Archive for the ‘Ship Island 2013’ Category


Common Tern not liking that I am taking his picture!

Hello from Ship! Unfortunately, we don’t have any glorious food updates (though the adult terns are bringing in a lot of tasty fish!), but, we can report that we have little chicks everywhere! They come in all shapes and sizes, from seabirds, to shorebirds, to passerines, to ducklings.


Savannah Sparrow fledgling; basically a little ball with mouth and feathers.

Like Petit Manan Island, we have been noticing the vast variety of plumage colorations exhibited by the chicks, even within one family! Featured below are two chick siblings with different colorations. Chicks range anywhere from a warm sandy tan, to seaweed brown, to a silvery tan. They can have very dark well-defined spots or hardly any spots at all. All of these colors help them blend into their environment. The two below are already getting their juvenile feathers and are around 15 days old. 


Chick siblings exhibiting some of the plumage color variations.

Two of Ship’s posts ago, I posted a picture of an adult tern sitting on “Nest Two.” I am happy to report that they now have three little chicks! They are part of our feeding study. Here is a parent with one of the chicks.


Nest 2 parent with chick.

And lastly, here is a spotted sandpiper nest with 3 chicks! One of them is very freshly hatched and is still wet from coming out of the egg. Sandpiper chicks are very mobile quite soon after they hatch, so we were lucky to witness these.

– Julia


Spotted sandpiper chicks in the nest.


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Hello from Ship Island! The beginning of summer marked not only the start of a new season here on Ship, but the start of something that has been highly anticipated for over a month now: the arrival of Tern chicks!! These tiny bundles of life began hatching yesterday, June 21, and now we have over 30. With each nest having typically 3 eggs, and with at least 436 nests, we are looking forward to seeing many baby Terns in the coming days! We knew they would be arriving soon and found “pipping eggs” a few days prior to hatch. Tern chicks possess an “egg tooth” at the end of their bill to help them break out of their shell. They poke a small hole near the top a day before they hatch which we call a “pip.” Once they hatch, the chicks are wet and have bits of shell stuck to their down, but soon dry out into fluffy little babies.


A “pipping” egg that will likely hatch tomorrow.

New Chick!

A tiny, still-wet chick! Hardly bigger than the egg he/she came from.



Two fluffy chick siblings!

In additional news, the island was visited the other day by two very important guests: Least and Roseate Terns! Ship island is at the northern end of both species’ ranges, and both are State Endangered while Roseates are also Federally Endangered. Both came in pairs, and both were landing on the beach repeatedly and integrating themselves into the colony. After an hour or so the Leasts flew on again, but the Roseates were seen courting with fish on the beach and searching for nesting sites in the grass. We believe they stayed the night, and were heard the next day, but have not been seen or heard today. We hope that they come back and decide to make Ship Island their home! Since they were here only briefly, and to minimize their disturbance, I was not able to get photographs of them, so will substitute photographs I have taken in the past from another protected Maine seabird island. And lastly, I couldn’t resist sharing a photo of the Summer Solstice Sunrise from the beach!

– Julia


Least Tern

Least Tern in flight.


Roseate Terns

Roseate Tern parent with a fledgling chick.


Summer Solstice Sunrise

Summer Solstice Sunrise by Bernard Mountain.

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Common Tern on Nest

Common Tern sitting down gently on her clutch of eggs.

Hello again from Ship Island! Last Friday, the 14th, we conducted an island-wide Common Tern census to determine just how many birds and nests we have here on Ship. Conducting a census involves several people walking together in a line, looking for and recording every active nest. At the completion, we took turns guessing how many there were and came up with numbers like 300 and 350. To our astonishment, after all the corrections were applied, we ended up with a whopping 436 nests! This is 185 nests more than last year, and they are still laying. Needless to say, the Ship Island colony is growing and thriving. We even spotted a four-egg clutch! Normally, Common Terns lay between 1-3 eggs, so finding a 4-egg nest is unusual. 

Four-egg Clutch

Four-egg clutch! We have very productive Terns.

In other exciting news, we have seen 3 clutches of Mallard ducklings already, and yesterday spotted our first Common Eider ducklings! I stumbled upon some mallards in the marsh and couldn’t help snapping a quick photo before letting him run off after his family. 

Mallard Duckling

A wet little mallard duckling from the marsh.

Yesterday we had an Osprey fly right through the tern colony with a fish in his talons. Osprey don’t prey on terns, and he was already packing his lunch, but the terns mobbed him away just the same. He hurried right out of there as fast as he could go!


Terns chasing away a startled Osprey!

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With migration all but over and done with, birds here on Ship Island have begun the second phase of their summer cycle: nesting! We found our first Common Tern nests on May 27, and now have over 100 nests. Both parents take “terns” incubating the eggs, and the male often reinforces their pair bond by bringing his female fresh fish. They work together to choose a nest site, then begin scraping the ground with their feet to form a shallow bowl that they will later decorate with twigs and shells.

Nest 3R

One of our very first Tern eggs, this one a nice speckled brown.

Nest 2R

One of our early nests recently – a full clutch of eggs and much more well-defined nest cup.

The other birds here on the island have begun nesting as well, and today we found 2 Savannah Sparrow nests and 2 or 3 Spotted Sandpiper nests. Savannah Sparrows typically make their nests on the interior of the island, forming a bowl of protective dried grasses in the fields.

Savannah Sparrow Nest

Savannah Sparrow nest with three tiny little eggs.

Spotted Sandpipers, on the other hand, make nests near the water’s edge. These sandpipers, and others, differ from song birds like sparrows in that it is the female, not the male, who sets up and defends a territory. She and potential mates choose a nest site together, form a shallow bowl rimmed with grasses, then once the eggs are laid, the female leaves it up to the male to incubate. Females may have multiple partners or they may choose just one.

Spotted Sandpiper Nest

Spotted Sandpiper nest found along one of our trails, with four eggs that look a lot like a Tern’s, but smaller.

Though we haven’t found their nests yet, we know that Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Song Sparrows are also nesting here. Until next time,

– Julia

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Our Island Home

The cabin we are going to call home for the summer.

Finally, after weeks of anticipation and planning, we (Julia and Katie) have arrived at the island we are going to call home for an entire summer. Our island is called Ship Island, and it lies in Blue Hill Bay, Maine, just a few miles off shore. At just 11 acres, the small island will be called home to not just ourselves, but to a variety of various song birds, sparrows, and seabirds. Our focus, of course, will be on the seabirds, and we are looking forward to a wonderful summer with them.

May on the islands provides a fantastic opportunity to witness the migration of birds. As islands along critical oceanic migration routes, the Refuge’s islands are essential to providing migrating birds a place to refuel and refresh. For the biologists, it is an exciting time to witness new species and observe them closely as they forage voraciously in trees and shrubs just feet away.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula from the back window.

Like Petit Manan and other islands, Ship Island has been privy to sundry migrants: 72 in total at the close of today. It seems that nearly every morning we wake up to a new bird song. This morning, it was the Bobolink with his “R2D2” voice.


Bobolink singing his “R2D2” song in front of a tern blind and West Barge Island

But the migrants are not the only exciting birds we see here – shorebirds flock to our sandy beaches, scouring the rack line for tasty morsels as they probe incessantly with their long bills. Lately we have been seeing up to 50 Black-bellied Plovers, still in the process of molting into their striking summer plumage. Others have included Least, Semipalmated, and Purple Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlin, Willets, Whimbrels, Short-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated and Piping Plovers.

Until next time,



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