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Good evening everyone,

It has been a while since I have posted and I wanted to update you on what we have been doing here on Metinic. Yesterday we completed the Gulf of Maine Seabird Working Group (GOMSWG) Census! In other words, yesterday was the most exciting day of the season because we got to find out how many birds we have nesting on the island!

The GOMSWG census is completed by carefully walking across the entire colony, while counting every single nest found and the number of eggs in each nest. Every nest we find is marked with a popsicle stick. Doing this allows us to calculate our error after the census by comparing the number of marked nests (with popsicle sticks) to unmarked nests (without popsicle sticks). It is important to get an idea of how many nests were missed during the census to provide a more accurate estimate of birds nesting on the island.

While it may seem simple to walk around the island counting nests, in reality it requires great attention to detail, patience and cooperation among the whole group. The colony is divided into a grid system. This allows us to walk in a line across each grid, to insure we cover every inch of the colony. Terns also nest on cobble beaches where the eggs blend in with the rocks. (At times it feels like the most difficult game of ISpy ever played).

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Michael wearing his tern protection (Photo by: Mary Negri)

The terns do not appreciate us walking around their eggs and they make their presence known. It is impossible to get through the census without get pooped on or dive bombed by a tern at least once. To protect ourselves we wear rain coats or old shirts, and flags on our hats. To an outsider looking in we must look absolutely ridiculous, but I would rather wear a flag on my hat than get hit in the head by an angry tern (trust me – it hurts!).

 

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The Metinic GOMSWG Census 2019 crew. From left to right: Austin, Eddy, Nick, Michael, and Brian (Photo by: Mary Negri)

In total we discovered that we have 831 nests (or pairs of terns). Therefore, we have approximately 1,662 birds inhabiting the island for the breeding season. It is hard to believe that by the beginning of August every single bird will have left the island to travel South to their wintering grounds!

Every day on Metinic is a new adventure – I am excited to see what the rest of the season holds!

All the best,

Mary

P.S. Chicks will be hatching soon – stayed tuned!

 

 

 

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Good morning everyone!

Life is busy here on Metinic. The terns have been creating more scrapes and laying more eggs by the day. It seems there is an egg everywhere you look! Walking around the colony reminds me of going on an Easter egg hunt, except you have to walk VERY carefully.

In addition to the terns, there are several other birds that nest on the island. Over the past couple weeks we have seen nests from Herring Gulls, Common Eiders, Spotted Sandpipers, Savannah Sparrows and Song Sparrows. One of my favorite parts about seeing each nest is the variation in the size of the eggs. There are eggs that are almost as large as your palm, like those of the Herring Gulls and the Common Eiders. Then there are eggs that are no bigger than the tip of your finger, such as the eggs of the Savannah Sparrows and the Song Sparrows. All of the eggs have variety of neutral colors and patterns that help to camouflage them from predators. It is incredible to see the attention to detail that birds have. Each nest is created in its own special way, and it is easy to see the time and energy that each bird puts into building their nest!

There are other birds that nest on the island, but they do not build the typical nest one would think of. These birds lay their eggs inside of small, hard to reach burrows. Some of the burrows are located in the rocks along the coastline. These burrows are home to Black Guillemots that will nest in a crevice no larger than your fist! Finding these burrows can especially difficult. I am amazed at how these birds can fit themselves into such a small space. I am even more amazed by the past technicians who have been able to locate these tiny nesting spots!

Last night we spent some time locating Leach’s Storm Petrel Burrows. Many of their burrows are made inside of the rock walls on the island. However, these small seabirds will also dig themselves burrows under down trees, large boulders, inside of small dirt mounds and even under our cabin. Believe it or not, we hear these small birds every night under our kitchen floor! Leach’s Storm Petrels are nocturnal, so locating their burrows requires going out on a late night adventure! We find each burrow by playing the “purr” calls of these birds. Then if we hear a response, we try to narrow down where the call is coming from so we can mark the entrance of the burrow. Once the burrows are located, we can go back in the daylight and use a burrow scope to look inside of the burrows and see what activity is going on. A burrow scope is a long, snake-like camera that we can use to see inside of the small burrows. 

So to recap – there are many different bird species that nest on Metinic! Living here during the breeding season is a magical experience. I feel especially grateful to have been chosen to work on this incredible island!

Today on Metinic it is raining sideways and the wind is blowing at over 20 mph. Needless to say, it is data entry day! Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to get back outside!

All the best,

Mary

 

 

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Song Sparrow Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)

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Savannah Sparrow Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)

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Spotted Sandpiper Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)

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Herring Gull Nest and Eggs (Photo by: Mary Negri)

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Common Eider Nest and Eggs (Photo by Mary Negri)

 

Tern Trapping on PMI

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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(A few of our first of hopefully many eggs on Ship!)

Hi folks!

Bobby from Ship Island here, as the cleverly constructed title suggests, we have eggs here on the island! A total of 13 eggs in 12 nests, which gives us hope that the birds are willing to nest for the breeding season on the island. Whenever Colin or I find a nest with an egg, we turn the egg to stand up, that way when we check the egg later on we can tell if it has been incubated (the egg falls back on its side from the tern sitting on it) or if it has not (egg is still standing up).  However, the number of terns that have been showing up since the last blog post has not been ideal. We have not seen more than 50 terns at once on the island for the past week and a half, at this time last year for contrast, there were 519 breeding pairs. It has become crunch time as we are using our final method to attract the terns back, creating our own tern colony.

This is done with two simple props, audio of a tern colony through multiple speakers, and using wooden decoys of terns (bird manikins essentially). These both simulate that a real colony is on the island and that it is safe to nest for the breeding season. Although it reminds me of The Truman Show in some ways, this method is the best bet to have the terns stay and nest immediately to allow them to be raising young in time for their migrations later in the summer. To paraphrase Princess Leia from Star Wars, the tern decoys may be our “only hope left”, but Colin and I are waiting confidently for our feathered friends to return. Don’t stop believin’ in Ship Island!

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(Terns and the decoys, can you spot the difference?)

Come meet the 2019 Petit Manan Crew!

Hello all! My name is Hallie Daly, and I am one of the lucky bird-nerds that gets to call PMI their home for the summer. I have been working with wildlife for about 9 years now, having started my obsession when I was just 13 years old. I graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2017 with my degree in wildlife, fish, and conservation biology. I have been lucky enough to have worked internationally on a variety of conservation projects in Romania, the United Kingdom, Guyana, the United States, and most recently American Samoa, with everything from plants, large carnivores, squirrels, bats, and birds. Coming to work with the USFWS at PMI is such an exciting opportunity for me, as I have never worked with a breeding colony of seabirds before! Aside from enjoying wildlife, you can often find me backpacking the John Muir Trail in California, reading books about paleontology, painting, and making horrible puns! I have so much to learn and am so excited to apply my knowledge and skills from my past experiences towards the conservation of these beautiful birds.

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Hallie with a Eurasian Skylark in Aberdeen, Scotland

Hi everyone! My name is Jimmy Welch and I am the supervisor here on PMI for the summer. I am a returning intern and was first a research technician in the summer of 2016 here on PMI. I have since worked with prairie dogs in New Mexico, sea turtles in North Carolina and researched scavengers and small mammals in Maine. I’ve also recently graduated from the University of New England in May 2019 with a degree in Animal Behavior and Environmental Science. I decided I wanted to come back to work for MCINWR and I was lucky enough to be able to return to my favorite island, PMI! I am really excited for the field season and the opportunity to work with such amazing seabird species again. I hope to utilize my previous experience on the island and my diverse field work background to make it a great summer for the PMI crew and all of the wonderful birds here on PMI.

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Jimmy with two black guillemot chicks on PMI 2016

Hey everyone, my name is Devon Jobe and I’m one of the newest researchers working with the USFWS here on Petit Manan Island! I am a rising second-year student at the University of Maine, and am majoring in both Wildlife Ecology as well as Forestry. That being said, this is only my first real position in my field of study and is a totally new and awesome experience for me! I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to be part of  such an exciting project working with breeding seabirds, and I can say with confidence that it is shaping up to be the most interesting introduction into the field of Wildlife Ecology I could have hoped for! I still have a lot to learn but I’m looking forward to doing it here on PMI.

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Devon at Wildland Firefighter Training.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello from Petit Manan Island, once again!

The breeding season here on the island has really taken flight since our last post, with the majority of the tern colony having laid eggs, as well as the Puffins, Guillemots, and even some Razorbills! I guess one could say that it is off to an egg-cellent start!

We have been focusing the majority of our efforts every morning on re-sighting birds that have been previously caught and banded either by biologists here at MCINWR, or at other colonies along the Atlantic coastline. We even are lucky enough to occasionally spot birds that were banded along their wintering grounds in Brazil and Argentina. But why is it that re-spotting these birds is so important?

One of the terns we work with, the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea), is quite the world traveler. Once they finish breeding in Maine or along other locations across the arctic, they leave to embark on one of the longest migrations in the bird world, eventually ending up in Antarctica! One bird, tagged and tracked from the United Kingdom, was recorded to have migrated 59,650 miles in one year, making it the longest migration that has ever been recorded. Let me put this straight – this is the equivalent to the bird flying around the world twice, and then adding on another 10,000+ miles. Considering these terns live to upwards of 30 years, this bird will travel farther in its lifetime than most people.

And this is why re-sighting birds is so incredibly important! It not only gives us information like how old the bird is or potentially where it was born, but we can also piece together the puzzle of exactly where each bird travels to during these super long and intense migrations, and more importantly gives conservationists a better idea of which land to protect in order to assure that these birds are around for years to come. Definitely makes waking up at 5 am every morning only to sit in a tiny box for 3 hours a little bit better!

Pictured left to right: A sleepy Common Tern that we identified as an individual banded in Nova Scotia in 2013; Puffin nap time makes re-sighting bands a difficult but adorable job; an Arctic Tern with 2 bands that we identified as an individual born here at PMI in 2016
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Happy band re-sighting!

Best,

Hallie