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Explosion of Life

Everything is hatching on Metinic. We’ve had common eider ducklings for a few weeks now, but all the other eggs are beginning to hatch. On the south end of the island, great black-backed and herring gull chicks are everywhere. Some gull chicks are about 14-18 days old now, so they’re reaching their awkward teenage/baby dinosaur stage. Here on the north end of the island we have seemingly hundreds of tern chicks, spotted sandpiper chicks, and we are beginning to see our first black guillemot chicks. Or not see, rather, as they are very good at hiding in their burrows. We’ve also found a few passerine nests, which also have chicks at the moment.

There are two extremes in terms of how chicks hatch: naked and helpless (altricial) versus covered in down and capable of feeding themselves (precocial). American robin, for example, hatch with their eyes closed and completely naked and require a lot of care to grow all of their feathers while being fed by the parents. On the other hand, spotted sandpiper chicks are capable of running a few hours after hatch, are covered in down and can feed themselves. Black guillemots and our two tern species are semi-precocial: they hatch with eyes open, down and can move, but they rely on their parents bringing food to them.

Just as with their eggs, tern chicks can be variable in natal down color and pattern. Typically, they’re tan, brown or gray with dark streaks and splotches that help them blend in with the environment. In some cases there is speckling in the down. However, we have a common tern chick in a productivity plot that is completely blonde with no streaks on the back. It looks more similar to a domestic duckling than anything else, and it is very easy to find! We’ll post soon to show you how our chicks are growing!

-Nick and Nora

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It has been a very busy week for the Petit Manan crew as well as all the tern parents on the island. Our first chicks hatched on June 15th and more and more have been hatching each day. These little fluff balls are absolutely adorable but that cuteness comes at price! Like any good parents, the adults have become very protective of their young and are willing to do anything to ward us researchers off which include pecking us and pooping on us. Now that there are chicks out and about the research team has added on a few more tasks to our days. Every day we must check productivity plots we set up around the islands. These plots are basically giant tern baby play pens each containing 6-15 nests. In these pens we track the hatch date of every egg and track the progression of each chick as they grow. In the end, it will give insight on the entire hatching and fledgling success of the tern colony. We weigh the chicks and also band them; that way, when they start running around we can tell who is who.  We also are beginning food provisioning surveys in which we record what the adults are feeding their chicks. We’re hoping to see lots of herring, hake, pollock, sandlance! It’s a fun time to be on Petit Manan and we’re hoping for lots of healthy chicks that grow up ready to migrate down to South America or further this fall.

‘Till next post,

Chris

Pictures: Top L to R; Lance weighing a chicks, an Arctic tern chick, an Arctic tern chick sporting some new bands. Bottom L to R; Kate searching the productivity plot for chicks, a tub full of common tern chicks waiting to be weighed

 

This week, we banded our first adult Common Terns, set up our first productivity plots, have our first Spotted Sandpiper chicks, and saw our first Common Eider creche.

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We have been busy trapping and banding terns. So far, we have trapped 9 adult terns with 2 recaptures. One banded as a chick on Petit Manan Island in 2009 and the other banded in Buenos Aires, Argentina!

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Productivity plots are used to monitor chick productivity. Each plot includes 8-10 nests and is monitored daily until chicks hatch. Once all chicks in the plot have hatched, they are banded and weighed every-other day.

Earlier this week, we conducted the Golf of Maine Seabird Working Group (GOMSWG) survey here on Ship Island. We found a total of 498 Common Tern nests, a few even had 4 eggs!

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We cannot wait for our chicks to start hatching!

Your 2018 Ship Island Crew

Hello everyone, my name is Lance Edwards Jr. Blogging in from Petit Manan Island, where I will be stationed for the remainder of the summer with 3 other crew members, Kate, Chris, and Alex. They’ve all been great welcoming me on the island. Their knowledge and experience working with seabird has been helpful for me when identifying and learning about the various birds here on the island, such as the common terms, arctic terns, Atlantic puffins, razorbills, black guillemots, laughing gulls and many more.

As a nutrition major from Long Island university, my experience thus far has been different from what most nutrition majors experience. Everyday holds something exciting, from citing a new bird species, too handling birds, tagging, collecting sample and taking measurements. Field work is so exciting.

My first experience on Petit Manan Island was an encounter with the common terns flying at my head. I thought they were being friendly but that was not the case. An attacking tern flies directly toward a intruders head. And since it’s the incubation period, the parents protect their eggs from predators as well as defend a suitable territorial space from neighbors or strangers which intrude on there territory. The terns also enjoy pooping on us which is something we experience everyday.

I will keep everyone updated on my experience here on Petit Manan Island. Till next time.

Hi everyone! My name is Kate O’Connor and I am super excited to be spending my summer out here on Petit Manan Island. I just finished my second year at the University of Maine studying Wildlife Ecology and this is my first experience working exclusively with birds… and living on an island! But, the island is beautiful, and we have a great crew out here, so it was an easy transition making PMI my home away from home.P1040291

Just recently, we stared fixing up and learning how to use some of the traps we will be using on the terns and Puffins for when we start banding – which is soon! We are finding more and more eggs from all of the birds, and were especially excited about being able to mark our first Guillemot and Razorbill burrows, and see the first Eider chicks swimming around with their momma! We’ve also been seeing more wildlife, including Common Murres, which haven’t historically bred in Maine, and a few seals these past few days which is always an exciting sight.P1040431

We’ve welcomed a PhD student from North Dakota onto the island as well, who is studying laughing gull eggs and chicks, and so far she’s been getting a lot of work done – we’re very excited for her! She’s been a great addition to the island and it’s always a great time helping her out when we get a chance.P1040304

The past few days have been very busy, and there’s only more to come. Island life is amazing, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The weather is looking clear, sunny, and warm(er), and the crew is having a great time.P1040331

~Kate

The breeding season is well underway here on Metinic Island. We’ve completed breeding censuses for common eiders, and herring and great black-backed gulls. We are also monitoring breeding passerines, black guillemots, Leach’s storm-petrels, and common and arctic terns. There is an incredible diversity in eggs, both between and within species. Eggs come in a variety of shapes and colors, which are related to the ecology of the species, nesting behavior and depredation risk. For example, owls lay spherical to elliptical eggs that are whitish to cream colored because they are top predators and mostly nest in cavities. Owls do not need to disguise their eggs as much as say towhees, which nest on or near the ground.

In avian reproduction, the formation of the shell and addition of pigment occurs just prior to laying. Pigments in the egg shell strengthen it, as well as provide camouflage and other signals. While females of a species typically produce similar eggs, subtle differences between individuals can cause unusual patterns or pigments in eggs.

Many species within a family produce similar eggs either in color, pattern or both. For example, most duck eggs are relatively plain and white to pale green or blue, while the basic pattern in warblers is cream to white with brown speckling. However, other families, such as gulls and terns, show substantial variation between individuals and within a clutch (the group of eggs that a female lays in a single nest). Gull and tern eggs can be pale brown to blue or green, or darker brown or green. There are brown and gray speckles, squiggles or splotches (all very technical terms) that both strengthen the eggs and distinguish them from other eggs.

We’ve seen a huge variety of color and pattern in herring gulls especially. Most are some shade of brown from pale cream to dark brown. Some are delicately speckled while others have splotches of dark browns. At least one egg was found that had dark speckles around the wide part, and was plain everywhere else. It was like a printer that runs out of ink while printing a picture. Tern eggs can be pale to dark green as well, but new this year was an almost teal arctic tern egg. The base color with brown speckles make the egg look like a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream, but why that egg is so brightly colored compared to other tern eggs.

These eggs show some of the possible variation in bird eggs. Some research has been conducted to understand what directs the shape, coloration and pattern of eggshells. Research suggests that the individual variation may improve nest identification for colonially nesting species, or eggshells may be signals. For example, the depth of blue-green in eggshells may be a result of a higher antioxidant level in females, signaling greater health of both the female and offspring.

Eggs are just one of the many fascinating aspects of avian biology that we get to experience out here. It’s an egg-cellent way to study individual variation, health and reproduction in birds.

~Nick and Nora

We found our first Common Tern nest, and couldn’t be more excited! Since finding our first nest, we have marked over 50 nests and have been monitoring them daily for signs of predation. We have taken note of close to 100 nests in our little colony, while keeping a close eye on any signs of unusual activity that could result in predation. We have been observing more and more terns visiting the colony and spending the night with us.

Yesterday, we headed over to Trumpet Island with refuge staff to conduct a census. While on the island, we walked 3m apart and counted all gull (Great Black-backed and Herring) and Common Eider clutches observed. Not only did we census Trumpet, we also got to observe a Great Black-backed Gull chick hatching!

Although the gull chicks were adorable, we cannot wait for our tern chicks to start hatching!

Your 2018 Ship Island Crew!                                                                                                                 ~Olivia and Bailey