Archive for the ‘Metinic 2017’ Category

So much has happened since our last blog post!

All summer, I have been telling Ravin and the refuge staff that all I wanted to do was see one puffin while in Maine.  I was not disappointed to say the least.  Last week, Ravin and I were taken off Metinic for a day of puffin grubbing on Seal Island.  As we unloaded the boat, we were greeted by large congregations of puffins, razorbills and guillemots swimming in the water.  Puffins burrow similar to guillemots, but they prefer larger rocks to burrow under.  It was truly a unique experience handling and banding such an iconic Maine bird.



My first grubbed puffin!

One thing that is unique to Metinic Island is that we have neighbors!  A lobster fisherman and his wife own a house about 400 meters from our house, and they were so kind to check on us a few times during the season.  The day after puffin grubbing, we came back to the cabin from a feeding study stint to find that they had left us a large bucket of crab claws and 2 large lobsters.  We had a great dinner that night, and lunch the next day!

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Our last day on Metinic

Both tern and guillemot productivity plots have done really well this season.  Very few chicks died, and most of the terns already fledged! As we reached our final days on the island, the terns have quickly been decreasing in numbers.  Many of them have begun their migration, and now it is our turn.  Ravin and I are spending our first full day on the mainland today, and we already miss these spunky little birds and the island that we called home for a short 11 weeks.




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Aya reaching for 2 black guillemot chicks at a numbered burrow

We are currently in full swing of tern feeding studies and productivity checks for terns and black guillemots chicks! The majority of the tern chicks have hatched and are doing well. Our feeding studies reveal that the adult terns are continuing to bring in hake and sandlance as the primary food for the chicks. Both of these fish are very high in nutrients which means the chicks are getting nice and plump. Warmer water temperatures could change the fish composition for the worse so our fingers are crossed that it stays the way it is as the chicks approach fledging in the next few weeks.



Arctic tern chick with a BBL band on the birds right leg and a field readable on its left. 

We have begun banding the older arctic tern chicks with field readable bands, so they can be easily identified as adults. This allows the Refuge and our partners to collect information on the importance of each island as a nesting location for specific individuals and to determine adult survival. We have been reading field readable bands on adults during resighting stints throughout the summer and will continue to identify as many birds as we can for the rest of the season.

We have also returned to the Leach’s storm petrel burrows that we flagged earlier in the season to determine if they are active by playing the call of a petrel on our phones and waiting for a response from an adult. So far, we have located 41 active burrows! Most of them are deep in the old stone walls that are scattered across the island and impossible to reach but we did find one that we were able to reach into a feel one adult with one egg. We will return in late July to check hatching success.


Yesterday evening we had a spectacular view of the mainland fireworks and enjoyed some of our own sparklers for 4 of July celebrations!

Until next time,


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First productivity plot chicks of the season

Today the sun shone for the first time in four days! Camille and I, Aya has been off island this week, were beyond excited to get back in the colony after spending so much time in the cabin. The fact that we were pretty sure chicks were hatching made it even more agonizing. Just as suspected there are chicks! We will now conduct daily checks of our fenced productivity plots to band the newly hatched chicks and weigh them as they as they grow.  This will allow us to estimate the survival rate and overall productivity of the colony.


Banding productivity plot chicks

The chicks are tantalizingly cute but it is important that we remain focused on collecting data when working in productivity plots. After chicks hatch they cannot regulate their own body heat until they begin to lose their down and grow feathers usually around 8-12 days old. Until then the adults will brood the chicks to help keep them warm.  We limit our time in each plot to no more than 30 minutes and only enter the colony for productivity checks in good weather to allow the adults to tend to small chicks and minimize disturbance.


Michael, refuge biologist, being attacked during tern census

The next few days we plan to take full advantage of the nice weather to finish up tern trapping before too many eggs hatch and then transition into chick provisioning studies. We will also be starting black guillemot productivity by visiting burrows and checking for eggs. Also in big news, we conducted tern census last Thursday and estimate that there are 623 common and Arctic tern nests here on Metinic Island!

Until next time!


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Aya and I arrived on Metinic Island to find a cozy two-story cabin surrounded by cobble beaches, sheep and birds, lots of birds. Metinic Island has a diverse patchwork of forests, grasslands, rocky and cobble shoreline that is ideal for nesting and migratory birds. Our job here is to act as stewards for nesting seabirds and to monitor other species passing through.

One of our first jobs is to locate Leach’s storm petrel burrows that are located in rock crevices and soft sod soil. Petrels are nocturnal seabirds that reside in their burrows during the day and also nest in these burrows during the summer season. We have been searching along old rock walls and natural rocky outcroppings searching for freshly dug holes. As we move along, we also sniff these entrances to


Petrel burrow entrance marked by a blue pin flag.


Aya looking for petrel burrows.


try to pick up on the distinct musty, earthy smell that the petrels give off. So far we have flagged thirty-three possible burrows that we will revisit at the end of June to determine if there is an active nest and then we will monitor the chicks until they can fly.

We have also acted as sheep shepherds since we have arrived on Metinic. The sheep belong to the family that owns half of the island and graze the sheep on the northern end during the fall, winter and spring. Tomorrow we will be fencing the sheep to just the southern end of the island. Until then we will continue to discourage them from grazing the northern end, where Arctic and common terns are beginning to nest on the ground.  As the terns start to lay their eggs, we will soon be re-sighting banded terns to identify individuals and to better understand their movements, nesting locations and survival rate.

Stay tuned for more updates!


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