Archive for June, 2017

Here on Petit Manan Island, we’ve been playing catch up after the long spell of fog that decended upon us shortly after wrapping up GOMSWG census. It’s been a little hectic, which is why this post is a little late.

The first day after the fog cleared was a beautiful day on PMI. We were finally able to get up the tower to count alcids for the first time in days. While taking a moment to admire the beauty of our island, we noticed a lot of trash marring that beauty along the western edge of the island. As a crew, we decided to walk the berm to pick it up, and upon closer inspection we realized it was almost entirely balloons…

51 balloons, to be exact.

On one small island, four people collected 51 balloons. Many of these balloons were clearly from recent high school and college graduations, but one in particular really got under my skin. We collected these balloons on the Wednesday following Father’s Day, and this balloon had hand written notes wishing the recipient “Happy Birthday and a Belated Father’s Day.” If you take a second to think about that, a “belated” Father’s Day suggests the balloon was given out after Sunday, which means that in a roughly 48 hour period, or less, that balloon made it’s way from who-knows-where, to the ocean, and to our island.

PMI is just one island out of hundreds off the coast of Maine, and it just happens to be inhabited during this time of the year. Think of all the uninhabited islands where balloons and other trash are washing up and no one is there to clean it up. Or the balloons that never make it back to land. I’m not here to tell you balloons are horrible and you are a bad person for buying some for your next celebration. I hope that by sharing the story of this one balloon, and 50 of its companions, you’ll take a moment to consider where that balloon will end up, and know that if not properly disposed of, that place may be in the stomach of a marine mammal, sea turtle, or the middle of a nesting seabird colony.

I know many of you were hoping for lots of chick pictures this week, but I couldn’t let that many balloons wash up without saying something. I promise the next post from PMI will be all about chicks. We are inundated with them, and though we don’t have guillemot chicks yet, we do have at least two very adorable, very fluffy, puffin chicks!


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So far around the island we’ve come across Common Eider, Mallard, Savannah Sparrow, and Spotted Sandpiper chicks. Although a little behind schedule, we were beyond happy to finally find our first Common Tern chicks! Soon we will start banding them and taking measurements. Hopefully we will start seeing more every day!


Our first Common Tern chick!

Our terns have been acting different than normal. Rather than settling down to incubate, many of them appear to be much more active flying around and leaving the island. We grew suspicious that there might be an owl around. In order to make sure it doesn’t disturb our terns, we set up a total of 17 foothold traps covering all sections of the island. When we placed the traps, we put them in areas that seemed suitable for an owl to land. If the owl lands on the platform that contains the trap, its leg will be caught. This trap doesn’t hurt the owl because it’s padded, but it allows us to capture it so it can be relocated. Though our minds were focused on an owl, we didn’t forget about our frequent Peregrine Falcon visitors. To prevent any unintended capture, we made sure to set off the traps during the day.


The sign is lined with chicken wire at the top making the post with the trap the only suitable place to land

Only a few days after setting the traps, we caught the owl! Morgan and I noticed the terns were once again acting strange during our night stint, where we took shifts watching the colony between 6:00 PM and 12:00 AM. The next morning the terns were dive-bombing at the ground, and I could see through my binoculars that the trap wasn’t on the post anymore. It seemed unlikely that we caught an owl, especially since we weren’t completely sure we even had one, and last year it took over 2 weeks to catch it! We walked over expecting to find something like a gull caught up in our trap, but to our surprise it was a Great Horned Owl! We safely caught the owl, covering its head so it would stay calm, and removed him from the trap. It already had a band on its leg, so we suspect that it might be the same one from last year. The owl will be brought to a rehabilitation center to make sure it isn’t hurt, and it will be released somewhere far from our terns! We are so thankful we caught it in time, especially now that our eggs are hatching!


Morgan about to cover the infamous Great Horned Owl with a blanket to keep him calm


Outside of bird research, we enjoy watching the Harbor Seals bask in the sun and swim around with their pups. The seals can be found on two adjacent islands. One pup decided to visit us on Ship this week. We were nervous when we didn’t see the mom around, but we were taught that after 3 weeks the pups begin to live on their own.


Curious pup visiting our island

Ship has been very busy this week. We’re hoping to continue to wake up to new surprises every day, but only good ones!



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After 5 days on the mainland (and a few showers) it is great to be back on Metinic!

The day I got back, I came with a crew of four MCINWR biologists that were coming out to help trap and band a few terns.  The goal with this particular trapping session was to collect blood and fecal matter from the birds.  The samples will be put through a few tests that will reveal what specific fish or invertebrates the adults are eating.

Besides that, Ravin and I have been pretty busy here.  This week we set up feeding study plots where we have been observing a few nests from the blinds to record what the adults are feeding their chicks.  So far, most chicks are being larval sandlance and hake.  These are good fish for the chicks to be fed because they are high in nutrients, can be easily swallowed and thrive in cooler water which is an indicator of sea temperature.


A marked “A” feeding study chick.  Feeding study chick “B” is beginning to hatch from its egg!

We also found our first black guillemot chick this week!  Black guillemots lay their eggs in crevices between large rocks, so reaching in to grab the chicks can take some acrobatics sometimes, but the result is definitely worth it.   We will be monitoring a few nests for the season to estimate probability of chick survival.  Later in the season when their legs get a bit bigger, we will also be banding the chicks!


Our first black guillemot chick!

At the end of each day we have been going into the tern colony to weigh and band the chicks in our productivity plots.  It is amazing how much they can grow in just one day.


After weighing, Ravin sets down a chick in our productivity plot.

Its amazing to me that we are already halfway through the season!  I have already seen so many cool things here.  One morning during bird count, I got to see a puffin and harbor porpoises from the shore.  I am looking forward to more cool encounters and also to watch the chicks grow up.



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First productivity plot chicks of the season

Today the sun shone for the first time in four days! Camille and I, Aya has been off island this week, were beyond excited to get back in the colony after spending so much time in the cabin. The fact that we were pretty sure chicks were hatching made it even more agonizing. Just as suspected there are chicks! We will now conduct daily checks of our fenced productivity plots to band the newly hatched chicks and weigh them as they as they grow.  This will allow us to estimate the survival rate and overall productivity of the colony.


Banding productivity plot chicks

The chicks are tantalizingly cute but it is important that we remain focused on collecting data when working in productivity plots. After chicks hatch they cannot regulate their own body heat until they begin to lose their down and grow feathers usually around 8-12 days old. Until then the adults will brood the chicks to help keep them warm.  We limit our time in each plot to no more than 30 minutes and only enter the colony for productivity checks in good weather to allow the adults to tend to small chicks and minimize disturbance.


Michael, refuge biologist, being attacked during tern census

The next few days we plan to take full advantage of the nice weather to finish up tern trapping before too many eggs hatch and then transition into chick provisioning studies. We will also be starting black guillemot productivity by visiting burrows and checking for eggs. Also in big news, we conducted tern census last Thursday and estimate that there are 623 common and Arctic tern nests here on Metinic Island!

Until next time!


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This past week on Ship has been very similar to what has been going on at Metinic and PMI. Most of our days have been pretty dreary. On these foggy and rainy days we spend our time reading (A+ to Morgan for reading 8 books so far), eating snacks, catching up on sleep, writing letters, drawing, and staying updated on what’s going on in the real world. It is relaxing, but we’re anxious to get back out there and get a closer look on how our terns our doing.

When it’s not too foggy out, we are able to sit outside and watch the colony. We don’t sit too close because we don’t want to surprise or scare them. We’ve been doing this frequently to deter the Peregrine Falcon who has been stopping by from the island.

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Sunset view while watching for predators

Before the bad weather, we spent most days attempting to re-sight bands, making productivity plots, and trapping adult terns to band, measure, and weigh. To trap the terns we use a Treadle Trap. We first need to replace the eggs with fake eggs. This prevents the tern from damaging their eggs once he/she is trapped. After this we place a wired box over the nest with one end open. When the bird steps through the opening onto the pad, the door will shut and the tern is unable to escape. We quickly retrieve the bird to collect our data, put back the original eggs, set him free, and repeat. It was pretty cool when I got to hold and release my first tern!


One of our productivity plots

The results from our GOMSWG census indicated that we have about 620 nests in total. Hopefully we’ll start seeing some chicks soon!


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Despite the foggy/rainy weather on PMI these past couple days, this past week has been a huge success! Our team was joined by Sara Williams & Linda Welch from MCINWR, Dr. Pam Loring from USFWS, Dr. Ken Meyer from the Avian Research and Conservation Institute in Gainesville, FL, and his daughter, Claire Meyer, to delve into an interesting new frontier in tern research. Satellite nanotags were attached to 5 Common Terns to observe their migration patterns, with hopes that we can use the same methods to track migration of the endangered Roseate Tern. Our team is carefully observing each of the tagged birds (with the help of GoPro cameras) to monitor any changes in behavior compared to 5 untagged Common Terns.

The PMI crew also began trapping and banding Arctic Terns. The crew sets traps over nests and waits up to 30 minutes for a bird to go into the traps. Talk about a test of patience! However, the experience is very rewarding when you catch a tern.

Later in the week were GOMSWG days! Our team along with staff members from MCINWR and a few volunteers conducted a general census on the island of Terns, Laughing Gulls, and Common Eiders. The crew worked hard, but luckily the weather held out so that we had 2 (mostly) rain-free days. Thanks to everyone who helped! We even came across Spotted Sandpiper and Savannah Sparrow chicks. Speaking of chicks…

We are also expecting our first nests to hatch sometime this week! Our productivity plots are just about ready, with minor adjustments to be made. Bring on the chaos! Stay tuned for pictures of chicks.

Happy hatching!

-Jennalie Lutes, PMI

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This week Ravin and I have been joined by Camille, who is an undergrad from University of Florida and a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar for the Main Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge this summer.

Thursday was our first day trapping terns and it has been really exciting!  After weeks observing them from the blinds, we are so happy to finally be handling them.  Terns handle a bit different from the passerines I am used to because their wings, tails and beaks are so long.  I also got to band my first tern today with hopefully more to come in the coming weeks!


Ravin measures an Arctic tern wing (256mm)

This week, we have started setting up our productivity plots for the season.  We are currently putting fencing around a small sample of nests that will allow us to estimate probability of chick survival.  They basically act as a playpen for the baby terns so that we can watch them and they won’t wander off into the colony where they could get lost in the chicks that we aren’t monitoring.


Camille and Ravin stake down some fencing for a productivity plot

As we get further into the season, the terns get more aggressive towards us so we have been making sure to wear hats into the colony.  Though this keeps us from being pooped on, it doesn’t protect us from dive bomb attacks.  Terns will hit the tallest point that they see (which is usually the back of the head), so we have started taping flags to our hats to protect our heads.  Getting hit isn’t that bad, but it can certainly be a bit surprising.

Stay tuned for tern chicks, black guillemot eggs and more dive bomb attacks!



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