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Archive for June, 2020

Greetings from Metinic! We’ve had foggy weather this past week and only two days of full sun.

I thought I would take this opportunity to share what daily life is like on Metinic Island. You may be wondering, “What do they do in their free time?”, “What do they miss most about civilization?”, or, “Do they even miss civilization?” Hopefully this will provide some insight into what it’s like to live in a seabird colony.

Every morning at 7 o’clock we start the day by counting all of the birds seen around the island, including shorebirds, passerines, and raptors. Daily tasks in the tern colony vary week to week but recently we have been closely monitoring our productivity plots to check for newly hatched chicks; banding, weighing and measuring each one to track growth rates.

When the weather isn’t on our side, we find ourselves cabin-bound. This is a good time to catch up on data entry, read a book, and wonder, was it the tern or the egg that came first? We have a solar panel that provides us with electricity and a propane stove to cook on. Although we don’t have running water, we are supplied with drinking water from the mainland and we use well water for showers and hand-washing. To make showering possible, we heat up a solar shower bag in the sun and it’s (almost) as good as a real shower.

By the time the sun is setting, we’re usually ready for bed. Every few days we take turns doing a hour-long “night watch” where we use night-vision binoculars to watch for predators in the colony. This is a good time to observe the storm-petrels flying around the cabin and the starry night sky.

To answer my own question posed earlier, we’d say the things we miss the most are hiking, our pets, and moving at speeds faster than a sheep-chasing jog. Despite these things, neither of us are looking forward to returning to civilization at the end of July, even for a hot shower or a car ride.

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Emma banding a tern chick in one of our productivity plots.

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A common tern overseeing the banding process from Sequoia’s head.

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Strange cloud formations passing over the island.

 

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On Petit Manan, the majority of our tern chicks are going through a rebellious teen phase; snapping at our fingers, climbing out of weigh bags, and being quite unreasonable during wing chord measuring. Most of our productivity plot chicks have hatched and been banded, but finding them is challenge since they prefer to hide in thick vegetation. Playing hide-and-seek during our productivity checks is much easier with the larger chicks though. Our largest chick at the moment is a hefty 92 grams! In the meantime, we are observing what food the chicks are being fed during provisioning watches. At the moment, we are seeing an abundance of hake and pollock being delivered, with the occasional over-sized sandlance; but the terns aren’t the only seabirds delivering food to their chicks.

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Measuring the wing chord of a tern chick during a productivity check.

We’ve been watching our puffins zip around the shoreline, diving into their burrows to feed their newly hatched chicks. It’s very entertaining to sit at the puffin blind, camera at the ready, taking split-second photos of passing puffins with mouthfuls of fish. Next week we’ll get the chance to check in on their burrows and hopefully band some puffin chicks!

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An adult Atlantic Puffin carrying some hake to its burrow.

A variety of tour boats visit regularly now, among them the massive Bar Harbor Whale Watch vessel, Friendship V, which stopped by to ask us questions on our two-way radio. It’s great to see people enjoying the island’s wildlife, so we point out any loafing seals, eider ducklings, or uncommon birds from the puffin blind to make their tour more entertaining. Speaking of uncommon birds, we finally got to see an American Oystercatcher wading through the shallows at Green Island, slightly obscured by fog during an alcid count at the lighthouse. We’re hoping to see it again, but the strangest birds seem to appear when we least expect them. As the season continues, our spotting scopes are locked on the horizon for shearwaters and other seafaring birds.

 

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Hello all,

The activity in the Ship Island tern colony has taken a “tern” for the better over the past few days! We have observed numbers (350-400+) close to what we saw before the colony abandonment two weeks ago as well as many new active nests. We are excited to have the terns back and, finally, spending the night on the island again. Other than the Common Terns nesting on the island there are a variety of other breeders that call Ship/Trumpet Island home during the summer.

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Large Common Eider Creche!

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Savannah Sparrow

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Spotted Sandpiper chicks freshly hatched!

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Mallard ducklings that found a liking to us during lunch break 🙂

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Spotted Sandpiper (adult) keeping an eye on its young nearby in the wetland vegetation.

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Yellow Warbler nest behind our cabin!

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Savannah Sparrow (adult) with a spider species in its beak!

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A recently fledged Savannah Sparrow waiting patiently for a parent to arrive with food

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Savannah Sparrow fledgling

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Yes…they are irresistibly cute!

Stay safe and enjoy this warm weather everyone!

Cheers,

Andy

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Hello from Metinic!

Sequoia here with this week’s blog. Last Wednesday the 17th we had staff come out to the island to assist us with the GOMSWG census. During this census we identified all nests in the colony. This year we counted 910 tern nests, this is a record for Metinic! This number is also lower than the actual nests present because no matter how hard we try we aren’t perfect at detecting nests. To account for error we use the Lincoln Index which is a form of mark recapture, where we go out and see what percent of the nests were missed. Once this correction was applied we have an estimated 1,021 nests on the island!

We also had some exciting things happen during our census. We found a Leach’s Storm-Petrel, a Savannah Sparrow chick evading a snake who had already caught its sibling, and a few Spotted Sandpiper chicks running around on their stilt-like legs.

Other exciting news, we had our first chick hatch on Friday! An Artic tern chick was the first to be found in our productivity plot. We nicknamed him Eddy due to the fact that Eddy Edwards, the Deputy Refuge Manager, had the closest guess to the number of nests on the island, which we all thought was a bit high but were proven wrong. Friday afternoon and into the weekend we had many chicks hatching, so now we are getting into the grove of weighing, measuring and banding each chick in our productivity plots.

Through all of our adventures we are sometimes lucky enough to be fueled by the homemade snacks that Carol sends out to us, which we greatly appreciate!

Until next time.

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Common Terns tend to be the more tenacious nest protectors. This photo was taken while measuring chicks and getting hit by the parents.

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This is a good example of Garter Snake predation on Metinic. It’s munching on a unlucky Savannah Sparrow chick. We’ve sent 31 snakes back to the mainland so far this year.

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“You can’t see me”

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Eddy, our first chick on the island. Here he is 24 hours old.

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It’s time to band tern chicks on PMI, and we have too many to count!

Petit Manan’s first chick this season, an arctic tern, hatched in one of our productivity plots on the 17th. So far he’s our largest chick, and definitely the fan favorite. Since then, dozens of chicks have appeared all over the island. They’re quite talented at hiding, so we watch where we’re walking! In addition to the tern chicks, we’ve witnessed fledgling savannah sparrows clumsily learn to fly, and highly mobile spotted sandpiper chicks teetering around the rockweed.

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PMI’s first chick of the 2020 season: “B-Chick” in productivity plot B.

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A spotted sandpiper chick walking around at low tide, bobbing its tail with every step.

The chicks aren’t the only new arrivals to the island; we’ve also had our first tour boats of the season passing through to get a nice view of the seabirds and Petit Manan Light. On the 20th, we had the chance to see some northern gannets cruising offshore while an island tour boat viewed a group of puffins, razorbills, and murre at Puffin Point. At the same time, a dozen seals enjoyed the sunny day on Green Island’s rocks. Their calls could be heard from all the way from the lighthouse!

In the meantime, we completed our island census and found over 1,000 active tern nests scattered across the island! Some are nearly built bowl nests in Canada mayflower, while others are made on bare rock by the shore. So far our favorite nest is from a common tern that has laid eggs right in front of the outhouse. Banding and weighing the chicks in our productivity plots is the greatest highlight of the day, and we can’t wait to see them grow over the remainder of the season. When we finished our productivity plots we had 100 total eggs, so we’ll have our hands full when the rest hatch!

28 chicks already banded, 72 to go!

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Joe with B-Chick

Amanda with Chick

Amanda with B-Chick

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While the other islands are expecting their first chicks any day, we watched as all of our terns left their eggs behind. We were hopeful this year! We had over 100 nests and over 200 eggs. Yet, once again, Ship Island has experienced a colony abandonment!

During the first week of June, we had found some predated terns, likely due to a Peregrine Falcon. Ship is located only a few miles from Mt. Desert Island where several pairs are known to nest. Our worst fears were confirmed when Andy and I both flushed the falcon on June 8. As the day went on, tern numbers decreased dramatically from 300 to 50. By the evening, they were all gone.

We weren’t just only concerned about Ship. Over on Trumpet Island, there were no gulls. A predator like a falcon wouldn’t cause the gull colony to abandon as well. We began to suspect an otter attack. Although the gulls eventually returned to the island, we visited the following day to look for predation signs. We were relieved to find nests and eggs intact. We even found some newly hatched Herring and Great Black-backed Gull chicks! However, we think we now know the likely culprit: an owl.

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We got right to work, setting up more traps and beginning all night stints. But, what do we do to encourage the terns to come back? Since terns nest in colonies, they won’t nest if there aren’t others terns around them. So, we have to trick them into thinking there are terns there already!

Currently, there are over 30 Common and Roseate Tern decoys around the nesting grounds. To complete the illusion of a lively tern colony, a solar-powered sound system has been set up. During the day and night, we play recordings of a colony on speakers.

Although we haven’t caught our owl yet, we think the decoys are working! Throughout the week, we’ve seen more terns returning and staying longer. Just today, I even witnessed courtship rituals and nest scraping! We’re doing our best to give them space to allow the colony to start back over.

Hopefully next week we’ll have some better news to share!

Percy

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Hello everyone!

This is Emma updating you from Metinic, where we’ve been enjoying the plentiful amounts of sunshine over the past week. With increased temperatures comes layers of zinc sunscreen, great laundry weather, and daring plunges into 50-degree Maine waters after long workdays in the sun.

The birds also seem to be enjoying the good weather. This past week we set up our productivity plots with help from the Refuge staff. Using these plots, we hope to monitor at least 60 total Arctic and common tern nests throughout the season for different factors of reproductive success, including hatching success, survival, and growth of the chicks over time. Although we don’t have chicks yet, we are expecting our first one within the next week!

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Recording data in one of our productivity plots.

As the common eider eggs hatch, we continue to see common eider crèches (groups consisting of hens and ducklings) around the island. We have also been monitoring spotted sandpiper and black guillemot nests. The spotted sandpipers nest in low vegetation along the shoreline and in the upland areas. The parents do a great job hiding the nests and it’s easy to miss them if you’re not looking carefully! The black guillemots nest in burrows along the coastline, which makes for fun but challenging work trying to locate them. It really puts our rock-climbing abilities to the test. The overall variation in egg size and coloration among species is really fascinating and beautiful to see.

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Can you guess who these nests belong to?

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The excitement of finding a black guillemot nest!

I enjoy seeing the many flowering plants on the island as the season progresses. Just yesterday we came upon a patch of blooming irises! We also don’t mind the wild strawberries that provide a sweet little snack during morning bird walks. We look forward to seeing what the next week brings as we prepare for the annual census that will give us an estimated number of common and Arctic tern nests in the colony this year. It will be interesting to see how the numbers compare to years past.

Happy birding!

Emma

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Our first tern chicks are due tomorrow here on Petit Manan, and we’re psyched to see little cottonballs running around the island. We’ve been enjoying the phenomenal weather this week, and so have our nesting puffins that can be seen surfing on the waves. Using our burrow-scopes, we’ll check out how the alcid nests are coming along and try to sneak in some photos while we’re at it. Quite a few common murre have made themselves comfortable on Puffin Point, so we’re hoping to see a nest sometime!

This week we continued to identify tern nests based on species and finished our productivity plots, which will be used to keep our highly mobile tern chicks in place while we band and observe them over the coming weeks. In the meantime, resighting bands on puffins and terns is a fun way to pass the time. Watching over the colony from the lighthouse has become a relaxing activity, and an effective way of keeping our seabirds safe. One of these days we’re hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the rarer seabirds that visit the coast during our observation stints. The light room also provides a stunning view of Cadillac Mountain, especially on foggy days. After the working day is done, we’ve made it a routine to watch the sunset over Petit Manan Point with some mugs of hot cocoa. So far it’s a wild time on PMI, and we’re looking forward to taking hundreds of tern chick photos and sharing them in our next post.

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A very photogenic puffin posing for Amanda’s camera.

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A pair of common terns loafing on the rocks.

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Welcome to Ship Island!

My name is Andy Eckerson, I am from a small town in southeastern Massachusetts and stationed here on Ship Island. I’m a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying natural resources and conservation with a focus on wildlife ecology. When I am not engulfed in academia/summer positions I enjoy birding, rock climbing, trail running, and essentially anything involving the outdoors.

And I’m Percy Ulsamer! I’m from Connecticut and am currently a junior at Unity College studying Wildlife Biology with a minor in Zoology. I dream of becoming a field ornithologist with a particular focus on researching corvids and endemic island species! When not birding, I’m also a photographer, artist, and gamer. This season, I’m especially excited to learn new skills and help out with seabird research!

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Andy (left) and Percy (right) in front of the Ship Island cabin!

Upon arrival, we observed ~150 Common Terns present during the mornings, although, they would disappear by noon. Slowly but surely the number grew up to a current ~350 spending the day and night on Ship Island. We have located and marked 100 Common Tern nests in order to monitor predator activity and eventually tern productivity.

The terns have experienced very little predation so far, although, we expect the Peregrine Falcon visits to increase as the need to feed their young does. On the other hand, the Trumpet Island gull colony has experienced a significant amount of predation attempts from Common Ravens and Bald Eagles. We continue to keep an eye on Ship, the Barges, and Trumpet Island in order to monitor the predator activity.

Since Percy and I are both avid birders we have had the delight of documenting the wide variety of species on Ship, the Barge’s, and Trumpet island as well as Blue Hill Bay. So far we have documented 77 species including a great variety of shorebirds and songbirds! Here is the link to the Ship Island eBird hotspot: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L11450199 .

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Bay-breasted Warbler taking a rest on our front lawn!

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Least Flycatcher

We are both excited for the remainder of the season and especially hatching tern chicks!

Cheers,

Andy and Percy

 

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Greetings from beautiful Petit Manan Island!

My name is Joe, and I’m from the little village of Jefferson in Midcoast Maine. I’m currently attending Unity College, where I’m a third-year studying wildlife biology. Being on a seabird colony is truly exciting for me, as it’s my first time in the field and I’m an avid birder. Growing up with Maine’s wonderful coast makes this experience all the more enjoyable for me! I’m usually out birding, taking photos, and exploring as much of the state as I can in my free time.

At the moment, my favorite thing to do on PMI is stay up to listen to the enigmatic storm-petrels that nest on the island. We haven’t seen any due to their nocturnal behavior, but they make the funniest noises that are a joy to hear at night. Only two weeks in, and we’ve already had some amazing encounters with the local wildlife!

Howdy! My name is Amanda, I come from a small town of Rockport In Midcoast Maine. I currently am a second year at the University of Maine in Orono, studying Wildlife Ecology. My hobbies mainly have connections to the outdoors, including backpacking, attempting to go birding, and fishing.

Living on an island is a completely new experience to me, its not everyday that you get to live in the middle of a seabird colony. Also, pairing that with being my first season of field work, many awesome new things have happened. my favorite thing about PMI is the local Guillemots that nest and surround the island. They are charismatic birds that are truly adorable.

So far we’re preparing for the arrival of our first tern chicks by constructing plots to observe nests over the summer, and using burrow scopes to check in on our nesting puffins. We’ve seen some exciting things like black terns, bald eagles, roseate terns, and many migratory birds, and we’re looking forward to seeing more as the season progresses!

 

 

 

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