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Archive for July, 2019

Hello from Petit Manan Island, this is Hallie again!

I just wanted to write a blog post to give a shout out to the Friends of Maine Coastal Islands! I was lucky enough to get to talk to most of you briefly the other day while you were enjoying the island from the Acadia Explorer — but I did not get the chance to give you all a massive THANK YOU for everything that you do for the refuge. Work like this would not happen if it weren’t for your support. The work that we are doing out here is so incredibly valuable — the seabirds are benefiting tremendously, as well as all of the young scientists who get to learn from the refuge biologists and the abundant wildlife on these islands. Personally, this is an experience that I will be remembering for the rest of my life, and an experience that is helping me take the next steps towards being the scientist and conservationist that I aspire to be one day!

Thank you all so much again for taking the time to sail out here to PMI and give us a warm hello, as well as for all of the endless support! (And especially to Carol for all of the vegan treats she sends our way each week!)

With Many Thanks,

PMI

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Hello everyone, this is Bobby writing to you from Ship Island with some breaking news.

The bird word must have gone around, because as of Thursday, July 11th, 321 nests have been found and marked with more being discovered every day! The chaos on the tern nesting beach area is beginning; the eggs laid in late June have begun to hatch this week. Soon our island will be filled with extremely adorable fuzzy chicks who love to run and hide in whatever grass or shelter they can find!

fuzzy boy

One of the first chicks on Ship, easily one of the softest objects one could ever hold.

These toddler-like chicks are extremely curious and will wander away pretty far from their nests if given a chance. With them running around all over, it can be difficult to tell how the colony chicks are doing health wise and how many of these chicks are surviving to adulthood. This is answered through a protocol that all of the islands perform known as productivity plots. This may sound like a fancy term, but essentially Colin and I determined a group of nests with eggs that were laid earlier in the season (in our case in late June) that neighbored each other and constructed fencing around them to enclose this area.

 

COTE on colins head

Colin (pictured) and I constantly had terns going at our heads to protect their nests while we constructed productivity plots. This one very nicely went feet first to our heads instead of the usual sharp bill first.

This keeps the chicks from our nests of focus from running all over the beach getting into trouble, that way we can determine how many chicks are surviving to adulthood and the size increases of each chick from each nest within our plots. To determine which chick is which, we put stylish metal BBL bands on their right legs that give them a unique identification number for life in a large online database. Colin and I then check each nest in each plot every morning to monitor the eggs and chicks. I am not a parent, but I imagine how I feel when we look for the chicks every morning it is similar to the stressful situation of a parent trying to find their misplaced kids, as Colin and I are really attached to our chicks in the plots. It has been amazing to see the transformation from egg to chick, and soon from chick to fledgling. Watching them grow up has been so special for Colin and I, and we can’t wait to see each chick’s journey continue. More updates coming soon!

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One of the many chicks hatching this weekend, this one hatched within the hour before this photo with a big world to explore!

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Hello friends, Hallie here from Petit Manan Island!

Life here on Petit Manan is going so well. Our tern chicks are hatched and getting close to fledging, our pufflings are fluffier and plumper than ever, and we even have our first black guillemot and razorbill chicks.

One of the cool things about working on such a small island like this is when you have a new avian visitor, you notice. We are up to 110 bird species recorded on Petit Manan Island this season, which is remarkable in itself. We have had everything from warblers to short-billed dowitchers to even a least bittern, a small bird that you typically find in marshlands on the mainland. And as well, we have had a lot of birds with interesting plumage show up to the island — like this Common Murre.

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Leucistic Common Murre next to Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin

Common Murres are usually a dark chocolate brown, which is produced by melanin. This bird,  however, is silvery-grey — a result of a genetic mutation that inhibits melanin production. This result is called leucism, which is similar, yet very different to albinism. Regardless, it makes up for a stunning result — this bird very well may be one of the more beautiful I have ever seen. Whether or not male or female common murres also think so is up for debate — hopefully this bird’s unique plumage will not inhibit it from procreating in the future.

Melanin is one of many ways birds color themselves. The laughing gulls here use melanin to create that dark mask during the breeding season, which they use to deter other laughing gulls from their nests. You also often see birds with darkened wing-tips, like the terns, in which the melanin is used to strengthen the feathers and make them more durable.

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Adult Atlantic Puffin showing the orange-red carotenoid coloration in the bill and eye

But what other colors do we see here on PMI that have significance in birds?  Since we have been catching puffins this last week, I have been captivated by the bright orange feet and bills that the puffins display during the breeding season.  Puffins, and many other birds, get this rich orange-red color from carotenoids — a color they metabolize directly from their food. Puffins use the intensity of this color to show potential mates and rivals how fit they may be. The brighter their bills and feet, the better at fishing and raising a chick they may be! You can also see melanin in the feet and the mouths of black guillemots!

Next time you see a color in a bird, its worth asking exactly why it is that way. Often even the most subtle of colors on a bird have such an immense meaning. I will be doing the same — sitting here wondering why we get tern chicks in two different colors. Any ideas?

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Common Tern chicks from the same nest showing the two different plumage colorations

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