Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Greetings from Ship Island!

Bobby Brittingham here! As my time is coming to a close on Ship Island, I wanted a chance to post one more educational blog about our work before a farewell blog!

You may or may not have heard about “bird banding” before, it is an extremely common form of essentially tagging and releasing birds. Using specialized pliers, a small metal “C” shaped band is clamped shut around a bird’s tarsus (leg-like the shin bone equivalent to humans).

bandnumber

BBL size 2 band, with the identification number, these are the bands used on all of the birds on Ship.

The banding database provides a lot of information on each bird, where they have been seen, where they nest, where they migrate, or even if the bird is alive, as long as the bird’s band is seen and read correctly by another researcher. These bands are essential to distinguishing one bird from another to perform other research procedures or to distinguish which bird belongs to which nest. On Ship we had very late nesting, so Collin and I have been banding as many chicks as possible with our limited time so that these birds can be identified on where they go over the next year.

banding chick

Collin banding with specialized pliers, one of Collin’s first banded birds!

Bands vary in size and number of letters based on the size, type of band, and/or species of the bird. For the common terns on Ship Island, a single size 2 “BBL” band is placed around their right leg; these bands each have a unique 9 digit number.  These bands are then entered in an online database through the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the “status” of a bird can be updated by individuals all over the world. For example, a tern was banded on Petit Manan this summer, and it has already been spotted by another researcher in Venezuela all the way in South America!

band on chick

The chicks do not mind the bands as long as they’re put on correctly. When they are put on right, they even look stylish!

For me personally, it is the most fun protocol we perform out here, nothing beats the feeling of getting to meet hundreds of chicks that I have the privilege to watch over every day on this island. Not only that, but it is crucial for research purposes. With the late nesting that occurred this year on Ship, it will be interesting to see where these birds could have possibly gone earlier this year by resightings of the chicks that we band this summer. Be on the lookout for one more blog from the Ship Island crew later this week!

Thank you FOMCI!

Hello from Petit Manan Island, this is Hallie again!

I just wanted to write a blog post to give a shout out to the Friends of Maine Coastal Islands! I was lucky enough to get to talk to most of you briefly the other day while you were enjoying the island from the Acadia Explorer — but I did not get the chance to give you all a massive THANK YOU for everything that you do for the refuge. Work like this would not happen if it weren’t for your support. The work that we are doing out here is so incredibly valuable — the seabirds are benefiting tremendously, as well as all of the young scientists who get to learn from the refuge biologists and the abundant wildlife on these islands. Personally, this is an experience that I will be remembering for the rest of my life, and an experience that is helping me take the next steps towards being the scientist and conservationist that I aspire to be one day!

Thank you all so much again for taking the time to sail out here to PMI and give us a warm hello, as well as for all of the endless support! (And especially to Carol for all of the vegan treats she sends our way each week!)

With Many Thanks,

PMI

IMG_7102.jpg

Hello everyone, this is Bobby writing to you from Ship Island with some breaking news.

The bird word must have gone around, because as of Thursday, July 11th, 321 nests have been found and marked with more being discovered every day! The chaos on the tern nesting beach area is beginning; the eggs laid in late June have begun to hatch this week. Soon our island will be filled with extremely adorable fuzzy chicks who love to run and hide in whatever grass or shelter they can find!

fuzzy boy

One of the first chicks on Ship, easily one of the softest objects one could ever hold.

These toddler-like chicks are extremely curious and will wander away pretty far from their nests if given a chance. With them running around all over, it can be difficult to tell how the colony chicks are doing health wise and how many of these chicks are surviving to adulthood. This is answered through a protocol that all of the islands perform known as productivity plots. This may sound like a fancy term, but essentially Colin and I determined a group of nests with eggs that were laid earlier in the season (in our case in late June) that neighbored each other and constructed fencing around them to enclose this area.

 

COTE on colins head

Colin (pictured) and I constantly had terns going at our heads to protect their nests while we constructed productivity plots. This one very nicely went feet first to our heads instead of the usual sharp bill first.

This keeps the chicks from our nests of focus from running all over the beach getting into trouble, that way we can determine how many chicks are surviving to adulthood and the size increases of each chick from each nest within our plots. To determine which chick is which, we put stylish metal BBL bands on their right legs that give them a unique identification number for life in a large online database. Colin and I then check each nest in each plot every morning to monitor the eggs and chicks. I am not a parent, but I imagine how I feel when we look for the chicks every morning it is similar to the stressful situation of a parent trying to find their misplaced kids, as Colin and I are really attached to our chicks in the plots. It has been amazing to see the transformation from egg to chick, and soon from chick to fledgling. Watching them grow up has been so special for Colin and I, and we can’t wait to see each chick’s journey continue. More updates coming soon!

wet baby tern

One of the many chicks hatching this weekend, this one hatched within the hour before this photo with a big world to explore!

Hello friends, Hallie here from Petit Manan Island!

Life here on Petit Manan is going so well. Our tern chicks are hatched and getting close to fledging, our pufflings are fluffier and plumper than ever, and we even have our first black guillemot and razorbill chicks.

One of the cool things about working on such a small island like this is when you have a new avian visitor, you notice. We are up to 110 bird species recorded on Petit Manan Island this season, which is remarkable in itself. We have had everything from warblers to short-billed dowitchers to even a least bittern, a small bird that you typically find in marshlands on the mainland. And as well, we have had a lot of birds with interesting plumage show up to the island — like this Common Murre.

IMG_6436.jpg

Leucistic Common Murre next to Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin

Common Murres are usually a dark chocolate brown, which is produced by melanin. This bird,  however, is silvery-grey — a result of a genetic mutation that inhibits melanin production. This result is called leucism, which is similar, yet very different to albinism. Regardless, it makes up for a stunning result — this bird very well may be one of the more beautiful I have ever seen. Whether or not male or female common murres also think so is up for debate — hopefully this bird’s unique plumage will not inhibit it from procreating in the future.

Melanin is one of many ways birds color themselves. The laughing gulls here use melanin to create that dark mask during the breeding season, which they use to deter other laughing gulls from their nests. You also often see birds with darkened wing-tips, like the terns, in which the melanin is used to strengthen the feathers and make them more durable.

IMG_6669.jpg

Adult Atlantic Puffin showing the orange-red carotenoid coloration in the bill and eye

But what other colors do we see here on PMI that have significance in birds?  Since we have been catching puffins this last week, I have been captivated by the bright orange feet and bills that the puffins display during the breeding season.  Puffins, and many other birds, get this rich orange-red color from carotenoids — a color they metabolize directly from their food. Puffins use the intensity of this color to show potential mates and rivals how fit they may be. The brighter their bills and feet, the better at fishing and raising a chick they may be! You can also see melanin in the feet and the mouths of black guillemots!

Next time you see a color in a bird, its worth asking exactly why it is that way. Often even the most subtle of colors on a bird have such an immense meaning. I will be doing the same — sitting here wondering why we get tern chicks in two different colors. Any ideas?

IMG_6756.jpg

Common Tern chicks from the same nest showing the two different plumage colorations

Hi folks,

I know it’s been a while since I have posted an update from Ship Island. As you know from reading Ship’s past posts that our tern numbers where very low. In fact when I went on my break we had only 9 active nests here on Ship. This Monday I returned to Ship to find that the number of active nests has more than quadrupled to a total of 67 with the very likely possibility of there being more laid as I write this. This is a very exciting time for Ship, and we are expecting a few chicks by the end of this week.

Tern Incubating

(Photo above: Common Tern incubating one of the many newly found nests)

I also got to help conduct a census of several islands in the blue hill bay which took most of Monday. It was a wonderful day on the boat with nothing by sunny skies, and the day got better when we found over 200 nests on a tiny island called connery nub. I even got to see my first tern chick of the season. We believe these the birds  normally nest on Ship, but for some reason they were more comfortable nesting there. The hope is that if the nests that we have now succeed then possibly next season more terns will choose to nest on Ship.

Tern Chick.jpg

(Photo Above: Jim holding Common Tern chick from Connery Nub.)Boat.jpg

(photo above: Jim driving boat around the Blue Hill Bay.)

Blue hill Bay.jpg

In the next week I hope to be able to report our first hatchlings here on Ship island.

-Collin

Chick it out!

Hello hello all amazing and wonderful seabird fans!

Hallie here, writing from the currently gloomy and rainy but still wonderful Petit Manan Island!

It has been a very exciting week here on the island! We completed our GOMSWG census as Brandon highlighted, and we had a total of over 1400 tern nests, 640 Laughing Gull nests, and 47 eider nests! In addition, we already have over 47 Puffin nests, 54 Black Guillemot nests, 20 Leach’s Storm Petrel nests, and even a handful of Razorbill nests!

IMG_6553.jpg

Common Eider ducklings

IMG_6593 (2).jpg

Arctic Tern chick with egg-tooth (the white calcified bit on the end of its bill)

But if you are wondering the specific reason why I cannot wipe a smile off of my face — it is because our chicks have begun hatching! After a period of incubation specific to every species, the chick will begin the long and tiring journey of hatching.  Chicks have a specialized calcified bump on the ends of their bills called an egg tooth, of which they use to slowly chip away at the eggshell from the inside, making their way around until they hatch. For most individuals, hatching takes around 12-48 hours, and they emerge looking like cute little fuzz-balls with little flipper feet — and trust me, its adorable.

IMG_6523.jpg

4 day old Savannah Sparrow chicks!

From the point of hatching on, for all chicks on the island including the cute little Savannah Sparrow chicks pictured, the job for the parents arguably becomes harder. The chicks not only still require periods of incubation, but they also need to be fed multiple times a day, sometimes even multiple times an hour! We have been finding some chicks increasing in weight by over 300% in a 24 hour period! They honestly grow up so quickly.

For the next few weeks here on PMI, we will be monitoring the productivity and development of our tern chicks, doing provisioning where we will identify fish that the parents are feeding their chicks, collecting fecal samples to look at what the adult birds are feeding themselves, and banding chicks with 2 bands that we can use to re-identify them in later years. Today, if we are lucky, we may even band our first puffling — something that I have honestly dreamed of doing ever since I banded my first bird 4 years ago!

Until next time, bird nerd friends!

 

IMG_6577.jpg

Devon and I celebrating his first banded Arctic Tern chick!

GOMSWG Census on PMI

Hey everyone,

It’s been a busy couple of days on Petit Manan Island. We’ve been working hard with a trusty team of amazing volunteers and other staff members from the mainland to complete our annual GOMSWG census. All this means is that we work to canvas the island from one end to the other counting and marking tern nests with popsicle sticks. The reason that this is important for us to do is that it allows us to get an excellent idea of how many nesting pairs of Common and Arctic Terns we really have here on PMI, and we can then compare this data to that of other years to see how our birds add up.

Overall, we had an excellent census, and although we’re still working on finalizing all of the data (there’s a lot of counting to do!) we hope to be able to share the numbers with everyone soon. In the meantime I would really like to give a HUGE shout out to everyone who came out to help us with census- the mainland staff- and especially to our volunteers, who willingly gave up two days worth of their own time just to brave the poop missiles and flying beaks to count some tern eggs with us! It really shows you that census is not just a time for collecting a bunch of data, but also a chance to meet new people and build connections with others who also share a wild passion for conservation.

Thanks again to everyone, and we’ll update you again soon!

Brandon