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First productivity plot chicks of the season

Today the sun shone for the first time in four days! Camille and I, Aya has been off island this week, were beyond excited to get back in the colony after spending so much time in the cabin. The fact that we were pretty sure chicks were hatching made it even more agonizing. Just as suspected there are chicks! We will now conduct daily checks of our fenced productivity plots to band the newly hatched chicks and weigh them as they as they grow.  This will allow us to estimate the survival rate and overall productivity of the colony.

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Banding productivity plot chicks

The chicks are tantalizingly cute but it is important that we remain focused on collecting data when working in productivity plots. After chicks hatch they cannot regulate their own body heat until they begin to lose their down and grow feathers usually around 8-12 days old. Until then the adults will brood the chicks to help keep them warm.  We limit our time in each plot to no more than 30 minutes and only enter the colony for productivity checks in good weather to allow the adults to tend to small chicks and minimize disturbance.

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Michael, refuge biologist, being attacked during tern census

The next few days we plan to take full advantage of the nice weather to finish up tern trapping before too many eggs hatch and then transition into chick provisioning studies. We will also be starting black guillemot productivity by visiting burrows and checking for eggs. Also in big news, we conducted tern census last Thursday and estimate that there are 623 common and Arctic tern nests here on Metinic Island!

Until next time!

Ravin

This past week on Ship has been very similar to what has been going on at Metinic and PMI. Most of our days have been pretty dreary. On these foggy and rainy days we spend our time reading (A+ to Morgan for reading 8 books so far), eating snacks, catching up on sleep, writing letters, drawing, and staying updated on what’s going on in the real world. It is relaxing, but we’re anxious to get back out there and get a closer look on how our terns our doing.

When it’s not too foggy out, we are able to sit outside and watch the colony. We don’t sit too close because we don’t want to surprise or scare them. We’ve been doing this frequently to deter the Peregrine Falcon who has been stopping by from the island.

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Sunset view while watching for predators

Before the bad weather, we spent most days attempting to re-sight bands, making productivity plots, and trapping adult terns to band, measure, and weigh. To trap the terns we use a Treadle Trap. We first need to replace the eggs with fake eggs. This prevents the tern from damaging their eggs once he/she is trapped. After this we place a wired box over the nest with one end open. When the bird steps through the opening onto the pad, the door will shut and the tern is unable to escape. We quickly retrieve the bird to collect our data, put back the original eggs, set him free, and repeat. It was pretty cool when I got to hold and release my first tern!

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One of our productivity plots

The results from our GOMSWG census indicated that we have about 620 nests in total. Hopefully we’ll start seeing some chicks soon!

-Amanda

Despite the foggy/rainy weather on PMI these past couple days, this past week has been a huge success! Our team was joined by Sara Williams & Linda Welch from MCINWR, Dr. Pam Loring from USFWS, Dr. Ken Meyer from the Avian Research and Conservation Institute in Gainesville, FL, and his daughter, Claire Meyer, to delve into an interesting new frontier in tern research. Satellite nanotags were attached to 5 Common Terns to observe their migration patterns, with hopes that we can use the same methods to track migration of the endangered Roseate Tern. Our team is carefully observing each of the tagged birds (with the help of GoPro cameras) to monitor any changes in behavior compared to 5 untagged Common Terns.

The PMI crew also began trapping and banding Arctic Terns. The crew sets traps over nests and waits up to 30 minutes for a bird to go into the traps. Talk about a test of patience! However, the experience is very rewarding when you catch a tern.

Later in the week were GOMSWG days! Our team along with staff members from MCINWR and a few volunteers conducted a general census on the island of Terns, Laughing Gulls, and Common Eiders. The crew worked hard, but luckily the weather held out so that we had 2 (mostly) rain-free days. Thanks to everyone who helped! We even came across Spotted Sandpiper and Savannah Sparrow chicks. Speaking of chicks…

We are also expecting our first nests to hatch sometime this week! Our productivity plots are just about ready, with minor adjustments to be made. Bring on the chaos! Stay tuned for pictures of chicks.

Happy hatching!

-Jennalie Lutes, PMI

This week Ravin and I have been joined by Camille, who is an undergrad from University of Florida and a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar for the Main Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge this summer.

Thursday was our first day trapping terns and it has been really exciting!  After weeks observing them from the blinds, we are so happy to finally be handling them.  Terns handle a bit different from the passerines I am used to because their wings, tails and beaks are so long.  I also got to band my first tern today with hopefully more to come in the coming weeks!

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Ravin measures an Arctic tern wing (256mm)

This week, we have started setting up our productivity plots for the season.  We are currently putting fencing around a small sample of nests that will allow us to estimate probability of chick survival.  They basically act as a playpen for the baby terns so that we can watch them and they won’t wander off into the colony where they could get lost in the chicks that we aren’t monitoring.

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Camille and Ravin stake down some fencing for a productivity plot

As we get further into the season, the terns get more aggressive towards us so we have been making sure to wear hats into the colony.  Though this keeps us from being pooped on, it doesn’t protect us from dive bomb attacks.  Terns will hit the tallest point that they see (which is usually the back of the head), so we have started taping flags to our hats to protect our heads.  Getting hit isn’t that bad, but it can certainly be a bit surprising.

Stay tuned for tern chicks, black guillemot eggs and more dive bomb attacks!

 

-Aya

This weekend the Ship Island crew headed over to Pond Island to take part in a beach cleanup along the shore. Morgan and I, as well as several other volunteers, collected dozens of trash bags filled with lost buoys, cans, bottles, and more. This year is the first year the group will be able to actually recycle the plastic that was collected. Through the company, TerraCycle, our collection of plastics, no matter how dirty or broken they may seem, will be sent over to be thoroughly cleaned and re-purposed. Typically, most objects made out of recycled plastic only consist of about 30% reused material. Though it doesn’t seem like a lot, or maybe even not enough, if the concentration is increased then the new object becomes closer to the end of its lifespan and can no longer be reused. It was good to get off the island and spend some time with others working to keep our environment clean, but we’re glad to be back on Ship with our terns!

 

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Section of a boat that was found washed to shore. We needed all hands on deck to carry this one over!

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Beach Cleanup Volunteers

Back home on Ship, we’ve had problems with other birds predating on our Common Terns and their eggs. Currently, Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, American Crows, Peregrine Falcons, and Northern Harriers are our main concerns. Almost every day we spend two hour shifts in the blinds to observe the tern behavior and keep an eye out for any of these predators that might pass by. During the evening we’ve been marking nests with predation sticks so we can notice if any eggs have gone missing. By doing this we are also able to get a good idea on how many terns we really have on the island. It doesn’t look like it, but so far we have counted over 500 nests, which means we have over 1000 terns! So far so good! In a few days we will be doing a GOMSWG census which will give us an even closer estimate on our tern population size. We’re excited to share the results with you next week!

-Amanda

12 Weeks Of Island Life

On the first week of island life my field job gave to me:

                A puffin standing on the blind

On the second week of island life my field job gave to me:

                Too many gulls

                And a puffin standing on a blind

On the third week of island life my field job gave to me:

                Three common murres

                Too many gulls

                And a puffin standing on the blind

On the fourth week of island life my field job gave to me:

                Four field techs

                Three common murres

                Too many gulls

                And a puffin standing on the blind

On the fifth week of island life my field job gave to me:

                FIIIVE RAZOR BILLS

                Four field techs

                Three common murres

                Too many gulls

                And a puffin standing on the blind

On the sixth week of island life my field job gave to me:

                Six gillies laying

                FIIIVE RAZOR BILLS

                Four field techs

                Three common murres

                Too many gulls

                And a puffin standing on the blind

On the seventh week of island life my field job gave to me:

                Seven eiders swimming

                Six gillies laying

                FIIIVE RAZOR BILLS

                Four field techs

                Three common murres

                Too many gulls

                And a puffin standing on the blind

On the eighth week of island life my field job gave to me:

                Eight eggs a hatching

                Seven eiders swimming

                Six gillies laying

                FIIIVE RAZOR BILLS

                Four field techs

                Three common murres

                Too many gulls

                And a puffin standing on the blind

On the ninth week of island life my field job gave to me:

                Nine petrels digging

                Eight eggs a hatching

                Seven eiders swimming

                Six gillies laying

                FIIIVE RAZOR BILLS

                Four field techs

                Three common murres

                Too many gulls

                And a puffin standing on the blind

On the tenth week of island life my field job gave to me:

                Ten terns attacking

                Nine petrels digging

                Eight eggs a hatching

                Seven eiders swimming

                Six gillies laying

                FIIIVE RAZOR BILLS

                Four field techs

                Three common murres

                Too many gulls

                And a puffin standing on the blind

On the eleventh week of island life my field job gave to me:

                Eleven birding tours

                Ten terns attacking

                Nine petrels digging

                Eight eggs a hatching

                Seven eiders swimming

                Six gillies laying

                FIIIVE RAZOR BILLS

                Four field techs

                Three common murres

                Too many gulls

                And a puffin standing on the blind

On the twelfth week of island life my field job gave to MEEEEEEE:

                Twelve holes for grubbing

                Eleven birding tours

                Ten terns attacking

                Nine petrels digging

                Eight eggs a hatching

                Seven eiders swimming

                Six gillies laying

                FIIIVE RAZOR BILLS

                Four field techs

                Three common murres

                Too many gulls

                And a puffin standing on the blind

 

Till next week,

Kelby on PMI

After spending a few days in sunny Florida for a beautiful wedding, it’s good to be back on chilly Metinic Island!

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Herring gulls near their nests

Aya and I jumped right into gull census when I returned so we could get a count of nests before they started hatching. This consisted of walking a large area of the island counting nests, number of eggs and identifying whether the nest belonged to a great black-back gull or a herring gull. The gulls nest along the shore and in small openings in shrubby areas on the hillside. This meant that Aya and I had to climb through some pretty dense bushes to reach some of these areas. It took us much longer than I had expected to finish census because of this and we both walked away with a few minor bruise and scratches! After two and a half days we counted a total of 155 herring gull, 6 great black-backed gull, 9 common eider nests and 1 mallard nest.

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Herring gull nest found during census

The last few days we have been working in the tern colony where we have been marking tern nests to species. Metinic has a mixed species colony of common and arctic terns and to determine population estimates for both we sample around 25 percent of the colony to calculate a species ratio. To identify the species of the nest we sit in observation blinds and wait for the parents to return to the nest. Arctic and common terns have different colored bills along with a few other subtle differences that allow us to identify them. Our marked nests will be counted during tern census in mid-June.

 

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Arctic tern with blood red bill

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Common tern with black tipped bill

We have also been searching for black guillemot burrows along the rocky shoreline. Coming up later this week we will be joined by refuge staff to help us with tern trapping. More on that next time!

Cheers,

Ravin