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Hello from Petit Manan Island, this is Hallie again!

I just wanted to write a blog post to give a shout out to the Friends of Maine Coastal Islands! I was lucky enough to get to talk to most of you briefly the other day while you were enjoying the island from the Acadia Explorer — but I did not get the chance to give you all a massive THANK YOU for everything that you do for the refuge. Work like this would not happen if it weren’t for your support. The work that we are doing out here is so incredibly valuable — the seabirds are benefiting tremendously, as well as all of the young scientists who get to learn from the refuge biologists and the abundant wildlife on these islands. Personally, this is an experience that I will be remembering for the rest of my life, and an experience that is helping me take the next steps towards being the scientist and conservationist that I aspire to be one day!

Thank you all so much again for taking the time to sail out here to PMI and give us a warm hello, as well as for all of the endless support! (And especially to Carol for all of the vegan treats she sends our way each week!)

With Many Thanks,

PMI

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Hello everyone, this is Bobby writing to you from Ship Island with some breaking news.

The bird word must have gone around, because as of Thursday, July 11th, 321 nests have been found and marked with more being discovered every day! The chaos on the tern nesting beach area is beginning; the eggs laid in late June have begun to hatch this week. Soon our island will be filled with extremely adorable fuzzy chicks who love to run and hide in whatever grass or shelter they can find!

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One of the first chicks on Ship, easily one of the softest objects one could ever hold.

These toddler-like chicks are extremely curious and will wander away pretty far from their nests if given a chance. With them running around all over, it can be difficult to tell how the colony chicks are doing health wise and how many of these chicks are surviving to adulthood. This is answered through a protocol that all of the islands perform known as productivity plots. This may sound like a fancy term, but essentially Colin and I determined a group of nests with eggs that were laid earlier in the season (in our case in late June) that neighbored each other and constructed fencing around them to enclose this area.

 

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Colin (pictured) and I constantly had terns going at our heads to protect their nests while we constructed productivity plots. This one very nicely went feet first to our heads instead of the usual sharp bill first.

This keeps the chicks from our nests of focus from running all over the beach getting into trouble, that way we can determine how many chicks are surviving to adulthood and the size increases of each chick from each nest within our plots. To determine which chick is which, we put stylish metal BBL bands on their right legs that give them a unique identification number for life in a large online database. Colin and I then check each nest in each plot every morning to monitor the eggs and chicks. I am not a parent, but I imagine how I feel when we look for the chicks every morning it is similar to the stressful situation of a parent trying to find their misplaced kids, as Colin and I are really attached to our chicks in the plots. It has been amazing to see the transformation from egg to chick, and soon from chick to fledgling. Watching them grow up has been so special for Colin and I, and we can’t wait to see each chick’s journey continue. More updates coming soon!

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One of the many chicks hatching this weekend, this one hatched within the hour before this photo with a big world to explore!

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Hello friends, Hallie here from Petit Manan Island!

Life here on Petit Manan is going so well. Our tern chicks are hatched and getting close to fledging, our pufflings are fluffier and plumper than ever, and we even have our first black guillemot and razorbill chicks.

One of the cool things about working on such a small island like this is when you have a new avian visitor, you notice. We are up to 110 bird species recorded on Petit Manan Island this season, which is remarkable in itself. We have had everything from warblers to short-billed dowitchers to even a least bittern, a small bird that you typically find in marshlands on the mainland. And as well, we have had a lot of birds with interesting plumage show up to the island — like this Common Murre.

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Leucistic Common Murre next to Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin

Common Murres are usually a dark chocolate brown, which is produced by melanin. This bird,  however, is silvery-grey — a result of a genetic mutation that inhibits melanin production. This result is called leucism, which is similar, yet very different to albinism. Regardless, it makes up for a stunning result — this bird very well may be one of the more beautiful I have ever seen. Whether or not male or female common murres also think so is up for debate — hopefully this bird’s unique plumage will not inhibit it from procreating in the future.

Melanin is one of many ways birds color themselves. The laughing gulls here use melanin to create that dark mask during the breeding season, which they use to deter other laughing gulls from their nests. You also often see birds with darkened wing-tips, like the terns, in which the melanin is used to strengthen the feathers and make them more durable.

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Adult Atlantic Puffin showing the orange-red carotenoid coloration in the bill and eye

But what other colors do we see here on PMI that have significance in birds?  Since we have been catching puffins this last week, I have been captivated by the bright orange feet and bills that the puffins display during the breeding season.  Puffins, and many other birds, get this rich orange-red color from carotenoids — a color they metabolize directly from their food. Puffins use the intensity of this color to show potential mates and rivals how fit they may be. The brighter their bills and feet, the better at fishing and raising a chick they may be! You can also see melanin in the feet and the mouths of black guillemots!

Next time you see a color in a bird, its worth asking exactly why it is that way. Often even the most subtle of colors on a bird have such an immense meaning. I will be doing the same — sitting here wondering why we get tern chicks in two different colors. Any ideas?

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Common Tern chicks from the same nest showing the two different plumage colorations

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Hello hello all amazing and wonderful seabird fans!

Hallie here, writing from the currently gloomy and rainy but still wonderful Petit Manan Island!

It has been a very exciting week here on the island! We completed our GOMSWG census as Brandon highlighted, and we had a total of over 1400 tern nests, 640 Laughing Gull nests, and 47 eider nests! In addition, we already have over 47 Puffin nests, 54 Black Guillemot nests, 20 Leach’s Storm Petrel nests, and even a handful of Razorbill nests!

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Common Eider ducklings

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Arctic Tern chick with egg-tooth (the white calcified bit on the end of its bill)

But if you are wondering the specific reason why I cannot wipe a smile off of my face — it is because our chicks have begun hatching! After a period of incubation specific to every species, the chick will begin the long and tiring journey of hatching.  Chicks have a specialized calcified bump on the ends of their bills called an egg tooth, of which they use to slowly chip away at the eggshell from the inside, making their way around until they hatch. For most individuals, hatching takes around 12-48 hours, and they emerge looking like cute little fuzz-balls with little flipper feet — and trust me, its adorable.

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4 day old Savannah Sparrow chicks!

From the point of hatching on, for all chicks on the island including the cute little Savannah Sparrow chicks pictured, the job for the parents arguably becomes harder. The chicks not only still require periods of incubation, but they also need to be fed multiple times a day, sometimes even multiple times an hour! We have been finding some chicks increasing in weight by over 300% in a 24 hour period! They honestly grow up so quickly.

For the next few weeks here on PMI, we will be monitoring the productivity and development of our tern chicks, doing provisioning where we will identify fish that the parents are feeding their chicks, collecting fecal samples to look at what the adult birds are feeding themselves, and banding chicks with 2 bands that we can use to re-identify them in later years. Today, if we are lucky, we may even band our first puffling — something that I have honestly dreamed of doing ever since I banded my first bird 4 years ago!

Until next time, bird nerd friends!

 

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Devon and I celebrating his first banded Arctic Tern chick!

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Hey everyone,

It’s been a busy couple of days on Petit Manan Island. We’ve been working hard with a trusty team of amazing volunteers and other staff members from the mainland to complete our annual GOMSWG census. All this means is that we work to canvas the island from one end to the other counting and marking tern nests with popsicle sticks. The reason that this is important for us to do is that it allows us to get an excellent idea of how many nesting pairs of Common and Arctic Terns we really have here on PMI, and we can then compare this data to that of other years to see how our birds add up.

Overall, we had an excellent census, and although we’re still working on finalizing all of the data (there’s a lot of counting to do!) we hope to be able to share the numbers with everyone soon. In the meantime I would really like to give a HUGE shout out to everyone who came out to help us with census- the mainland staff- and especially to our volunteers, who willingly gave up two days worth of their own time just to brave the poop missiles and flying beaks to count some tern eggs with us! It really shows you that census is not just a time for collecting a bunch of data, but also a chance to meet new people and build connections with others who also share a wild passion for conservation.

Thanks again to everyone, and we’ll update you again soon!

Brandon

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Yesterday we began our adult tern trapping efforts here on PMI. It was a beautiful sunny day for the biologists to come out and visit and help train everyone on trapping and handling the birds. Tern trapping is personally one of my favorite aspects of the research we get to conduct here on PMI. With the help of the biologists we were able to catch 12 birds in total, 10 of which were common terns and 2 arctic terns. We were as efficient as possible splitting into teams of 2 to set and monitor traps. We used both treadle and bow net traps and set traps all around the house on terns nesting in the yard, beside the house, along walkways and even under the solar panels. Treadle traps have a trap door with a trigger pad that is set off when a tern enters the trap and steps on the trigger. Bow net traps are spring loaded traps which are like a hoop that springs over the tern when it lands near its nest. We learned how to use the traps and the best techniques for catching the terns and then got right to work setting out traps.

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Sunrise before a busy day of trapping 

Tern Trapping is a careful process as we need to ensure that the terns and the eggs they are incubating are not endangered by any of our research. To ensure the safety of the precious tern eggs we replace the eggs with fake wooden eggs before placing a trap over the nest. We also have to be diligent about how long we may be disturbing the terns and preventing them from incubating. Because of this we will only trap on a specific nest for 30 minutes before moving to a new location. We hope we can capture the birds in less than 30 minutes but sometimes the terns get spooked and decide not to go into these metal contraptions we have placed around their nest. The terns are much smarter than you think and after being trapped for many years some of the terns are too smart for our simple traps. When we do catch a bird we go to the trap to remove the bird before it gets stressed out or can injure itself. We then place the bird in cloth bags to keep them calm. Then we bring the bird to the banding station to process the bird to collect important data before we release them.

Of the terns we were able to capture, 6 were recaptured birds which had previously been banded all across Maine’s coastal populations and even a bird that was originally banded in Canada! We had another 6 birds that had never been captured before which meant that we were able to band them. Banding our first terns of the year was a great experience and everyone was equally excited to handle the birds including interns holding their first bird ever to highly experienced interns. When banding we also take several precautions to ensure the safety of the birds while also allowing us to handle and collect data from each bird we catch. The first data we collect while the bird is still calm in the bag is their weight. Terns on average weigh about 100-120 grams and to put that in perspective that’s about the same weight as a bar of soap. We then remove the bird from the bag and hold the birds in a position known as grip which keeps the birds gentle wings tucked into its body. Then we take measurements of the birds wings and bill and either record existing bands or put new bands on the bird if it doesn’t have any.

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Hallie banding our first Arctic Tern of the season!

It is an exciting process and the data we are collecting is a vital component to the research we do here on the island. Trapping and banding the terns allows us to better understand yearly changes in morphology, enhance resighting efforts, and help track the birds across their lifespan.

Signing off for now,

Jimmy

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(Picture above: Tern Decoys)

It has almost been 3 weeks since Bobby and I began working on Ship Island. Unfortunately we are still not seeing as many terns as we should, and we don’t have a good explanation as to why. As Bobby explained last Thursday the refuge came out and installed a sound system and decoys in an attempt to lure more terns to Ship Island. In the meantime the past week we spent a considerable amount of time implementing invasive plant control on Garlic Mustard (seen in the picture below).

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(Photo above: Garlic Mustard. Photo Cred: Maine Dept. of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry)

This work is very familiar to me since all last summer I worked as a invasive plant control intern out in southern CO for the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  Garlic Mustard is a particularly nasty invasive since it is also allelopathic meaning it releases chemicals that can inhibit the growth of other plants surrounding it allowing it to grow out of control and take over huge areas of land that could otherwise been used by native plants that provide a service to the ecosystem. The method of control that we implemented with the refuges help last Tuesday was to first pull all flowering plants, and spraying  the area where the plants where pulled with extra strength vinegar which will hopefully kill any seeds that could be dormant in the soil. We also sprayed little roseate that would turn into flowering plants the following year. Bobby and I spent the next day scouring the island further to find as many of the plants that we could. We were pleased to find that the infestation at least this year was confined to only a few areas on the island instead of spread out. The work can be difficult at times trudging through fields of Cow Parsnip and stinging nettle both which can leave painful rashes on the skin, but trudge on we will.

 

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