Greetings from Ship Island!
I am coming to the end of a short detail with the Maine Coastal Islands N.W.R., spending 5 days observing and monitoring Ship island’s Common Tern breeding colony. As a fisheries employee with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I have thoroughly enjoyed having this opportunity to expand my biological horizons, taking a few, precious days to slow down my pace of life and just observe. I arrived at the Seal Cove boat launch on Thursday morning, and was left on the island that afternoon, allowing the other permanent resident (of two) to take her break on the mainland. It was an odd feeling to see the boat drive away, but it was also quite exciting. Who doesn’t dream of being marooned on an island?
Having worked with birds for only one summer, I was rather rusty on my bird ID. However, Mary, the wonderful Island Supervisor, graciously taught me what I needed to know (still in progress) and we continued the tasks at hand. Creating productivity plots, doing scope surveys of bird species on adjacent islands, directional foraging studies, observations in the blind of the colony, morning bird counts- all of these activities require serious observation skills and an attention to detail. I felt the need to slow down, to take in the behavioral details of the birds, and to note the many changing faces of this small island. Every weather shift, cloud pattern, bird call, budding flower, unusual smell, wind direction and sea level were accounted for and had a great influence on our surroundings. Daily priorities shift from mainland to island life as dramatically as the tides.
One of my deepest impressions from these past few days has been the desperate line between life and death here. A thriving brood of Mallards flushes from the vegetation while simultaneously, just across the water, a Black Backed Gull feeds on eider chicks. Stormy seas wash Common Tern eggs out of the nest while Spotted Sandpiper eggs remain safe in a crevice on the bluff. A Peregrine Falcon successfully dives into the Tern colony and a Song Sparrow feeds its chicks with a freshly caught insect. The island is a microcosm of the constant interplay between life and death, survival of one species over survival of another. It can be quite heartbreaking to come across a drowned chick in the wrack line, but this is nature with a sentimental cloak undone. One is left only with a deep respect for the birds that invest incredible amounts of time and energy returning to this spot to breed every year.
Tomorrow I’ll return to my life on the mainland, away from the sound of breaking waves, the smell of the sea, and the sound of seals in the distance. I’ve learned and observed an amazing amount in my short time here, but feel confident that the birds of Ship Island remain in the best possible hands.