Archive for the ‘Petit Manan 2012’ Category

Dodder is a relatively new invasive plant to Petit Manan which is steadily getting worse year after year.

From the beginning of May to the beginning of August, researchers gather together to collect data of various kinds on selected species. In our case, those species include Terns (Common, Arctic and Roseate), Alcids (Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots and Razorbills), Common Eiders and Storm Petrels. Days on the islands vary depending on weather and at what stage the birds are at. At the beginning of the season, it was heavy lifting getting as much done before the arrival of the birds. It is important to provide adequate habitat for nesting.  This was done by removing invasive and aggressive plants such as bittersweet nightshade, dodder and beach pea. To learn about invasive plant removal, visit the link below. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/petit-manan-making-space-for-all-the-avian-inhabitants/)

Marine debri which has been collected from the shores of Petit Manan.

This also included an intense island-wide cleanup of marine debris that had accumulated after the harsh winter storms of the North Atlantic. To learn more about marine debri clean up visit this link. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/keeping-the-shores-of-petit-manan-clear-of-marine-debris/)

The lighthouse of Petit Manan is the second tallest in Maine.

Throughout the season, daily activities performed by the island researchers included: tower count where we climb up to the top of the lighthouse to count the number of alcid species seen at 7am and 5pm every day; predator control, where we do our best to prevent other species from preying upon the endangered species on the island; reading bands on Arctic Terns and Adult Atlantic Puffins as well as constant data entry.

A Common Tern that was banded in Argentina.

Once the birds arrived, it was our job to collect the data required of us while doing our best to try not to disturb them. When the weather allowed it, we marked flags and popsicle sticks so we could calculate the species ratio on the island. However, in the first few weeks of their arrival, mother nature was not in their favor. During this time, there was a storm that hit Maine and washed away probably hundreds of eggs that had been laid on the rocky shore including tern as well as puffin eggs. Many of those terns laid more eggs but the puffins did not. While still possessing the opportunity, we trapped and banded the terns so that they can be resighted in the future. This process included replacing their delicate eggs with fake wooden ones so that when the trap was set off the eggs could be safely returned, quickly transporting the birds so they could get appropriately banded and set free to return to their eggs. As the time neared for the incubated eggs to hatch we constructed what we like to call play pens for the young chicks. This would enable us to monitor the progress of the chicks as they grow. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/monitoring-tern-productivity-on-petit-manan/)

An Arctic Tern chick from one of my provisioning nests; the box in the corner is the blind I would sit in for 3 hours a day for at least 12 hours a week.

Time was running out before the arrival of our first chicks and we still had to conduct our two day island census to obtain the number of birds we had on the island. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/the-numbers-are-in-petit-manan-island-census/)

Once Census was finished, it seemed things would calm down; or not. In fact, things only got more hectic. It was finally time for us to welcome the chicks and really start to dive into our research. Our normal routine started to expand to include provisioning, which is a three hour stint in a small blind where we record information about the type of fish species being fed to the A, B or C chick. Before we could start recording our information, we had to select a blind that we would focus on and then decide which 5-7 nests would be observed for the remainder of the season. To learn about how the blinds were constructed, visit this link. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/petit-manan-its-easier-to-sea-birds-blind-2/)

Jarrett, a temporary intern who was grubbing for puffins in a sod burrow.

Not only did our time get sucked up by provisioning but we also had to let our hands dive into the granite and sod burrows of the island alcids to check for chicks and assess nest productivity. (https://mainecoastalislands.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/alcid-burrow-checks-on-petit-manan/)

Island living certainly has its ups and downs but the small sacrifices of going without running water or grocery stores seem to pale in comparison to the visual rewards that we receive while observing thousands of birds and a rolling blue sea. Each of us came from different backgrounds and interests that eventually led us to work with these amazing birds.  It has been a great season out here on Petit Manan and we have been gifted the opportunity to be involved with this flourishing seabird colony on a beautiful island off the coast of Maine.


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Petit Manan is an island that thousands of birds, representing a dozen species, call home during their breeding season.  Four researchers also call this island home for three months.  Our days are filled with avian amazement and we are fastidious with our observations, monitoring and recordkeeping.

Beyond our responsibilities to protect and monitor a thriving seabird colony, we are also stewards to this incredible island.  Stewardship can take many forms but one of the ways in which it is displayed during our field season is the collection of marine debris.


After collecting debris from the south side of the island, Jordan carries it to the boatramp on the north end.

Collecting marine debris from the shoreline of Petit Manan island was  one of our stewardship projects.  We collected 15 bags of trash as well as hundreds of broken buoys.


We also collected over 50 lobstertraps.  With the help of Refuge staff and Student Conservation Association interns we loaded all of the debris onto a boat back to the mainland.  It is important to keep our oceans and shores free of this litter.  Marine mammals and seabirds can easily get entangled in derelict fishing gear or mistakenly ingest flotsam such as floating plastics.


Sara, Jordan and Chris loading the broken lobster traps onto the boat


Thank you to the many hands that helped gather and load all of the marine debris.  Great Work!!

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The infamous Roseate Tern!

There are currently four colonies with a total of 151 breeding pairs in the state of Maine. On Petit Manan alone, it’s been about a year since the last roseate tern was sighted and even longer since they last successfully nested.


A Roseate tern nest sharing a space with a Puffin egg.

Roseate terns have either a full black or mostly black bill, a whiter coloration and considerably longer tail feathers then wing feathers in comparison to the arctic and common terns. They tend to nest along the vegetation line close to rocks of the intertidal zone. If not careful, too much activity could cause them to abandon their nests considering their sensitivity to human presence.

This year, we have two confirmed nesting pairs and another possible sighting further along the intertidal. The two nesting pairs each have two healthy chicks which we hope will fledge successfully. Their chicks have black legs and dark mottled down with fine black spots as opposed to the common and arctic tern chicks which usually have orange or pink legs with brighter down and black spots.


A Roseate Tern chick being banded by our island supervisor Christa.


An Arctic Tern chick being banded by my coworker Jordan.

Hopefully this means more nesting Roseate terns on Petit Manan island in years to come.



Can you identify which of these birds are Roseate Terns? I’ll give you one hint, there are three in this picture.

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A black guillemot chick grubbed from underneath the boardwalk

One of our most exciting endeavors on this lovely seabird island is monitoring the Alcid burrows around the perimeter of the island. Alcidae is a family of seabirds that includes Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, and Black Guillemots, all of which breed here on Petit Manan. Unlike the terns that lay their eggs on the exposed ground, each of these species raise their chicks in a protective burrow. Razorbills and puffins always have one egg, while guillemots often have two.

Puffin chick!

Usually burrows are in the crevices between the pink granite rocks that border the island, but sometimes our Alcids choose some unconventional sites, like in the foundation of a fallen building, or under the boardwalk that stretches the length of the island from the boathouse to the lighthouse. In addition to rock burrows, puffins are able to dig burrows in the sod that can be over 6 feet long! Because Petit Manan is a tiny island with an incredible number of breeding birds, we also provide artificial burrows made from wooden boxes or overturned plastic buckets with tubes attached to the entrance so that the birds can crawl into a protected space like they would in their granite or sod burrows.

Alcids establish burrows in early May, around the time we arrive on the island. At the beginning of the season, once the birds have laid eggs, we do a survey of the burrows to determine which ones are active, peering in but trying not to disturb the birds while they are incubating. Later in the season (now!), once most of the chicks have hatched, we do another thorough investigation during which we “grub” the puffin, guillemot, and razorbill chicks and adults.

Applying metal identification bands to an adult puffin’s legs

We remove them from their burrows so that we can put small metal identification bands around their legs, each with unique number/letter combination so that we can resight individuals later and determine how often they return to the island and what other locations they might be visiting year-to-year. We also weigh chicks now and again at the end of the season to monitor their growth. Many of the puffin and guillemot chicks won’t fledge until after we’ve left the island in the middle of August.

Linda Welch (lead biologist) and Jordan (field tech) grubbing a razorbill chick.

“Grubbing” an Alcid can be quite a surprising experience, as it often involves reaching blindly into a dark, slimy crevice and feeling around until you find a fluffy little chick… or until your fingers meet the sharp vice grip of an adult puffin’s powerful bill!

So far this season we’ve noticed that the number of breeding guillemots on the island is on the rise, but there seem to be fewer breeding puffins this year than in years past. We have one confirmed Razorbill chick, and two more possible sites. We’ll keep you posted as we collect and analyze more data about our awesome Alcids!

Linda with a freshly grubbed razorbill chick that is nearly ready to fledge. While puffin chicks take up to 50 days to fledge, razorbills are ready to go in only 16-20 days!

When a razorbill chick is ready to fledge, its dad leads it out of the burrow under cover of night and takes it to the ocean.

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a productivity plot on the west side of the island

tern chick!

One of the important questions that the research team on Petit Manan tries to answer each season is what the growth and survival rates are of the tern chicks on the island. There are over 1,900 tern nests on almost every surface of the island—the rocky shoreline, in amongst the vegetation, and even on the lawn around the lightkeepers’ house that serves as our research station. Each nest usually contains between one and three chicks.

two eggs on the granite berm

Up to three chicks times almost two thousand nests… that’s an impossible number of chicks to keep track of! In order to keep our monitoring effort reasonable, and to reduce the impacts of our presence in the colony, each year we set up roughly 10-12 productivity plots. These are basically tern playpens, each of which contains 5-15 nests. The temporary barrier that we set up at each prod plot allows us to consistently monitor a subpopulation that will be representative of the whole island.

Christa, Brittany, and Dave at a productivity plot


Every day we record the number of eggs, pips (eggs that have begun to hatch), and chicks we have in each nest at every productivity plot. We also weigh each chick and put a metal identification band around one of their legs so that they can be resighted and identified for the rest of their lives.

a pipped egg


We try to check each plot as quickly and efficiently as possible so that we don’t stress the parent terns for very long, but it can be quite a challenge because tern chicks are really good at hiding!

a newly hatched chick and egg


The data that we collect about the chicks’ growth and survival, along with information that we are gathering about the frequency and species of fish feedings (provisioning) will help us paint a more complete picture of the success of Petit Manan’s tern colony. We’ll have more information about provisioning in an upcoming blog, so keep checking in!

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Adult Black Guillemot foraging near shore at Petit Manan Island. We often see them carrying rock gunnel (a red eel-looking fish) in their bills.

As you glance at a calendar organizing your plans for the rest of a glorious Maine Summer, it might escape your attention that today is a very special day.  Today is International Guillemot Appreciation Day!!  The predominant object of our daily attention here on Petit Manan is the tern colony and with just under 2,000 nest sites this year they do keep us busy.


Guillemot parent with chick in their granite nest site

In honor of the many other avian residents that call PMI their breeding home, we are very happy to honor this internationally recognized day specifically for this alcid.  Maine is the tip of their southern range, so we are the only state in the lower 48 to host them.

We have noted over 50 Black Guillemot nests here on the island and some chicks have begun to hatch.

Many mornings, during our twice daily lighthouse survey,  we count more than 200 of them in the waters surrounding the island, paddling around with their bright red feet.

Happy Guillemot Appreciation day to our feathered friends here in the Gulf of Maine!


Black Guillemot Chick

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During the first few weeks of the seabird field season the number of avian residents on Petit Manan is relatively low.  Just two field technicians anxiously awaiting the arrival of a seabird colony.  And then it happens, slowly at first but with increasing momentum, the nesting residents begin to descend from the sky until there is a frenzy of feathers everywhere you look or try to step.  In order to gain an accurate estimate of such a large volume of birds we perform an annual island wide census.  In order to perform that we call in reinforcements. This year we were lucky enough to gather 13 people with representatives from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Acadia National Park, Schoodic Education and Research Center, Student Conservation Association and the University of Maine.


The census line scours the vegetation for nests of terns, eiders and laughing gulls.

In a straight (ish) line we walk shoulder to shoulder back and forth marking each nest site across the entire island.

Each step needs to be carefully calculated to avoid cryptically camouflaged eggs.  The process is made even more nerve-racking by the dive-bombing terns screeching an alarm call to alert their neighbors of your intruding presence in the colony.

After two days of counting, the census numbers are in!! For the final nesting numbers of alcids (puffins, razorbills and guillemots) you will have to wait until early July, so check back.






Here are the number of nests for Petit Manan 2012:

Arctic Terns:   755

Common Terns:   1,180


Two Common terns perched on the granite rocks of Petit Manan

Common Eider: 67


Three eider ducklings found at one of the nest sites. Within 24 hours of hatching, their mother hen will take them down to the water’s edge to begin their life at sea.

Laughing Gull:  650

(We also believe we have three nesting pairs of Roseate terns.  After declining numbers and no nesting attempts last year, we remain hopeful that we might have some this season.)

Check back to see the hatching and success rates of the many Petit Manan residents.  Thank you to all of you who helped with this year’s census!

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