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Posts Tagged ‘gull’

A new breeding season has begun here on Petit Manan Island. You take a step out the front door on a chilly morning, and the sky and ocean are filled to the brim with life. Little yellow songbirds- like Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia) and American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)- are darting around the grasses. You hear a familiar song from a Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) broadcasting his availability to the available females. A white bird swoops towards your head with a sharp call – it’s a Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), establishing its territory and assuring a predator free environment for its young.  And you look out at the sea – it is covered with little charismatic birds: Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula artctica), Razorbills (Alca torda), and Black Guillemots (Cepphus grylle) – the poster children for the island breeding colonies across the Atlantic.

My name is Hallie, and I have lived far from any form of civilization for quite a long time. I have been working with birds for a little over 5 years now, often in locations so remote that your best company often becomes the wildlife around you. Petit Manan, in a way, is my first time living in a metropolitan area in years – but instead of humans, its birds. There is the main crazy downtown here – Puffin Point, as we call it, which would be the avian equivalent to Manhattan. And then there is the lawn – Puffin Point’s suburbia – where you will find all of the terns scattered about fiercely guarding their nests. And out in the more rural suburban zones, you get the Laughing Gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla) and various songbirds. There is even a community underground: Leach’s Storm Petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) which burrow deep down underneath the soil, right next to the roly-polies and the salamanders. The island is hustling and bustling with life, even at the dead of night, just like Times Square.

Puffin Point 

Here in bird city, love is in the air. I have quite enjoyed watching all of the different species of bird court one another. The terns are very playful – one will come back with a fish and flash it off to all of the birds around it, enticing them to chase it during a magnificent display of airborne agility. Sometimes the bird will give it to a potential mate, or sometimes it will devour the fish for itself.  The puffins are gentler – you will often see two mates nuzzling their bills against one another’s, or a male trying to catch the attention of a female by nodding his bill within her sight. And then there’s the guillemots, which will race around the female, dive head first into the water, and make high-pitched, almost song-bird like calls.

Every species of bird here establishes themselves differently: but they all have the same goal in mind. Right now on Petit Manan Island, its finding a mate, finding a place to nest, and getting started securing the future generations of their species. It is quite a magical time, and as chaotic as a metropolitan area can be, the island with its seabirds has its charm.

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On June 19 and 20 the island crew, along with the invaluable help of Refuge staff and volunteers, completed the annual Gulf of Maine Seabird Working Group (GOMSWG) Census where over the course of two days we attempted to count every nest on the island belonging to a tern, gull, or eider. In order to do this, we all spread out in a line and called out nests to the person recording.

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Census crew working around the PMI light tower

During the census we came across a few oddities, such as Laughing Gull eggs in Eider nests and gull nests with double clutches.

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Laughing Gull egg nestled in the warm down of an Eider nest

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A double clutch of gull eggs – normally they have only 3. This could be a case of two females nesting together.

In addition to all these nests, we also found female Eider hens sitting quietly on their eggs in the vegetation hoping to go unnoticed. Usually, we leave these ladies to their incubating, but during census we catch them to read their bands or apply new bands if needed, helping us keep track of them in the future.

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Mother Eider sitting quietly on her nest

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Julia and Brittany as successful Eider-catchers!

After tallying up all the numbers and accounting for all the Common and Arctic Tern nests we marked with colored flags, we have 1203 tern nests, 670 of which are Commons while 533 are Arctics, 521 Laughing Gull nests, and 54 Common Eider nests! We do the puffin/guillemot/razorbill census a little differently, using the number of burrows we find throughout the season combined with how many we see on the island from day to day, so we will have those numbers later. Keep posted for more exciting updates about all those eggs.

– PMI Island Crew

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A Puffin relaxing on the rose granite

Greetings from Petit Manan! Things are well under way here on this island oasis – after all the mating happened, eggs of all shapes, sizes, and colors began to show up all around the island. We have eggs from 2-3 different Tern species, as well as Laughing Gulls and Common Eiders. Some tern eggs are brown while others are green, and some have beautifully woven nests of grasses and shells while others are laid on bare rock.

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A typical brownish-gray Common Tern egg

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Some heavily-mottled eggs in a very intricate nest

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A full clutch of beautiful turquoise/green Arctic Tern eggs laid almost on bare rock. These birds would rather decorate with shells and sticks and feathers than weave the intricate nest bowls of Common Terns

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A Common Eider nest concealed among the Angelica and lined with soft, warm down

We also have three different species of alcids nesting among our rocky shoreline: the Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, and Black Guillemot. Each species, just like with terns, chooses nesting sites among the rocks with different criteria in mind, and they decorate their homes quite differently as well. But these eggs are not as easy to find…

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Wayne checking the contents of a Guillemot burrow…

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… and taking out the eggs for a closer look.

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Puffins lay a single mostly-white egg in a warm nest of dried grasses brought into the burrow by the beak-full

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Razorbills, on the other hand, lay one large, speckled egg on the bare rocks. You can tell these eggs from Guillemot eggs by the lack of a “ring” formed by the speckles at the large end.

Until next time!

– Julia

 

 

 

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Snowy owl!?  Yes PMI had a snowy owl preying on Atlantic puffins and Black guillemots.  It was first spotted flying from Puffin Point and hunting all around the alcid colony. After several days and numerous attempts to discourage it from the island with pyrotechnics, we finally had to take action by setting out soft-coated leg-hold traps to try and capture the owl without injuring it and then relocating it. Now, placing the four traps that we had would be tricky as this particular owl didn’t perch or roost in any one spot twice. So I figure if it likes puffins so much the best way would be to dig out this old Puffin decoy I found stashed in our tool shed and put him to good use. We set up the traps and decoy just on the edge of the alcid colony at sunset just far enough so no alcids would fall into our traps.

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Puffy the decoy working hard on the job

The next morning “Puffy” the puffin decoy did his job! Two traps were set off and Puffy had his first battle talon scar on his chest! After that morning the Snowy owl was never seen on the island as of this posting which has been over 3 weeks! So now with this peculiar predator off the island our resident birds can get back to doing their thing, which is…..

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Guillemots mating

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Puffins mating in the water!

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Razorbills Mating on Puffin Point

Arctic Terns Mating

Arctic Terns Mating

Common Terns Mating

Common Terns Mating

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Even species that we don’t like to encourage have started mating now that the snowy owl is gone!

 

– Wayne

 

 

 

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