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Archive for June, 2019

Hi folks,

I know it’s been a while since I have posted an update from Ship Island. As you know from reading Ship’s past posts that our tern numbers where very low. In fact when I went on my break we had only 9 active nests here on Ship. This Monday I returned to Ship to find that the number of active nests has more than quadrupled to a total of 67 with the very likely possibility of there being more laid as I write this. This is a very exciting time for Ship, and we are expecting a few chicks by the end of this week.

Tern Incubating

(Photo above: Common Tern incubating one of the many newly found nests)

I also got to help conduct a census of several islands in the blue hill bay which took most of Monday. It was a wonderful day on the boat with nothing by sunny skies, and the day got better when we found over 200 nests on a tiny island called connery nub. I even got to see my first tern chick of the season. We believe these the birds  normally nest on Ship, but for some reason they were more comfortable nesting there. The hope is that if the nests that we have now succeed then possibly next season more terns will choose to nest on Ship.

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(Photo Above: Jim holding Common Tern chick from Connery Nub.)Boat.jpg

(photo above: Jim driving boat around the Blue Hill Bay.)

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In the next week I hope to be able to report our first hatchlings here on Ship island.

-Collin

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Hello hello all amazing and wonderful seabird fans!

Hallie here, writing from the currently gloomy and rainy but still wonderful Petit Manan Island!

It has been a very exciting week here on the island! We completed our GOMSWG census as Brandon highlighted, and we had a total of over 1400 tern nests, 640 Laughing Gull nests, and 47 eider nests! In addition, we already have over 47 Puffin nests, 54 Black Guillemot nests, 20 Leach’s Storm Petrel nests, and even a handful of Razorbill nests!

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Common Eider ducklings

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Arctic Tern chick with egg-tooth (the white calcified bit on the end of its bill)

But if you are wondering the specific reason why I cannot wipe a smile off of my face — it is because our chicks have begun hatching! After a period of incubation specific to every species, the chick will begin the long and tiring journey of hatching.  Chicks have a specialized calcified bump on the ends of their bills called an egg tooth, of which they use to slowly chip away at the eggshell from the inside, making their way around until they hatch. For most individuals, hatching takes around 12-48 hours, and they emerge looking like cute little fuzz-balls with little flipper feet — and trust me, its adorable.

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4 day old Savannah Sparrow chicks!

From the point of hatching on, for all chicks on the island including the cute little Savannah Sparrow chicks pictured, the job for the parents arguably becomes harder. The chicks not only still require periods of incubation, but they also need to be fed multiple times a day, sometimes even multiple times an hour! We have been finding some chicks increasing in weight by over 300% in a 24 hour period! They honestly grow up so quickly.

For the next few weeks here on PMI, we will be monitoring the productivity and development of our tern chicks, doing provisioning where we will identify fish that the parents are feeding their chicks, collecting fecal samples to look at what the adult birds are feeding themselves, and banding chicks with 2 bands that we can use to re-identify them in later years. Today, if we are lucky, we may even band our first puffling — something that I have honestly dreamed of doing ever since I banded my first bird 4 years ago!

Until next time, bird nerd friends!

 

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Devon and I celebrating his first banded Arctic Tern chick!

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Hey everyone,

It’s been a busy couple of days on Petit Manan Island. We’ve been working hard with a trusty team of amazing volunteers and other staff members from the mainland to complete our annual GOMSWG census. All this means is that we work to canvas the island from one end to the other counting and marking tern nests with popsicle sticks. The reason that this is important for us to do is that it allows us to get an excellent idea of how many nesting pairs of Common and Arctic Terns we really have here on PMI, and we can then compare this data to that of other years to see how our birds add up.

Overall, we had an excellent census, and although we’re still working on finalizing all of the data (there’s a lot of counting to do!) we hope to be able to share the numbers with everyone soon. In the meantime I would really like to give a HUGE shout out to everyone who came out to help us with census- the mainland staff- and especially to our volunteers, who willingly gave up two days worth of their own time just to brave the poop missiles and flying beaks to count some tern eggs with us! It really shows you that census is not just a time for collecting a bunch of data, but also a chance to meet new people and build connections with others who also share a wild passion for conservation.

Thanks again to everyone, and we’ll update you again soon!

Brandon

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Good evening everyone,

It has been a while since I have posted and I wanted to update you on what we have been doing here on Metinic. Yesterday we completed the Gulf of Maine Seabird Working Group (GOMSWG) Census! In other words, yesterday was the most exciting day of the season because we got to find out how many birds we have nesting on the island!

The GOMSWG census is completed by carefully walking across the entire colony, while counting every single nest found and the number of eggs in each nest. Every nest we find is marked with a popsicle stick. Doing this allows us to calculate our error after the census by comparing the number of marked nests (with popsicle sticks) to unmarked nests (without popsicle sticks). It is important to get an idea of how many nests were missed during the census to provide a more accurate estimate of birds nesting on the island.

While it may seem simple to walk around the island counting nests, in reality it requires great attention to detail, patience and cooperation among the whole group. The colony is divided into a grid system. This allows us to walk in a line across each grid, to insure we cover every inch of the colony. Terns also nest on cobble beaches where the eggs blend in with the rocks. (At times it feels like the most difficult game of ISpy ever played).

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Michael wearing his tern protection (Photo by: Mary Negri)

The terns do not appreciate us walking around their eggs and they make their presence known. It is impossible to get through the census without get pooped on or dive bombed by a tern at least once. To protect ourselves we wear rain coats or old shirts, and flags on our hats. To an outsider looking in we must look absolutely ridiculous, but I would rather wear a flag on my hat than get hit in the head by an angry tern (trust me – it hurts!).

 

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The Metinic GOMSWG Census 2019 crew. From left to right: Austin, Eddy, Nick, Michael, and Brian (Photo by: Mary Negri)

In total we discovered that we have 831 nests (or pairs of terns). Therefore, we have approximately 1,662 birds inhabiting the island for the breeding season. It is hard to believe that by the beginning of August every single bird will have left the island to travel South to their wintering grounds!

Every day on Metinic is a new adventure – I am excited to see what the rest of the season holds!

All the best,

Mary

P.S. Chicks will be hatching soon – stayed tuned!

 

 

 

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Good morning everyone!

Life is busy here on Metinic. The terns have been creating more scrapes and laying more eggs by the day. It seems there is an egg everywhere you look! Walking around the colony reminds me of going on an Easter egg hunt, except you have to walk VERY carefully.

In addition to the terns, there are several other birds that nest on the island. Over the past couple weeks we have seen nests from Herring Gulls, Common Eiders, Spotted Sandpipers, Savannah Sparrows and Song Sparrows. One of my favorite parts about seeing each nest is the variation in the size of the eggs. There are eggs that are almost as large as your palm, like those of the Herring Gulls and the Common Eiders. Then there are eggs that are no bigger than the tip of your finger, such as the eggs of the Savannah Sparrows and the Song Sparrows. All of the eggs have variety of neutral colors and patterns that help to camouflage them from predators. It is incredible to see the attention to detail that birds have. Each nest is created in its own special way, and it is easy to see the time and energy that each bird puts into building their nest!

There are other birds that nest on the island, but they do not build the typical nest one would think of. These birds lay their eggs inside of small, hard to reach burrows. Some of the burrows are located in the rocks along the coastline. These burrows are home to Black Guillemots that will nest in a crevice no larger than your fist! Finding these burrows can especially difficult. I am amazed at how these birds can fit themselves into such a small space. I am even more amazed by the past technicians who have been able to locate these tiny nesting spots!

Last night we spent some time locating Leach’s Storm Petrel Burrows. Many of their burrows are made inside of the rock walls on the island. However, these small seabirds will also dig themselves burrows under down trees, large boulders, inside of small dirt mounds and even under our cabin. Believe it or not, we hear these small birds every night under our kitchen floor! Leach’s Storm Petrels are nocturnal, so locating their burrows requires going out on a late night adventure! We find each burrow by playing the “purr” calls of these birds. Then if we hear a response, we try to narrow down where the call is coming from so we can mark the entrance of the burrow. Once the burrows are located, we can go back in the daylight and use a burrow scope to look inside of the burrows and see what activity is going on. A burrow scope is a long, snake-like camera that we can use to see inside of the small burrows. 

So to recap – there are many different bird species that nest on Metinic! Living here during the breeding season is a magical experience. I feel especially grateful to have been chosen to work on this incredible island!

Today on Metinic it is raining sideways and the wind is blowing at over 20 mph. Needless to say, it is data entry day! Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to get back outside!

All the best,

Mary

 

 

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Song Sparrow Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)

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Savannah Sparrow Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)

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Spotted Sandpiper Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)

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Herring Gull Nest and Eggs (Photo by: Mary Negri)

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Common Eider Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)

 

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Yesterday we began our adult tern trapping efforts here on PMI. It was a beautiful sunny day for the biologists to come out and visit and help train everyone on trapping and handling the birds. Tern trapping is personally one of my favorite aspects of the research we get to conduct here on PMI. With the help of the biologists we were able to catch 12 birds in total, 10 of which were common terns and 2 arctic terns. We were as efficient as possible splitting into teams of 2 to set and monitor traps. We used both treadle and bow net traps and set traps all around the house on terns nesting in the yard, beside the house, along walkways and even under the solar panels. Treadle traps have a trap door with a trigger pad that is set off when a tern enters the trap and steps on the trigger. Bow net traps are spring loaded traps which are like a hoop that springs over the tern when it lands near its nest. We learned how to use the traps and the best techniques for catching the terns and then got right to work setting out traps.

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Sunrise before a busy day of trapping 

Tern Trapping is a careful process as we need to ensure that the terns and the eggs they are incubating are not endangered by any of our research. To ensure the safety of the precious tern eggs we replace the eggs with fake wooden eggs before placing a trap over the nest. We also have to be diligent about how long we may be disturbing the terns and preventing them from incubating. Because of this we will only trap on a specific nest for 30 minutes before moving to a new location. We hope we can capture the birds in less than 30 minutes but sometimes the terns get spooked and decide not to go into these metal contraptions we have placed around their nest. The terns are much smarter than you think and after being trapped for many years some of the terns are too smart for our simple traps. When we do catch a bird we go to the trap to remove the bird before it gets stressed out or can injure itself. We then place the bird in cloth bags to keep them calm. Then we bring the bird to the banding station to process the bird to collect important data before we release them.

Of the terns we were able to capture, 6 were recaptured birds which had previously been banded all across Maine’s coastal populations and even a bird that was originally banded in Canada! We had another 6 birds that had never been captured before which meant that we were able to band them. Banding our first terns of the year was a great experience and everyone was equally excited to handle the birds including interns holding their first bird ever to highly experienced interns. When banding we also take several precautions to ensure the safety of the birds while also allowing us to handle and collect data from each bird we catch. The first data we collect while the bird is still calm in the bag is their weight. Terns on average weigh about 100-120 grams and to put that in perspective that’s about the same weight as a bar of soap. We then remove the bird from the bag and hold the birds in a position known as grip which keeps the birds gentle wings tucked into its body. Then we take measurements of the birds wings and bill and either record existing bands or put new bands on the bird if it doesn’t have any.

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Hallie banding our first Arctic Tern of the season!

It is an exciting process and the data we are collecting is a vital component to the research we do here on the island. Trapping and banding the terns allows us to better understand yearly changes in morphology, enhance resighting efforts, and help track the birds across their lifespan.

Signing off for now,

Jimmy

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(Picture above: Tern Decoys)

It has almost been 3 weeks since Bobby and I began working on Ship Island. Unfortunately we are still not seeing as many terns as we should, and we don’t have a good explanation as to why. As Bobby explained last Thursday the refuge came out and installed a sound system and decoys in an attempt to lure more terns to Ship Island. In the meantime the past week we spent a considerable amount of time implementing invasive plant control on Garlic Mustard (seen in the picture below).

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(Photo above: Garlic Mustard. Photo Cred: Maine Dept. of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry)

This work is very familiar to me since all last summer I worked as a invasive plant control intern out in southern CO for the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  Garlic Mustard is a particularly nasty invasive since it is also allelopathic meaning it releases chemicals that can inhibit the growth of other plants surrounding it allowing it to grow out of control and take over huge areas of land that could otherwise been used by native plants that provide a service to the ecosystem. The method of control that we implemented with the refuges help last Tuesday was to first pull all flowering plants, and spraying  the area where the plants where pulled with extra strength vinegar which will hopefully kill any seeds that could be dormant in the soil. We also sprayed little roseate that would turn into flowering plants the following year. Bobby and I spent the next day scouring the island further to find as many of the plants that we could. We were pleased to find that the infestation at least this year was confined to only a few areas on the island instead of spread out. The work can be difficult at times trudging through fields of Cow Parsnip and stinging nettle both which can leave painful rashes on the skin, but trudge on we will.

 

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