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Archive for June 6th, 2012

While our terns are busy incubating their eggs, I thought I’d take some time to fill everyone in on some of the other birdlife here on Ship Island.

Although they might be the most numerous, Common Terns aren’t the only birds that nest on Ship.  In fact, Jill and I usually wake up to the sounds of song birds, not sea birds. Six species in particular call Ship their summer home:  three sparrows, two warblers, and a swallow. Many local birders will find most, if not all, of these to be familiar Maine residents.

First up is the melodious Song Sparrow. Although they may lack the sleek elegance of a tern, they make up for it with a distinct voice. We estimate there to be about six pairs nesting on Ship, although they’re loud enough to be heard on every part of the island.

Our second sparrow is the sonorous Savannah Sparrow.  At first glance they look quite similar to a Song Sparrow, but they sport some flashy yellow eyebrows (technically called the supercilliam). Again, we believe we have about six pairs nesting on the shrubby interior of Ship Island. We often see both Savannah and Song Sparrows chasing each other around the island.

A Savannah Sparrow

Our third sparrow is the more elusive Nelson’s Sparrow.  We’ve only spotted two of these on the island so far, but we’re hoping to find more. Compared to the warbles, cheeps, and trills of the Savannah and Song Sparrows, the song of the Nelson’s Sparrow is quite distinct: a sharp hiss, which reminds me of a burger being dropped onto a hot grill.

A Nelson’s Sparrow

Besides those three sparrows, our most numerous non-tern residents are warblers: Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers.

With their distinctive black masks, Common Yellowthroat males are quiet striking. They’re also far from the secretive tree-top dwellers many birders think of when they hear the word “warbler.” Our Yellowthroats are most often seen perched on the top of a bramble or other shrub, singing their hearts out like the fellow below. We’ve got at least three pairs nesting on the island.

A male Common Yellowthroat

Yellow Warblers are usually the first bird I hear in the mornings, probably because we’ve got a pair nesting right next to the cabin.  We’ve got perhaps four or five nests of these flashy little, and it’s not uncommon to see pairs of males chasing each other around the middle of the island.

A male Yellow Wabler

Our final bird for today is a change-up from the first five birds I’ve listed. Our seven resident Bank Swallows are in almost constant motion. They’ve set up shop under the bluff of the high side of the island. Presumably, they have a burrow there, but we haven’t managed to spot it. We’re keeping our eyes open, though. Until then, we’ve been enjoying the gurgling calls and acrobatic maneuvers of these zippy little birds. So far, they’ve proven faster than my camera, so here’s a shot of where we suspect they’re living:

Here’s the bank, but where are the Bank Swallows? So far, they’re too fast for my camera.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Seabirds, Shorebirds, and other Swimmers!

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Our little seal pup, formally dubbed Quinton.

Hello again from the Brothers. Since our last post we have had a very special visitor, an adorable young harbor seal pup. This young pup we found one morning stranded in the cove that connects Eastern to Western Brother’s Island. It is not unusual to see harbor seals from Western Brothers as they enjoy resting on the rocks on Little Brother’s Island. Earlier that very morning we had seen an adult harbor seal hanging around the cove so we had high expectations that the mother would come back and claim her pup before too long, but the little sea dog was still there the next morning. He began to follow us around as we crossed the cove to do morning bird counts and would attempt to “talk” with a series of grunts. He would often suck on his tail or flippers and we became concerned that he may have been abandoned by the mother. We called Allied Whale, an association which deals in rescuing marine mammals, about what we should do. They reassured us that it was not unusual for the pup to be there for a few days and that its mother may come in after dark to feed it. The next morning our friend was gone, we can only assume he is off with his mom living the life of a seal.

In other exciting news, the black guillemots have begun to nest. The guillemots are currently our sole reoccurring alcid species around the Brother’s, although recently we have seen an Atlantic puffin and a couple of razorbills who looked pretty interested in landing. Black guillemots typically have one to two eggs per burrow. So far we have located ten guillemot burrows some with one and some with two eggs. They are likely still in the process of nesting. We expect to find more as the weather continues to improve.

Black Guillemot vocalizing

Black Guillemot vocalizing

In other exciting news, the black guillemots have begun to nest. The guillemots are currently our sole reoccurring alcid species around the Brother’s, although recently we have seen an Atlantic puffin and a couple of razorbills who looked pretty interested in landing. Black guillemots typically have one to two eggs per burrow. So far we have located ten guillemot burrows some with one and some with two eggs. They are likely still in the process of nesting. We expect to find more as the weather continues to improve.

-SK

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