Posts Tagged ‘Foraging’

The season has come to an end!

I’m writing this as we work on finalizing data and closing up the island. We are scheduled to be picked up on Wednesday the 29th!

Sequoia (left) and Emma (right) the wide-eyed technicians at the start of the season.

Wednesday is going to be bittersweet. We’ve both worked hard this year and it is remarkable how much we’ve learned. I still remember when we first explored the island and got whiplash from trying to identify all of the amazing warblers that were on the island. We spent many hours in the woods with our binoculars plastered to our eyes and identification books stuck to our hands. During this time we thought it was amazing to see 300 terns in the morning. Now we are used to waking up to a 1000 or more.

We watched as the terns courted each other with beautiful dances in the sky and the offerings of fish to win each other over. Soon we spotted them making themselves at home scraping with their short legs, small divots in the ground for their precious eggs to be laid. I’d say we were more excited about the first eggs than any tern. Within no time at all we had around a thousand nests scattered about the once vacant point.

We then waited, checking each egg for cracks or pipping and chasing off would-be predators. When I found Eddy (our first tern chick) I was elated. Soon though it seemed as though we “terned” around and time had flown by. The fluff balls weights and pin feathers grew by the day. I spotted “Eddy” one morning flying out of his plot and felt a sense of pride. We did it, we kept the terns protected! Now as we and the terns prepare to leave, and the young fledglings are seen flying around the colony with vigor, we get to watch the fruits of our labor as they fly away over the ocean.

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I’d say our abilities and knowledge of ecology grew just as much as the terns during this time and we can’t wait to spread our own wings and find our next new adventure.


Beautiful double rainbow over the colony right after a huge thunderstorm on the island

Thank you for a great season and we hope we brought a bit of our island joy to everyone reading!

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It’s time to find out just what our gulls have been up to since we attached GPS tags.  In our first round of tagging, we sent out five tags on five separate Herring Gulls.  The tags we used are useful because they are lightweight, but they don’t transmit the data directly to us. Instead, we have to catch our gulls again.

We started by watching the nest. Both gull parents will help incubate the eggs, trading off throughout the day. The gull not on the nest generally heads out to forage for food. However, we only tagged one gull from each nest, so it’s important that we only set the trap up when the right gull of the pair is taking his or her turn at incubation. Thankfully, the GPS tags are easy to see from a distance.

Once we know the right gull is in the area, we set the gull trap up, just like before. We were hoping they wouldn’t get trap shy and refuse the sit on their eggs when the trap was present. Luckily, our first tagged gull was caught less than an hour after we set up the trap!


Success! A Herring Gull in a box trap

The tags were removed by cutting off the small tuft of feathers to which they were taped. Don’t worry – birds regularly replaced their feathers, so the cut ones will fall out and be replaced with new ones.

After downloading the data from the tag, what we found was pretty cool: our first gull’s foraging trips were more than 15 miles long. She stuck to the mainland coast, mostly between St. George and Rockland. Her trips sometimes took her more than four hours!

Gull 3 Map

The foraging routes of our first recaptured gull

In the end, we recovered three of the first five tags we sent out, and none of the gulls followed the same paths. One gull went straight up to Warren, ME several times over a few days. That’s a round-trip distance of almost 40 miles. We think he might have been looking for spawning alewives.

Gull 4 Map

Our second gull made a beeline for Warren every time!

The third gull stayed local and barely left the waters around Metinic Island – it looks like she preferred feasting on the spawning polychaete sand worms just offshore.

Gull 3 must have found plenty to eat in her own backyard

Gull 3 must have found plenty to eat in her own backyard

We also lost two tags – the gulls managed to pull them off, so it looks like we need to come up with a new way to attach the tags. Our next step is to design a harness for the tags that the gulls can’t rip or tear. Hopefully we’ll have more news about our wandering gulls before the season is over.

Metinic also has plenty of terns and guillemots – expect to start hearing about them soon!


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