Archive for the ‘Metinic 2018’ Category

From Ship to Petit Manan and, lastly, to Metinic, I am lucky enough to have been able to experience three of the refuge’s seabird restoration islands. Every island so distinctly different from the other, it has been interesting to spend some time on each.


Metinic is such a charming island. I was thrilled to be able to walk in a forest again, and the sheep out here are very cute! There are so many birds on the island a well, and Nora and Nick have been extremely helpful in teaching me about the ones I am unfamiliar with. We have spotted some whimbrels hanging around the island the past few days as well, which was really cool to see.

We have been checking our 86 Leach’s storm-petrel burrows that have been marked so far and found chicks in a few burrows! This is the first time a crew has confirmed storm-petrel chicks on Metinic! We have also been monitoring black guillemot chicks, and have done the final check for two near-fledged (~28 days old) chicks. Black guillemots are considered fledged around 36 days old, and these two will be our first to leave their burrow.

As mentioned in the last blog post, the stars out here are unbelievable. I have never seen the night sky so clear and have been enjoying staying up late to see them and listen to the funny storm-petrel calls from under the house. Nora and Nick have been capturing some amazing photos. I will definitely miss seeing the night sky on the islands when I head back to the mainland.

Even though there are a few new nests for terns and guillemots, most eggs have hatched and many chicks have fledged. Our season is wrapping up too, but we still have plenty of final checks, banding and measurements to be taken. It will be sad to leave the island, but the chicks are fledging and birds are leaving on migration so it’s time for us to migrate too.

– Olivia


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We’re busy here on Metinic Island as we monitor chicks and nests for common and arctic terns, black guillemots, and Leach’s storm-petrels. While most of our work occurs during the day, some surveys for storm-petrels occur at night. Clear nights on Metinic Island are spectacular because there is no light pollution and few buildings to hinder our view. We can easily see planets, but there are seemingly thousands of stars and the Milky Way cuts across the sky. Lately, the Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower has begun and several stars are especially bright or close to planets. We are lucky to have such incredible views of the stars.

Unfortunately, many people living in major cities and suburbs rarely see the stars, or may see planets occasionally. In Nora’s home town near Los Angeles, CA, only Saturn and Jupiter are usually bright enough to be seen through the light pollution and smog. It’s a disheartening feeling to see no stars, and feel no connection with the universe. Light pollution severely limits what is visible, such that some people may never truly see the sky.

Light pollution is growing worse in many areas, but there are a few things that can be done to reduce light pollution and regain views of the stars. First, reduce the number, brightness or view of outdoor lights that are used at night. Second, reduce the number or brightness of streetlights. Third, encourage businesses to turn off or lower lights on their properties at night. And, finally, add fixtures that point light downward. Not all of these will be possible everywhere, obviously, but it seems vital to be able to see the night sky.

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Our restoration work on Metinic is primarily focused on terns, but we also monitor black guillemot burrows. We locate burrows on the island by watching birds fly in and out of burrows from a blind, and we eventually check those sites for eggs. Black guillemots lay eggs in burrows in rocky crevices and under ledges, which makes it slightly more challenging than nest searching for terns. We have found 34 active nests so far, 15 of which we will monitor for the rest of the season.

We will monitor hatching success, predation and chick growth rate. We selected easily accessible burrows to monitor chick growth because some guillemots are experts at making their nests completely inaccessible. Once there are chicks, we will visit the burrows every few days to measure weight and wing chord of the guillemots to track their growth. Guillemots incubate for 23 to 39 days, and only a few eggs are beginning to show signs of hatch. In our search for active burrows, however, we found one burrow that contained two chicks! As more eggs hatch and we begin to monitor growth we will update you all with how they are doing.
-Nick & Nora

Black Guillemot

Black guillemot chick on its hatch day.


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The breeding season is well underway here on Metinic Island. We’ve completed breeding censuses for common eiders, and herring and great black-backed gulls. We are also monitoring breeding passerines, black guillemots, Leach’s storm-petrels, and common and arctic terns. There is an incredible diversity in eggs, both between and within species. Eggs come in a variety of shapes and colors, which are related to the ecology of the species, nesting behavior and depredation risk. For example, owls lay spherical to elliptical eggs that are whitish to cream colored because they are top predators and mostly nest in cavities. Owls do not need to disguise their eggs as much as say towhees, which nest on or near the ground.

In avian reproduction, the formation of the shell and addition of pigment occurs just prior to laying. Pigments in the egg shell strengthen it, as well as provide camouflage and other signals. While females of a species typically produce similar eggs, subtle differences between individuals can cause unusual patterns or pigments in eggs.

Many species within a family produce similar eggs either in color, pattern or both. For example, most duck eggs are relatively plain and white to pale green or blue, while the basic pattern in warblers is cream to white with brown speckling. However, other families, such as gulls and terns, show substantial variation between individuals and within a clutch (the group of eggs that a female lays in a single nest). Gull and tern eggs can be pale brown to blue or green, or darker brown or green. There are brown and gray speckles, squiggles or splotches (all very technical terms) that both strengthen the eggs and distinguish them from other eggs.

We’ve seen a huge variety of color and pattern in herring gulls especially. Most are some shade of brown from pale cream to dark brown. Some are delicately speckled while others have splotches of dark browns. At least one egg was found that had dark speckles around the wide part, and was plain everywhere else. It was like a printer that runs out of ink while printing a picture. Tern eggs can be pale to dark green as well, but new this year was an almost teal arctic tern egg. The base color with brown speckles make the egg look like a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream, but why that egg is so brightly colored compared to other tern eggs.

These eggs show some of the possible variation in bird eggs. Some research has been conducted to understand what directs the shape, coloration and pattern of eggshells. Research suggests that the individual variation may improve nest identification for colonially nesting species, or eggshells may be signals. For example, the depth of blue-green in eggshells may be a result of a higher antioxidant level in females, signaling greater health of both the female and offspring.

Eggs are just one of the many fascinating aspects of avian biology that we get to experience out here. It’s an egg-cellent way to study individual variation, health and reproduction in birds.

~Nick and Nora

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IMG_2959The first week on Metinic Island is complete, and what a week it has been! We’ve found the first common eider, black guillemot, spotted sandpiper and savannah sparrow nests. The terns are settling onto the island, and hopefully we’ll have our first nests this weekend. And migration is still going strong!

We thought we should introduce ourselves briefly before we get too distracted telling you about the birds we’ve seen. Nick began birding when he was 6 years old and has just finished his first year at the University of Maine, where he is studying wildlife ecology and forest recreation management. Nora has spent the last three years at Humboldt State University, CA, where she completed a master’s degree in wildlife, studying survival in snowy plovers.


Migration on the island has been spectacular. In the last week, we’ve recorded 111 species, including 18 species of warbler. Highlights have included a pair of harlequin ducks, cape may warblers, bay-breasted warblers, yellow-breasted chat and male Baltimore oriole. On the morning walk, there can be 20 birds in a single tree, and vireos feeding in the bay berry bushes. It can be deafening to listen to all the birds singing at once. There are times when northern parula, red-eyed vireos, (myrtle) yellow-rumped warblers, and American redstarts are in a single tree.


When we aren’t looking at birds, we are working to improve the habitat for the terns. We’ve caught nine common garter snakes that have been released on the mainland. We catch the snakes and harass gulls in the colony because they prey on tern eggs. As migration continues and the terns begin laying eggs, we look forward to sharing more of our adventures with you!

-Nick and Nora

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