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.


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!



Puffin Chicks on PMI!

Greetings from Petit Manan!

This week we have been focused on monitoring the productivity and provisioning for the chicks on the island. The tern chicks in our productivity plots have been growing strong, many now weighing over 100 grams. So far during our provisioning stints, we are seeing tern chicks mainly being fed herring, hake and sand lance. These are good food sources for the chicks!


Common tern feeding its chick a sand lance

We have also seen many adult puffins flying into burrows with fish, which means more puffin chicks may have hatched this week. So far we have confirmed that 3 puffin chicks have hatched, but we are seeing puffins enter some of the deeper burrows carrying fish, which suggests more may have hatched as well.  We will begin puffin productivity this coming week, where we will do a more thorough search to determine how many chick have actually hatched! Unlike terns, which usually only bring one fish at a time when feeding chicks, puffins are able to carry multiple fish in their beaks at a time! This makes provisioning a bit trickier, since rather than having to identify one fish, there could be multiple. Also, the puffins tend to duck into their burrows quickly after landing with food for their chicks which can also make identification difficult. We decided to try putting a GoPro in one of our puffin boxes this morning to see if we could possibly use GoPros in some of the man-made puffin boxes to add to our puffin provisioning data. We were able to take some pictures of a puffin chick being fed by its parent!



Puffin chick being fed by its parent


Puffin chick checking out the GoPro

The puffins are my favorite birds on the island, so I look forward to finding more chicks this week!



Fish and Chicks!


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.



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.


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,


Let’s Talk Balloons

Here on Petit Manan Island, we’ve been playing catch up after the long spell of fog that decended upon us shortly after wrapping up GOMSWG census. It’s been a little hectic, which is why this post is a little late.

The first day after the fog cleared was a beautiful day on PMI. We were finally able to get up the tower to count alcids for the first time in days. While taking a moment to admire the beauty of our island, we noticed a lot of trash marring that beauty along the western edge of the island. As a crew, we decided to walk the berm to pick it up, and upon closer inspection we realized it was almost entirely balloons…

51 balloons, to be exact.

On one small island, four people collected 51 balloons. Many of these balloons were clearly from recent high school and college graduations, but one in particular really got under my skin. We collected these balloons on the Wednesday following Father’s Day, and this balloon had hand written notes wishing the recipient “Happy Birthday and a Belated Father’s Day.” If you take a second to think about that, a “belated” Father’s Day suggests the balloon was given out after Sunday, which means that in a roughly 48 hour period, or less, that balloon made it’s way from who-knows-where, to the ocean, and to our island.

PMI is just one island out of hundreds off the coast of Maine, and it just happens to be inhabited during this time of the year. Think of all the uninhabited islands where balloons and other trash are washing up and no one is there to clean it up. Or the balloons that never make it back to land. I’m not here to tell you balloons are horrible and you are a bad person for buying some for your next celebration. I hope that by sharing the story of this one balloon, and 50 of its companions, you’ll take a moment to consider where that balloon will end up, and know that if not properly disposed of, that place may be in the stomach of a marine mammal, sea turtle, or the middle of a nesting seabird colony.

I know many of you were hoping for lots of chick pictures this week, but I couldn’t let that many balloons wash up without saying something. I promise the next post from PMI will be all about chicks. We are inundated with them, and though we don’t have guillemot chicks yet, we do have at least two very adorable, very fluffy, puffin chicks!


So far around the island we’ve come across Common Eider, Mallard, Savannah Sparrow, and Spotted Sandpiper chicks. Although a little behind schedule, we were beyond happy to finally find our first Common Tern chicks! Soon we will start banding them and taking measurements. Hopefully we will start seeing more every day!


Our first Common Tern chick!

Our terns have been acting different than normal. Rather than settling down to incubate, many of them appear to be much more active flying around and leaving the island. We grew suspicious that there might be an owl around. In order to make sure it doesn’t disturb our terns, we set up a total of 17 foothold traps covering all sections of the island. When we placed the traps, we put them in areas that seemed suitable for an owl to land. If the owl lands on the platform that contains the trap, its leg will be caught. This trap doesn’t hurt the owl because it’s padded, but it allows us to capture it so it can be relocated. Though our minds were focused on an owl, we didn’t forget about our frequent Peregrine Falcon visitors. To prevent any unintended capture, we made sure to set off the traps during the day.


The sign is lined with chicken wire at the top making the post with the trap the only suitable place to land

Only a few days after setting the traps, we caught the owl! Morgan and I noticed the terns were once again acting strange during our night stint, where we took shifts watching the colony between 6:00 PM and 12:00 AM. The next morning the terns were dive-bombing at the ground, and I could see through my binoculars that the trap wasn’t on the post anymore. It seemed unlikely that we caught an owl, especially since we weren’t completely sure we even had one, and last year it took over 2 weeks to catch it! We walked over expecting to find something like a gull caught up in our trap, but to our surprise it was a Great Horned Owl! We safely caught the owl, covering its head so it would stay calm, and removed him from the trap. It already had a band on its leg, so we suspect that it might be the same one from last year. The owl will be brought to a rehabilitation center to make sure it isn’t hurt, and it will be released somewhere far from our terns! We are so thankful we caught it in time, especially now that our eggs are hatching!


Morgan about to cover the infamous Great Horned Owl with a blanket to keep him calm


Outside of bird research, we enjoy watching the Harbor Seals bask in the sun and swim around with their pups. The seals can be found on two adjacent islands. One pup decided to visit us on Ship this week. We were nervous when we didn’t see the mom around, but we were taught that after 3 weeks the pups begin to live on their own.


Curious pup visiting our island

Ship has been very busy this week. We’re hoping to continue to wake up to new surprises every day, but only good ones!



After 5 days on the mainland (and a few showers) it is great to be back on Metinic!

The day I got back, I came with a crew of four MCINWR biologists that were coming out to help trap and band a few terns.  The goal with this particular trapping session was to collect blood and fecal matter from the birds.  The samples will be put through a few tests that will reveal what specific fish or invertebrates the adults are eating.

Besides that, Ravin and I have been pretty busy here.  This week we set up feeding study plots where we have been observing a few nests from the blinds to record what the adults are feeding their chicks.  So far, most chicks are being larval sandlance and hake.  These are good fish for the chicks to be fed because they are high in nutrients, can be easily swallowed and thrive in cooler water which is an indicator of sea temperature.


A marked “A” feeding study chick.  Feeding study chick “B” is beginning to hatch from its egg!

We also found our first black guillemot chick this week!  Black guillemots lay their eggs in crevices between large rocks, so reaching in to grab the chicks can take some acrobatics sometimes, but the result is definitely worth it.   We will be monitoring a few nests for the season to estimate probability of chick survival.  Later in the season when their legs get a bit bigger, we will also be banding the chicks!


Our first black guillemot chick!

At the end of each day we have been going into the tern colony to weigh and band the chicks in our productivity plots.  It is amazing how much they can grow in just one day.


After weighing, Ravin sets down a chick in our productivity plot.

Its amazing to me that we are already halfway through the season!  I have already seen so many cool things here.  One morning during bird count, I got to see a puffin and harbor porpoises from the shore.  I am looking forward to more cool encounters and also to watch the chicks grow up.




First productivity plot chicks of the season

Today the sun shone for the first time in four days! Camille and I, Aya has been off island this week, were beyond excited to get back in the colony after spending so much time in the cabin. The fact that we were pretty sure chicks were hatching made it even more agonizing. Just as suspected there are chicks! We will now conduct daily checks of our fenced productivity plots to band the newly hatched chicks and weigh them as they as they grow.  This will allow us to estimate the survival rate and overall productivity of the colony.


Banding productivity plot chicks

The chicks are tantalizingly cute but it is important that we remain focused on collecting data when working in productivity plots. After chicks hatch they cannot regulate their own body heat until they begin to lose their down and grow feathers usually around 8-12 days old. Until then the adults will brood the chicks to help keep them warm.  We limit our time in each plot to no more than 30 minutes and only enter the colony for productivity checks in good weather to allow the adults to tend to small chicks and minimize disturbance.


Michael, refuge biologist, being attacked during tern census

The next few days we plan to take full advantage of the nice weather to finish up tern trapping before too many eggs hatch and then transition into chick provisioning studies. We will also be starting black guillemot productivity by visiting burrows and checking for eggs. Also in big news, we conducted tern census last Thursday and estimate that there are 623 common and Arctic tern nests here on Metinic Island!

Until next time!