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Archive for the ‘Petit Manan 2015’ Category

While most of the other MCINWR islands are winding down for the season, Petit Manan is still going strong with major alcid trapping, island-wide guillemot and storm petrel checks, Arctic tern re-sighting, and our new-this-year project: Atlantic puffin feeding studies.

Atlantic Puffin with bill load

Atlantic Puffin with bill load through scope.

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

During our alcid checks, we discovered two little surprises in the form of Razorbill chicks! Only five pairs are breeding here on Petit Manan, so each new chick is very special to us. We even managed to capture one of his parents bringing food back to the burrow, an unusual sight here on PMI

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Razorbill flying with food

Razorbill flying with food

Here are a few more snapshots of what else has been going on at PMI.

Black Guillemot chick being weighed during our weekly productivity checks

Black Guillemot chick being weighed every 5 days as part of our productivity checks

Leach's storm-petrel chick

Leach’s storm-petrel chick

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

A puffin undergoing the banding process

A puffin undergoing the banding process

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Until next time,

Wayne and Julia

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Photo by Wayne MacCabe

Photo by Wayne MacCabe

This is the Captain, who lives on the walkway in front of the house. What makes him so special to us is he was rescued from freezing rain when he was still inside his egg. One rainy day the area where Captain’s nest was got flooded with collecting rain water. The whole nest and the three eggs inside it were completely submerged in the water and were floating around. The parent was hovering over the nest, unsure of what to do. After seeing this I quickly ran outside and scooped up the nest and re-located it to a nearby high-elevated area. Seconds later Captain’s mother was back on her nest. I was relieved to see this because terns can be sensitive to any slight change to their nest and can be spooked away if they feel something is wrong. Unfortunately, I still didn’t have high hopes for the chick’s survival. I didn’t know how long the eggs were floating in the cold water, they could have passed away from the cold temperatures or from the water sealing up the pores on the egg which lets the chicks breath oxygen from the air. But, to my surprise about a week later Captain hatched and soon after so did his brother, Sailor. I named the chicks this because the nest was floating around like a ship at sea. Now, both Captain and Sailor are fledging!

We have over 2,000 chicks on the island and just our presence here increases the survival rate for these chicks. This is because we deter predators like greater black back gulls, peregrine falcons, herring gulls, and more which will make a quick meal out of the fledging terns and chicks. Realistically, we can not 100 percent stop predation from these species, but we work hard to keep fatality numbers low. Without us working here on the island these birds would likely take over and would have a devastating blow to the tern population. It made me so happy to see that Captain had made it but I noticed I gained a lot more than just satisfaction from seeing him survive, I gained a new understanding of my time here on the island. This event encouraged me because it really showed how my time and work on the island present on the island.

-Laura Bollert

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Greetings from Petit Manan!

PMI as seen from Green Island. For the summer this has been the scope of our world.

PMI as seen from Green Island.

There is a lot of work left to do this season, but having just returned from my break I am much more aware of how limited our time out here is, and what an amazing experience living on this island has been.

Supplies and the Ship Island crew getting dropped off.

Supplies and the Ship Island crew getting dropped off.

We are living in a house that was utilized by lighthouse keepers when maintaining a lighthouse was something that you couldn’t entrust to a circuit board and a bank of batteries.  We depend on regular deliveries of food and potable water, a solar power system for the limited electricity we do use, and collected rain water for washing up.

Sara Williams wearing the worm hat while doing the nightly chores. Laura approves!

Sara Williams wearing the worm hat while doing the nightly chores. Laura approves!

Depending on your perspective that can sound like hardship or luxury, but for me it is a taste of the sweet life.  I get some distance from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world while having most of the comforts of home.  There is also the benefit of almost no biting flies.  I never thought I would have a summer in Maine where I didn’t get any mosquito bites.

Wayne mowing the lawn as terns attempt to drive him off.

Wayne mowing the lawn as terns attempt to drive him off.

We are also living in the middle of a large seabird colony.  We have a perspective into the lives of these animals that few people are privileged enough to experience.  I have seen adult terns court, nest, lay, incubate, hatch, and now feed their ravenous offspring all within the span of a few weeks.  Soon these new lives will begin their first migration to the southern hemisphere for overwintering, and hopefully return here to raise young of their own.

Common tern chicks living on the rocks.

Common tern chicks living on the rocks.

In addition to the Terns we have Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Gulls, Petrels and others all involved in the same mad race to pass on their genes.

Wayne working up a Guillemot on Guillemot day!

Wayne working up a Guillemot on Guillemot day!

As amazing as it is to sit in the middle of this genetic maelstrom and watch a new season unfold, the realization that you can extrapolate this madness to a global scale blows me away.  It’s not as though I have just learned how successive generations are made, but to see it happen in this kind of density has given me a greater appreciation of what an awesome place our planet is.

On a clear night Wayne showed us some planets through the spotting scope. Here Jupiter and three of its moons are visible.

On a clear night Wayne showed us some planets through the spotting scope. Here Jupiter and three of its moons are visible.

I have also had the good fortune to learn some new (to me) skills from some great biologists and instructors.  Prior to this season I had almost no practical field experience and was more than a little nervous at the prospect of hitting the ground running.  Wayne, Julia, and other member of the refuge staff have done a fantastic job at ensuring that we (myself and Laura B.) were able to step right in to our roles as seabird technicians.

Julia holds a Common Eider that she hand captured during census while Wayne prepares a band.

Julia holds a Common Eider that she hand captured during census while Wayne prepares a band.

Laura measures the wing chord of a Puffin chick.

Laura measures the wing chord of a Puffin chick.

Wayne and Julia taking measurements of an adult puffin.

Wayne and Julia taking measurements of an adult puffin.

I am very excited to get back to work here on PMI, and for now I will try not to think about the coming end of the season.  I have my very own backstage pass to a world class concert, and I’m going to enjoy every bit of it while the music keeps playing.

Another beautiful sunset on PMI.

Another beautiful sunset on PMI.

-John Fatula

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Chicks are popping!

As we say on Petit Manan Island, the season is in full swing and eggs are hatching all over the island.  We had our first Arctic tern eggs hatch on 17th of June and the first Common terns hatched on the 19th of June and we’ve been banding chicks ever since. This year we have set up 9 productivity fences throughout the island containing from 5-11 tern nests and will monitor the chicks as they hatch until they fledge. Arctic terns take about 21-24 days and Common terns take a little longer, around 27-30 days. Every day we go out into the colony (weather permitting) and weigh each banded chick inside each plot until they have fledged. This in turn will give us a better understanding of productivity in the tern colony on PMI this year.  We also had our first Atlantic Puffin chick hatch on the 25th of June and found our first Black guillemot chicks on the 27th of June which was actually Guillemot Appreciation day!

John banding a common tern chick and Laura looking for chicks inside a productivity plot

John banding a common tern chick while Laura looks for chicks inside a productivity plot.

Common tern nest inside a productivity plot

Common tern nest inside a productivity plot

This is my fourth season working with seabirds and I am amazed every year how cute these chicks can be. Every year I watch my fellow biologists turn into little softies after seeing these little creatures. I don’t care who you are, there is no one who could say that this isn’t cute.

Freshly banded Arctic chick by W. Maccabe

Freshly banded Arctic chick by W. Maccabe

Arctic tern chick close up

Arctic tern chick close up

-Wayne

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Last week, John and I trapped and banded our first terns! We were thrilled to finally have the opportunity to see and work with these birds up close. But these amazing up close interactions did not come without a lot of hard work and preparation.  The process of trapping and banding is very detailed and a complete understanding is needed to keep the terns happy and healthy.

Before we could start banding, Julia and Wayne had us practice on dummy birds. These dummy birds were composed of cardboard toilet paper rolls for bodies, Q-tips for legs, and duct tape for heads. Julia and Wayne informed us of the methods of handling and banding terns when out in the field and with their help we simulated banding on our dummy birds by using old bands. After we felt comfortable with banding we learned how to collected measurements from our birds. When a tern is captured we recorded the weight, wing length, and head and bill length of the tern. We got to see and use all of the tools used to take these measurements.IMG_8528

In preparation for trapping, we laid out all of our equipment out on the lawn and checked to make sure all of the traps had all their components and were functional.  John and I spent some time getting used to setting up the traps and gripping the idea of the little quirks that makes the trapping process run a lot smoother.  Once we were quick and efficient with setting up out traps we were ready for the real deal!

Laura & Julia setting up their trap

Laura & Julia setting up their trap

Our first trapping day was nerve racking and exciting! We had to find a balance when trapping and banding our terns that would enable us to work fast but also be gentle and thoughtful when handing the terns. As much as we wanted to take our time and soak up all the beauty, we had to act quickly and efficiently when banding the terns to minimize the amount of stress placed on the birds. I felt uneasy going into my fist banding experience; this wasn’t like the dummy birds we practiced on, the terns move around a lot more than the dummies and one wrong pinch on the band could harm the tern. But to my surprise banding my fist bird came natural to me and it went smoothly. I got to trap and band many more terns that day and I hope to do some more in the next few days.

John and his tern

John and his tern

So far we have trapped 19 COTE (common terns) and 16 ARTE (arctic terns) our goal is to have a total of 20 COTE and 100 ARTE by next week! Trapping and banding terns is important because it shows sight fidelity and survival rates of juveniles and adults.

– Laura Bollert

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In my last blog I mentioned that the Petit Manan crew had resighted a banded American Oystercatcher (AMOY) with its mate on Green Island which is adjacent to PMI and only accessible during low tide. After observing the banded AMOY in mid-May, we submitted our finding to the Bird Banding Lab website and received information about the bird. We discovered that it was born and banded as a chick in 2006 on Nantucket Island, Nantucket, MA. It was last resighted in 2014 in Charleston, South Carolina,

Observing American Oystercatcher on Green Island. Photo by: John Fatula

Observing American Oystercatchers on Green Island. Photo by: John Fatula

On our second visit over to Green Island we were combing the north-west side for any sign of Oystercatcher eggs, when we noticed that our 9 year-old banded AMOY, with its mate, were unusually vocal. So, we decided to move out of the area and use a spotting scope to watch from a distance. After about 15 minutes of scanning around we noticed tiny little chick heads in the rocks and sure enough they were 3 oystercatcher chicks!  We all watched through the scope as the adults foraged around and were surprised how quickly the adults can extract the meat from a mussel and feed the chicks (about 3 seconds). AMOY chicks will usually stay with the adults for up to a year to perfect their foraging techniques.

Foraging AMOY with 2 chicks( you can see how camouflaged the chicks are.)

Foraging AMOY with 2 chicks: you can see how    camouflaged the chicks are.

Banded AMOY with chicks. Photo by: Julia Gillis

Banded AMOY foraging with chick. Photo by: Julia Gillis

After further research by Linda Welch we were informed that these were the first AMOY chicks to be discovered on Green Island since 1997! Not only that, they have now become the most northerly breeding pair within their range. How cool! We always thought that Green Island seemed like a perfect place for AMOYs to nest, and have seen them loafing there in recent years, but never found any eggs or chicks as the adults are very secretive.  With just a few alarm calls by the adults, the chicks instinctively hide deep in the rocks of the intertidal zone. Each adult will constantly call and try to lure any predators out of the area. We just hope this pair can keep the prying eyes of the gulls away from discovering their chicks so they can grow up and successfully fledge. And we even received a certificate for our efforts.

IMG_8550

-Wayne

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Bummer.

That was what I thought the first time I saw a gull swoop down and steal a tern egg here on Petit Manan.  I know that the gulls are not evil.  They are just following their biological imperatives like any other animal. A protein-packed meal that can’t run or fight back?  It’s a no-brainer from the gull’s point of view.  They might get harassed by the terns, but for a three-and-a-half pound Greater Black Backed Gull the little four-ounce terns would need a miracle to do any serious damage.  I am certain that if the terns didn’t possess a secret weapon the gulls would eat every egg on the ground and drive away the entire tern colony in short order.  What allows the tern colony to remain extant in the face of such an effective predator?

Us.

The presence of the researchers on this island is what keeps these gulls in check.  They know that if they try and hang out too close to the colony we won’t give them a moment’s peace until they leave.  The gulls are smart, smarter than I ever gave them credit for.  They know when they can get away with sneaking in a little closer to see what’s available so they can swoop down and grab an egg when the time is right.  If it’s foggy or wet we will stay inside to avoid disturbing the terns, and the gulls will push in a little closer.  If it’s nice and we maintain more of a presence outside they tend to keep a respectful distance.

Gull sizing up the colony. Photo by J.Fatula

Gull sizing up the colony.
Photo by J.Fatula

It is unfortunate that the terns must rely on this unnatural service to make it through each season, but it is important to remember that it was also humans who created the unnaturally high numbers of gulls. While some make a comfortable living at the town dump or the parking lot of your local fast food restaurant, there are many others who would love to eat as many tern eggs as possible.  The continued presence of researchers on Petit Manan ensures that these incredible animals can continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.

Gull chicks with pipping egg.  Photo by: W.MacCabe

Gull chicks with pipping egg.
Photo by: W.MacCabe

I said before that I know the gulls aren’t evil, but they seem to be the most constant threat to the terns out here, so it is easy to see them as the villains.  The gulls are just trying to make a living and raise a family, and it’s important to maintain respect for their lives, even if we are constantly at odds.

-John Fatula

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