Archive for the ‘Eastern Brothers 2016’ Category

Our summer has come to a close here on Eastern Brothers, and we’re finding it hard to say goodbye. This season has been very successful on many fronts, especially with black guillemot chick survival and fledging rate. From just last year, hatch success has increased 20%, nests with surviving chicks has increased 22.5%, and abandon nests has decreased by 20.8%! These number are very encouraging, also due to the fact that small mammal trapping has been a huge success this year compared to those previous.

The majority of our black guillemot chicks are fledging and are being seen floating around the intertidal with their parents, although we sort of feel like their parents after spending so much time with them.


A black guillemot fledgling showing off its full-grown wings

The terns have officially left the island with their fledglings, a sign that their southern migration has begun. They’ll fly all the way to South America to fatten up during the winter months, making their way back up north to start all over again. We’ve had a high of three nesting pairs with 8 successful fledglings this season, and hope to see the same return with some more friends to get this island full of terns like Petit Manan!


A tern fledgling trying out his alarm call on Eastern Brothers (photo cred: Steve M.)


We hope you all have enjoyed keeping up with us this summer! We can’t wait to see what the future holds for The Brothers and our other island neighbors.

Signing off,

~Nate & Dawson, EBI 2016


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A sunny afternoon overlooking Eastern Brothers 

As we’re adjusting to our first week back from break, we thought to talk a little bit about how it is living on a seabird island for the summer. Although checking burrows, surveying for alcids, and keeping the island predator free takes up a majority of our time, we still find time to enjoy all the coast of Maine has to offer.

One would think being stationed on a small island would become somewhat monotonous, but we find that the little things keep it lively and help pass the time. When the weather cooperates, we enjoy taking walks around the island looking for more species to put on our list, mainly migrating songbirds and shorebirds.


Chestnut-sided warbler 


Magnolia warbler 

However, on those foggy or rainy days (sometimes lasting for a few days), we turn to books and cooking. Dawson is a trained chef when it comes to whipping up a batch of delicious Polish pancakes.


A pancake waiting to be flipped

We also have identified a variety of wildflowers that are dispersed throughout the island, filling in the wet meadows and the sunny hillsides.



Slender Blue Flag (Iris prismatica)


Blue Marsh Bellflower (Campanula uliginosa)

Since we’re roughly 5 miles off the mainland, the temperatures rarely rise above 70 with a constant cool ocean breeze. However, on the days where the wind dies down and the sun’s out, the ocean water (~56 degrees) is quite refreshing.


Nate meditating in mid-air


Dawson mid-flip and dangerously close to a belly-flop

Lastly, we always end our days, usually cleaning up from dinner and watching the sunset and the moon rise. However the day goes, it always seems to end in a beautiful sunset overlooking the Englishmen Bay.



A glowing full moon captured with our spotting scope

~Nate & Dawson, EBI 2016

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Although the majority of the first half of our field season has been nothing but blue skies and sunshine, this past week has given us enough rain for the whole summer. However, the terns and guillemots don’t seem to mind much. They’re growing more and more everyday; the terns chicks from nest # 2 already have most of their primaries in! While the guillemots may not be as further developed as the terns are, we’re finding at least a dozen new chicks every time we check the burrows; we almost have as many chicks as we have burrows (67 chicks and 73 burrows!).


Dawson checking out the wings of a healthy black guillemot chick.

Now that we have all of our tern chicks hatched (8 in all), we have started our provisioning surveys. These are conducted 4 times a week for 3-hour stints at a time, recording the species of fish that the adults bring in to feed the chicks. The most common fish that are being brought in are sandlance and herring.


Healthy “A” and “B” tern chicks from nest # 3.

We’re also beginning to see a wide variety of early migrants on the island, from shorebirds to raptors. Notable sightings include: spotted sandpiper, killdeer, semipalmated sandpiper and northern harrier. We’re adding more species to our running list everyday, with the northern harrier making it 43. The upcoming week is our break off the island, and we plan to do a lot of hiking and exploring around the area, taking advantage of the sun coming our way. We’re excited to see how much our chicks grow when we get back!

~Nate and Dawson, EBI 2016


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Hello from the island!

This past week has been by far the most exciting and most busy we’ve had yet. Black guillemot chicks have started to hatch, finding new ones every time we conduct our burrow checks. Every three days, we check one half of the island for our marked burrows, looking for the presence of eggs or newly hatched chicks. If there are chicks present, we have to fish them out of their burrows (sometimes when the mom is in with them!) and take measurements. The first measurement taken is weight, and for that we have a special scale in which we clip a “bird bag” (fancy term for a small drawstring cloth bag) to a cylinder scale and record its weight on how far the indicator goes. The newly hatched chicks only weigh roughly 30 grams, but don’t let that fool you; we came back to a chick just three days later and it nearly tripled in weight! The next measurement we take is wing chord, or the length from the most prominent point of the wrist joint to the most prominent point of the longest primary feather. This is taken using a special ruler, but it’s easy enough to record. After the measurements are taken, and if the chick is big enough, we place a size four US Fish and Wildlife Service metal band on its right leg using a pair of modified pliers specifically made for banding birds. The bands don’t interfere at all with any of the birds daily functions, and makes it rather easy to identify the specific bird from exactly what burrow and what year it was found if it were to be captured or re-sighted in the future.


Dawson holding his 1st banded black guillemot chick on Western Brothers.

Our tern chicks have also grown considerably since our last post, more than tripling their weight and starting to get their primary feathers! But that’s not the half of it, we have five more healthy chicks! They are all very well fed by their parents, who really don’t care for us handling their babies, constantly diving and pecking our heads (and pooping on us if we’re lucky). However, the chicks don’t make it very easy for us to find them; they often hide in the vegetation around the nest and blend in rather well, so searching for them is a very careful and mindful process. When we do find them, they get weighed the same way the guillemots do but do not get their wing chord recorded, simply due to the fact that it would be impossible for all the other islands to record that much data- there’s only 7 terns for us to measure, compared to Petit Manan with over 1,000 breeding pairs! (with an average of three eggs per nest, you can imagine why!)


The “C” chick in nest # 1 posing for the camera.

As our chicks are growing more each day, there’s always someone that wouldn’t mind snacking on them, and here at Eastern Brothers that’s our new visitor: the peregrine falcon. We first were confused  when woken up by the terns going crazy on Saturday morning, chipping and calling from one of the ravines. We weren’t quite sure what they were on about, but after getting to one of our morning survey points, we found a dead adult black guillemot predated on by the falcon.


The peregrine falcon perched on Eastern Brothers Island in a ravine close to the alcid decoys.

We observed it flying from island to island with the terns fearlessly dive bombing it the whole way until it eventually left. We’ve seen it two other days after that, but it has been driven off the island quicker and quicker each time with no additional signs of predation. We’re hopeful that the terns keep on driving it away until eventually it moves on.


A black guillemot chick we found with a fish caught and drying on its bill! A rather odd sight, but we later safely removed it so it wouldn’t interfere with feeding.

Until next week,

~Nate and Dawson, EBI 2016

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We can’t believe how far the tern and guillemot colonies on Eastern Brothers Island have come along in just three weeks! This week has been beautiful almost everyday, sunny and high 60’s! This amazing weather has allowed us to spend full days in the field and monitor the colonies, both tern and guillemot. Now for the exciting news… we have our first tern chicks! Our first nest has two healthy chicks, and we’re preparing to band them mid this week.

The process of hatching can be thought of in three stages. First, the adult will incubate the eggs, providing much needed warmth for development. Second, the egg will begin “staring”, which means fractures on the surface of the egg will become visible (sort of resembling a star, hence “staring”). Lastly, the chick will poke a hole in the egg, which we call “pipping”. Once this happens, the chick will most likely be hatched within 24 hours. Our second nest has both a pipping and staring egg, so we are expecting more chicks in the next couple of days! 


Our first tern chick, marked with a green sharpie on its head to distinguish it from its siblings

This week has also been a first for both razorbill and Atlantic puffin sightings on the island! Although we haven’t yet seen them land on the island, the razorbills are here almost daily, flying around and floating close to the decoys. Only one puffin was seen so far, floating and diving in the water just below both the razorbill and puffin decoys on the southern end of Eastern Brothers. We’ve also had a massive increase in common eider creches. A creche is a group of eiders (usually female) that float along with and protect a group of ducklings. They can be anywhere from just one hen and one duckling to several of each; the largest we’ve seen has been 13 hens, 20 ducklings and 2 males, totaling 35 eiders. It’s surprising watching the ducklings dive and forage all on their own, they’re still so tiny!

The old abandon sheep herders cabin located just a short walk from our current cabin is home to a number of barn swallows, where we found our first active nest!


A barn swallow nest with 4 healthy eggs, covered with gull feathers they’ve gathered to keep them warm

Not all our time is spent looking at birds, however; sometimes we gotta eat! The other day, we noticed a lobster boat with the crew checking their pots very close to the island. We were told no crew on the Brothers have ever flagged down a boat and bought fresh lobster, so we naturally took that as a challenge. After a few minutes of waving our hats in the air, they came a little closer and they told us they had lobster to sell. That was all we needed to hear, as we ran to our inflatable raft and hopped in the water, quickly rowing our to their boat. We bought two fresh 1 1/2 pound soft shells and came back and boiled them up for lunch. That and having so many island firsts this week has made it the highlight of the season!


Nate holding our catch of the day

Until next week,

~Nate and Dawson, EBI 2016


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It’s week two out here on Eastern Brothers and seabird activity is ever increasing! We’ve had a season record of 180 black guillemots, 29 common eiders and 7 common terns. This year is an island record for tern nests, totaling three with three eggs each, which is one more pair than they had observed last year; one of the males in the third pair is even banded, meaning he’s returned from a previous year and made Eastern Brothers home!


Our third pair of common terns keeping each other company by the decoys

As one of our main objectives here being monitoring black guillemot productivity, we’ve been actively searching for their burrows. Guillemots lay their eggs in small cracks and crevasses on the steep slopes of the island, so burrow searching is usually an intense all-day effort. It’s our job to get our hands dirty and meticulously check every crevice for their eggs (it’s surprising how little space they need to raise their chicks, sometimes a powerful LED flashlight is even needed just to see their eggs!) They typically lay two eggs, which are about the size of  an Easter egg and are white with specks of brown. We’ve mainly been finding them on the southern end of Eastern Brothers, but our most recent searching efforts have discovered them on just about every spot on the island. So far, we’ve marked 29 burrows, but we expect these numbers to triple as more pairs take refuge and lay their eggs. 


A black guillemot incubating her eggs in a burrow on Eastern Brothers

Although this is a seabird island at heart, it’s also the temporary home for many migrating songbirds, including: savannah sparrow, magnolia warbler, cedar waxwing, and Eastern Wood-Pewee. The island is also home to a variety of marine life, such as harbor seals and harbor dolphins; we even saw a Great White Shark going after a school of fish close to shore!



A savannah sparrow on the lookout


A lazy harbor seal pup soaking up the sun 

More to come next week,

~Nate and Dawson

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First week on the Island and already so much has happened! There are just two of us here on this small 17 acre island off the coast of Jonesport, ME, but it feels a whole lot bigger. We arrived Thursday by boat, where we hauled all our gear into our small 12 x 10 cabin, our home for the next 12 weeks. With limited solar power and no running water, there’s definitely an adjustment period. Every morning we set our alarms for around 6:30. At 7:00, we record the weather, including wind, temperature, visibility and sea conditions. We then make a walk around Eastern Brothers (walking across the bay or rowing our boat, depending on the tide) and conduct a morning bird survey. We’ve already had a high of 184 Black Guillimots and 7 common terns, which is promising for this season. After we’ve finished, we have breakfast which is cooked on a small two burner propane stove (oatmeal and cranberries has been our go-to). Next, we go out to our observation blinds on both Eastern and Western Brothers to watch for tern and alcid activity (alcids are a family of birds which include Atlantic puffins and razorbills). The terns are here daily, letting their presence be known if you get too close to their nests (we’ve already found a nest with 3 eggs and another with 2, hoping the other pair will nest soon!). It’s not unusual to watch as the male brings back fish for the females who are sitting on nests. We have yet to see any alcids, but we’re not discouraged because it’s still early in the season. The weather here has been warm mostly sunny, giving us excellent views of all this island has to offer. Keep up with us and tune in next week and for the next 12 weeks, this is looking to be a great field season off the coast of Maine!

~Nate and Dawson

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