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The Home Stretch

The season is winding down here on Petit Manan Island, but there is still much to do before the rest of the crew leaves! While we have begun deconstructing our observation blinds, most of our terns have left and begun their migration to the Southern Hemisphere! Common terns will migrate to South America, while Arctic terns will end their migration in Antarctica. It can be assumed that Common terns winter in Argentina and Brazil, as we had some birds with their bands nesting on PMI. However, we are excited to see the exact migration route and destination of our 5 satellite nano-tagged Common terns!

Despite the terns leaving, we still have our hands full with other birds. We’ve been quite successful in our puffin trapping efforts! We use box traps with a see-saw top and one peg in the side of the box. When the puffins walk onto the side without the peg, the top tips and you have yourself a puffin! Crew members sit in a blind and watch carefully to minimize the time and stress on the puffin inside the box. After measurements are taken and they are banded (if they aren’t already), we release them back to the sea.

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Puffins showing some interest in one of our box traps. 

We’ve also been monitoring Leach’s Storm Petrel productivity by determining the activity of sod burrows all over the island. Burrow scopes come in handy to look inside them because most burrows are too small to be grubbed by hand. We also play Leach’s Storm Petrel calls to hear callbacks from potentially active burrows. When possible, we take out adults and chicks to band them!

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One of our Leach’s Storm Petrel chicks (Ziggy) has grown quite a bit over the past couple weeks!

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but poop has become very handy to us lately. We collect fecal samples from tern chicks, puffin chicks, and adult puffins. Afterwards, a lab will process them and based on DNA in the fecal matter, we will know what exactly the birds have been eating. In addition to our provisioning data, this is helpful in determining what species of fish are making up the birds diet.

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One method of collecting fecal samples, wrapping foil around chicks and waiting patiently. This puffin chick looks like the world’s cutest burrito!

It’s our last week here, and we can’t believe the season is coming to an end already! I’m going to miss all of the amazing creatures that inhabit this island, but more than that, I’m going to miss the crew that gave me an awesome experience for my first field job. They’re truly wonderful people and make the work so much fun.

~Jennalie Lutes

 

 

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So much has happened since our last blog post!

All summer, I have been telling Ravin and the refuge staff that all I wanted to do was see one puffin while in Maine.  I was not disappointed to say the least.  Last week, Ravin and I were taken off Metinic for a day of puffin grubbing on Seal Island.  As we unloaded the boat, we were greeted by large congregations of puffins, razorbills and guillemots swimming in the water.  Puffins burrow similar to guillemots, but they prefer larger rocks to burrow under.  It was truly a unique experience handling and banding such an iconic Maine bird.

 

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My first grubbed puffin!

One thing that is unique to Metinic Island is that we have neighbors!  A lobster fisherman and his wife own a house about 400 meters from our house, and they were so kind to check on us a few times during the season.  The day after puffin grubbing, we came back to the cabin from a feeding study stint to find that they had left us a large bucket of crab claws and 2 large lobsters.  We had a great dinner that night, and lunch the next day!

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Our last day on Metinic

Both tern and guillemot productivity plots have done really well this season.  Very few chicks died, and most of the terns already fledged! As we reached our final days on the island, the terns have quickly been decreasing in numbers.  Many of them have begun their migration, and now it is our turn.  Ravin and I are spending our first full day on the mainland today, and we already miss these spunky little birds and the island that we called home for a short 11 weeks.

 

Aya

 

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We’re down to our final day on Ship Island. This week was filled with all of that picking-up and sorting-out craziness that comes with closing down an island. We’ve done a lot of work from taking down the blinds, provisioning plots, mink and owl traps, to cleaning up the cabin, to entering last minute data into our spreadsheets, and more.

Being on Ship was a completely new experience for me. This summer was my first time working with seabirds and I’ve learned SO much about them as well as many of the other breeding species we see almost on a daily basis (e.g. Common Eiders, Spotted Sandpipers, Double-crested Cormorants, Peregrine Falcons, sparrows, warblers, Harbor Seals, and more). Not only this, but I learned a ton of new field work techniques. Here I got to do lots of “firsts.” I got to help diminish an invasive plant species from the island, re-capture my first bird, re-sight my first bird, band my first chick, saw over 50 species that were new to me, and the list goes on and on.

Living on an island was definitely an interesting yet exciting adventure, and it was surprisingly much easier to get used to the “island life” than I thought. I can say that I’ll miss it at times. There’s something about the quiet nights, sunsets, and escape from all the busyness back on the mainland that makes it special. I’ve also learned to never take my warm showers, cozy bed, and tasty dinners back at home for granted, that’s for sure.

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View of Ship Island from one of the blinds

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As for our terns, we’re seeing more fledglings every day and still even some newly hatched chicks. We’ve continued our predator control efforts up until the very last minute. It’s especially important now that we have chicks because they’re an easy catch if they’re not hidden well in the vegetation. It seems that the peregrine is coming more frequently because of this. Sometimes we see it over 4 times in one day!

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Common Terns hangin’ out

It’s been an eventful year on Ship, and it’s sad to see it come to an end. Soon our terns will be departing for their long southern migration and will return again next spring! Hopefully next year there will be less disturbance and more chicks! Thanks for letting me share our research and island experiences with you, and thanks for reading!

-Amanda

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One of our last sunsets on Ship!

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Measuring wing chord on a black guillemot chick

It’s hard to believe that we only have one week left on Metinic Island. It seems like yesterday that we arrived in the chilly May weather.  As we count down the days, we have been busy collecting our last stretch of data before the birds too leave the island.  The terns that just hatched weeks ago are taking flight from our productivity plots. The forage fish held out during July and we are expecting a high rate of overall survival. The black guillemot chicks in our study burrows are also doing well. We have been monitoring their weight and wing growth since hatching. Black guillemots tend to gain lots of weight before they shift to wing growth. The chick pictured here is 278 grams and has a wing chord of 84 millimeters.

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Black guillemot chicks attempting to hide in their shallow burrow.

The last few days have been plagued with fog which means limited work out with the birds. But we have been keeping busy from the cabin entering all the data we have collected into excel spreadsheets and Microsoft databases. We have also had to keep an extra eye on the window as the number of nuisance sheep has increased to seven! Herding them away from the tern colony has become a daily routine.  Tomorrow we are greatly looking forward to a day trip out to Seal Island to see some puffins!

Cheers to a wonderful season!

Ravin

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Arctic tern chick approaching fledging!

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Hello again from Metinic!

We have just two weeks left here on the island, and it has been amazing how much things have changed since we got here.  Most of our little fluffy chicks have grown in actual feathers and some of them have even begun to fledge!  It has been a truly unique experience being able to watch them develop from an egg to a bird that will make a journey all the way down to Antarctica.

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A box of common tern chicks waits patiently as we weigh and record other prod plot chicks.

We have also been busy monitoring our black guillemot burrows and marking their location on our GPS.  They have also grown a lot, some weigh over 200 grams!  Sometimes when we approach a burrow, the adult is in the burrow with the chicks and we band the adult as well.  They require a bit more force to handle than the chicks, we need to use both hands when handling them!

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Ravin with an adult black guillemot

In other news, as our large crop of wild strawberries begins to dwindle down, we anxiously await the ripening of the wild blueberries, raspberries and blackberries that litter the island.  We ordered a few mason jars from the mainland in hopes of making wild berry jam!

Till next time,

 

Aya

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This past week on Ship Morgan and I both took our short breaks off the island. While Morgan was away I was joined by Kelby from PMI to work on predator control, productivity plot management, chick banding, and more!

We’re starting to see more and more chicks every day! Usually when we’re checking the productivity plots we can see when they start pipping. This is when their little beaks start to break open the egg. This lets us know that the next day we will definitely have some new arrivals to weigh and band if they’re dry and ready.

Before we start provisioning, we still have some time to re-sight birds from previous years. Typically, they will have a small silver BBL band on their ankle which contains either 8 or 9 numbers. We can use a spotting scope to see these numbers and enter them into a database where we can learn more information about that bird, such as it’s age. To make re-sighting easier, we put up posts for them to perch on so they aren’t being covered by the vegetation and are closer for us to see. While I was re-sighting from the blind, I spotted a tern that hasn’t been re-sighted in 19 years! I also found one with an orange band. This means that it was banded all the way in Argentina, which I thought was pretty cool.

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An example of a BBL band that can be found on the leg of a Common Tern. As you can see they are very small, which makes them difficult to read.

Now that the owl is gone, we are starting to see more birds come back to the colony. Many of them left during the time he was here and abandoned their nests. Thankfully now they’re starting to scrape the ground and re-nest. Chick age distribution around the island will surely be scattered, but at least they’re not giving up!

Now that I’m back on the island, there’s a lot more chicks running around and much more work to do!

-Amanda

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Aya reaching for 2 black guillemot chicks at a numbered burrow

We are currently in full swing of tern feeding studies and productivity checks for terns and black guillemots chicks! The majority of the tern chicks have hatched and are doing well. Our feeding studies reveal that the adult terns are continuing to bring in hake and sandlance as the primary food for the chicks. Both of these fish are very high in nutrients which means the chicks are getting nice and plump. Warmer water temperatures could change the fish composition for the worse so our fingers are crossed that it stays the way it is as the chicks approach fledging in the next few weeks.

 

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Arctic tern chick with a BBL band on the birds right leg and a field readable on its left. 

We have begun banding the older arctic tern chicks with field readable bands, so they can be easily identified as adults. This allows the Refuge and our partners to collect information on the importance of each island as a nesting location for specific individuals and to determine adult survival. We have been reading field readable bands on adults during resighting stints throughout the summer and will continue to identify as many birds as we can for the rest of the season.

We have also returned to the Leach’s storm petrel burrows that we flagged earlier in the season to determine if they are active by playing the call of a petrel on our phones and waiting for a response from an adult. So far, we have located 41 active burrows! Most of them are deep in the old stone walls that are scattered across the island and impossible to reach but we did find one that we were able to reach into a feel one adult with one egg. We will return in late July to check hatching success.

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Yesterday evening we had a spectacular view of the mainland fireworks and enjoyed some of our own sparklers for 4 of July celebrations!

Until next time,

Ravin

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