In addition to our home base of Ship Island, we are tasked with monitoring three surrounding islands: Trumpet Island, East Barge, and West Barge.
Trumpet Island is the biggest of the three surrounding islands, similar in size to Ship itself. At the core of the island is a small hill, covered with low vegetation. Around the hill, a rocky beach extends in all directions, growing much larger at low tide with several prominent spits and sandbars. Common Eiders nest up in the vegetation and can be seen swimming in the surrounding waters as well as resting on the rocks and beaches. Gulls, both Herring and Great Black-backed, have their nests at the top of the rocky beach. Their growing chicks are quite visible from afar, roaming around the beach during our weekly scope surveys.
East Barge is fairly small, with a central grassy hill protruding above a rocky ledge. Aside from a few nesting Great Black-backed Gulls, we can’t see any other nesting species from Ship, although the numerous Black Guillemots nearby suggest that they may be nesting on the opposite side. Common Eiders and dozens of harbor seals haul up on the rocks for a respite from the cool water. In addition to our weekly bird count, we conduct a low-tide count of the seals once every two weeks on both Barges.
West Barge is similar in size to East Barge, little more than a small rock outcrop jutting up out of the bay. Steep, rocky ledges reach up from the surf, forming a plateau beyond the reach of the waves where a few hardy bushes and grasses have gotten a foothold. Along with some nesting Great Black-backed Gulls, there is a colony of Double-crested Cormorants along the edge of the plateau. With more than one hundred nests, this colony occasionally draws in the local Bald Eagles, who can easily pick off a cormorant or cormorant chick for a quick meal. In spite of the predation, the cormorant colony seems to be doing well, with the chicks growing closer to fledging every week.
Until next time!