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Posts Tagged ‘biology’

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

 

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I have been bird watching in Maine for 4 years now. For the past 3 years, I have taken a number of boat trips out around Petit Manan Island (PMI) to see the puffins, razorbills, guillemots, and terns. It had always been so exciting to see the little flying footballs we know and love as puffin skimming by the boat, seeing the razorbills relaxing on the rocks, and the terns making their usual ruckus as they fish around the island.  Whenever I was on one of these trips, excitement grew as that beautiful lighthouse became closer and closer. This year, I’ve made the trip out to PMI once again, but as a field technician for Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. All the familiar faces I loved seeing are back again but now the interactions will be different. Instead of viewing them from the boat like in years past, now I can see them from the top of the lighthouse tower, or from my bedroom window, or in a more intimate manner; from the blinds. It is always an amazing feeling to watch these beautiful birds. Alongside the viewing, I will be interacting with the birds in a whole new way! This year I will assist in the banding of chicks, fledglings and adults so we can monitor the population’s survival rates through the re-sighting of these bands. I will also aide in food provisioning surveys to see what the adults are feeding the chicks. I’ll be monitoring the hatching and fledgling rates as well. All of the data that will come from these projects ultimately help the biologists here at Maine Coastal Island National Wildlife Refuge make decisions that in turn, will keep these beautiful birds here in Maine.

Thank you all for reading about MCINWR! Till next post,

Chris

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Aya and I arrived on Metinic Island to find a cozy two-story cabin surrounded by cobble beaches, sheep and birds, lots of birds. Metinic Island has a diverse patchwork of forests, grasslands, rocky and cobble shoreline that is ideal for nesting and migratory birds. Our job here is to act as stewards for nesting seabirds and to monitor other species passing through.

One of our first jobs is to locate Leach’s storm petrel burrows that are located in rock crevices and soft sod soil. Petrels are nocturnal seabirds that reside in their burrows during the day and also nest in these burrows during the summer season. We have been searching along old rock walls and natural rocky outcroppings searching for freshly dug holes. As we move along, we also sniff these entrances to

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Petrel burrow entrance marked by a blue pin flag.

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Aya looking for petrel burrows.

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try to pick up on the distinct musty, earthy smell that the petrels give off. So far we have flagged thirty-three possible burrows that we will revisit at the end of June to determine if there is an active nest and then we will monitor the chicks until they can fly.

We have also acted as sheep shepherds since we have arrived on Metinic. The sheep belong to the family that owns half of the island and graze the sheep on the northern end during the fall, winter and spring. Tomorrow we will be fencing the sheep to just the southern end of the island. Until then we will continue to discourage them from grazing the northern end, where Arctic and common terns are beginning to nest on the ground.  As the terns start to lay their eggs, we will soon be re-sighting banded terns to identify individuals and to better understand their movements, nesting locations and survival rate.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Ravin

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hoppin on

A banded common tern (Sterna hirundo) returns to the nest for incubation. This image was remote-triggered on a hidden camera, toward which the terns are very tolerant!

Common tern activity levels on Ship have made an about-face, going from mostly quiet to positively booming! For the past 10 days or so, the birds have been active virtually all day long, courting their partners and tending their nests. At the time of writing, well over 150 nests have been established on the island. Of 100 nests being monitored for early-season predation, only 4 have been lost– and 3 of the 4 were taken out by the highest tide of the month. If you’re more of a visual learner, check out the figure below; a legend is available by rolling your mouse over the chart. If you want, you can even click to zoom in on any of the images.

In simple terms: things are going well. Breeding savannah and song sparrows have begun to hatch, as have the common eiders, gulls, and double-crested cormorants on our neighboring islands. It should be a matter of days before our nesting spotted sandpiper fathers will escort their chicks to safe foraging, as well.

 

Between seal pups, tern eggs, and the numerous fuzzy chicks emerging all around us, we have plenty to observe at Ship. Later this week we hope to establish our productivity plots for the season and begin adult trapping efforts in order to band new birds recapture known individuals. Our projected first hatch date is June 19th, so knock on wood and stay posted for the big news in a couple of weeks!

fuzzy COEI peeps

A fuzzy creche of six common eider (Somateria molissima) chicks escorted by two hens! We hopefully theorize that the small number of adult birds escorting this creche is due to rampant nesting success of all the other eider hens out there on Trumpet and East Barge Islands.

As if all these babies weren’t enough, spring migration somehow persists on Ship. Our long-awaited Nelson’s sparrow (easily identified by its song, which sounds remarkably like a match being lit) has finally taken up residence on the island, along with an alder flycatcher that can be heard singing daily; the vocalization (a burry “fee-beeoh!”) of this bird is just about the only thing that sets it apart from its doppelganger, the willow flycatcher.

 

In birding parlance, focusing in on a single area to frequently document its species is known as “working a patch”, and that’s certainly what every Maine Coastal Islands seabird crew does. Because a daily birdwalk is part of our essential duties, we become very familiar with what species to expect on a daily basis and can quickly recognize oddities. In working our teensy patch called Ship Island, we have managed to document some 68 birds, including such bizarre wintertime lingerers as long-tailed duck, Bonaparte’s gull, and even a single black-legged kittiwake! And that isn’t even mentioning all of the freshly-molted warblers that continue to stream through in their alternate plumage.

That’s the news from Ship Island this week. Hopefully our industrious tern colony will continue to grow despite gloomy weather! In the meantime, we’ll be counting birds and huddling in the warmth of our tiny cabin when it gets too miserable out.

 

Bonus bird fact: did you know that the scientific name of the common eiderSomateria  molissima, literally translates to “very soft woolbody”? An apt name, considering how the seaducks are prized for their luscious down! And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of feeling an eider’s feathers, you’ll know this to be true.

 

Until next time!

Meredith Miles @ Ship Island

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While most of the other MCINWR islands are winding down for the season, Petit Manan is still going strong with major alcid trapping, island-wide guillemot and storm petrel checks, Arctic tern re-sighting, and our new-this-year project: Atlantic puffin feeding studies.

Atlantic Puffin with bill load

Atlantic Puffin with bill load through scope.

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

During our alcid checks, we discovered two little surprises in the form of Razorbill chicks! Only five pairs are breeding here on Petit Manan, so each new chick is very special to us. We even managed to capture one of his parents bringing food back to the burrow, an unusual sight here on PMI

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Razorbill flying with food

Razorbill flying with food

Here are a few more snapshots of what else has been going on at PMI.

Black Guillemot chick being weighed during our weekly productivity checks

Black Guillemot chick being weighed every 5 days as part of our productivity checks

Leach's storm-petrel chick

Leach’s storm-petrel chick

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

A puffin undergoing the banding process

A puffin undergoing the banding process

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Until next time,

Wayne and Julia

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Common Tern on flagpole

Common Tern on flagpole

Another year on PMI! After two weeks of cold weather and high winds the terns have finally started to nest. Maybe not in the numbers that we are used to but it’s still early enough for more terns to arrive and settle in for the nesting season. The Alcids on PMI don’t seem to waste any time, Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills have already laid eggs at least 3 days ago and hundreds of Black Guillimots are still prospecting all over the island.

First Actic Tern egg

Actic Tern egg

Atlantic Puffin egg

Atlantic Puffin egg

Razorbill egg

Razorbill egg

Tern eggs are made to blend in with beach materials such as sand, pebbles, and seashells but nesting up and away from the beach can be risky as some tern eggs can stand out against the vegetation and island dirt. Puffin and Razorbill eggs don’t need to be camouflaged as most Alcids nest in deep, dark burrows away from the eyes of arial predators. Puffin eggs are all white and a little smaller than the Razorbill’s bigger, speckled egg.

Banded American Oystercatcher resighted  on Green Island

Banded American Oystercatcher resighted on Green Island

Last week while over on Green Island, which is ajacent to PMI and only accessible at low tide, we resighted an American Oystercatcher! We know they try to nest there every year, but haven’t yet been able to resight one yet. Now with the numbers on his bands we can find out who he is.

Memorial Day cookout on PMI

Memorial Day cookout on PMI

Thanks to MCINWR we have a grill this year! Until next time….

Wayne and Julia

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