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Posts Tagged ‘Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge’

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.

Rainbow

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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Ewe wouldn’t believe that 120 sheep roam Metinic Island!

From September to May the sheep are free to roam the island, this is beneficial to the terns and the work we do here because they keep the vegetation short. This allows for better tern nesting habitat. In the spring they were rounded up by the owners and pushed to the south side of the island. We then put up a fence that bisects the island to keep them out of the north end.

You may ask, “Why do you keep them out of the north point?” To answer this question, sheep have actually been documented munching on eggs. I know crazy right! They can also accidently step on eggs or chicks.

The problem we had this summer was that some crafty sheep slipped passed the round up and wanted to come into the colony where the grass is greener. We nicknamed the lead ewe Nancy. She is one of the few black sheep on the island so she was always easy to spot. She had a small group of four ewes and six lambs that followed her everywhere. We also had a smaller group of just two ewes that tended to stay in the forest. For the first month and a half we often had to chase Nancy’s group away from the colony.

In June we attempted to do another round up to try to get as many as possible to the south side. It did not go smoothly. After much running, falling, mud wading and changing of plans we only got three ewes and their accompanying lambs to the south.

We currently have four ewes and four lambs still on the north side of the fence. We have accepted them and chased them away from the colony every morning and night. But recently they have figured out that we have to sleep at night and can’t chase them so they can easily slip in after we go to bed. They say sheep aren’t smart, I’d have to disagree.

Even though the sheep have caused issues, we do not believe they have affected the colony. We’ve also learned to enjoy our 6:00am and 8:00pm sheep chases, it keeps us on our toes and them on their hooves.

The vicious predators of Metinic Island

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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!

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

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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!

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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,

Emma

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Hello from Metinic!

We’ve been stuck in foggy weather lately so the sunshine today was great!

On Metinic Island we monitor an assortment of birds, one of these is the black guillemot. On July 2nd we found our first guillemot chicks. So lets talk a bit abut these charismatic birds.

We monitor around 20 nests every three to four days. This monitoring is no easy task, because the guillemots like to nest on the rocky coasts here. The first thing we have to do is traverse the rocks out to places where we have nests marked, and that’s not even the hard part! The next step is to peer into the crevasse where they’ve nested. Sometimes we peek in and see an adult on eggs, other times we spot one to two eggs and recently we’ve found chicks!

Sometimes though we can’t even see the nest so we muster all the bravery we can and stick our hand shoulder-deep into the rocks and feel around. Frequently we are lucky enough to feel eggs. Other times we might get a quick jab from a parent, which always makes you jump. Once chicks are in the nest we might even end up with our hand in chick poo. The best thing to grab though is a fluffy little chick. Once we get ahold of them we gently extract them from their rocky hole, weigh and measure them. Eventually we will be banding them so that they can be identified in the future.

I honestly think the guillemot chicks are one of the cutest. Pitch black except for when they open their bright red mouth. Once they are adults their feet will also turn bright red and they will develop white wing patches that make them very distinguished.

Check back in next week for more from Metinic!

Guillemot Egg

Black Guillemot egg in nest

Guillemot Chick in Nest

Black Guillemot chicks in their nest

Guillemot Chick

“Excuse me! Put me down.”

Guillemot Chick 2

First Guillemot chick found this year

Black Guillemot Jumping

Adult Black Guillemot jumping out of its nest

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Greetings from Metinic! We’ve had foggy weather this past week and only two days of full sun.

I thought I would take this opportunity to share what daily life is like on Metinic Island. You may be wondering, “What do they do in their free time?”, “What do they miss most about civilization?”, or, “Do they even miss civilization?” Hopefully this will provide some insight into what it’s like to live in a seabird colony.

Every morning at 7 o’clock we start the day by counting all of the birds seen around the island, including shorebirds, passerines, and raptors. Daily tasks in the tern colony vary week to week but recently we have been closely monitoring our productivity plots to check for newly hatched chicks; banding, weighing and measuring each one to track growth rates.

When the weather isn’t on our side, we find ourselves cabin-bound. This is a good time to catch up on data entry, read a book, and wonder, was it the tern or the egg that came first? We have a solar panel that provides us with electricity and a propane stove to cook on. Although we don’t have running water, we are supplied with drinking water from the mainland and we use well water for showers and hand-washing. To make showering possible, we heat up a solar shower bag in the sun and it’s (almost) as good as a real shower.

By the time the sun is setting, we’re usually ready for bed. Every few days we take turns doing a hour-long “night watch” where we use night-vision binoculars to watch for predators in the colony. This is a good time to observe the storm-petrels flying around the cabin and the starry night sky.

To answer my own question posed earlier, we’d say the things we miss the most are hiking, our pets, and moving at speeds faster than a sheep-chasing jog. Despite these things, neither of us are looking forward to returning to civilization at the end of July, even for a hot shower or a car ride.

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Emma banding a tern chick in one of our productivity plots.

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A common tern overseeing the banding process from Sequoia’s head.

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Strange cloud formations passing over the island.

 

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Hello from Metinic!

Sequoia here with this week’s blog. Last Wednesday the 17th we had staff come out to the island to assist us with the GOMSWG census. During this census we identified all nests in the colony. This year we counted 910 tern nests, this is a record for Metinic! This number is also lower than the actual nests present because no matter how hard we try we aren’t perfect at detecting nests. To account for error we use the Lincoln Index which is a form of mark recapture, where we go out and see what percent of the nests were missed. Once this correction was applied we have an estimated 1,021 nests on the island!

We also had some exciting things happen during our census. We found a Leach’s Storm-Petrel, a Savannah Sparrow chick evading a snake who had already caught its sibling, and a few Spotted Sandpiper chicks running around on their stilt-like legs.

Other exciting news, we had our first chick hatch on Friday! An Artic tern chick was the first to be found in our productivity plot. We nicknamed him Eddy due to the fact that Eddy Edwards, the Deputy Refuge Manager, had the closest guess to the number of nests on the island, which we all thought was a bit high but were proven wrong. Friday afternoon and into the weekend we had many chicks hatching, so now we are getting into the grove of weighing, measuring and banding each chick in our productivity plots.

Through all of our adventures we are sometimes lucky enough to be fueled by the homemade snacks that Carol sends out to us, which we greatly appreciate!

Until next time.

COTE's flying

Common Terns tend to be the more tenacious nest protectors. This photo was taken while measuring chicks and getting hit by the parents.

Snake Eating SAVS

This is a good example of Garter Snake predation on Metinic. It’s munching on a unlucky Savannah Sparrow chick. We’ve sent 31 snakes back to the mainland so far this year.

COTE Chick Bum

“You can’t see me”

ARTE Chick with Egg (EDDY)

Eddy, our first chick on the island. Here he is 24 hours old.

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Hello everyone!

This is Emma updating you from Metinic, where we’ve been enjoying the plentiful amounts of sunshine over the past week. With increased temperatures comes layers of zinc sunscreen, great laundry weather, and daring plunges into 50-degree Maine waters after long workdays in the sun.

The birds also seem to be enjoying the good weather. This past week we set up our productivity plots with help from the Refuge staff. Using these plots, we hope to monitor at least 60 total Arctic and common tern nests throughout the season for different factors of reproductive success, including hatching success, survival, and growth of the chicks over time. Although we don’t have chicks yet, we are expecting our first one within the next week!

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Recording data in one of our productivity plots.

As the common eider eggs hatch, we continue to see common eider crèches (groups consisting of hens and ducklings) around the island. We have also been monitoring spotted sandpiper and black guillemot nests. The spotted sandpipers nest in low vegetation along the shoreline and in the upland areas. The parents do a great job hiding the nests and it’s easy to miss them if you’re not looking carefully! The black guillemots nest in burrows along the coastline, which makes for fun but challenging work trying to locate them. It really puts our rock-climbing abilities to the test. The overall variation in egg size and coloration among species is really fascinating and beautiful to see.

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Can you guess who these nests belong to?

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The excitement of finding a black guillemot nest!

I enjoy seeing the many flowering plants on the island as the season progresses. Just yesterday we came upon a patch of blooming irises! We also don’t mind the wild strawberries that provide a sweet little snack during morning bird walks. We look forward to seeing what the next week brings as we prepare for the annual census that will give us an estimated number of common and Arctic tern nests in the colony this year. It will be interesting to see how the numbers compare to years past.

Happy birding!

Emma

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Hello from Petit Manan Island, this is Hallie again!

I just wanted to write a blog post to give a shout out to the Friends of Maine Coastal Islands! I was lucky enough to get to talk to most of you briefly the other day while you were enjoying the island from the Acadia Explorer — but I did not get the chance to give you all a massive THANK YOU for everything that you do for the refuge. Work like this would not happen if it weren’t for your support. The work that we are doing out here is so incredibly valuable — the seabirds are benefiting tremendously, as well as all of the young scientists who get to learn from the refuge biologists and the abundant wildlife on these islands. Personally, this is an experience that I will be remembering for the rest of my life, and an experience that is helping me take the next steps towards being the scientist and conservationist that I aspire to be one day!

Thank you all so much again for taking the time to sail out here to PMI and give us a warm hello, as well as for all of the endless support! (And especially to Carol for all of the vegan treats she sends our way each week!)

With Many Thanks,

PMI

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Hello friends, Hallie here from Petit Manan Island!

Life here on Petit Manan is going so well. Our tern chicks are hatched and getting close to fledging, our pufflings are fluffier and plumper than ever, and we even have our first black guillemot and razorbill chicks.

One of the cool things about working on such a small island like this is when you have a new avian visitor, you notice. We are up to 110 bird species recorded on Petit Manan Island this season, which is remarkable in itself. We have had everything from warblers to short-billed dowitchers to even a least bittern, a small bird that you typically find in marshlands on the mainland. And as well, we have had a lot of birds with interesting plumage show up to the island — like this Common Murre.

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Leucistic Common Murre next to Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin

Common Murres are usually a dark chocolate brown, which is produced by melanin. This bird,  however, is silvery-grey — a result of a genetic mutation that inhibits melanin production. This result is called leucism, which is similar, yet very different to albinism. Regardless, it makes up for a stunning result — this bird very well may be one of the more beautiful I have ever seen. Whether or not male or female common murres also think so is up for debate — hopefully this bird’s unique plumage will not inhibit it from procreating in the future.

Melanin is one of many ways birds color themselves. The laughing gulls here use melanin to create that dark mask during the breeding season, which they use to deter other laughing gulls from their nests. You also often see birds with darkened wing-tips, like the terns, in which the melanin is used to strengthen the feathers and make them more durable.

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Adult Atlantic Puffin showing the orange-red carotenoid coloration in the bill and eye

But what other colors do we see here on PMI that have significance in birds?  Since we have been catching puffins this last week, I have been captivated by the bright orange feet and bills that the puffins display during the breeding season.  Puffins, and many other birds, get this rich orange-red color from carotenoids — a color they metabolize directly from their food. Puffins use the intensity of this color to show potential mates and rivals how fit they may be. The brighter their bills and feet, the better at fishing and raising a chick they may be! You can also see melanin in the feet and the mouths of black guillemots!

Next time you see a color in a bird, its worth asking exactly why it is that way. Often even the most subtle of colors on a bird have such an immense meaning. I will be doing the same — sitting here wondering why we get tern chicks in two different colors. Any ideas?

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Common Tern chicks from the same nest showing the two different plumage colorations

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Hello hello all amazing and wonderful seabird fans!

Hallie here, writing from the currently gloomy and rainy but still wonderful Petit Manan Island!

It has been a very exciting week here on the island! We completed our GOMSWG census as Brandon highlighted, and we had a total of over 1400 tern nests, 640 Laughing Gull nests, and 47 eider nests! In addition, we already have over 47 Puffin nests, 54 Black Guillemot nests, 20 Leach’s Storm Petrel nests, and even a handful of Razorbill nests!

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Common Eider ducklings

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Arctic Tern chick with egg-tooth (the white calcified bit on the end of its bill)

But if you are wondering the specific reason why I cannot wipe a smile off of my face — it is because our chicks have begun hatching! After a period of incubation specific to every species, the chick will begin the long and tiring journey of hatching.  Chicks have a specialized calcified bump on the ends of their bills called an egg tooth, of which they use to slowly chip away at the eggshell from the inside, making their way around until they hatch. For most individuals, hatching takes around 12-48 hours, and they emerge looking like cute little fuzz-balls with little flipper feet — and trust me, its adorable.

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4 day old Savannah Sparrow chicks!

From the point of hatching on, for all chicks on the island including the cute little Savannah Sparrow chicks pictured, the job for the parents arguably becomes harder. The chicks not only still require periods of incubation, but they also need to be fed multiple times a day, sometimes even multiple times an hour! We have been finding some chicks increasing in weight by over 300% in a 24 hour period! They honestly grow up so quickly.

For the next few weeks here on PMI, we will be monitoring the productivity and development of our tern chicks, doing provisioning where we will identify fish that the parents are feeding their chicks, collecting fecal samples to look at what the adult birds are feeding themselves, and banding chicks with 2 bands that we can use to re-identify them in later years. Today, if we are lucky, we may even band our first puffling — something that I have honestly dreamed of doing ever since I banded my first bird 4 years ago!

Until next time, bird nerd friends!

 

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Devon and I celebrating his first banded Arctic Tern chick!

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