Archive for August, 2012

Today was a rainy day. A rainy day is a day of rest…well sort of, we still had vegetation surveys to do. For todays post  we just wanted to share some pictures. Enjoy!

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Here at the Petit Manan Point National Wildlife Refuge bird banding station http://goo.gl/maps/bxrYB we are very excited to have just begun our third season of migratory landbird monitoring.  Since 2010 the station has banded over 5,000 individual birds of 75 different species, most of which are making their annual fall journey southward to warmer climates and more abundant food resources.  The focus of this research is to glean as much information as we can from the birds – to describe demographic trends, inform habitat management decisions and to generally ‘take the pulse’ of the overall health of our landbird species.  Though there are numerous monitoring methods available, banding provides managers, scientists and the public with specific information that can only come from a bird in the hand.  For example, banding birds allows us to find out what age the individual is, what sex it is, and its physiological condition, among other things.  As with any federally monitored research on wild animals, the safety of each bird is the most important factor, and to that end we minimize the handling of each individual to ensure they are released in a timely manner to go about their business.

This year we were able to start our banding effort on August 17 (a little earlier than in years past), and we were rewarded with a good number of flycatchers.  Flycatchers typically depart the breeding grounds a little earlier than many species, as insect abundance starts to wane with the onset of fall.  Pictured here is a Traill’s Flycatcher (above) and a Great-crested Flycatcher below it.

Note the large, spade-shaped bills and ‘hairs’ at the sides of each (known as rictal bristles) which aid these birds in their high-speed aerial pursuit of insects.  It is common to hear their bill loudly ‘snap’ shut when observing one actively flycatching, even from some distance.

Certainly the most common bird banded since the 17th was, appropriately enough, the Common Yellowthroat.  These active little warblers are found throughout the continent, and typically associate with wet, shrubby or marshy habitat.  Given the amount of both shrubby and wet habitat here at the point, it is no surprise to see so many of these!  Pictured here is a male, evidenced by the black face mask which is absent in females.

Note the ‘pin’ feathers at the edge of the wing – this male is actively molting, and when completed he will be heading south to the tropics, or perhaps even a shorter distance to the southern U.S.  Molt is required to renew the feathers as they wear-out over the year, and this is particularly true for a species like the yellowthroat that spends most of its time ‘skulking’ through thick vegetation.

An additional bonus for our early start has been the number of wood warblers that have yet to leave for greener pastures.  Below is a young male Northern Parula, with a fresh feather coat.  Parula’s are known to breed here at the point, and are fond of wet, coniferous-dominated woods.


Well, that is all for now, but stay tuned…migration is underway and we expect some incredible birds to grace us with their presence!

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Greetings from Cross Island National Wildlife Refuge!  We are the fall bird banding crew from the University of Maine.  We are here to establish a study site and monitor bird and bat migration.  Data will be used to assess the importance of the relative location and habitat characteristics of migratory species, as well as allow researchers to track any changes in migration due to yearly and future climate change.

But, before we get caught up in all the excitement of banding birds and exploring Cross Island, let us tell you bit about us.

ImageHello! My name is Xeronimo Castañeda.  I am from Menlo Park, California.  This is my first journey out to the east coast and I am stoked to band and see as many birds as I can.  I graduated from CSU Monterey Bay with a B.S. in Marine and Coastal Ecology.  The first time I realized my interest in birds was when I was working as a kayak tour guide naturalist in central coastal California.  Soon after, I worked my first bird job with PRBO Conservation Science, I interned as a nest searcher.  I stayed with them for just over a year and then decided to migrate east to explore and check out all these cool birds I’ve heard so much about.  After this stint I may head back to California or follow the birds south for the winter.   By the way I could eat pizza everyday and currently my favorite bird is the Northern Parula.

ImageHowdy! My name is Mary Beth Benton.  I am from New Richmond, Ohio and a recent graduate of Ohio State University.  My first year bird banding was in South Eastern Arizona with BLM on the San Pedro River National Conservation Area. I then returned to Ohio State to target color band and blood sample Acadian Flycatchers and Northern Cardinals.  I am pumped to be passive banding birds migrating down the east coast!  One of the best parts of the job is seeing life species in the hand.  Currently, my favorite birds are the Spruce Grouse and Yellow-breasted Chat, and I love ice cream!

ImageHey , Kristina Giano here! I’m from Southington, Connecticut. I graduated from the University of Connecticut with a B.S. in Natural Resources concentrating in wildlife conservation and from the University of Basel, Switzerland with an M.Sc. in Ecology studying habitat partitioning and activity patterns in viperine and dice snakes. This past summer, I worked for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as a marsh bird surveyor. I’ve also worked with common and roseate terns and black bears. I’ve always been a bird nerd and I’m wicked excited for fall migration this year! My favorite bird is a tie between the marsh wren and the saltmarsh sparrow.  Food wise, my all-time favorite is everything bagels.

Thanks to Captain Andy, we arrived safely to Cross Island on a warm and rainy Thursday morning, August 15th.  We loaded all of our gear and food from a charter boat onto a little dingy and putted our way out to the dock.  The boat house was the first building we approached and we could see that it was well worn and weathered from a life resting on the coast of Maine.  About 40 meters past was our new home!  A two story coast guard rescue house now used to host researchers, us!

We were excited and ready to get to work, but the rain kept us captive, except for Mary Beth, for the remainder of the day.  Fortunately the rain gave way the following day and we were up early to get started preparing the banding site.  The site is along a trail that leaves from behind the house and meanders through the forest out to a rocky beach.   About half way down and at the edge of the forest we set up our banding station.  Throughout the surrounding habitat we set up our array of nets.

The habitat types are scrub, forest and edge.  Currently we are only running eight nets, we ran out of rope to string them up  L.  Capt’ Andy will be resupplying us tomorrow!  Regardless of that, bird activity has been fairly consistent and we have had some good captures.

To date, eight days of banding with eight nets, we have caught 147 birds.  Our most frequently caught bird is the golden-crowned kinglet at 38 captures.  Our species count is at 28!  Not bad for running only eight nets.

Some highlights for us are:

Yellow-breasted Chat, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Mourning Warbler, Red-Eyed Vireo, Brown Creeper, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher…but really they are all cool.

Bird of the week is the GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET!


Peace, until next time!

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Dodder is a relatively new invasive plant to Petit Manan which is steadily getting worse year after year.

From the beginning of May to the beginning of August, researchers gather together to collect data of various kinds on selected species. In our case, those species include Terns (Common, Arctic and Roseate), Alcids (Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots and Razorbills), Common Eiders and Storm Petrels. Days on the islands vary depending on weather and at what stage the birds are at. At the beginning of the season, it was heavy lifting getting as much done before the arrival of the birds. It is important to provide adequate habitat for nesting.  This was done by removing invasive and aggressive plants such as bittersweet nightshade, dodder and beach pea. To learn about invasive plant removal, visit the link below. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/petit-manan-making-space-for-all-the-avian-inhabitants/)

Marine debri which has been collected from the shores of Petit Manan.

This also included an intense island-wide cleanup of marine debris that had accumulated after the harsh winter storms of the North Atlantic. To learn more about marine debri clean up visit this link. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/keeping-the-shores-of-petit-manan-clear-of-marine-debris/)

The lighthouse of Petit Manan is the second tallest in Maine.

Throughout the season, daily activities performed by the island researchers included: tower count where we climb up to the top of the lighthouse to count the number of alcid species seen at 7am and 5pm every day; predator control, where we do our best to prevent other species from preying upon the endangered species on the island; reading bands on Arctic Terns and Adult Atlantic Puffins as well as constant data entry.

A Common Tern that was banded in Argentina.

Once the birds arrived, it was our job to collect the data required of us while doing our best to try not to disturb them. When the weather allowed it, we marked flags and popsicle sticks so we could calculate the species ratio on the island. However, in the first few weeks of their arrival, mother nature was not in their favor. During this time, there was a storm that hit Maine and washed away probably hundreds of eggs that had been laid on the rocky shore including tern as well as puffin eggs. Many of those terns laid more eggs but the puffins did not. While still possessing the opportunity, we trapped and banded the terns so that they can be resighted in the future. This process included replacing their delicate eggs with fake wooden ones so that when the trap was set off the eggs could be safely returned, quickly transporting the birds so they could get appropriately banded and set free to return to their eggs. As the time neared for the incubated eggs to hatch we constructed what we like to call play pens for the young chicks. This would enable us to monitor the progress of the chicks as they grow. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/monitoring-tern-productivity-on-petit-manan/)

An Arctic Tern chick from one of my provisioning nests; the box in the corner is the blind I would sit in for 3 hours a day for at least 12 hours a week.

Time was running out before the arrival of our first chicks and we still had to conduct our two day island census to obtain the number of birds we had on the island. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/the-numbers-are-in-petit-manan-island-census/)

Once Census was finished, it seemed things would calm down; or not. In fact, things only got more hectic. It was finally time for us to welcome the chicks and really start to dive into our research. Our normal routine started to expand to include provisioning, which is a three hour stint in a small blind where we record information about the type of fish species being fed to the A, B or C chick. Before we could start recording our information, we had to select a blind that we would focus on and then decide which 5-7 nests would be observed for the remainder of the season. To learn about how the blinds were constructed, visit this link. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/petit-manan-its-easier-to-sea-birds-blind-2/)

Jarrett, a temporary intern who was grubbing for puffins in a sod burrow.

Not only did our time get sucked up by provisioning but we also had to let our hands dive into the granite and sod burrows of the island alcids to check for chicks and assess nest productivity. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/alcid-burrow-checks-on-petit-manan/)

Island living certainly has its ups and downs but the small sacrifices of going without running water or grocery stores seem to pale in comparison to the visual rewards that we receive while observing thousands of birds and a rolling blue sea. Each of us came from different backgrounds and interests that eventually led us to work with these amazing birds.  It has been a great season out here on Petit Manan and we have been gifted the opportunity to be involved with this flourishing seabird colony on a beautiful island off the coast of Maine.

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Petit Manan is an island that thousands of birds, representing a dozen species, call home during their breeding season.  Four researchers also call this island home for three months.  Our days are filled with avian amazement and we are fastidious with our observations, monitoring and recordkeeping.

Beyond our responsibilities to protect and monitor a thriving seabird colony, we are also stewards to this incredible island.  Stewardship can take many forms but one of the ways in which it is displayed during our field season is the collection of marine debris.


After collecting debris from the south side of the island, Jordan carries it to the boatramp on the north end.

Collecting marine debris from the shoreline of Petit Manan island was  one of our stewardship projects.  We collected 15 bags of trash as well as hundreds of broken buoys.


We also collected over 50 lobstertraps.  With the help of Refuge staff and Student Conservation Association interns we loaded all of the debris onto a boat back to the mainland.  It is important to keep our oceans and shores free of this litter.  Marine mammals and seabirds can easily get entangled in derelict fishing gear or mistakenly ingest flotsam such as floating plastics.


Sara, Jordan and Chris loading the broken lobster traps onto the boat


Thank you to the many hands that helped gather and load all of the marine debris.  Great Work!!

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