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Posts Tagged ‘Common Tern’

Greetings from Ship Island!

Bobby Brittingham here! As my time is coming to a close on Ship Island, I wanted a chance to post one more educational blog about our work before a farewell blog!

You may or may not have heard about “bird banding” before, it is an extremely common form of essentially tagging and releasing birds. Using specialized pliers, a small metal “C” shaped band is clamped shut around a bird’s tarsus (leg-like the shin bone equivalent to humans).

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BBL size 2 band, with the identification number, these are the bands used on all of the birds on Ship.

The banding database provides a lot of information on each bird, where they have been seen, where they nest, where they migrate, or even if the bird is alive, as long as the bird’s band is seen and read correctly by another researcher. These bands are essential to distinguishing one bird from another to perform other research procedures or to distinguish which bird belongs to which nest. On Ship we had very late nesting, so Collin and I have been banding as many chicks as possible with our limited time so that these birds can be identified on where they go over the next year.

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Collin banding with specialized pliers, one of Collin’s first banded birds!

Bands vary in size and number of letters based on the size, type of band, and/or species of the bird. For the common terns on Ship Island, a single size 2 “BBL” band is placed around their right leg; these bands each have a unique 9 digit number.  These bands are then entered in an online database through the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the “status” of a bird can be updated by individuals all over the world. For example, a tern was banded on Petit Manan this summer, and it has already been spotted by another researcher in Venezuela all the way in South America!

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The chicks do not mind the bands as long as they’re put on correctly. When they are put on right, they even look stylish!

For me personally, it is the most fun protocol we perform out here, nothing beats the feeling of getting to meet hundreds of chicks that I have the privilege to watch over every day on this island. Not only that, but it is crucial for research purposes. With the late nesting that occurred this year on Ship, it will be interesting to see where these birds could have possibly gone earlier this year by resightings of the chicks that we band this summer. Be on the lookout for one more blog from the Ship Island crew later this week!

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Hello everyone, this is Bobby writing to you from Ship Island with some breaking news.

The bird word must have gone around, because as of Thursday, July 11th, 321 nests have been found and marked with more being discovered every day! The chaos on the tern nesting beach area is beginning; the eggs laid in late June have begun to hatch this week. Soon our island will be filled with extremely adorable fuzzy chicks who love to run and hide in whatever grass or shelter they can find!

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One of the first chicks on Ship, easily one of the softest objects one could ever hold.

These toddler-like chicks are extremely curious and will wander away pretty far from their nests if given a chance. With them running around all over, it can be difficult to tell how the colony chicks are doing health wise and how many of these chicks are surviving to adulthood. This is answered through a protocol that all of the islands perform known as productivity plots. This may sound like a fancy term, but essentially Colin and I determined a group of nests with eggs that were laid earlier in the season (in our case in late June) that neighbored each other and constructed fencing around them to enclose this area.

 

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Colin (pictured) and I constantly had terns going at our heads to protect their nests while we constructed productivity plots. This one very nicely went feet first to our heads instead of the usual sharp bill first.

This keeps the chicks from our nests of focus from running all over the beach getting into trouble, that way we can determine how many chicks are surviving to adulthood and the size increases of each chick from each nest within our plots. To determine which chick is which, we put stylish metal BBL bands on their right legs that give them a unique identification number for life in a large online database. Colin and I then check each nest in each plot every morning to monitor the eggs and chicks. I am not a parent, but I imagine how I feel when we look for the chicks every morning it is similar to the stressful situation of a parent trying to find their misplaced kids, as Colin and I are really attached to our chicks in the plots. It has been amazing to see the transformation from egg to chick, and soon from chick to fledgling. Watching them grow up has been so special for Colin and I, and we can’t wait to see each chick’s journey continue. More updates coming soon!

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One of the many chicks hatching this weekend, this one hatched within the hour before this photo with a big world to explore!

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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?)

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Good evening everyone!

Nesting is well under way here on Metinic. While all the terns are pairing up, it is possible to see a few that are trying to be the envy of the whole colony. How you might ask? Well they flaunt some forage fish of course!

I enjoy watching as a tern will bring a fish onto the point and move all over the place, showing it off to as many other terns as possible. They really know how to make their neighbors jealous!

Forage fish are the main food source for terns. What are forage fish exactly? Well they are species crucial to the connection of the marine food web. Sometimes referred to as “Wasp-waist” species, these fish connect the abundance of zooplankton and phytoplankton in the ocean to the abundance larger predatory fish. Basically forage fish eat the small stuff (zooplankton and phytoplankton) and then larger fish (and seabirds) eat the forage fish. Without forage fish, there would be a large gap in the marine food web.

Monitoring forage fish species that the terns are bringing to their chicks will be crucial once they hatch. A few years back, there was a low abundance of Atlantic Herring (their favorite food), and instead a large abundance of Butterfish. The only problem was that the tern chicks were not capable of swallowing the Butterfish. Despite the large abundance of fish, sadly many tern chicks starved that year.

In recent years, especially in Maine, forage fish abundance has been a widespread issue. Outside of the seabird world, Atlantic Herring and other forage fish are used by people in various ways. However, the most common use for these fish is as bait, especially for Lobster. Many Lobstermen will tell you that while there are other baits that work, Atlantic Herring works the best as lobster bait. That has created a competition between Lobstermen and the seabirds for herring.

There are several papers that have been posted on the important role that forage fish play in seabird producivity. However, one paper has rung true for many seabird species across the globe. The motto of that paper is “One third for the birds”. Basically, one-third of the maximum prey (forage fish) biomass should be saved for the birds to consume. Increases in human uses of forage fish has made this a complicated situation. If you would like to read the paper for yourself here is the link: https://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00056/16770/14307.pdf

With all that being said, fish are key to seabird survival! Therefore we need to monitor which species the terns are bringing back to their chicks. (There is a whole other rabbit hole to go down about how we can use seabirds as indicators for the health of fisheries but I’ll save that for another time).

By the way, I have marked a total of 25 eggs so far, with 6 nests identified as Arctic Terns and 5 as Common Terns (one of which has 2 eggs!). I am hoping to have the rest of the nests marked by species in the next few days.

All the best,

Mary

(Photo below: Common Tern with Hake)

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(Photo below: Common Tern with Hake)

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Hello everyone!

It’s Mary again. I am excited to announce that we have been seeing more and more eggs! Today I found the most eggs we have seen yet: a total of 10 new eggs!

While walking around I have also seen many scrapes. It is interesting to find an egg laid next to an old Popsicle stick, because that means there were eggs in that same spot last year. I am curious if it is the same birds laying in the same spot, or if it is two separate birds that had the same idea of a good laying spot.

Another exciting announcement is that I saw my first tern sitting on her egg. Finally I was able to mark an egg with a flag to begin working on the species ratio. This egg was marked with a blue flag, as it was a Common Tern sitting on this egg. If it is an Arctic Tern sitting on the egg, then we mark it with an orange flag.

We have had a relatively constant number of terns on the island the last few days – our estimates are around 550 to 650 terns (they are really tough to count). We still only have Common and Arctic Terns but we are hoping to see a few Roseate Terns!

We finally had some sun today, which meant it was laundry day for me! If you are curious how I wash my clothes with no running water, an old refrigerator drawer and a 5-gallon bucket, let me know! I am happy to post about what it is like living on the island and accomplishing little tasks like laundry, showers and dishes.

Check in soon to hear how many more eggs we find!

Best,

Mary

(Photo below: Common Tern sitting on her egg)

IMG_4402 (Photo Below: Ever wonder how small a tern egg is? Check out this gorgeous little egg!)

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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

 

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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

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