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The first common tern egg of (hopefully) many.

It seems as though Wednesdays are the most eventful days here on Ship Island. Last Wednesday  was spent scouring the island for Garlic Mustard plants. This Wednesday was a whirlwind of events. Not only did we find our very first tern nest but it also contained our first egg! Along with that our island supervisor Meredith spotted a roseate tern while we were sitting in the blinds.

Aside from this tern excitement we had two seal encounters right on the shores of our island! I found this so exciting because usually when observing the seals we must do so with a spotting scope to see them on the East and West Barges. However during our blind observation on Wednesday we had an adult seal haul out on to our beach and spend a little time sunning itself.

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Adult western Atlantic harbor seal on Ship Island tern beach (P. vitulina concolor)

In our area we have two species of seals, western Atlantic harbor seals, and grey seals. The best way to tell them apart is by looking at their heads. Harbor seals have more of a smaller dog nose with not much of a neck and grey seals have larger ‘horse like’ faces and a more pronounced neck. The seals I’ve most often observed were the western Atlantic harbor seals on East Barge. This is also what we had come visit us Wednesday morning.        Later in the day when all the work around the island is complete is when  I enjoy observing our seals– mainly because right now is their peak pupping time (mid May to July), so we seem to have new pups arriving everyday. On this ever so faithful Wednesday evening I got the privilege of observing a very new harbor seal mom with her pup (I could tell he had just been born as some of the birthing organs were still attached).

What surprised me most though was this new mother promptly lead her new pup into the ocean. This is surprising because everything I’ve read about harbor seals says the pups can’t swim till at least an hour after birth, and here this moms bringing her pup in minutes after birth. Almost immediately after entering the water our new mom brought her pup further into the water (toward Ship I.). This was in order to bring her pup further away from the other seals. So I packed up my things and headed back to the cabin assuming the days excitement was over. Upon returning to the cabin I saw that Meredith had left on a photography adventure. A few minutes after that I received a text from stating there was a pup on our shore. Sprinting to meet her, she showed me what she had found: sure enough sitting atop the seaweed was a pup.

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Newborn western Atlantic harbor seal pup on back side of Ship Island (P.vitulina concolor)

Shortly after looking at the pup longer, and seeing a small piece of umbilical cord, I realized this was the seal pup I had been watching only 20 minutes prior. Meredith and I proceeded to sneak away as not to scare off the mother wherever she may be. Most of the time mothers don’t leave their pups because they need to be together for 4-6 weeks so the pup can nurse. Pups can also be vulnerable to some predators. After dinner Meredith and I went along the islands edge to check up on our young visitor. What we found was his mother hauling out of the ocean to retrieve her new baby. We quickly snuck away so we didn’t disturb them, thus ending another successful Wednesday on Ship Island.

Till next week,

Kelby Leary                                                                                                                                                           Ship Island Crew Member



Hi all!  Helen here!  My first week with the seabirds on Metinic Island has been full of exploring, birding, and learning new things!  We started out the week by rounding up all of the resident sheep and driving them to the southern end of the island where we put up an electric fence to keep them out of the tern colony for the season.  We did this just in time as both the arctic and common terns have returned and are actively seeking out mates and nesting sites.  We have begun observing the terns from the blinds and have watched them settling in throughout the week.  We have seen the terns landing on the ground, evaluating various potential nesting sites, and showing courtship behaviors such as the males presenting the fish they caught to females.


Common terns checking out the area! 

The terns aren’t the only ones settling in for the season, the black guillemots are courting and seeking out burrows in the rocks as well.  We have also observed a number of common eider nests with eggs!  We even saw one hen with three ducklings today, which is early for them.  We are expecting to find many more eider nests in the coming weeks as they are still displaying courtship behaviors.  To prepare for the arrival of the chicks, we have begun setting up snake plastic as a means of predator control.  Metinic has a population of garter snakes who enjoy feeding on the seabird eggs and hatchlings, so we set out black plastic that the snakes will be attracted to because they create a warm place for them to hide.  We will periodically check the plastic and gather any snakes into a bucket to release them on the mainland.


A hen common eider on her nest, they have excellent camouflage!


Freshly laid eider eggs

Along with setting up and preparing for the upcoming season of seabird chick monitoring, we have been keeping track of our other feathered friends on the island.  Every day we start out with our morning point counts then spend the day exploring around and recording any additional bird species seen/heard, and we end the day with shorebird counts right before sunset.  So far, Mark and I have recorded 71 different species!  Metinic is a great location to support a variety of birds as the island includes rocky coast, open field, forest, wetland, shrub, and pond habitats.  We are looking forward to adding to our list as the season progresses!


Black-throated green warblers are very common in the island forest!


Ruddy turnstones on the shore



Until next week,


Happy spring migration from the Ship Island crew of two! As the common terns begin to establish the breeding colony and initiate courtship, we’ve been busy making sure the island is ready for them; in short, this means lots of invasive vegetation control. Typical plant culprits include black vineweed invading the brand new gravel nesting areas and garlic mustard, which we struck hard with the help of some mainland visitors.

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Garlic mustard flowering stems can be plucked by hand, but the young florettes left behind need to be blasted with vinegar.

After our push against the invaders, we’ve been able to turn our focus to observing the wildlife around us, which includes numerous passage migrant birds on their way home from the tropics, in addition to resident breeding birds and neighboring seals. These early weeks will be filled with anticipation as we wait for the terns to start nesting, but in the meantime there is plenty to see and do. So far, we’ve documented 40 different species to visit Ship, plus a bonus hybrid Mallard x American Black-duck!

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Many passage migrants are only here for a single day before they take off again to continue their nocturnal migration. Here, a chestnut-sided warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) gleans a precious insect meal to refuel.

Since we don’t have too much in the way of tern nesting progress to report, we thought we would provide a quick introduction to this year’s Ship Island dream team. First off is our lovely Island Technician:

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Greetings from Ship Island!!! My name is Kelby Leary ( Yes that’s me in the photo above) . I was born in raised in central Maine and I’ve always loved being outdoors. I just finished my first year in the wildlife ecology program at The University of Maine and working of Ship Island is my very first field position. This is also the most time I’ve spent on the ocean as the area I am from is pretty heavily forested. I’m excited to learn more about all the animals that frequent the island as well as gain valuable field skills. In this first week prepping for the colony we haven’t been to insanely busy so we’ve had some time to really get to know the island. So far my favorite things to do in my free time on the island are watch the seals on the neighboring barges (I’d also never seen a seal in real life before moving to the island) and sitting on the beach watching the sandpipers.

And your friendly neighborhood Island Supervisor:

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Hi everyone! I’m Meredith Miles, and I’ve been spending my time since graduating from Bates College last year hopping from field job to field job around the world. My work has recently taken me to Alaska, Peru, and Oklahoma, but I couldn’t be more psyched to be returning to beautiful Maine for the summer. This season I am most excited about getting an insider view of seabird breeding season behavior and gaining a deeper understanding of the ecology of this amazing bird group.

We’ll update soon with more news from our tiny paradise. Happy spring!

Meredith and Kelby, Ship I.

PMI is at It Again!


Hey folks! Jill and Morgan here! It’s been a surprisingly beautiful first week on Petit Manan Island; let’s hope it’s a sign for the whole season! The island has been lively thus far with approximately 200 prospecting Common and Arctic Terns, but we’re expecting many more to come! Although PMI isn’t the largest of islands, it still receives a good deal of visitors, especially early in the season when birds are migrating North – we’ve seen 61 species thus far! Not all our guests have been of the bird variety though; we also stumbled upon a juvenile Grey Seal on our rocky shores earlier in the week!


Downy Woodpecker sighting!

The start of the season means preparing the island for all the work to be done in the months ahead. This means setting up observation blinds, for band resighting and future monitoring of foraging habits and chick health, as well as collecting marine debris, building burrows for Black Guillemots and Atlantic Puffins, and marking potential Leach’s Storm-petrel burrows. Daily Alcid counts from the top of the Petit Manan Light have also begun. On a windy day it can get rather cold up there, especially for Jill, who hasn’t quite gotten used to the Downeast summer having just returned from a seabird job in the Galapagos!


Can you spot the Leach’s Storm Petrel burrow? We’ve been searching the island for these small holes in the ground this past we week, and we have found 170 potential burrows!

As we prepare ourselves for the research season ahead, the birds are doing the same. The puffins and guillemots are seeking out rock crevices and other sufficient and creative hiding spots for their burrows. The male terns are attracting their mates with a Sandlance dowry. The Common Eiders are seeking out areas of high vegetation to form their nests. And the Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and gulls lurk about hoping to catch a bite to eat with all these new dining options in town.


The Atlantic Puffins have already begun choosing burrows!

Till next time, here’s a joke to hold you over – Why did the Puffin have a stomach ache? Because it had Alcid Reflux!


Morgan & Jill

Hello everyone! Mark here, back for another amazing summer with the seabirds. After last summer on Ship Island, I’ve made my way to Metinic Island for the 2016 field season. Metinic is a larger island, stretching for about two miles north-south. The Refuge owns much of the northern end of the island as well as a swath of forest in the center. Metinic lies about five miles off the mainland coast south of Rockland.

It is still early in the season, so the terns, both Common and Arctic, have only arrived in the past week. They have been around most mornings, but then fly off to build up their strength for breeding by gorging themselves on fish. The most important things to do without the birds around involve setting up the island for the season. Much of my time over the past few days has involved the not-so-glamorous cleaning and organizing of the cabin and camp area.

With the help of Michael, one of the Refuge Biologists, the observation blinds were set up around the colony area. There are five blinds, so it took quite a bit of effort by the two of us to get them all up.


Three blinds up, one in progress

Another construction project involved putting up the majority of a seasonal electrified fence. Metinic Island is home to several dozen sheep. These sheep graze down the vegetation on the north end all winter, allowing for the low grassy terrain favored by nesting terns to persist. The fence, once completed, will keep the sheep out of the colony during the breeding season, where they could possibly damage nests.


What are ewe doing over there?

It hasn’t been all manual labor. As part of the biological work, we keep track of all of the bird species that use the island, both as a residence and as a migration stopover. As of this morning, with a windblown Eastern Kingbird, we’ve recorded the presence of 59 bird species on and around the island this season. Only a few days in, I can tell that this is going to be a great island for birding.


A flock of dapper Harlequin Ducks


Baltimore Orioles aren’t what you normally expect to see on a rocky beach

Until next time!


PMI still going strong!

While most of the other MCINWR islands are winding down for the season, Petit Manan is still going strong with major alcid trapping, island-wide guillemot and storm petrel checks, Arctic tern re-sighting, and our new-this-year project: Atlantic puffin feeding studies.

Atlantic Puffin with bill load

Atlantic Puffin with bill load through scope.

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

During our alcid checks, we discovered two little surprises in the form of Razorbill chicks! Only five pairs are breeding here on Petit Manan, so each new chick is very special to us. We even managed to capture one of his parents bringing food back to the burrow, an unusual sight here on PMI

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Razorbill flying with food

Razorbill flying with food

Here are a few more snapshots of what else has been going on at PMI.

Black Guillemot chick being weighed during our weekly productivity checks

Black Guillemot chick being weighed every 5 days as part of our productivity checks

Leach's storm-petrel chick

Leach’s storm-petrel chick

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

A puffin undergoing the banding process

A puffin undergoing the banding process

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Until next time,

Wayne and Julia

With only about a week left on The Brothers, Nate and I are taking advantage of our dwindling time here to finish up our work and enjoy this incredible experience. Although the weather recently has not allowed us to do our morning counts of the birds on the island, we have been very busy monitoring the black guillemots chicks. Some of the chicks are well over 300 grams now and many are developing flight feathers. While there are burrows with chicks growing flight feathers, we also still have eggs that have not hatched yet. In the past couple of weeks we have been monitoring about 70 different burrows, with the majority of them on Eastern Brothers Island.

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A black guillemot loafing by a marked burrow

Out of our 2 pairs of Terns that both had 3 chicks hatch, all 3 Terns from the first nest have successfully fledged. The second nest chicks hatched later, however, we believe that the majority of the chicks from the second nest will fledge soon as well. Although we only had to pairs of common terns nest on Eastern Brothers this year, their average clutch size was larger than any other year and the island. Also The Brothers  has been mainly predator free this year for the first time. We are confident that this island will someday become a large tern colony as long as it stays predator free. This is has been an awesome experience for the both of us and its gonna be a sad day leaving the island for the summer, but until then we still have a lot of work to do!

A common tern adult hovering over me

A common tern adult hovering

– James


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