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Archive for June 11th, 2019

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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