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Another eventful week for the research team stationed on Petit Manan, as we delved into puffin burrows. Puffins are professional architects when constructing their burrows. Each burrow was different from the next, a cozy home for the adults and the chicks to live in for the season. Some were easily accessible while others were out of arms reach, literally. It was hard grubbing work trying to find them, while the turns flew over head pooping on us. But This experience is one I will never forget as worked along side puffin adults, which are a lot stronger than I expected and puffin chicks, which make your heart melt. The puffin chicks are looking very healthy and fluffy, and continue to grow everyday.

We also added a new member to the team on PMI, Baylee. Before she moved to PMI she was stationed on ship Island. She has been a great addition to the team and we love her presence. Since being on the island Baylee has been able to experience handling puffs for the first time, which is always a special moment.

Till next time ✌️

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Science Under the Stars

We’re busy here on Metinic Island as we monitor chicks and nests for common and arctic terns, black guillemots, and Leach’s storm-petrels. While most of our work occurs during the day, some surveys for storm-petrels occur at night. Clear nights on Metinic Island are spectacular because there is no light pollution and few buildings to hinder our view. We can easily see planets, but there are seemingly thousands of stars and the Milky Way cuts across the sky. Lately, the Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower has begun and several stars are especially bright or close to planets. We are lucky to have such incredible views of the stars.

Unfortunately, many people living in major cities and suburbs rarely see the stars, or may see planets occasionally. In Nora’s home town near Los Angeles, CA, only Saturn and Jupiter are usually bright enough to be seen through the light pollution and smog. It’s a disheartening feeling to see no stars, and feel no connection with the universe. Light pollution severely limits what is visible, such that some people may never truly see the sky.

Light pollution is growing worse in many areas, but there are a few things that can be done to reduce light pollution and regain views of the stars. First, reduce the number, brightness or view of outdoor lights that are used at night. Second, reduce the number or brightness of streetlights. Third, encourage businesses to turn off or lower lights on their properties at night. And, finally, add fixtures that point light downward. Not all of these will be possible everywhere, obviously, but it seems vital to be able to see the night sky.

The Puffin Post

Petit Manan is still booming with babies!  Many tern chicks have already hatched (and some are even beginning to get their big kid feathers!) while others are still just entering the world. The crew has begun provisioning studies – watching what the parents bring to feed the chicks. Depending on what types of fish the chicks are being fed, we may be able to better understand why some chicks may not survive, as well as how healthy the local ecosystem is, or if there are signs of overharvesting. So just by watching what a couple dozen chicks are eating, we are given a lot of information!

A few days ago we also completed an entire census of the island. We recorded all tern and laughing gull nests on the island, as well as if the tern nests had been predated on by using the predator sticks we put out in the beginning of the season. We had help from several other biologists from the mainland, giving us a crew of 11 people over the two day census.IMG_9331

Sadly, we also said our farewells to the PhD student we had the pleasure of working with for the past 3 weeks. She was studying the Laughing Gull colony, and has completed collecting the data she needs. She will be heading back to North Dakota shortly and we all wish her the best with the rest of her research!

The Petit Manan crew will continue adoring the puffins, watching the tern chicks grow up (a little too fast), and skunking each other in cribbage.

Over and out,

Kate

As one can imagine, things don’t always go as planned when working on a seabird restoration island. The last three weeks have been a whirlwind. All was well and the terns were incubating, when a nasty storm was headed for our little island. A few days before the storm, the terns were leaving the island at night. We started with night stints, thinking it was a nocturnal predator (eg. Owl, raccoon, or mink). After the weekend, our biologists and staff came out to do a walk-through of the island. Boo, the pup, came out to sweep the island for any sign of mammalian predators. We set several more mink traps, owl traps, and even some raccoon traps on nearby Trumpet Island. The only sign of predation found that day was a dead adult tern. Leaving puzzled, we continued with night walks and checking traps every two hours. With no sigh of a predator, the big storm came with high tides. The terns didn’t return after the storm, leaving their eggs exposed to avian predators. The next day we found cracked eggs as well as missing eggs. Soon to see what may be the culprit, crows. We also had a family of geese causing a ruckus, trampling through our colony, destroying nests. Meanwhile, the terns have been coming back at night, staying the night, and leaving in the morning. Again, we did a walk-through, finding three tern feather piles in the rack line. We moved a few of the owl traps and set up game cameras. The island sitter came out for the weekend, finding a new tern feather pile in the rack line on the beach. She saw a Peregrine Falcon and a Merlin early in the morning. During this two week period, colony behavior has not been normal. They have been less and less aggressive towards not only us, but predators as well. Instead of the terns attacking the Merlin, the Merlin was flying with the terns. After this weekend, it seems as if most of the colony has abandoned. However, we have been seeing a few new nests and have confirmation of one. We marked a new one egg nest in one of our productivity plots and the next day there were TWO eggs! At this point we are doing everything we can to scare all predators (eg. Gulls, crows, and eagles) off of the island.

 

Our restoration work on Metinic is primarily focused on terns, but we also monitor black guillemot burrows. We locate burrows on the island by watching birds fly in and out of burrows from a blind, and we eventually check those sites for eggs. Black guillemots lay eggs in burrows in rocky crevices and under ledges, which makes it slightly more challenging than nest searching for terns. We have found 34 active nests so far, 15 of which we will monitor for the rest of the season.

We will monitor hatching success, predation and chick growth rate. We selected easily accessible burrows to monitor chick growth because some guillemots are experts at making their nests completely inaccessible. Once there are chicks, we will visit the burrows every few days to measure weight and wing chord of the guillemots to track their growth. Guillemots incubate for 23 to 39 days, and only a few eggs are beginning to show signs of hatch. In our search for active burrows, however, we found one burrow that contained two chicks! As more eggs hatch and we begin to monitor growth we will update you all with how they are doing.
-Nick & Nora

Black Guillemot

Black guillemot chick on its hatch day.

 

Explosion of Life

Everything is hatching on Metinic. We’ve had common eider ducklings for a few weeks now, but all the other eggs are beginning to hatch. On the south end of the island, great black-backed and herring gull chicks are everywhere. Some gull chicks are about 14-18 days old now, so they’re reaching their awkward teenage/baby dinosaur stage. Here on the north end of the island we have seemingly hundreds of tern chicks, spotted sandpiper chicks, and we are beginning to see our first black guillemot chicks. Or not see, rather, as they are very good at hiding in their burrows. We’ve also found a few passerine nests, which also have chicks at the moment.

There are two extremes in terms of how chicks hatch: naked and helpless (altricial) versus covered in down and capable of feeding themselves (precocial). American robin, for example, hatch with their eyes closed and completely naked and require a lot of care to grow all of their feathers while being fed by the parents. On the other hand, spotted sandpiper chicks are capable of running a few hours after hatch, are covered in down and can feed themselves. Black guillemots and our two tern species are semi-precocial: they hatch with eyes open, down and can move, but they rely on their parents bringing food to them.

Just as with their eggs, tern chicks can be variable in natal down color and pattern. Typically, they’re tan, brown or gray with dark streaks and splotches that help them blend in with the environment. In some cases there is speckling in the down. However, we have a common tern chick in a productivity plot that is completely blonde with no streaks on the back. It looks more similar to a domestic duckling than anything else, and it is very easy to find! We’ll post soon to show you how our chicks are growing!

-Nick and Nora

It has been a very busy week for the Petit Manan crew as well as all the tern parents on the island. Our first chicks hatched on June 15th and more and more have been hatching each day. These little fluff balls are absolutely adorable but that cuteness comes at price! Like any good parents, the adults have become very protective of their young and are willing to do anything to ward us researchers off which include pecking us and pooping on us. Now that there are chicks out and about the research team has added on a few more tasks to our days. Every day we must check productivity plots we set up around the islands. These plots are basically giant tern baby play pens each containing 6-15 nests. In these pens we track the hatch date of every egg and track the progression of each chick as they grow. In the end, it will give insight on the entire hatching and fledgling success of the tern colony. We weigh the chicks and also band them; that way, when they start running around we can tell who is who.  We also are beginning food provisioning surveys in which we record what the adults are feeding their chicks. We’re hoping to see lots of herring, hake, pollock, sandlance! It’s a fun time to be on Petit Manan and we’re hoping for lots of healthy chicks that grow up ready to migrate down to South America or further this fall.

‘Till next post,

Chris

Pictures: Top L to R; Lance weighing a chicks, an Arctic tern chick, an Arctic tern chick sporting some new bands. Bottom L to R; Kate searching the productivity plot for chicks, a tub full of common tern chicks waiting to be weighed