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With two weeks left of the 2020 field season, we are continuing with our alcid work and saying farewell to our terns, who have nearly all left for the season. With more and more terns leaving the colony, we’re shifting our focus onto resighting puffins and banding as many alcids as possible. While our puffin blind has been taken down to prepare for some rough weather ahead, we can still sneak up to puffin point with a spotting scope and resight some bands. So far we’ve resighted a few dozen puffins, some more than 14 years old! We still have one new arrival to PMI this season, Emma from Metinic! Emma will join us for the last two weeks to get some experience with puffin grubbing and banding. With three people, we have many more chances to get great photos of the puffin grubbing experience, especially when wrangling the adults is a team effort!

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Emma grubbing an adult puffin.

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Banding new puffin chicks.

 

Earlier this week we GPS tagged all of the nests we previously marked with flags to calculate our species ratio. This allows us to find the ratio of common terns to Arctic terns nesting on the island, and provides us with an estimate of how many breeding pairs of each species there are. GPS tagging the nests also allows us to visualize which parts of the island are the most appealing to either species. This week we also got the chance to explore Green Island and witness the herring and great black-backed gull chicks fledge. Luckily, we arrived at the right time to free a herring gull chick that had become stuck in an old lobster trap. We’ll return to Green later this week to clean up some of the trash that has washed ashore, and hopefully plug up some more lobster traps in order to prevent anymore chicks from getting trapped in them. During our chats with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch we’re always asked what the public can do to be more involved with conservation, and the best way is to be mindful of how we impact our surroundings; it’s important to know where our trash is going and how it affects the local wildlife!

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Curious little puffin being weighed.

Farewell Metinic!

The season has come to an end!

I’m writing this as we work on finalizing data and closing up the island. We are scheduled to be picked up on Wednesday the 29th!

Sequoia (left) and Emma (right) the wide-eyed technicians at the start of the season.

Wednesday is going to be bittersweet. We’ve both worked hard this year and it is remarkable how much we’ve learned. I still remember when we first explored the island and got whiplash from trying to identify all of the amazing warblers that were on the island. We spent many hours in the woods with our binoculars plastered to our eyes and identification books stuck to our hands. During this time we thought it was amazing to see 300 terns in the morning. Now we are used to waking up to a 1000 or more.

We watched as the terns courted each other with beautiful dances in the sky and the offerings of fish to win each other over. Soon we spotted them making themselves at home scraping with their short legs, small divots in the ground for their precious eggs to be laid. I’d say we were more excited about the first eggs than any tern. Within no time at all we had around a thousand nests scattered about the once vacant point.

We then waited, checking each egg for cracks or pipping and chasing off would-be predators. When I found Eddy (our first tern chick) I was elated. Soon though it seemed as though we “terned” around and time had flown by. The fluff balls weights and pin feathers grew by the day. I spotted “Eddy” one morning flying out of his plot and felt a sense of pride. We did it, we kept the terns protected! Now as we and the terns prepare to leave, and the young fledglings are seen flying around the colony with vigor, we get to watch the fruits of our labor as they fly away over the ocean.

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I’d say our abilities and knowledge of ecology grew just as much as the terns during this time and we can’t wait to spread our own wings and find our next new adventure.

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Beautiful double rainbow over the colony right after a huge thunderstorm on the island

Thank you for a great season and we hope we brought a bit of our island joy to everyone reading!

With only a couple weeks left of the 2020 field season, we’re collecting as much data as we can before the tern colony leaves. Nearly all of the chicks on the island have fledged and become independent; and with their jobs finished, the adult terns are starting to leave. Already our population is noticeably smaller and our once-packed nest hotspots have become quiet. Other signs of the colony’s departure have started sprouting up as well. We’ve been noticing changes in their plumage and bill color, signaling that their breeding season is nearly over. The alcids on the other hand are still rearing their fluffy, chunky chicks. Out razorbill chick has undergone rapid growth and is likely a few days from leaving burrow O37. Luckily, we got the chance to band him before he goes out to sea with his parents. We’ve set up a GoPro near the burrow to see if we can catch the moment he leaves on video. While the terns have slowly stopped delivering food to their independent fledglings, we’re still seeing plenty of fish deliveries to puffin and guillemot burrows. It’s almost impossible to miss the red flash of a rock gunnel in a guillemot’s mouth before it ducks under the boardwalk or into a rock burrow.

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Banding our razorbill chick on July 24th; you can see his white eyestripe starting to form!

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Curious about the camera.

Speaking of which, the guillemot chicks are growing exponentially and developing their flight feathers. We’re continuing to band the larger chicks, but that means we have to catch them first. Catching the boardwalk chicks is a challenge because they aren’t confined to a burrow, so we work as a team to corral the frantic chicks to a spot where we can pluck them from the boardwalk.

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One of the black guillemot chicks from under the boardwalk.

In other news, we’re experiencing a scorching heat wave of 75 degrees! We’re taking advantage of the summer heat by resighting arctic terns loafing on the shoreline, too overheated to fly around. So far we’ve resighted over 70 arctic terns in the last four days, and discovered that one bird was banded in 1999! This upcoming week we’ll continue to resight birds, band alcids, and hopefully get the chance to work with some Leach’s storm-petrels, whose chuckling calls still liven up the night.

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A pectoral sandpiper that’s been hanging around for a few days, the last one on PMI was seen in 2015!

Ewe wouldn’t believe that 120 sheep roam Metinic Island!

From September to May the sheep are free to roam the island, this is beneficial to the terns and the work we do here because they keep the vegetation short. This allows for better tern nesting habitat. In the spring they were rounded up by the owners and pushed to the south side of the island. We then put up a fence that bisects the island to keep them out of the north end.

You may ask, “Why do you keep them out of the north point?” To answer this question, sheep have actually been documented munching on eggs. I know crazy right! They can also accidently step on eggs or chicks.

The problem we had this summer was that some crafty sheep slipped passed the round up and wanted to come into the colony where the grass is greener. We nicknamed the lead ewe Nancy. She is one of the few black sheep on the island so she was always easy to spot. She had a small group of four ewes and six lambs that followed her everywhere. We also had a smaller group of just two ewes that tended to stay in the forest. For the first month and a half we often had to chase Nancy’s group away from the colony.

In June we attempted to do another round up to try to get as many as possible to the south side. It did not go smoothly. After much running, falling, mud wading and changing of plans we only got three ewes and their accompanying lambs to the south.

We currently have four ewes and four lambs still on the north side of the fence. We have accepted them and chased them away from the colony every morning and night. But recently they have figured out that we have to sleep at night and can’t chase them so they can easily slip in after we go to bed. They say sheep aren’t smart, I’d have to disagree.

Even though the sheep have caused issues, we do not believe they have affected the colony. We’ve also learned to enjoy our 6:00am and 8:00pm sheep chases, it keeps us on our toes and them on their hooves.

The vicious predators of Metinic Island

Chicks and Comets

We can finally say what we have been hoping for this entire summer: Ship Island has chicks!

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A freshly hatched chick and a pipping one!

We first spotted cracks in some eggshells on the 10th and two days later, we found our first hatched Common Terns! With the late season egg laying and colony abandonment, we were relieved to hear the small, raspy peeps from the nests.

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“Feed me!”

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A worried parent perched on my head while I banded their chicks

Ever since, we’ve been working non-stop. Already, there are over 70 chicks banded! We have productivity plots set up across the colony that we check every other day. Inside, we keep track off all the eggs in each nest and weigh the chicks every other day to monitor their growth. In just one week, chicks can weigh 6 times heavier than their hatch weight! We also begun provisioning watches to see what food is being brought to the nest, who is being fed, and who is feeding it to them. This data is important to help monitor the health of the colony and what prey species are available in the surrounding ocean.

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Comet NEOWISE

When we do have downtime, we have been fascinated by the night sky. As we are several miles from the nearest town, we have little light pollution. Across the northern hemisphere, you might be able to see comet NEOWISE in the northern sky. On the same day we saw our first chicks, Andy and I saw our first comet! The sky was completely clear giving us not only a great view of the spectacle, but also the Milky Way, Jupiter, and Saturn.

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The Milky Way, Jupiter (brightest “star”), and Saturn (to the left of Jupiter). Photo by Andy, lights by Percy

As the season continues, we hope to share more excited news with you all!

Percy

During another exciting week on Petit Manan, we grubbed our active puffin burrows to weigh and measure the chicks a second time, this time with the intention of banding any chicks with developed flight feathers. We’ll go around next week to band any that we missed this week and maybe find some new burrows while we’re at it. Afterward, we banded the larger guillemot chicks under the boardwalk. One of our active guillemot burrows was occupied by an adult during our banding sweep, so we got the chance to handle and weigh it. Despite their speediness under the boardwalk, an adult guillemot is much calmer than an adult puffin. We resighted its BBL band and discovered that it was banded last year, right here on PMI.

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Weighing and measuring an adult black guillemot.

In our productivity plots, many of our plot chicks have successfully fledged, but some fledglings stay close to their nests to be fed by their parents until they are independent. Most of the fledglings congregate on the helipad, like a “teen hangout” of sorts. So far we’ve banded about 250 tern chicks, but we’re still shooting for 300 or mote. We’re still waiting for our razorbill chick to get a little bigger so we can fit him with a band, but in the meantime we have a new razorbill chick that we recently found in a burrow so confusing that we have to hang upside-down to see into it.

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Checking on our first razorbill chick; we’ll band him later this week.

The sunny summer weather we’ve been experiencing has made the lighthouse the perfect place to hang out in our free time. We spend most of our time in the light room looking for pelagic seabirds with the spotting scopes. Northern gannets are regular visitors, flying over the island or diving offshore. We witnessed a flock of nine adults fly low over the Friendship V during one of the Bar Harbor Whale Watch tours. Occasionally, we’ll also see the erratic pitter-patter of a Wilson’s storm-petrel foraging on the horizon. Although the end of the season is drawing closer, we are still seeing a variety of new arrivals to the island. On the 18th, we found our first Leach’s storm-petrel after investigating a burrow along the boardwalk. At the same time, we discovered our first laughing gull chick hidden in the tall grass along with its less than enthused parent. As for shorebirds, we managed to sneak up on a juvenile Wilson’s phalarope walking along the shoreline at the boathouse; an island first! We’ve had mammalian visitors offshore as well, including harbor porpoises, grey seals, and many curious people of course. While we patiently wait for the remainder of our plot chicks to fledge, we’re taking the time to take copious amounts of photos, chat with the Friendship V, and collect more provisioning data before our fledglings leave the colony and go their own way.

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A Leach’s storm-petrel chick found in a burrow under the boardwalk.

 

It feels like the field season on Metinic is flying by (just like our chicks!)

This weekend we had our first tern fledglings, including “Eddy”, our first Arctic tern chick. As we walk around the colony, we are seeing fewer and fewer fluffy chicks as they trade their down plumage for body and flight feathers. Once they reach the fledging age, the young terns can make short flights around the colony. However, their juvenile plumage is still not fully developed and they may have lingering tufts of down. Though they are able to fly, they are not completely independent and will still rely on food from their parents. It is always fun to see the young fledglings experimenting with their wings and hovering over us as we walk through the colony, just like their parents!

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Cooperative tern chicks help illustrate feather development from down to juvenile plumage (right to left).

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A banded Arctic tern fledgling from one of our provisioning nests!

One of my favorite activities on the island is observing the Leach’s storm petrels at night. They are a nocturnal seabird species that nest in dug burrows or crevices and we have many nesting in an old stone wall on the island. If we go out in the middle of the night with night-vision binoculars, we can see them flying all around us. It’s easy to locate them in their burrows with their distinct chatter and purr call that we attribute to a “guinea pig being tickled”. The other night was especially exciting because as we walked along the wall we could see the adults just outside of the openings in the rock. It is amazing how close we can get to observe them!

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A Leach’s storm-petrel in the stone wall.

We only have a couple of weeks left on Metinic and can’t believe how quickly time is passing. Hopefully we will have more pictures of fledglings coming soon!

 

Until next time,

Emma

This week on Petit Manan Island, we have too much to talk about! Our first tern chick, an arctic tern creatively named “B-chick”, successfully fledged and left productivity plot B. Since then, both arctic and common tern fledglings have been taking flight all over the island. Now that the tern chicks are fledging, we are making an effort to sweep the island and band as many chicks as possible. They shouldn’t be difficult to spot since they go out of their way to shriek at you when you’re passing by.

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An arctic tern from Amanda’s provisioning nests.

Our only obstacle at the moment is the weather, which certainly hasn’t let up over the past week. Despite the dreary weather, we have more than enough to keep us busy and entertained. Conducting provisioning stints and birdwatching are some of the ways we stay productive on days where it would be too wet to check on our chicks. Yesterday we had the chance to sneak up on a mixed flock of shorebirds picking through the rockweed at the Green Island sandbar; but they aren’t the only new arrivals to the island. Since our first chick fledged, we’ve moved on to another instant favorite: a newly hatched razorbill chick. We’ll be keeping a sharp eye on the chick as it grows, and hopefully we’ll get some photos of the parents making fish deliveries!

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Taking photos of shorebirds and an eider creche on a foggy day.

In one of the  most exciting events of the season, we finally got the chance to grub for puffins along the shoreline. You can’t help but laugh when you reach your entire arm into a puffin burrow in an attempt to find a fluffy puffin chick, only to be met with the alligator bite strength of an angry adult puffin. Wrestling with the cantankerous adults to weigh and measure them was challenging, but indescribably fun. Their fuzzy chicks, meanwhile, are like black tennis balls with comically large feet. There’s really nothing else quite like wrangling puffins and being rewarded with their adorable chicks and an entertaining story to tell. Still energized from our puffin grubbing experience, we took to the boardwalk and searched for black guillemot chicks in order to weigh and measure them as well. Later this week we will return to the puffin burrows to check up on the chicks, this time with many more photo opportunities.

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Measuring the wing chord of a puffin chick on the shoreline.

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A very chunky puffin chick.

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Marking an angry black guillemot chick with nail polish so we can ID it later.

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Amanda with a black guillemot chick.

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Puffin grubbing.

Ship in Stormy Weather!

Hello from Ship Island!

Over the past week or so we have been engulfed by thick fog nearly every morning if not the entire day. Along with the fog we’ve had some storms pass through the bay as well. On the evening of July 8th, we had a large thunderstorm system pass directly over Blue Hill Bay and Ship Island. The cabin shook as the large storm approached and the loud thunderclap intervals increased rapidly. Percy was able to find a live-time lightning flash/bolt tracker which was fascinating to monitor as the storm progressed. At one point we believe a bolt struck less than 200 yards away from the cabin to the southeast.

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Radar mosaic of the storm at 6:30 PM

After the main portion of it passed a beautiful sunset unfolded as the sun began to peek out of the horizon clouds. The sunset gave the entire sky a pink and yellow glow which Percy was able to take some fantastic photos of before it disappeared!

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Our trusty solar panel with a little added yellow glow!

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Looking northwest towards the beach and West Barge Island

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Looking northeast towards Trumpet Island

On a less stormy note, yesterday (7/9) morning I was able to capture a fogbow stretching over the island. We have normally seen the fogbow early in the morning when the sun is refracting off the fog to create a bow, much like a rainbow! Unlike a rainbow, though, the fogbow lacks color because the fog droplets are much smaller than normal rain droplets.

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Fogbow panorama!

This makes an otherwise colorful rainbow a white fogbow. Prior to this season, I had never seen one so I was ecstatic to observe my first out here on Ship Island!

Cheers,

Andy

 

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!

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Black Guillemot egg in nest

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Black Guillemot chicks in their nest

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“Excuse me! Put me down.”

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First Guillemot chick found this year

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Adult Black Guillemot jumping out of its nest