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Hello from Rachel on Ship Island! This will be the last blog post as the season is coming to an end. It feels like just yesterday that we were dropped off of the boat onto this little island. Time does fly! I remember how excited I was just to see the few terns that started to show up in May versus now. There seems to be juveniles left and right when looking into the colony, and I am glad to know that it is due to the fantastic success this colony has had this breeding season! It warms my heart as well to know that these youngsters will join their parents soon on their journey back across the vast sea, and that we had some part in all of that. From chasing seagulls, geese, and falcons like crazy loons (sorry loons!), to weeding TONS of vegetation to make the perfect nesting areas, I can only hope that our efforts to give these chicks the best chance possible has helped this species thrive here on Ship. I never knew how much went into a successful seabird colony, and with the knowledge I have now, I must say that these seabirds are incredibly resilient, and I am thankful to have spent the season in their midst. It is a bittersweet goodbye! I will miss their incessant calling, and their goofy mannerisms. I wish them the best in their migration, and I hope if I ever return to Blue Hill Bay in the summertime, that I may see a tern that we banded while here on the island! Maine is one of the most beautiful states I have ever traveled to, and now had the chance to live in temporarily. My hopes are that through conservation work such as this, amazing creatures like common terns can continue to live and breed! Thank you to everyone who read these blogs and followed along on our adventures here! Signing off and sending love to all!

-Rachel

Here is one last hello from Ships 2022 supervisor! I am beyond grateful for the support we have received this season from refuge staff and FOMCI; my experience here has been all the better with their assistance and companionship. Dare I say this has been Ships best season yet, with high numbers of breeding adults who successfully produced numerous offspring. As of today, we have 105 juveniles fledged from our productivity plots, with fledging success at around 87%. Our productivity rate is at a heathy 1.75, and because of the islands abundance of birds, we were able to band 1,045 terns this year! I hope that in the years to come, some of these terns will be recaptured here on Ship as adults, happy, healthy, and full of tasty herring. I want the future generations of Maines terns to know that they can rely on Ship Island for protected nesting grounds and abundant resources to make their breeding efforts a success. Thank you all for tuning in to our weekly blog posts over the past few months. It means a lot to know that there are so many others out there who care about our natural world, and specifically Maines seabirds. I ask you to share your passions with those around you, for having respect and admiration for nature is something we should strive to inspire in everyone.

-Laura Wallace

Record Breaking Season

Hello from Ship! This week we have succeeded in banding the most birds ever on the island. We are at 1,009 and even expect to band a few more. So keep your binoculars and scopes ready to see if you can find our common terns with bands on their legs. Our beach is covered with juveniles that are getting used to fending for themselves and will soon be migrating. If you find yourself in Blue Hill Bay, take a second to admire the great success of this years’ tern colony here on Ship. Most years there have been hinderances to the colony’s success, including weather events, disease, and abandonments, but this year we seem to have avoided these complications! I am hopeful that we will continue to have a colony of this size here in the years to come. In just one year this colony has almost doubled in size. I keep thinking about what is so different this year from previous ones. Could it be because Ship’s vegetation all mowed down now? Did suitable nesting sites elsewhere become unsuitable? Maybe the terns saw Rachel and I here and figured they could use our help to protect their eggs and chicks. Whatever the reason may be, I am grateful that I could be a part of such an eventful season. While many seabirds are not having such a great breeding season, especially due to avian influenza outbreaks, I am glad that we have this little victory here on Ship Island.

-Laura

Adulting is hard!!!

Rachel here again from Ship Island! Since my last blog post things have been chaotic on Ship in all the best ways! Many of our chicks from our productivity plots have fledged and can now be seen loafing on the beach with the adults, though their stubby tails and awkward mannerisms make them extremely easy to spot. Some seemed to be eager to join the adults and be independent, while some others seemed very reluctant to leave the care of their parents. I think we all know that we can relate. Adulting is hard! Not only do they have to master the art of flight, but also the craft of fishing! I almost got a face full of feathers the other day as a not so experienced fledgling was barreling through the colony in a very uncoordinated and almost humorous manner. After a small crash landing in the vegetation beyond, they were back at it again. I felt bad letting out a bit of a chuckle as I thought back to when I was first learning to drive… yeah that wasn’t the prettiest sight either. But the determination of these birds continues to astound me. I do not think I could have the patience that these adults do with their young. We have been spending a lot of time in the blinds still conducting provisioning watches. As cute as all the chicks are, they can be just as feisty and demanding towards their parents! Their parents work very hard acquiring fish to deliver to their young in a timely manner. Though sometimes, either immediately after a feeding or when the parents come back without a fish, the chicks LEAP at their parents’ faces, mouths agape and pecking in search of a scrumptious snack. The parents seem anything but pleased as their growing children chase them around the nest area begging and commanding that food be brought to them! Sometimes I think the adults have this look about them that almost seems like they are thinking, “what did I get myself into?” I feel a little sorry for them, but yet they return to various nesting grounds each year to do it all over again, oh my! It makes me feel thankful for all the hard-working parents out there including my own that look after their kiddoes, even after they leave the nest so to speak! Of course, a little mayhem is to be expected with the territory, and that doesn’t dull the multitude of sweet moments I get to witness of these parents with their chicks! I find it the most precious when the chicks are still super teeny and still fit under mom or dad’s wing. A parent will bring a fish and feed it to a chick, and as the baby scarfs down the fish the parents look on in adoration and seem to dote over their little one… too cute! As August nears it seems hard to believe the season will soon be coming to an end. I am enjoying every moment with these birds and will continue to do so until we leave! But until then, there is still lots of work to do and yet better yet more chicks to fledge!

Until next time!

~Rachel

Guillemots Galore

Hello all from Metinic. It’s crazy to think that we only have two and a half weeks left here on the island. Although it seems as though we are just getting started with the field season, the birds are already getting set to start departing. Just this evening I witnessed multiple fledglings taking practice flights around the colony accompanied by their parent. It is quite an exciting thing for me to see compared to this time last year. I sometimes wonder if my fellow island mates think I am crazy for pointing out every plot chick we see fly out on our way to measure them daily.

While I love getting to see the terns have a successful season, I still enjoy getting to see the black guillemot chicks more. These fluffy chicks have had my heart since I first saw them last season and I am glad that the feeling hasn’t changed. This season they seem like even more of divas given their new look…bright nail polish! Now you may be thinking that these birds do not need a day in the salon, but this is more for us to help know who is who. Unlike tern, black guillemots are not able to hold the adult size leg band until they get larger, and there are typically two chicks per burrow. So, this season we are using bright nail polish to help us differentiate between the first hatched A chick and the second hatched B chick. Since Andres pulled out the first chicks of the season, it was up to him to decide who got each color. He decided that the A chicks would be getting a hot pink pedicure and the B chicks get the neon green. Personally, I think that the neon green fits them a bit better. They are such dramatic little birds always screaming and trying to bite you (which only makes them cuter). To me the combination of the dark fluff and the neon green gives off the feeling of a Disney villain.

With the season winding down here on Metinic, we hope to see all of our birds continue to succeed!
-Caitlin

Fledgling Frenzy

Greetings blog readers! The time has come, many of our young chicks are leaving their nests in pursuit of adulthood. They really do grow up fast, especially this year because there have been minimal predators and plenty of fish to eat. There is an incredible number of chicks running amuck on the island. We have banded hundreds of them, and I think we can still band hundreds more! While there are plenty of fledglings, there is still a great diversity of chick sizes I am seeing; from pipping eggs to flying juveniles, you can find every size in between. In some of our plots we’ve documented new nests this week and it makes me wonder how long these terns plan to stick around. There is a subset of chicks whose growth we monitor, and of these birds plenty of them now have the wing cord length and weight necessary to fledge, yet it’s as if they are milking their situation for as long as their parents will stand. I suppose it’s great to have all your meals brought and fed to you, but if I had a pair of wings I would find it irresistible to use them. Isn’t that the main point of being a bird, to fly and be free? Sooner or later these juveniles will have to take flight and navigate both through both the sky and adulthood. Alas, the wifi here still won’t allow us to upload photos, but hopefully next week!

-Laura

Hello all, Hallie here!

First and foremost, I want to thank everyone who joined the Friends of MCINWR and Bar Harbor Whale Watch for coming out to PMI on the fundraiser pelagic! It was so nice to be able to talk to all of you, and I cannot thank you enough for all that you do. This work would not be possible without the generosity of those who support us, and for that the seabirds thank you! Now, for some island updates!

Terns

Our terns are doing really well! As I am writing this, I am seeing fledglings take their first clumsy flights at around 26 days of age! We recorded our first fledgling Arctic Tern just over a week ago now, with Common Terns following shortly thereafter. Despite sea surface temperatures warming, hake and herring were still brought back in abundance, resulting in lots of healthy fledglings! It looks like we have had a productive season for our terns, which is quite the relief after last year’s poor season. Seeing these birds take flight always makes me emotional — we put so much work into making sure that these birds have a safe spot to reproduce and seeing the first of them take flights and head out to sea always makes me choke up! It definitely makes all of the hard work, the poop bombs, the hits on the head, and the long days so worth it.

Razorbills

It has been a record-setting season for RAZO here on PMI! We have documented a total of 6 razorbill eggs, a new high for PMI! We bid adieu to two strong and healthy chicks this past week, both of which will be joining their fathers out at sea for the remainder of their chick-rearing period.

Black Guillemots

We have chicks! We are currently sitting at 61 known BLGU burrows, with around 60 healthy and happy chicks! The largest of our chicks is already a whopping 290 grams, and we are still expecting some to hatch in the next few days! We have also been working hard to recapture adults when possible and have captured a total of 15 so far, 8 of which are adults that have been banded previous years! We have documented BLGU bringing back a variety of fish this year, including four-bearded rockling and rosefish in addition to their most common prey item the rock gunnel!

Atlantic Puffins

We have pufflings — and they are already huge! We completed our first sweep of the puffin colony to document hatching on July 1st, and to our surprise found chicks larger than I expected! It seems that the puffins on PMI were early to nest as well, with our estimated first-hatch being on June 17th! We currently have documented 83 active burrows and 45 chicks with more hatching every day! Each puffling gets a series of 2-3 measurements this month, so we have been working hard to document their growth! In addition, we have captured 37 adults on nests! So far, it seems that the chicks are growing around 6-10 grams per day with our largest chick being 270 grams! It is quite the relief, again, to see healthy chicks after last year’s poor season. Micro-puffins no more, we have fat and healthy chicks that will hopefully start fledging in around 3 weeks!

Leach’s Storm Petrel

We have been working hard this year to permanently mark and label LESP burrows here on PMI! There is a lot of useful information that comes from being able to track who nests in specific burrows each year, so we have installed numbered metal cattle tags on stakes next to active burrows! We have currently found 56 observable burrows (“observable” meaning we can stick a small camera inside and see the contents of the burrow, not all of them are easy to see inside of!) that are active with adults, eggs, and/or /chicks (we found our first chick yesterday on 7/15!)) We still have around 20 more burrows to examine, but we have checked around 150 known burrows so far this season and are anticipating having around 65 permanently marked and active LESP burrows here on PMI! I am hoping that the extra work being put in this year will result in us understanding our nocturnal friends a bit better here on the island!

Avian Influenza

I have been asked this question a lot: how is the HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) situation on PMI? So far, it seems that our terns and alcids have avoided it so far. We have put in a lot of extra work this year to deter the laughing gull colony, and that actually has resulted in our nest predation rates being as low as 1.2% (significantly lower than any other year previous). I strongly believe that it has had a secondary benefit of keeping our colony safe from HPAI, as gulls are vectors for this disease. Green Island, our close neighbor, has unfortunately had a lot of documented gull deaths from HPAI this year. Our team here on PMI has put in a lot of effort trying to deter gulls from hanging around, and we are doing our best to try and prevent this from affecting our birds. So far, so good.

Again: Thank you again to everyone who has supported us! I hope you all had a lovely seabird cruise with Bar Harbor Whale Watch. The seabirds and us biologists thank you tremendously!

Until next time!

Hallie, Petit Manan Island

Things Are Buzzing!

Greetings from our little Ship Island! Things have been steady on the island, and I feel at last a wave of calm and peace of mind roll over me as the colony and I have both seemed to have settled into a bit of a routine. This seems to mostly entail them screaming in my ear and dive-bombing Laura and I while we complete our daily tasks. However, I honestly could not be happier with the enthusiasm of the terns in protecting their young. We want to see a healthy and productive colony, and fortunately we’ve got just that! Almost all of the chicks in the productivity plots have hatched. It is bittersweet because they grow so fast! They start off as droopy eyelids and balls of fluff that have no idea what’s going on around them, to spunky little teenagers who are just as clumsy, but surprisingly quick on their feet! They are already showing mannerisms identical to their parents. Just the other day I watched an adult preening itself, and in the vegetation behind it, its shadow! The chick was mirroring its every move. The older they get, the more they start to wander as well. The parents will carefully chaperone the chick wherever it wants to go along the beach. They normally end up at the water’s edge, but never get the chance to dip their toes in before they quickly scuttle back up the beach to the safety of the vegetation. Nope, too scary… maybe next time! Sometimes along the way they will get into scuffles with other adults, but the chicks are finally grown up enough to hold their own against those agitators.

We are still ever vigilant for hungry predators, but our presence here on the island has been seemingly effective in keeping them at bay. We have started our provisioning watches, which consists of 3 hours in the blind a day watching the feedings in the colony around the blinds. These observations will help determine what species of prey the terns are feeding their young. So far, I have been seeing mostly herring of varying sizes, all of which the hungry chicks gulp down. It is adorable to watch as well as a tiny bit disturbing. I’m just trying to imagine myself eating a sandwich in the same manner, not entirely a pleasing thought! But nonetheless, some of our chicks are finally exchanging their fluffy plumes of cotton for slender and sleek juvenile feathers.

Their feet are beginning to turn from the adorable peachy pink to a flashier orange like their parents! All in all, things on the island are going well, and I am excited to see these chicks fledge and take off with the rest of the colony at the end of the season. To know that we helped this colony grow is a truly special feeling and I’m enjoying every second of this summer with the seabirds! Every day I am met with new lessons, challenges, and rewards. I am learning more than I could have ever hoped about myself and about the natural world around me. At the end of each day, the dazzling colors of the setting sun, the scintillating light dancing off the waves, and the chorusing calls of seabirds reminds me how lucky we all are to be a part of such a beautiful earth. Unfortunately, the internet will not allow for any picture updates, perhaps next time!

-Rachel Dudek

Hello from Metinic Island! This is Becca, writing on a warm and sunny morning with little wind and the cries of terns in the sky. Things are proceeding well here, which is to say we’re spilling over with tern chicks! Our productivity plots are filling with awkward teenagers growing in their flight feathers and flapping wings not yet ready to carry them. Both they and I are improving at the daily game of hide & seek in the plots, when we step up prepared to find somewhere between 8 and 18 chicks, and they do their best to cram into increasingly dense grasses and hard-to-see corners.

A pile of tern chicks gathered so we can take a daily weight and measurement before returning them to their nests!

Although I could easily spend this whole blog post talking about terns, I want to write a bit about one of the more elusive birds we study here. Leach’s Storm-Petrels are a staple of Metinic Island life—in large part because they nest under our house!—and yet as nocturnal burrow-nesters, can be easy to miss without putting in some effort. So this week we grabbed our headlamps and Bluetooth speaker, leaving the house at eleven PM to conduct a nocturnal survey under a night sky awash with stars and streaked by the Milky Way.

The rock walls along Metinic Island are full of nesting petrels! The yellow flag marks an identified burrow.

While adults on the wing often answered our speaker, sometimes swooping in close to become fluttering shadows in our red lights, we listened specifically for birds calling from beneath our feet. Our goal was to mark burrows for later investigation. Previously, we’d done this in the forest and near the shore, so this time we followed the lines of the rock walls, playing petrel chatter and trying to guess which hole actually had an answering bird inside. Twice, we spotted sleek brown adults huddled near the surface, drawn out by the audacity of another petrel calling so close to their claimed nesting site. Over the course of about 90 minutes, we identified 61 new burrows!

a petrel we banded earlier this season!

I didn’t anticipate coming to love the petrels so much when I first came here. Part of what enamors me is their unique life history: they belong to the same family as albatrosses, termed “tubenoses” by the unique physiology that aids them in extracting salt from the seawater they drink. Experts in navigation even among the world of birds, they use a map of stars and smells (yes, smells!) to return to the same breeding ground after months of not touching land. On average, they live twenty-five years, which is rare for such a small bird.

For me, there’s something unforgettable about reaching into a hole in the rocks and receiving a sharp but painless bite from a long-lived nocturnal seabird for the effort. Same goes for the secondary method of identifying petrel burrows, which is sniffing for their musky, recognizable scent near the mouth!

I find myself often recalling Zeyn Joukhadar’s depiction of petrels in The Thirty Names of Night when I think of them:

“The petrels glided through the mist some distance from the boat, ever silent, eyeing us with detached curiosity. […] My brother had still not noticed the birds. I considered calling out my future, too, to the witness of those phantoms, but I didn’t want to lie, and I couldn’t think of a single plausible future I wanted to name.”

Here, our petrels are far from silent. Yet, we can go weeks without seeing one. When I lay in bed and listen to their chatter under the house or we use a speaker to fill the night sky with them, I wonder what changes these long-winged, ghostly wanderers have witnessed, returning without fail to Metinic island for decades.

-Becca

A view of our house and the tern colony, as seen from the rock wall

A terntastic week

Hello again from Ship Island! We have been busy banding chicks and monitoring their growth this week. Just about everyone has been growing at a good pace and our heftiest chick so far weighed in at 120 grams! The chicks have even learned how to bite our fingers just like the adults; they grow up so fast. I am sure the chicks are dreaming of the day they’ll be able to dive bomb us like their parents do. Just today we finished collecting all the fecal samples we needed for a diet monitoring project. I think the study will tell us that they are definitely eating a lot of herring this summer. I hope to see a little more diversity in the fish species they are feeding their young, but I am also happy that the chicks are eating well and that I have not seen anyone try to feed their babies butterfish. We are keeping an eye out for any signs of avian influenza, and so far everyone on the island is okay. As long as we keep the disease and predators at bay, I think we will have a decent fledging rate for our chicks this year. Please think positive thoughts for us and send Ship’s chicks your good vibes to get them through the next month!

-Laura

Egghead
Yeehaw!

Hello everyone! Hallie here!

I am sure many of you bird aficionados know — Petit Manan Island has been in the (bird nerd) news this week! We had an incredibly rare visitor to our island, and here is the story told by the person who discovered the bird, Kaiulani Sund:

“Resighting is one of the things I really enjoy doing here on Petit Manan.  During and after my stint I like to take pictures of the birds through the scope. I have a lot of photos of terns, razorbills, murres and puffins and once in a while I get a photo of a bird that is new to me. I ask Hallie or Nick to identify it as I don’t know much about different birds that hang out on Petit Manan!  Last week, while doing some routine Atlantic Puffin resighting from Lobstah blind, I saw a bird that resembled a puffin, but was definitely unique compared to our Atlantic puffins. Thinking it was just another bird that I would ask about, I took a photo and continued resighting. When I returned, I told them I saw another bird that I didn’t know and when I showed Nick the photo, he was ecstatic! He ran to get Hallie and showed her the photo, as well as Linda and Jill, two of the biologists who were on the island for the day. Everyone was freaking out and very excited! They told me it was a Tufted puffin; a Pacific Ocean species.  What was it doing here on the Atlantic Coast!? This sighting is only the third record for a Tufted in Maine and the fifth time one has been seen in the Atlantic.  Since I don’t have any background in birding, I didn’t realize how rare it was to see this puffin but seeing how excited everyone was when they heard about it made it that much more special!”

The first sighting — photo taken by Kaiulani Sund


Hallie again: the million-dollar question I’ve been asked this week is why does this happen? It is really hard to say, especially with seabirds. With land-based birds, it is easy for them to get blown far and wide by storms or follow the wrong path for migration, however seabirds like puffins *really* do not like flying over land at all, in fact they spend the entirety of their lives at sea and only come to land to breed. Even then, they hardly ever fly directly over land — I have only ever seen a handful of ATPU fly over Petit Manan, and we are only a 16 acre island! Most likely, instances such as this are only going to increase in frequency. Areas of the Arctic that once were frozen are now opening up to passage as the ice melts, allowing birds to more readily find themselves on the wrong side of the world. Climate models predict Arctic sea-ice will be non-existent during summers as soon as 2050, and that will likely have a tremendous impact on seabird migrations. Another theory is that this is the same bird that made a star appearance on Machias Seal Island in 2014! Puffins are indeed a long-lived species, with some of our resident ATPU living well beyond 30 years, so it very well could be the same individual. If it indeed is, where has it been for 8 years? Lots of questions to be asked, but not many answers. One thing is for sure, we all were excited to host this unlikely visitor for just short of 24 hours and are always hopeful it will return! Next up, hopefully the famous Steller’s Sea Eagle will make an appearance!