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Archive for the ‘Metinic 2015’ Category

With the season’s end coming up rapidly, the daily duties of monitoring seabirds also become less time consuming as the tern chicks start to take flight and go out on their own. While it might be sad to think about not being able to work with these feisty little birds in the near future, it also brings about a feeling of elation and accomplishment, knowing that we put a huge effort into helping them survive the trials of hatching, growing, and finally fledging.

But less time in the tern colony means more time for birding! And with Metinic Island having quite a few acres of forested area to go along with the vast amount of grassland and coastal habitats, there are plenty of birds to see. We’ve had a rare Rusty Blackbird show up, an out-of-season Long-tailed Duck, and plenty of other migrants and local birds. We’ve been able to identify over 80 species of bird out here so far, and there are quite a few others that we haven’t quite been able to put our finger on.

Somewhat ironically named Short-billed Dowitchers relax near Metinic's only pond

Somewhat ironically named Short-billed Dowitchers relax near Metinic’s only pond

A Cedar Waxwing picking out which berries to eat

A Cedar Waxwing picking out which berries to eat

One of four Northern Flickers (yellow shafted) that were as interested in me as I was in them

One of four Northern Flickers (yellow shafted) that were as interested in me as I was in them

Metinic Island has been a great place to live and work over the past couple months, and I’m sure we’ll be sad to leave it once the field season ends, but we’ve also been able to see a lot of what the Maine coastal islands has to offer and have learned a lot along the way.

– Derek

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With the remnants of a tropical storm currently passing through, it seems like a good time to reflect on the events of the past week or so out here on Metinic Island. Our focus is shifting from eggs to birds, as more are hatching everyday. We’ve managed to set up productivity plots to monitor a portion of the tern chicks as they go through their growing-up process from hatchling to fledgeling. We’ve also conducted the yearly census to find out exactly how many nests we have, and it’s a solid 25% increase over last year!

Adding to the good news of nest numbers being higher, we found that the first tern chick hatched on Friday. Over the next couple of weeks the rest of the colony, which consists of both common and arctic terns, will follow suit, with the parents bringing the newborns loads of herring and other fish for them to munch on as they rapidly grow to full size.

A pair of newly hatched arctic terns.

A pair of newly hatched arctic terns.

The calm before the (current) storm brought great weather to the area. We took advantage of it and managed to trap 19 terns, all of which received shiny ID bands, if they didn’t have them already, and nanotags. These little devices that get attached to the birds’ backs will help tell us where they are going to feed and, more importantly, exactly what route they take during their migration halfway around the world to southern Africa and South America.

Attaching a nanotag to a tern.

Attaching a nanotag to a tern.

Releasing a freshly banded and nanotagged arctic tern.

Releasing a freshly banded and nanotagged arctic tern.

Things are looking good out here, and the season is going about as smoothly as possible. Hopefully over the next month and change things continue to go the terns’ way, with lots of plump fish being brought in and lots of tern chicks learning to fly!

– Derek

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It was a wet start to June, with the first few days being complete washouts. The rain, along with unseasonably cool temperatures, has made for a slow week on the island; not that that’s a bad thing. Sitting by the wood stove with a good book (The Sibley Guide to Birds) or watching a movie (The Big Year) makes for a relaxing change of pace to get our minds off of work for a while.

A dreary day on Metinic

A dreary day on Metinic

After a late start to the season, the terns here on Metinic Island are finally settling in, with the first eggs being laid about a week ago. Since then, nests have been popping up all over the place, and birds are still finding their way to the island for the season, which means there are still many more nests to be made!

The first tern egg of the season.

The first tern egg of the season!

It seems that some of the common eiders, a species of sea duck that can be found nesting on many New England islands, got around to laying their eggs early, as ducklings have already been seen following their mother around in the island’s coves.

Freshly hatched eider ducklings are sticking close to mom.

Newborn eider ducklings stick close to mom.

While terns, gulls, guillemots and eiders are the main inhabitants on Metinic, there are many other birds nesting out here as well, including sandpipers, storm petrels, and even a pair of bald eagles! We’ve noticed the little sandpipers like to tuck their eggs under tufts of grass along the shoreline near the tern colony, presumably to let the terns do all the work fending off hungry gulls for them, whereas the eagles have made their huge six-foot-wide home in the most inaccessible treetops of the forest.

A spotted sandpiper nest tucked safely away under some grass.

A spotted sandpiper nest tucked safely away under some grass.

With the wide variety of bird life on the island, there’s a seemingly endless supply of species to see. It’s a good thing it’s still early on in the field season, as there’s still lots of exploring to do.

  • Derek

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Nesting season is in full swing here on Metinic, and we are excited to share what we are seeing!

During these last few weeks of May, we have been conducting nest surveys for many of the seabird species on the island, including Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, Common Eiders, and Black Guillemots. These surveys are conducted by walking the island searching for nests. When a nest is found, it is marked and the clutch size is recorded. These surveys will provide accurate estimates on the number of seabirds nesting on the island and where their nests are located. For some seabird species, like the Black Guillemot, we will monitor the nests found during the survey throughout the rest of the season in order to determine the success of the nest based on the hatching and fledgling rates.

We conducted our initial gull nest survey earlier this week, finding a total of 23 Herring Gull nests, each of which had 1-3 eggs, however many were still in the process of building their nests, and a second census will have to be done soon.

Herring Gull nest with 3 eggs. (Photo:Meaghan Hall)

Herring Gull nest with 3 eggs. (Photo: Meaghan Hall)

GBBG nest with 3 eggs, one of which is blue! (Photo: Meaghan Hall)

GBBG nest with 3 eggs, one of which is blue! (Photo: Meaghan Hall)

While walking the island we also located several Common Eider nests, all with 4-5 eggs. We will have a better estimate on the total number of eider nests by the end of the week when we conduct the eider census.

Common Eider use their down feathers to create a bowl nest. (Photo: Meaghan Hall)

Common Eider use their down feathers to create a nest bowl. (Photo: Meaghan Hall)

We have also been busy conducting Black Guillemot nest searches. So far we have only located 3 active burrows, however, we were excited to find our first Black Guillemot egg!

Black Guillemot egg in a burrow (Photo: Meaghan Hall)

Black Guillemot egg in a burrow (Photo: Meaghan Hall)

Lastly, we have been seeing more and more migrants on the island. We have observed over 50 different species of bird so far, and the list is growing everyday! We have continued conducting morning bird count surveys and are happy to see that the Common and Arctic Terns are finally starting to settle into the colony. Just today we located the first scrapes, and hope to find tern eggs within the next few days!

Until next time,

-Meaghan

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Hi there!

I’m Meaghan. I’m a fourth year wildlife ecology major at the University of Maine at Orono. This is my first summer living and working on a seabird island, and I am very excited to be able to do so! Last summer I worked as an intern at the MCINWR visitor center in Rockland. While there, I had the opportunity to visit several of the seabird islands and very quickly ‘caught the bug’ for island life and could not wait to get out here myself.

Working as my supervisor is Derek. He is a fourth year environmental geography major at Central Connecticut State University. He is a Rhode Island native who has a lot of experience living and working on seabird islands in Massachusetts. However, this is his first year working with MCINWR on a Maine seabird island.

Our home for the summer (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Our home for the summer (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Our first week on the island was a lot of fun!

The first couple days were spent settling into our new home and familiarizing ourselves with the island. We conducted a sheep round up in order to move the sheep, that graze across the island during the off-season, off of MCINWR land so they do not disturb the seabirds during the nesting season. We have also been walking the island checking for and collecting garter snakes. In previous years these snakes have been observed preying on tern eggs and chicks, so we are trying to exclude them from the seabird nesting area. Lastly, we have been conducting morning bird counts. So far we have observed 31 different species of birds, including some migrants along with Common Eiders, Black Guillemots, Double-Crested Cormorants, and Spotted Sandpipers.The flock of Arctic and Common Terns that nest here annually have been observed visiting the colony in the morning hours and leaving around noon – presumably to look for nutritious fish. We were also pleasantly surprised to observe two Rosette Terns visiting our island! We are hoping that the terns will settle in the colony within the next week and lay their first eggs shortly after that.

Common Eider

Common Eider (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot.  (Picture: Meaghan

We are very excited to be working as the technicians on Metinic this year and are more than happy to keep you updated on all things seabirds throughout the season!

-Meaghan and Derek

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