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Hi there!

I’m Meaghan. I’m a fourth year wildlife ecology major at the University of Maine at Orono. This is my first summer living and working on a seabird island, and I am very excited to be able to do so! Last summer I worked as an intern at the MCINWR visitor center in Rockland. While there, I had the opportunity to visit several of the seabird islands and very quickly ‘caught the bug’ for island life and could not wait to get out here myself.

Working as my supervisor is Derek. He is a fourth year environmental geography major at Central Connecticut State University. He is a Rhode Island native who has a lot of experience living and working on seabird islands in Massachusetts. However, this is his first year working with MCINWR on a Maine seabird island.

Our home for the summer (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Our home for the summer (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Our first week on the island was a lot of fun!

The first couple days were spent settling into our new home and familiarizing ourselves with the island. We conducted a sheep round up in order to move the sheep, that graze across the island during the off-season, off of MCINWR land so they do not disturb the seabirds during the nesting season. We have also been walking the island checking for and collecting garter snakes. In previous years these snakes have been observed preying on tern eggs and chicks, so we are trying to exclude them from the seabird nesting area. Lastly, we have been conducting morning bird counts. So far we have observed 31 different species of birds, including some migrants along with Common Eiders, Black Guillemots, Double-Crested Cormorants, and Spotted Sandpipers.The flock of Arctic and Common Terns that nest here annually have been observed visiting the colony in the morning hours and leaving around noon – presumably to look for nutritious fish. We were also pleasantly surprised to observe two Rosette Terns visiting our island! We are hoping that the terns will settle in the colony within the next week and lay their first eggs shortly after that.

Common Eider

Common Eider (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot.  (Picture: Meaghan

We are very excited to be working as the technicians on Metinic this year and are more than happy to keep you updated on all things seabirds throughout the season!

-Meaghan and Derek

Greetings from Ship Island, Maine! Situated in Blue Hill Bay to the west of Mount Desert Island (home of Acadia National Park), this small island belongs to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The island hosts a full-time, two-person crew during the breeding season to monitor nesting seabirds, most prominently Common Terns.

Ship Island Common Terns

Common Terns on the beach

Sarah and I arrived on the island late last week to clear skies and warm temperatures. Two long days of training at the office had us raring to get outside. After setting up camp and reviewing protocols, we got a chance to explore the island. At only about a quarter mile long, Ship Island has a surprising diversity of habitats for its resident species. While the terns prefer to nest on the gravelly beach, the island has large areas of grass and shrubs to support dozens of sparrows, a grove of small cherry trees teeming with warblers, and a bluff along the southern side popular with bank swallows.

To the north, across a low tide exposed sandbar, is Trumpet Island. Common Eiders, as well as Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, make their homes on Trumpet, feeding in the water between the islands. To the south and west are two rocky islets known as the Barges. East Barge is a favorite spot for seals to haul up at low tide, while West Barge hosts a small colony of Double-crested Cormorants. Black Guillemots are frequent visitors to the waters around the island.

The warm, sunny weather lasted for our entire first two days, with dense fog limiting our view yesterday morning. Both of us are new to working in coastal Maine, but we’re excited to spend the summer, fog and all, working outside with the island’s birds. We’re looking forward to more fine days, plentiful birds, and a wonderful summer. Until next time!

-Mark

Ship Island Sunset

Our first sunset from Ship Island

Lots to do here on the island; as you might know our terns this year are running a little later than in past years, and later from the other Maine Coastal islands. We speculated from earlier observations that it could be due to a lack of good fish during courtship. Fish have continued to be unusual, in that we have a large variety of fish, some of which we have never seen terns carrying before.

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Arctic tern with unknown fish

So after post-tropical storm Arthur rolled through with over 60mph winds and torrential rain, it is sad to say that about a 3rd or more of our chicks didn’t make it through the storm and a few alcid burrows were flooded. Then after a week of nice weather, when everything was just getting back to normal, the next storm moved in and we were socked in with another storm and lost even more tern chicks. So as you might guess there was a lot to catch up in the colony after all the storms, but we didn’t lose hope and the strongest survived. Of the ones who made it, they did very well and we had our first of many arctic and common tern fledglings taking their first flight on July 20th!

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Our first Arctic tern fledgling with adult

As for our Alcids, all our puffins and guillemots are growing rapidly in their burrows. We have an increase in puffin and razorbill burrows this year and they seem to be doing well.

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22 day old Black Guillemot chick

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Atlantic Puffin chick

Recently we found an usual guillemot that had two black wing bars like a Pigeon Guillemot. We replaced the old, worn band on its leg and discovered that it was banded here on the island in 1998!

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16-year-old Black Guillemot looking similar to a Pigeon Guillemot

One last exciting thing that happened here on PMI was that MCINWR came out to the island and attached a nanotag to one of our razorbills! After banding it, Linda implanted the nanotag and the razorbill was put safely back into his burrow. Now we will be able to track “Percy” our razorbill (we needed to name it and it seemed fitting to name it after Julia’s 21 year old cat who was actually named after a Maine lobsterman!) wherever he goes. More on that soon!

-PMI Crew

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Linda attaching transmitter on Razorbill

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Wayne placing “Percy” the Razorbill with new transmitter back into its burrow

Rose and Mary here with a quick blog before the last sunset of our summer on Ship Island.  It has been a wonderful time and we are both leaving here with many memories that we’ll keep for a life-time.  From finding the first common tern eggs

Literally our first egg found on May 28

Literally our first egg found on May 28

 

to our 4th of July grilling party with burgers, 2 pies, chips, cherries, and corn on the cob…

Rose preparing our all-out fourth of July "burgers."

Rose preparing our all-out fourth of July “burgers.”

to identifying a black skimmer after tropical storm Arthur (a somewhat rare species up this far north, typical after southern storms)….

Black Skimmer, Common Tern and Eider legs

Black Skimmer, Common Tern and Eider legs

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Common tern fledgling exploring the beach.

to watching fledglings fly and touch the water for the first time.

We have learned so much about common terns and island living.  As far as we can tell so far, without having computed our final numbers, our colony did very well this year.  While the peregrine falcon and merlin visited nearly daily after chicks hatched, they did not disturb the terns enough to affect the whole colony.  The larger of the storms down-poured over 3 inches of rain at times, yet miraculously we had very little loss due to the weather.  The Ship Island Common Tern colony is a prime example of a restoration island success story and it has been wonderful to be a part of this effort.  Thanks to the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Staff for giving us this opportunity and for the amazing seabird restoration and management work that you do!

Hasta luego! (Until next time!)  Rose and Mary

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Last walk on the tern colony beach.

One of our last sunsets.

One of our last sunsets. Enjoy the rest of summer!

 

The past few weeks on The Brothers Islands have been interesting, mainly because hurricane Arthur came through with winds almost reaching 70 mph. During hurricane Arthur a volunteer biologist, Steve, was out here on the Brothers Islands while Baxter and I were on our break. When Baxter and I returned to the island after our break Steve said the outhouse had blown away 10 feet, and our large observation blind was blown 20 feet. To our surprise the blind had barely taken any damage. All Baxter, Linda, Jim, Steve, and I needed to do was put the stand back up and secure it back into place.

sunset jay

                Baxter and I feared that the tern chicks might not have made it through the hurricane, but surprisingly enough both tern chicks are alive and well. Although the chicks can be sneaky and hard to find hiding in the knee high grass they are both developing at a promising rate.  As you can see from the picture they have grown up so much since they first hatched. The other two tern eggs are completely intact as well, in fact they are both piping. We expect to see them hatched very soon. Every other day we check the tern chick’s productivity which means we measure their wing cord and the weight of the chicks.

 

Baxter took a great photo of the two tern chicks together:

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Just as our tern chicks are developing, so are our guillemot chicks. Many more have hatched, so Baxter and I have started a two day rotation for burrow checks. This allows us to gather more rate of growth information since the chicks grow up so fast. Here is a picture of Baxter measuring the wing cord of a guillemot chick:

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More updates coming soon,

Jason

I just finished up a week on Ship Island and had such an amazing and unique experience! This summer I have been interning with US Fish and Wildlife up at Moosehorn N.W.R. in downeast Maine as a part of the Career Discovery Internship Program. My whole summer has been a whirlwind of new experiences and this week was no exception. To give the Island Supervisor Mary a break, I jumped right in fulfilling the normal day-to-day duties here on Ship. Having pretty much zero experience with birds, I admittedly arrived a bit nervous not knowing exactly what I would be doing. However, that feeling quickly faded as everyone jumped in to teach me the ropes.

I would have to say my favorite task of all would be productivity plots. It is amazing to physically see and measure the growth of a Common Tern chick. By monitoring the chicks daily I was able to see the different stages in growth from the starring of an egg to using a 300 g scale as the chicks continued to rapidly grow. I even avoided, for the most part, getting pooped on!

Banding a chick during productivity plots.

Banding a chick during productivity plots.

Ship Island is a beautiful place with an important goal to protect and to monitor the Common Tern. It’s been great having a chance to take part in that even for this short amount of time. In all, this week was not only a great educational experience but also a time for me to unplug and soak up the “Island life”. I saw the majestic sunset on my own private beach, and I even had the chance to take my first solar shower! It was surprisingly refreshing!

Enjoying the sunset with a cup of tea.

Enjoying the sunset with a cup of tea.

The infamous solar shower.

The infamous solar shower.

Thanks again for the opportunity!

Adrianna

As the heat of July settles in on Metinic, our birds, especially all those chicks we have, all need ways to keep cool.

Like humans, birds need to keep their bodies at a specific temperature. However, birds lack one of the key ways humans keep cool: the ability to sweat . So how does an animal covered in feathers and/or down make it through the summer without suffering from heatstroke? (No, the answer isn’t air conditioning or lots of ice cream)

A guillemot chick, sporting a black down coat for the summer

A guillemot chick, sporting a black down coat for the summer

This isn’t that hard for swimming seabirds like Common Eiders. Even though these ducklings are dressed in down coats for the summer, they don’t run the risk of overheating because they hop straight in to the cold coastal waters, sometimes on the day they hatch! Adults and ducklings alike will spend almost all their time in the water, occasionally hopping up onto rocks to preen.

Four eider ducklings tag along with mom

Six eider ducklings tag along with mom

However, chicks that aren’t ready to swim on day one can’t just jump in the water for a nice cool dip. Black Guillemots have found one of the simplest solutions to keeping their chicks comfortable – keep them out of the sun. Along with providing protection from hungry gulls, a guillemot’s burrow is shaded and cool. The chicks won’t leave the burrows until they are ready to swim, and then they can chill like the eiders.

A guillemot parent and two chicks (one freshly hatched) in a nice cool burrow

A guillemot parent and two chicks (one freshly hatched) in a nice cool burrow

So what if you’re stuck on the land, without a shady burrow like, say, a tern chick? You start out getting a little help from mom and dad. When tern chicks are small enough, they can be brooded by their parents. This behavior does double duty: it keeps chicks warm on cold nights and mornings, and provides cool (or at least cooler) shade during hot days.

An adult Arctic Tern brooding a chick

An adult Arctic Tern brooding a chick

Some chicks still seem to want to be brooded even when they are far too big.

A patient Arctic Tern parent "broods" a chick

A patient Arctic Tern parent “broods” a chick

If the parents are off fishing, something they spend most of their time doing once the chicks are a bit bigger, the chicks have to keep themselves cool. The simplest strategy is familiar to anyone with a pet dog: panting. Adults and chicks alike can be seen panting on hot days.

A panting tern chick

A panting tern chick

Once mobile, usually just a few days after hatching, tern chicks can seek out shade on their own by escaping under a rock or into the cooler grass. It isn’t unusual for us to find “chick tunnels” marking the path chicks take back and forth between their nests (where they get food from their parents) and a safe spot in the grass. We also put out three-sided structures known as “chick huts” in more exposed areas without much natural shelter.

 

A Arctic Tern chick (colored for a provisioning study) takes shelter in a shady chick hut

A Arctic Tern chick (colored for a provisioning study) takes shelter in a shady chick hut

Hope all our readers are staying cool as well!

-Amy

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