Posts Tagged ‘Leach’s Storm-petrel’

It feels like the field season on Metinic is flying by (just like our chicks!)

This weekend we had our first tern fledglings, including “Eddy”, our first Arctic tern chick. As we walk around the colony, we are seeing fewer and fewer fluffy chicks as they trade their down plumage for body and flight feathers. Once they reach the fledging age, the young terns can make short flights around the colony. However, their juvenile plumage is still not fully developed and they may have lingering tufts of down. Though they are able to fly, they are not completely independent and will still rely on food from their parents. It is always fun to see the young fledglings experimenting with their wings and hovering over us as we walk through the colony, just like their parents!


Cooperative tern chicks help illustrate feather development from down to juvenile plumage (right to left).


A banded Arctic tern fledgling from one of our provisioning nests!

One of my favorite activities on the island is observing the Leach’s storm petrels at night. They are a nocturnal seabird species that nest in dug burrows or crevices and we have many nesting in an old stone wall on the island. If we go out in the middle of the night with night-vision binoculars, we can see them flying all around us. It’s easy to locate them in their burrows with their distinct chatter and purr call that we attribute to a “guinea pig being tickled”. The other night was especially exciting because as we walked along the wall we could see the adults just outside of the openings in the rock. It is amazing how close we can get to observe them!


A Leach’s storm-petrel in the stone wall.

We only have a couple of weeks left on Metinic and can’t believe how quickly time is passing. Hopefully we will have more pictures of fledglings coming soon!


Until next time,


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More tern chicks are fledging with each passing day here on Metinic!   It is great to walk out into the colony and see the chicks take off into the air rather than running to the tall grass for cover, especially after a couple of weeks of limited food coming in.  Some of the older chicks are starting to venture out into the intertidal and over the water; we even saw a fledgling way down at the very southern end of the island when we walked down there one afternoon.


A fledgling watching us carefully.  It took off as soon as we got closer.

The chicks aren’t the only ones venturing out.  This week during a provisioning stint, Mark spotted a roseate tern resting on a rock in the intertidal!  While this tern appeared to only be passing through and not a resident, this is still exciting because they are federally endangered, and so it is nice to see that they are at least in the area.  This brings our island species list up to 96!


The roseate tern Mark spotted on the right, and a common tern on the left.  Roseate terns have a longer bill and tail than the Arctic and common terns.  Their bill is also mostly black and their body is paler in color than the other terns.

Earlier in the week we spent an afternoon searching for Leach’s storm-petrel burrows.  Previously, we had been doing this by smelling holes along the old rock walls as the petrel burrows give off a distinct scent that is described to be like old musty books.  After reading on a previous blog that the petrels could also be found by playing their call from our phones and listening for a response from the birds, we were able to find even more burrows.  So, a big thank you to our friends on Petit Manan Island for that suggestion, it seems to work well!  If you’re curious what a Leach’s storm-petrel sounds like, here is a link to website with audio recordings of them: Click here to get to the website.  We do have petrels burrowing underneath our house, so it is funny to hear this at night and periodically during the day!


One of the entrances to a Leach’s storm-petrel burrow along the old rock wall. 

I’ll leave you with a fun thing happened this week as I was walking along the shore back to the house from checking burrows.  I came across a plastic water bottle that looked like it had something inside it, and to my surprise, it was a message in a bottle!  It’s true that you never know what you’ll find working out on the Maine coastal islands!  I will email whoever sent it out to let them know where we found it!




Other than our continued provisioning, productivity, and guillemot burrow checks, that’s about it for this week!

– Helen

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Petit Manan Island is in peak hatching season! The small, delicately speckled brown tern eggs are disappearing and being replaced by similarly patterned fluffy chicks. The oblong, white-brown spotted black guillemot eggs are opening up to reveal all-black downy chicks. Where once we were seeing large, gleaming white puffin eggs, now chicks with long grey down and white bellies are hiding quietly in their burrows. We even have found one razorbill chick (see photo below)! The only seabird still solely in the incubation stage are the Leach’s storm-petrels.


One question that I often get asked is, why do some seabirds only ever hatch one chick (think puffins, razorbills, storm-petrels), while others can rear multiple chicks (terns, guillemots, etc)?

In general, seabirds have small clutch sizes compared to birds of other groups like most waterfowl, game birds, and some perching birds. This is because seabirds, unlike the groups mentioned previously, tend to have long life spans. This means it is not quite as critical for seabirds to have a successful nesting season their first breeding season or every year of their life in order to replace themselves in the population. Other bird species may only get one chance to successfully reproduce if annual adult survival is low due to high depredation of adults and/or other factors.


But why lay only one egg instead of two or even three? There are multiple factors that influence seabird clutch size, and still many questions to be answered. Chick rearing is very energetically demanding for the parents, from egg formation to providing enough food for growing chicks. Right from when birds arrive on the breeding grounds, food availability is critical. After long migrations or rough winters, seabirds need to be able to find enough resources near their breeding colony to allow them to be in proper condition for breeding. Limited food resources during this period of time can cause birds to lay smaller clutch sizes, or even not nest at all.


This still does not answer our question why puffins and other species only lay one egg, in both good and bad food years. For species with one egg clutches, it is more beneficial for the long-term survival and breeding success of the adults to raise only one chick at a time. Raising two chicks would probably not be impossible during good food years, but the energetic costs on the parents might make this not worthwhile in the long run. So puffins, razorbills, and many other seabirds prefer to take things slow, laying only one egg per season.

Currently, we have found 17 black guillemot chicks, 15 Atlantic puffin chicks, one razorbill chick, and a few hundred tern chicks!




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Petit Manan Island is well known for its seabird inhabitants, most notably our Atlantic Puffins and Arctic Terns. However, a total of eight species of marine birds return yearly to nest on Petit Manan Island. Most of these birds have conspicuous nests, such as the terns and Laughing Gulls which lay their eggs on the ground’s surface. The Alcids, such as Puffins, Black Guillemots, and Razorbills, lay their eggs in burrows or rock crevices, but the adults are still easily observed on the rocks and surrounding waters. But Leach’s Storm-Petrels, the smallest seabird denizen of Petit Manan, are a little bit trickier to detect.


Jimmy holding an adult Leach’s Storm Petrel that was grubbed from a nearby burrow

Leach’s Storm-Petrels differ from the other seabirds on PMI in a variety of ways. Taxonomically, they are the only species representing a group of seabirds called the Tubenoses to be found on PMI. Also, they are nocturnal and nest in often long, twisting sod burrows.  The burrow entrances are smaller than the size of a fist, and tucked underneath rotting logs, debris and rocks. These life history traits make observing storm-petrels quite the challenge, and prevent accurate estimations of breeding pairs on nesting islands.

This summer we have been testing a new methodology to s
urvey for active storm-petrel burrows. Instead of just reaching as far into each burrow to feel for birds and eggs, we have been playing a recording of storm-petrel vocalizations outside of each potential burrow entrance. The results have been extremely exciting! The birds have been responding with their strange, goblin-giggling call from deep within their burrows. But more importantly, this method has allowed us to find more birds than just by feeling in the burrows. In fact, 63% of the storm-petrels we located only because we heard them – their burrows did not allow us to reach them. Overall, 93% of the adults we located using both methods responded to playback. Hopefully this monitoring technique will provide new insights into Leach’s Storm Petrels nesting on Maine coastal islands!


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Hey folks! Jill and Morgan here! It’s been a surprisingly beautiful first week on Petit Manan Island; let’s hope it’s a sign for the whole season! The island has been lively thus far with approximately 200 prospecting Common and Arctic Terns, but we’re expecting many more to come! Although PMI isn’t the largest of islands, it still receives a good deal of visitors, especially early in the season when birds are migrating North – we’ve seen 61 species thus far! Not all our guests have been of the bird variety though; we also stumbled upon a juvenile Grey Seal on our rocky shores earlier in the week!


Downy Woodpecker sighting!

The start of the season means preparing the island for all the work to be done in the months ahead. This means setting up observation blinds, for band resighting and future monitoring of foraging habits and chick health, as well as collecting marine debris, building burrows for Black Guillemots and Atlantic Puffins, and marking potential Leach’s Storm-petrel burrows. Daily Alcid counts from the top of the Petit Manan Light have also begun. On a windy day it can get rather cold up there, especially for Jill, who hasn’t quite gotten used to the Downeast summer having just returned from a seabird job in the Galapagos!


Can you spot the Leach’s Storm Petrel burrow? We’ve been searching the island for these small holes in the ground this past we week, and we have found 170 potential burrows!

As we prepare ourselves for the research season ahead, the birds are doing the same. The puffins and guillemots are seeking out rock crevices and other sufficient and creative hiding spots for their burrows. The male terns are attracting their mates with a Sandlance dowry. The Common Eiders are seeking out areas of high vegetation to form their nests. And the Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and gulls lurk about hoping to catch a bite to eat with all these new dining options in town.


The Atlantic Puffins have already begun choosing burrows!

Till next time, here’s a joke to hold you over – Why did the Puffin have a stomach ache? Because it had Alcid Reflux!


Morgan & Jill

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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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What is that sound walking to the outhouse in the dark of night?! It’s a Leach’s Storm-Petrel! Its call is a spooky one to hear for a person like me unacquainted with the “giggling” sound. I heard my first petrel call here on Petit Manan. Pretty cool!

While the other inhabitants of the island are roosting at night, Leach’s Storm-Petrels are active searching for a mate and a burrow dug from the soil. They are a secretive, nocturnal, and pelagic species only returning to land to breed and active at night to avoid predation. Petrels lay one egg that is incubated for 37-50 days and chicks fledge in September or October.


Julia with a Leach’s Storm-Petrel adult

Early in the season, we venture out in search of petrel burrows. Our goal is to mark 20 active burrows with colored flags. How do you know it’s active? You reach into the burrow (1-3 feet in length) to find a nest cup, nesting material, or a petrel! Often burrows curve, so a burrow camera can be used to reach where your whole arm cannot. One indication of Leach’s Storm-Petrels is their musty smell at the entrance of a burrow.


Wayne smells a petrel


Burrow entrance


Julia holding the camera and Anna wearing the viewing screen


Burrow camera in use

Later in the season we will return to the flagged burrows and determine the presence of an egg. Then return again to check for a hatched chick. In the meantime, we will continue with our tern and alcid activities. Look for Petit Manan’s next post for some exciting news!


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In the last few days we began our island wide Alcid (puffins, guillemots and razorbills) monitoring. This means we get a look at our first puffin and razorbill chicks! At the beginning of the season we searched within the rocks, ledges and debris around the edge of the island for burrows of Alcids. After marking their nests, we planned to return once the chicks hatched.


(above: Jill with a razorbill chick)

Alcids are burrow nesters, meaning they lay their eggs inside a tunnel or crack in the rocks or soil. This keeps the eggs and chicks safe from most predators and also keeps the temperature for incubation fairly steady. Puffins and razorbills put all their eggs in one basket (so to speak) and lay only one egg in their burrows, while guillemots lay two. It’s interesting to note that guillemot eggs and razorbill eggs are speckled white and puffin eggs are solid white. I wonder why that is?


(above: Jill with a Puffin chick)

Alcids are burrow nesters, meaning they lay their eggs inside a tunnel or crack in the rocks or soil. This keeps the eggs and chicks safe from most predators and also keeps the temperature for incubation fairly steady. Puffins and razorbills put all their eggs in one basket (so to speak) and lay only one egg in their burrows, while guillemots lay two. It’s interesting to note that guillemot eggs and razorbill eggs are speckled white and puffin eggs are solid white. I wonder why that is?


While we were checking alcid burrows Jordan came across a beautiful find. A leach’s storm-petrel! (see above photo) These strange pelagic seabirds nest throughout Petit Manan in burrows dug into the soil and sod. At night we can hear their strange calls that sound a lot like giggling. They are truly mysterious and beautiful creatures!

With the season coming to a close we are saying goodbye to our field tech and friend Andrea. It’s been a great summer with all four of us here and we are sad to see her go. Andrea will be getting back to school this fall at Umaine where she is studying Zoology with a focus on seabirds. Good luck Andrea!


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Hello once again from the Brothers! I am sure many of you are wondering how Reggie is doing with his harem of decoys. Well exciting news; the other day Reg was spotted presenting a nice big fish to a real live lady tern! Unfortunately having spent so long with the decoys Reg forgot his manners and was a little too insistent our new lady tern take his fish. She flew off, but not to worry, she was back the next day so Reg has an opportunity to try again.


An example of a chick who had a little too much rock gunnel.

In the area of guillemot chick checks we have chicks from two days old weighing in at 37g to Alfonso a tubby 27 day old chick at 345g. There is quite a size difference between some of our chicks which their parents do not seem to take that into account. In taking measurements on our two day old chicks we found that half of the size of the chick could be accounted for by its crop that was stuffed full of delicious nutritious rock gunnel. The poor chick looked as though he wished he would have stopped eating rock gunnel long before he had. We all feel for you little chick!


A Leach’s storm petrel, presented here as a popsicle bird.

We at the Brothers are very pleased to announce that we have a Leach’s storm petrel who has decided to take up residence on Western Brothers. The Leach’s Storm Petrel is nocturnal. We have heard them calling several times during the night but until now we have not been able to find if they have actually been nesting here. Our petrel was incubating a single egg deep inside a burrow of loose dirt. Storm petrel’s have a very distinctive odor which you may be able to smell at the entrance of the burrow if it is active. The odor is not entirely unpleasant as they smell very much like old books.

One last update for you. We have finally found some young Savannah sparrows. We had known that they were breeding here but we had not been able to find a successful nest until now. As you can see at this age they are almost perfect spheres with over-sized mouths. Adorable!


Savannah sparrow sphere with giant mouth.


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We are packing our gear and cleaning the cabin!  Jennie and I head back to the mainland today and we wanted to give you one last update on our season.

We crossed off each day after we finished the dinner dishes. Its wild to think that its all over for 2011...


The Gulf of Maine Seabird Working Group (GOMSWG) census was started on June 17, 2011, and finished on June 20, 2011.  The Tern nest count for the census was 484, with a Lincoln Index of 1.029, resulting in a corrected total of 498 Tern nests on the North End of Metinic.  This represents about two thirds of last year’s population.  Common Tern nests were marked with a blue flag, while Arctic Tern nests were marked with a red flag.  On the NE Point we identified 307 of 498 nests (61% of NE Point colony).  We counted 122 ARTE, 185 COTE nests.  We estimated that the colony was comprised of 40% Common Terns, 60% Arctic Terns. The South End of the island is privately owned and was surveyed by boat, 2 pairs of Terns were present, but no nests were confirmed.


Fledging/reproductive success was low this year for Arctic Terns (under the 1 chick/nest USFWS goal), but Common Tern productivity improved from last year and met this goal.  The Arctic Terns suffered from widespread predation events early in the season which resulted in the loss of many eggs and young chicks.


We were able to follow 6 Common tern and 8 Arctic Tern nests throughout the season, for a total of 96 observational hours and 599 feedings. COTEs fed at an average rate of 1.6 feedings/hour, while ARTEs fed at 0.7 feedings/hour.  Both Arctic and Common Terns delivered Atlantic Herring most frequently to their chicks consisting of about 55%and 30% of their diet respectively.  Butterfish was the next most frequent delivery for both species, making up about 30% of deliveries.  Herring deliveries gradually declined and butterfish deliveries gradually increased as the season progressed.  Feedings overall slowed considerably starting in the third week of July especially for Arctic Terns.


32 Guillemot nests were located with a hatch success of 62% and an egg depredation rate of 12.9%.  This data is not a complete set because of the number of guillemots incubating through all checks.  Three adults were still incubating at the end of July, so hatch success could be higher than calculated. 19 chicks were found and 14 were banded, weighed, and measured.


53  Leach’s Storm-petrel burrows showed signs of activity (smell, fresh piled dirt, activity at night) early in the season, however only 7 were noted to have eggs or adults present at the end of July.  At the end of our field season, 17 burrows were no longer active and 29 still showed some activity yet nothing could be seen with the burrow scope.

Common Eider

Eider numbers were very low this year averaging only 50-100 eiders at each morning count. Previous years Eiders had averaged between 150 and 300 for morning counts.  Only 30 observations of eider crèches were documented (at least 4 separate crèches).  Five eiders were banded by USGS and MDIFW.

Incidental Sightings

Species highlights: Northern Gannett, American Oystercatcher, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Whimbrel.

We had a tremendous amount of fun out here this summer, and we hope you all enjoyed being able to follow along!  If we peaked your intrest and you would like to get involved or support our efforts makes sure to check out the Friends of Maine Seabird Islands site: http://maineseabirds.org/html/home.html!

Signing off!

-The Metinic Crew

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