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Archive for July, 2010

Welcome to Petit Manan Island, 10 treeless acres of squawking terns, blue flag iris, and six-foot-tall meadow rue.  It is a mini-paradise surrounded by ocean, with Acadia National Park to the southwest, Bois Bubert Island to the northwest, and birds everywhere else.  From the perspective of a tour boat, Petit Manan is a quaint birding spot and sports Maine’s second tallest lighthouse.  From the perspective of the old lighthouse keeper’s house, Petit Manan is a home, a paradise, and another day at the office.

We are a four man crew here on the island.  We all came here from different places: Maine, Massachusetts, California, Idaho.  We had never met before, and in early May, US Fish and Wildlife left us on this island with only each other for company, no running water, no internet, no television, no fast-food restaurants, and patchy cell phone service. We get asked all the time from friends, family, and curious whale-watchers who call us on walkie-talkies: What is life like out there?

We are fortunate to have the old lighthouse keeper’s house to live in.  A large solar panel in the lawn provides us with the energy we need for our lights, and our computers. We do not have a television, but we occasionally watch movies on our laptops.  The internet was just a recent acquisition to PMI.  Before last week, I had 230 unread emails in my inbox.

Food and potable water is brought to us every ten days or so by staff from the US Fish and Wildlife office in Milbridge. We call in our grocery lists, and someone from the office shops for us.  Grocery shopping for ourselves is one of the biggest luxuries that we all miss.  Luckily for us, we have 2 propane refrigerators, and a propane stove, so there is no “roughing it” when it comes to eating.  Homemade pizzas, breads, and soups are a common occurrence here on the island.  We have shepherds pie, burritos, and baked chicken, and we always eat together.  Cooking is on a rotation, as is dishwashing, and after a long day of working out in the colony, it’s nice to have a sit-down meal.  I could easily blame these dinners for transforming us from four strangers into the family that we’ve certainly become out here.

Whoever has to do dishes gets their water from cisterns in the basement that catch rainwater off of the roof. There is no faucet in the sink.  This is the same water that we use to bathe in, which occurs about once a week.  Our “shower” is a canister with a handle which you pump to create pressure.  The water comes out of a little mini showerhead attached to the canister.  There’s enough water in that canister for a solid 5 or so minutes, which is all the time you really want to spend naked in the cold basement.  Showering is more out of habit than anything else, no sooner are you clean than one of the birds poops on you on your way out to the bathroom.

It should come as no surprise that the “biffy,” or bathroom, is an outhouse in the yard. The terns seem to like nesting right in front of it, and they do not appreciate being disturbed.  The solution is a tinkerbell umbrella kept by the front door, to protect your head from the dive-bombs…and the poop bombs.  When working in the colony, we typically wear hard hats for this reason.  The terns dive bomb pretty hard some days.

So sometimes I have to just laugh when I get poop across the side of my face, and I have to suck it up when I’m really craving an ice cream or delivery Chinese food.  And although I was skeptical at first, you really do stop hearing the foghorn after a while.  But I’ll tell you, the sunsets are stunning, the birds are fascinating, and my new Petit Manan family can’t be beat.

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The blinds are coming down, flags pulled up, and the tern colony is increasingly moving from the nesting site into the intertidal as they prepare for their long and arduous venture south.

Though data is still being entered and processed we thought we’d give you a  snipit of our season…

  • Over 750 pairs of Common (52%) and Arctic (48%) terns nested on Metinic this year!!!
  • 1 Roseate Tern pair established a nest yet then abandoned (probably, in part, due to constant common tern harassment)

Roseate tern pair being harassed at their nesting site by a common tern neighbor

Flying pair of common terns

  • Feedings appeared to be slim pickings as many many butterfish came in for a couple of weeks straight.  This rendered almost all the 2nd and 3rd hatched from a clutch helpless in getting enough food for survival.  There were also many invertebrates, stickle back, and other very small fish coming in.  Where were all the herring?

Young tern chick trying to get down a butterfish

  The colony also experienced predation; regularly from a peregrine falcon, at least occasionally from an owl (determined by a few of her feathers left behind and the remnants of her meal), and, later in the season, by herring and great black-backed gulls.

Peregrine Falcon

    Great black-backed gull eating a tern chick

    Herring Gull Chick

    • Though the actual fledge rates have yet to be determined there are many awkward crazy haired flyers about.

    First flight of a common tern fledger

    Other work, besides enjoying the terns, includes evaluating the productivity of Leach’s Storm Petrels who nest within burrows on the island.

    Leach's Storm Petrel

    And monitoring black Guillemot reproductive rates/productivity. We are watching 40+ nests in which chicks are currently being measured, weighed, and banded.

    Black Guillemot Adult

    Field Technician Charlie Walsh measuring wing cord on a black guillemot chick

    We could probably go on indefinitely about the happenings in the colony and the lives of those we’ve been watching since they first pipped out of their egg shells  (we have spent way too much time in the presence of only birds!)  However, we will leave it here…with the anticipation of a hot shower, washing machine and the ending of a great season.

    Home and the tern colony at sunrise

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    Welcome!

    Welcome to the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Island Researcher blog! Here you’ll find posts and multimedia projects created by island researchers spending the summer on the refuge’s many islands. Please check back often for updates!

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