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Posts Tagged ‘Common Eider’

While the terns have been settled on their nests incubating eggs, we had an eventful week here on Metinic Island!  The excitement began on Tuesday when a multi-agency group of biologists interested in common eiders came out to take blood samples from the hens for their ongoing genetic population analysis.  Mark and I got to learn about common eider biology and assist with the capture of 38 hens, which was quite fun!  We caught them by either using a dip net after flushing them off of their nests, or we simply snuck up on them and picked them up off of their nests.  We found that you have to be quick to catch them, but once caught, they are quite easy to handle.  Each hen was then banded, and a small blood sample was taken before releasing them to tend to their nests again.  Throughout the remainder of the week, we have also been spotting a number of eider creches with the largest being made up of 23 hens and 28 ducklings!

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Here is a hen that was just banded 

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Now a small blood sample is taken

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Here I am with the hen ready to be released!

The next couple of days were spent climbing around the rocky coast of the island searching for black guillemot burrows.  These alcids like to nest in holes and crevices in the rocks, so once we found one with either an adult or an egg in it; we marked the entrance with spray paint so we can relocate the burrows for our egg assessments and growth rate monitoring of the chicks when they hatch.

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A burrow we marked with blue spray paint

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A black guillemot egg found in the burrow

Some of the island’s sheep managed to escape our first round-up and had been wandering around in the tern colony, running the risk of them trampling the eggs.  Our efforts to chase them off of the colony were becoming too numerous, so we decided to do a second round-up and drive to the southern end of the island.  After the round-up, deputy refuge manager Brian Benedict was checking the fence to make sure it was working and came across a popped weather balloon with its parachute deployed.  Attached to the parachute string was an envelope with a message asking whoever found the balloon to mail the accompanying measuring device back to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  That just goes to show you never know what you’ll find working out on the Maine coastal islands!

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Mark with the NOAA weather balloon

That just about wraps up another exciting week on Metinic!  We are looking forward to the next coming weeks as more nests and possibly more chicks show up!  We are also hoping to add to our bird species list, we are at 82 now!

Until next time,

Helen

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This week Petit Manan welcomes the remainder of our crew- Shelby and Jimmy! And with them they brought nesting terns and beautiful weather!

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The view from the top of Petit Manan Light. We keep track of Alcid populations by counting them from the top of the Light twice a day!

As our second week on Petit Manan comes to a close, we have given up our reign of the island to the birds. No longer can we go to the outhouse in the middle of the night without hearing the territorial “ka-ka-ka” of Common Terns before they swoop towards our heads. Where once we could walk freely there are now hidden nests and incubating mothers that we must be careful not to disturb. And we couldn’t be more excited!

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One of four Common Eider nests we have found this week. Many more Eiders nest on neighboring Green Island.

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While searching for red-backed salamanders, I found this year’s first Savannah Sparrow’s nest hiding under a rotting log!

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And finally the one we’ve all been waiting for… the first tern egg of the season! Since then we have found three more nests, but without the safety in numbers of the whole colony nesting, these terns may have abandoned their egg so not to be targeted by Peregrine Falcons.

We hope to have another Egg-cellent week, as next we begin checking rock crevices and artificial burrows for Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, and Black Guillemot eggs!

Until next time here is a bit of wisdom, “I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.” -Joseph Addison

Best,

Morgan

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Petit Manan Seabird Researchers 2016 – Shelby, Jimmy, Jill, & Morgan

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Hi all!  Helen here!  My first week with the seabirds on Metinic Island has been full of exploring, birding, and learning new things!  We started out the week by rounding up all of the resident sheep and driving them to the southern end of the island where we put up an electric fence to keep them out of the tern colony for the season.  We did this just in time as both the arctic and common terns have returned and are actively seeking out mates and nesting sites.  We have begun observing the terns from the blinds and have watched them settling in throughout the week.  We have seen the terns landing on the ground, evaluating various potential nesting sites, and showing courtship behaviors such as the males presenting the fish they caught to females.

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Common terns checking out the area! 

The terns aren’t the only ones settling in for the season, the black guillemots are courting and seeking out burrows in the rocks as well.  We have also observed a number of common eider nests with eggs!  We even saw one hen with three ducklings today, which is early for them.  We are expecting to find many more eider nests in the coming weeks as they are still displaying courtship behaviors.  To prepare for the arrival of the chicks, we have begun setting up snake plastic as a means of predator control.  Metinic has a population of garter snakes who enjoy feeding on the seabird eggs and hatchlings, so we set out black plastic that the snakes will be attracted to because they create a warm place for them to hide.  We will periodically check the plastic and gather any snakes into a bucket to release them on the mainland.

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A hen common eider on her nest, they have excellent camouflage!

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Freshly laid eider eggs

Along with setting up and preparing for the upcoming season of seabird chick monitoring, we have been keeping track of our other feathered friends on the island.  Every day we start out with our morning point counts then spend the day exploring around and recording any additional bird species seen/heard, and we end the day with shorebird counts right before sunset.  So far, Mark and I have recorded 71 different species!  Metinic is a great location to support a variety of birds as the island includes rocky coast, open field, forest, wetland, shrub, and pond habitats.  We are looking forward to adding to our list as the season progresses!

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Black-throated green warblers are very common in the island forest!

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Ruddy turnstones on the shore

 

 

Until next week,

Helen

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The seabird season has begun! Wayne and I are back for another year on Petit Manan Island near Milbridge, Maine. Two more researchers will be joining us next week, but until then we are getting the island set up and ready for the season!

It’s a pretty big process to get all your gear and groceries and research equipment to the island, especially when the water temperature is still in the 40’s. To get here we exchanged our regular float coats for the safer and much bulkier Survival Suits.

Wayne sporting his stylish and essential survival suit.

Wayne sporting his stylish and essential survival suit.

Once here with all our belongings, we spent the first week getting reacquainted with the island. The vegetation was burned a few weeks ago in an effort to create more suitable seabird nesting habitat. Green grass is already growing through the burn rapidly, but when we first arrived it looked almost other-worldly.

View of the burnt island and our home from the top of the light tower where we conduct our twice-daily counts.

View of the burnt island and our home from the top of the light tower where we conduct our twice-daily bird counts.

Other early season tasks include setting up the remainder of the observation blinds. They are built as four separate walls and roof and need to be assembled and disassembled every season. They are held together with bolts and have folding windows on each side for observation.

Wayne putting bolts into an observation blind before the roof is attached.

Wayne putting bolts into an observation blind before the roof is attached.

We have been keeping an eye out for migration visitors and have been looking through scopes to observe behaviors and find rafts of ducks on the water. So far we have seen 73 species of birds! For the past week we have had extreme wind which seems to have slowed down migration. When we woke this morning the wind was blowing at an average of 23 mph with gusts as high as 37mph!

Julia observing wildlife through a scope.

Julia observing Harlequin Ducks through a scope.

Right now we are anxiously awaiting the permanent arrival of Terns and the first eggs of the Puffins, as well as the arrival of our two additional researchers! More to come later!

Julia & Wayne

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Hi there!

I’m Meaghan. I’m a fourth year wildlife ecology major at the University of Maine at Orono. This is my first summer living and working on a seabird island, and I am very excited to be able to do so! Last summer I worked as an intern at the MCINWR visitor center in Rockland. While there, I had the opportunity to visit several of the seabird islands and very quickly ‘caught the bug’ for island life and could not wait to get out here myself.

Working as my supervisor is Derek. He is a fourth year environmental geography major at Central Connecticut State University. He is a Rhode Island native who has a lot of experience living and working on seabird islands in Massachusetts. However, this is his first year working with MCINWR on a Maine seabird island.

Our home for the summer (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Our home for the summer (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Our first week on the island was a lot of fun!

The first couple days were spent settling into our new home and familiarizing ourselves with the island. We conducted a sheep round up in order to move the sheep, that graze across the island during the off-season, off of MCINWR land so they do not disturb the seabirds during the nesting season. We have also been walking the island checking for and collecting garter snakes. In previous years these snakes have been observed preying on tern eggs and chicks, so we are trying to exclude them from the seabird nesting area. Lastly, we have been conducting morning bird counts. So far we have observed 31 different species of birds, including some migrants along with Common Eiders, Black Guillemots, Double-Crested Cormorants, and Spotted Sandpipers.The flock of Arctic and Common Terns that nest here annually have been observed visiting the colony in the morning hours and leaving around noon – presumably to look for nutritious fish. We were also pleasantly surprised to observe two Rosette Terns visiting our island! We are hoping that the terns will settle in the colony within the next week and lay their first eggs shortly after that.

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Common Eider (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot.  (Picture: Meaghan

We are very excited to be working as the technicians on Metinic this year and are more than happy to keep you updated on all things seabirds throughout the season!

-Meaghan and Derek

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Petit Manan in the foreground and Green Island, connected to PMI by a rocky bar at low tide.

Petit Manan in the foreground and Green Island, connected to PMI by a rocky bar at low tide.

Last Tuesday, the crew headed over to Green Island, joined by biologists Linda, Sara, and Christa, and two SCA students, to survey the seabirds nesting there. After being dropped on the Northeast side of the island, we were all issued “egg rings,” PVC pipe connecters that are sized to allow herring gull eggs to pass through but not great black-backed gull. We formed a line going from the berm through the vegetation and headed west counting gull and common eider nests as we went along.

Egg ring for determining whether a nest belongs to a Herring or Black-backed Gull

Egg ring for determining whether a nest belongs to a Herring or Black-backed Gull

Common eider nests are hidden in the vegetation and beautifully made from the mother hen’s down feathers. She incubates her clutch of 2-9 eggs for around 25 days, only taking breaks in the evenings to drink and feed. After the first week of incubation females are reported to stay on the nest night and day unless disturbed. They go up to 3 weeks without leaving their clutch!

An eider nest lined with down.

An eider nest lined with down.

Skirting the western edge of Green Island, we found the first great black-backed gull chicks of the season and a Canada goose gosling. As we headed back to Petit Manan along the bar from Green Island we spotted two oyster catchers in the cove. In years past they have nested on Green Island, we are hoping they do so this year as well.

Andrea holding a Black-backed Gull Chick.

Andrea holding a Black-backed Gull Chick.

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Hello again from Ship Island! Jill and I have been off the island for about 4 days as part of a mid-season break provided for us by the refuge staff. Now that we’re back and catching up on our work, here’s the second part of  “Citizens of Ship Island”, as promised.

In my last post, I wrote about the songbirds that call Ship Island home during the summer. This time, it’s all about water birds of all kinds. While we have songbirds breeding right on the island, most of our seabirds and shorebirds are found on the three islands surround Ship: East Barge, West Barge, and Trumpet.

Take for example the Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls. Because both of these species of gulls will eat tern eggs and chicks, they aren’t permitted to breed on Ship itself. Both species, however, make (usually unwelcome) appearances on Ship and have nests on both the Barges and Trumpet. Great Black-backed Gulls are one of the biggest North American gulls, with a wing span of over 6 feet while Herring Gulls are a bit smaller. Check out the photo below for a comparison.

Great Black-backed Gull on the left, Herring Gull on the right

Also nesting on Trumpet are North America’s largest sea duck: the Common Eider. While the females may look like a standard brown duck, the males have flashy black and white plumage.

A handsome Common Eider male with two Common Terns on the beach of Ship Island

Most often we see these large ducks paddling around with their heads under the water before they dive down for mollusks and other invertebrates. As you can see, they are quite a bit bigger than a tern!

A male Common Eider on the left, a female on the right, and a Common Tern in the middle

Eiders are best known for the incredibly warm down they produce – the females actually line their nests with these soft feathers. Eider ducklings take to the water the same day they hatch. Females with ducklings will gather together to form crèches, made up of several females and their young, to help protect the ducklings from predators like gulls. Although eiders pose no threat to our terns, they find people a bit intimidating and so prefer to nest on Trumpet.

A female Common Eider and her ducklings

Out on West Barge, in addition to lots of Great Black-backed Gulls, we have a colony of Double-crested Cormorants. Like the eiders, the cormorants prefer to nest on human-free islands, but we see them every day in the waters around Ship.

West Barge’s Double-crested Cormorant colony

They also sometimes come to shore to gather seaweed for nesting materials, like the one flying off in the picture below. The colony on West Barge seems to be doing well – we’ve counted about 50 cormorants on the south side of the island.

A Double-crested Cormorant flies off with some nesting material.

Not all of the water birds find us so intimidating. We have several Mallards on and around Ship, including a female with her ducklings. We usually see this fluffy gang paddling around in a swampy depression in the middle of the island.

Female Mallard paddling with her ducklings. Photo taken by Jill


Finally, we have our beloved Spotted Sandpipers. The only shorebirds that nest on Ship Island, Spotted Sandpipers are easily identified by their “teetering” behavior: as they walk (or even when they stand), they bob their rumps up and down. The purpose of this behavior is still unknown, but it makes them easy to pick out of a crowd.

An adult Spotted Sandpiper on the shores of Ship Island

We have several pairs of these nesting on the island, and we recently spied our first chick running around on the beach. Compared to other young birds, Spotted Sandpiper chicks are quick and agile. This one was already practicing its teetering! Jill snagged a photo of him bobbing his way down the beach.

A Spotted Sandpiper chick out for a run on the beach

Next time, the terns will be back in the spotlight with fuzzy chicks galore!

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