a graduate study, we took the opportunity to snag some quick photos with the chicks; who wouldn’t?


A black guillemot chick from a boardwalk nest.

Meanwhile we hopped around the shoreline to inspect our puffin nest boxes. Excitedly but carefully, we opened each box and checked their contents. We could tell which ones were occupied by the low chainsaw-like growl of the puffin parents. The chicks are covered with black downy feathers that give them the look of a black tennis ball with a beak. We’re looking forward to handling and banding them later, as well as documenting the experience with plenty of photos.


Another hake delivery from a photogenic puffin parent.


Amanda scouring the shoreline for alcids and eider creches from the lighthouse deck.

In our never-ending search for new bird species to add to our 2020 species list, we searched the Green Island sandbar for shorebirds using our spotting scopes and instead witnessed some chicken-sized great black-backed gull chicks being fed by their massive parents. When the weather is fair we are greeted by the titanic Friendship V from the Bar Harbor Whale Watch. We always have time to answer their questions and chat with them from the lighthouse. Our foggier days are spent conducting provisioning watches, which is almost always entertaining. Spending a few hours watching nests gives you the chance to observe some interesting behaviors. We’ve witnessed chicks removing eggshell fragments from other chicks to assist them in hatching. The highlight of this week was getting to see a larger chick from a neighboring nest brood two smaller chicks in the absence of their parents on a cold, wet day. It’s funny to see that camaraderie when you know that common terns are just about the angriest neighbors you can have!


One of the common terns nesting on the shoreline, quite friendly and inquisitive.

Egg-quiste Eggs

While walking through Ship Island’s colony, I’m always fascinated by the variety of egg shapes and sizes we come across. Out of curiosity, I decided to measure and photograph some of these eggs to see how variable Common Tern eggs can be!

Eggs are developed rather quickly. After copulation, an egg can form and be laid in 24 hours! Typically, an egg can be added to the nest every 1 to 2 days. While most clutches contain 1-3 eggs, this season, we’ve found some with 4 to 5! The nest starts off as a simple scrape in the sand, gravel, or dirt. As parents spend more time around or in the nest, they’ll move twigs, vegetation, seaweed, and other objects around to create a proper nest that will keep their eggs inside.


A Common Tern nest with 3 eggs

On average, Common Tern eggs are 42 mm long and 30 mm wide. As always, there are some eggs that do not meet these parameters. I found that lengths vary the most, ranging from 38 to 46 mm! Meanwhile, egg widths stay closer to the average, varying from 28 to 31 mm.


These two differently sized eggs are from the same nest!

Tern eggs are subelliptical meaning they are elongated with tapered rounded ends. The widest point of the egg is off center. Like size, shape varies greatly! Some eggs have the widest point towards the middle, creating an oval shape. Others have the widest point so close to one end, the egg has a long narrow point, like a raindrop.


A typical, subellipitcal egg


Almost an oval-shaped egg

Sometimes, the most striking feature about the egg is its color and pattern. In just one clutch, the eggs can look wildly different. The colors can range from cream, tan, light brown, to dark brown. The shells are covered in small to large dark splotches and streaks. These markings can concentrate around the widest point, like a belt, or spread across the egg like freckles. The color and pattern is thought to help camouflage the eggs on the beach. However, we occasionally find some odd eggs that stand out. Some appear almost pure white with faint or no markings at all! Others are so dark brown that the markings are hard to distinguish.

Although Andy and I love finding these eggs, we’re hoping that they’ll be hatching soon! While there are some eggs which have been freshly laid, there are some which have survived abandonment and could be hatching any day. We look forward to welcoming the first chicks to Ship!


Greetings from Metinic! We’ve had foggy weather this past week and only two days of full sun.

I thought I would take this opportunity to share what daily life is like on Metinic Island. You may be wondering, “What do they do in their free time?”, “What do they miss most about civilization?”, or, “Do they even miss civilization?” Hopefully this will provide some insight into what it’s like to live in a seabird colony.

Every morning at 7 o’clock we start the day by counting all of the birds seen around the island, including shorebirds, passerines, and raptors. Daily tasks in the tern colony vary week to week but recently we have been closely monitoring our productivity plots to check for newly hatched chicks; banding, weighing and measuring each one to track growth rates.

When the weather isn’t on our side, we find ourselves cabin-bound. This is a good time to catch up on data entry, read a book, and wonder, was it the tern or the egg that came first? We have a solar panel that provides us with electricity and a propane stove to cook on. Although we don’t have running water, we are supplied with drinking water from the mainland and we use well water for showers and hand-washing. To make showering possible, we heat up a solar shower bag in the sun and it’s (almost) as good as a real shower.

By the time the sun is setting, we’re usually ready for bed. Every few days we take turns doing a hour-long “night watch” where we use night-vision binoculars to watch for predators in the colony. This is a good time to observe the storm-petrels flying around the cabin and the starry night sky.

To answer my own question posed earlier, we’d say the things we miss the most are hiking, our pets, and moving at speeds faster than a sheep-chasing jog. Despite these things, neither of us are looking forward to returning to civilization at the end of July, even for a hot shower or a car ride.


Emma banding a tern chick in one of our productivity plots.


A common tern overseeing the banding process from Sequoia’s head.


Strange cloud formations passing over the island.


On Petit Manan, the majority of our tern chicks are going through a rebellious teen phase; snapping at our fingers, climbing out of weigh bags, and being quite unreasonable during wing chord measuring. Most of our productivity plot chicks have hatched and been banded, but finding them is challenge since they prefer to hide in thick vegetation. Playing hide-and-seek during our productivity checks is much easier with the larger chicks though. Our largest chick at the moment is a hefty 92 grams! In the meantime, we are observing what food the chicks are being fed during provisioning watches. At the moment, we are seeing an abundance of hake and pollock being delivered, with the occasional over-sized sandlance; but the terns aren’t the only seabirds delivering food to their chicks.


Measuring the wing chord of a tern chick during a productivity check.

We’ve been watching our puffins zip around the shoreline, diving into their burrows to feed their newly hatched chicks. It’s very entertaining to sit at the puffin blind, camera at the ready, taking split-second photos of passing puffins with mouthfuls of fish. Next week we’ll get the chance to check in on their burrows and hopefully band some puffin chicks!


An adult Atlantic Puffin carrying some hake to its burrow.

A variety of tour boats visit regularly now, among them the massive Bar Harbor Whale Watch vessel, Friendship V, which stopped by to ask us questions on our two-way radio. It’s great to see people enjoying the island’s wildlife, so we point out any loafing seals, eider ducklings, or uncommon birds from the puffin blind to make their tour more entertaining. Speaking of uncommon birds, we finally got to see an American Oystercatcher wading through the shallows at Green Island, slightly obscured by fog during an alcid count at the lighthouse. We’re hoping to see it again, but the strangest birds seem to appear when we least expect them. As the season continues, our spotting scopes are locked on the horizon for shearwaters and other seafaring birds.


Hello all,

The activity in the Ship Island tern colony has taken a “tern” for the better over the past few days! We have observed numbers (350-400+) close to what we saw before the colony abandonment two weeks ago as well as many new active nests. We are excited to have the terns back and, finally, spending the night on the island again. Other than the Common Terns nesting on the island there are a variety of other breeders that call Ship/Trumpet Island home during the summer.


Large Common Eider Creche!


Savannah Sparrow 


Spotted Sandpiper chicks freshly hatched!


Mallard ducklings that found a liking to us during lunch break 🙂


Spotted Sandpiper (adult) keeping as eye on its young nearby in the wetland vegetation.


Yellow Warbler nest behind our cabin!


Savannah Sparrow (adult) with a spider species in its beak!


A recently fledged Savannah Sparrow waiting patiently for a parent to arrive with food 


Savannah Sparrow fledgling 


Yes…they are irresistibly cute! 

Stay safe and enjoy this warm weather everyone!



Hello from Metinic!

Sequoia here with this week’s blog. Last Wednesday the 17th we had staff come out to the island to assist us with the GOMSWG census. During this census we identified all nests in the colony. This year we counted 910 tern nests, this is a record for Metinic! This number is also lower than the actual nests present because no matter how hard we try we aren’t perfect at detecting nests. To account for error we use the Lincoln Index which is a form of mark recapture, where we go out and see what percent of the nests were missed. Once this correction was applied we have an estimated 1,021 nests on the island!

We also had some exciting things happen during our census. We found a Leach’s Storm-Petrel, a Savannah Sparrow chick evading a snake who had already caught its sibling, and a few Spotted Sandpiper chicks running around on their stilt-like legs.

Other exciting news, we had our first chick hatch on Friday! An Artic tern chick was the first to be found in our productivity plot. We nicknamed him Eddy due to the fact that Eddy Edwards, the Deputy Refuge Manager, had the closest guess to the number of nests on the island, which we all thought was a bit high but were proven wrong. Friday afternoon and into the weekend we had many chicks hatching, so now we are getting into the grove of weighing, measuring and banding each chick in our productivity plots.

Through all of our adventures we are sometimes lucky enough to be fueled by the homemade snacks that Carol sends out to us, which we greatly appreciate!

Until next time.

COTE's flying

Common Terns tend to be the more tenacious nest protectors. This photo was taken while measuring chicks and getting hit by the parents.

Snake Eating SAVS

This is a good example of Garter Snake predation on Metinic. It’s munching on a unlucky Savannah Sparrow chick. We’ve sent 31 snakes back to the mainland so far this year.

COTE Chick Bum

“You can’t see me”

ARTE Chick with Egg (EDDY)

Eddy, our first chick on the island. Here he is 24 hours old.

Tern Chicks Everywhere!

It’s time to band tern chicks on PMI, and we have too many to count!

Petit Manan’s first chick this season, an arctic tern, hatched in one of our productivity plots on the 17th. So far he’s our largest chick, and definitely the fan favorite. Since then, dozens of chicks have appeared all over the island. They’re quite talented at hiding, so we watch where we’re walking! In addition to the tern chicks, we’ve witnessed fledgling savannah sparrows clumsily learn to fly, and highly mobile spotted sandpiper chicks teetering around the rockweed.


PMI’s first chick of the 2020 season: “B-Chick” in productivity plot B.


A spotted sandpiper chick walking around at low tide, bobbing its tail with every step.

The chicks aren’t the only new arrivals to the island; we’ve also had our first tour boats of the season passing through to get a nice view of the seabirds and Petit Manan Light. On the 20th, we had the chance to see some northern gannets cruising offshore while an island tour boat viewed a group of puffins, razorbills, and murre at Puffin Point. At the same time, a dozen seals enjoyed the sunny day on Green Island’s rocks. Their calls could be heard from all the way from the lighthouse!

In the meantime, we completed our island census and found over 1,000 active tern nests scattered across the island! Some are nearly built bowl nests in Canada mayflower, while others are made on bare rock by the shore. So far our favorite nest is from a common tern that has laid eggs right in front of the outhouse. Banding and weighing the chicks in our productivity plots is the greatest highlight of the day, and we can’t wait to see them grow over the remainder of the season. When we finished our productivity plots we had 100 total eggs, so we’ll have our hands full when the rest hatch!

28 chicks already banded, 72 to go!

Joe with Chick

Joe with B-Chick

Amanda with Chick

Amanda with B-Chick

Oh, not again!

While the other islands are expecting their first chicks any day, we watched as all of our terns left their eggs behind. We were hopeful this year! We had over 100 nests and over 200 eggs. Yet, once again, Ship Island has experienced a colony abandonment!

During the first week of June, we had found some predated terns, likely due to a Peregrine Falcon. Ship is located only a few miles from Mt. Desert Island where several pairs are known to nest. Our worst fears were confirmed when Andy and I both flushed the falcon on June 8. As the day went on, tern numbers decreased dramatically from 300 to 50. By the evening, they were all gone.

We weren’t just only concerned about Ship. Over on Trumpet Island, there were no gulls. A predator like a falcon wouldn’t cause the gull colony to abandon as well. We began to suspect an otter attack. Although the gulls eventually returned to the island, we visited the following day to look for predation signs. We were relieved to find nests and eggs intact. We even found some newly hatched Herring and Great Black-backed Gull chicks! However, we think we now know the likely culprit: an owl.


We got right to work, setting up more traps and beginning all night stints. But, what do we do to encourage the terns to come back? Since terns nest in colonies, they won’t nest if there aren’t others terns around them. So, we have to trick them into thinking there are terns there already!

Currently, there are over 30 Common and Roseate Tern decoys around the nesting grounds. To complete the illusion of a lively tern colony, a solar-powered sound system has been set up. During the day and night, we play recordings of a colony on speakers.

Although we haven’t caught our owl yet, we think the decoys are working! Throughout the week, we’ve seen more terns returning and staying longer. Just today, I even witnessed courtship rituals and nest scraping! We’re doing our best to give them space to allow the colony to start back over.

Hopefully next week we’ll have some better news to share!


Hello everyone!

This is Emma updating you from Metinic, where we’ve been enjoying the plentiful amounts of sunshine over the past week. With increased temperatures comes layers of zinc sunscreen, great laundry weather, and daring plunges into 50-degree Maine waters after long workdays in the sun.

The birds also seem to be enjoying the good weather. This past week we set up our productivity plots with help from the Refuge staff. Using these plots, we hope to monitor at least 60 total Arctic and common tern nests throughout the season for different factors of reproductive success, including hatching success, survival, and growth of the chicks over time. Although we don’t have chicks yet, we are expecting our first one within the next week!


Recording data in one of our productivity plots.

As the common eider eggs hatch, we continue to see common eider crèches (groups consisting of hens and ducklings) around the island. We have also been monitoring spotted sandpiper and black guillemot nests. The spotted sandpipers nest in low vegetation along the shoreline and in the upland areas. The parents do a great job hiding the nests and it’s easy to miss them if you’re not looking carefully! The black guillemots nest in burrows along the coastline, which makes for fun but challenging work trying to locate them. It really puts our rock-climbing abilities to the test. The overall variation in egg size and coloration among species is really fascinating and beautiful to see.


Can you guess who these nests belong to?


The excitement of finding a black guillemot nest!

I enjoy seeing the many flowering plants on the island as the season progresses. Just yesterday we came upon a patch of blooming irises! We also don’t mind the wild strawberries that provide a sweet little snack during morning bird walks. We look forward to seeing what the next week brings as we prepare for the annual census that will give us an estimated number of common and Arctic tern nests in the colony this year. It will be interesting to see how the numbers compare to years past.

Happy birding!