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Posts Tagged ‘Maine Coastal Islands NWR’

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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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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I have been bird watching in Maine for 4 years now. For the past 3 years, I have taken a number of boat trips out around Petit Manan Island (PMI) to see the puffins, razorbills, guillemots, and terns. It had always been so exciting to see the little flying footballs we know and love as puffin skimming by the boat, seeing the razorbills relaxing on the rocks, and the terns making their usual ruckus as they fish around the island.  Whenever I was on one of these trips, excitement grew as that beautiful lighthouse became closer and closer. This year, I’ve made the trip out to PMI once again, but as a field technician for Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. All the familiar faces I loved seeing are back again but now the interactions will be different. Instead of viewing them from the boat like in years past, now I can see them from the top of the lighthouse tower, or from my bedroom window, or in a more intimate manner; from the blinds. It is always an amazing feeling to watch these beautiful birds. Alongside the viewing, I will be interacting with the birds in a whole new way! This year I will assist in the banding of chicks, fledglings and adults so we can monitor the population’s survival rates through the re-sighting of these bands. I will also aide in food provisioning surveys to see what the adults are feeding the chicks. I’ll be monitoring the hatching and fledgling rates as well. All of the data that will come from these projects ultimately help the biologists here at Maine Coastal Island National Wildlife Refuge make decisions that in turn, will keep these beautiful birds here in Maine.

Thank you all for reading about MCINWR! Till next post,

Chris

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It has already been over two weeks since the Great Horned Owl roamed the surface of Ship Island looking for a late-night snack. You would think that over time, the terns would settle down and begin to behave “normally.” But that’s not the response we’re seeing. Even today most of the colony begins to sweep high above the island soon after sunset, then disappear quietly out over the ocean. It seems that small numbers do come back to warm their chicks and eggs, but the majority aren’t seen again until sunrise.

The owl caused full colony abandonment during the nights on the island. This occurred for over a week straight, which might have led to some long-term effects on chick physiology. Many of the eggs didn’t end up hatching since they weren’t incubated during the nights. But, some eggs were still able to make it. Typically, eggs hatch after 21-23 days of incubation. With the owl disturbance, incubation length increased, which is why our chicks arrived slightly behind schedule.

Although we have many healthy chicks all around the island, there are a select few that are showing what we assume to be the negative consequences of this over-exposure to the cold and wet nights on a Maine island. When terns incubate, they are constantly rotating the eggs around. This allows for even nutrient and heat distribution throughout the egg as well prevents the embryo from sticking to the shell, allowing it to float in the middle and develop successfully. Without this constant rotation, it’s possible that the chicks could have developed certain physical defects.

 

Not only are we seeing odd chick appearances, but we are also seeing a huge change in colony behavior. The terns have been extremely sensitive to any presence that might seem or sound threatening. This even includes species that are not considered predators. In order to protect themselves, terns often mob, dive-bomb, or attack the predator. They also might flee, just as they did with the owl. Their actions depend on the level they feel threatened themselves versus how threatened their young are. We’ve observed terns going after Common Eiders, Dowitchers, and Harbor Seals. They were even frightened by the sound of a nearby fishing boat. Although we can see that these species are here to do no harm, it’s still good to see the terns working hard and being extra protective.

These actions displayed by the tern colony isn’t uncommon among populations who are or were at risk of nocturnal predation. In fact, it has been witnessed in several other Common Tern studies where owls were present. Looking at a well-known colony observed by Monomoy NWR in particular, you can read how they experienced very similar results years ago (Nisbet and Welton, 1984).

It’s amazing how a single bird can influence an entire colony in only a few days. This owl left an impression on the terns to last the entire season. The fate of this years fledgling was greatly altered and we can only hope that next year the colony works to make up for this years loss.

On a better note, we’re still waking up to a few more chicks every day, and we’ve already seen a few fledge! Based off of our provisioning efforts and weight measurements, our current chicks are growing at a steady rate and being fed a healthy diet, which mostly consists of Atlantic Herring. Some chicks are being fed so much that they actually have to lose weight in order to lift themselves off the ground and fly! We’re glad to finally start seeing our chicks transform into successful adults!

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One of my healthy provisioning chicks. Not quite ready to fledge yet!

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Chicks that were recently born. Only a couple days old!

Only one more week until the island closes. This season really flew by! I’ll keep you updated on any more unusual or exciting events happening on Ship!

-Amanda

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So far around the island we’ve come across Common Eider, Mallard, Savannah Sparrow, and Spotted Sandpiper chicks. Although a little behind schedule, we were beyond happy to finally find our first Common Tern chicks! Soon we will start banding them and taking measurements. Hopefully we will start seeing more every day!

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Our first Common Tern chick!

Our terns have been acting different than normal. Rather than settling down to incubate, many of them appear to be much more active flying around and leaving the island. We grew suspicious that there might be an owl around. In order to make sure it doesn’t disturb our terns, we set up a total of 17 foothold traps covering all sections of the island. When we placed the traps, we put them in areas that seemed suitable for an owl to land. If the owl lands on the platform that contains the trap, its leg will be caught. This trap doesn’t hurt the owl because it’s padded, but it allows us to capture it so it can be relocated. Though our minds were focused on an owl, we didn’t forget about our frequent Peregrine Falcon visitors. To prevent any unintended capture, we made sure to set off the traps during the day.

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The sign is lined with chicken wire at the top making the post with the trap the only suitable place to land

Only a few days after setting the traps, we caught the owl! Morgan and I noticed the terns were once again acting strange during our night stint, where we took shifts watching the colony between 6:00 PM and 12:00 AM. The next morning the terns were dive-bombing at the ground, and I could see through my binoculars that the trap wasn’t on the post anymore. It seemed unlikely that we caught an owl, especially since we weren’t completely sure we even had one, and last year it took over 2 weeks to catch it! We walked over expecting to find something like a gull caught up in our trap, but to our surprise it was a Great Horned Owl! We safely caught the owl, covering its head so it would stay calm, and removed him from the trap. It already had a band on its leg, so we suspect that it might be the same one from last year. The owl will be brought to a rehabilitation center to make sure it isn’t hurt, and it will be released somewhere far from our terns! We are so thankful we caught it in time, especially now that our eggs are hatching!

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Morgan about to cover the infamous Great Horned Owl with a blanket to keep him calm

 

Outside of bird research, we enjoy watching the Harbor Seals bask in the sun and swim around with their pups. The seals can be found on two adjacent islands. One pup decided to visit us on Ship this week. We were nervous when we didn’t see the mom around, but we were taught that after 3 weeks the pups begin to live on their own.

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Curious pup visiting our island

Ship has been very busy this week. We’re hoping to continue to wake up to new surprises every day, but only good ones!

-Amanda

 

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This weekend the Ship Island crew headed over to Pond Island to take part in a beach cleanup along the shore. Morgan and I, as well as several other volunteers, collected dozens of trash bags filled with lost buoys, cans, bottles, and more. This year is the first year the group will be able to actually recycle the plastic that was collected. Through the company, TerraCycle, our collection of plastics, no matter how dirty or broken they may seem, will be sent over to be thoroughly cleaned and re-purposed. Typically, most objects made out of recycled plastic only consist of about 30% reused material. Though it doesn’t seem like a lot, or maybe even not enough, if the concentration is increased then the new object becomes closer to the end of its lifespan and can no longer be reused. It was good to get off the island and spend some time with others working to keep our environment clean, but we’re glad to be back on Ship with our terns!

 

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Section of a boat that was found washed to shore. We needed all hands on deck to carry this one over!

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Beach Cleanup Volunteers

Back home on Ship, we’ve had problems with other birds predating on our Common Terns and their eggs. Currently, Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, American Crows, Peregrine Falcons, and Northern Harriers are our main concerns. Almost every day we spend two hour shifts in the blinds to observe the tern behavior and keep an eye out for any of these predators that might pass by. During the evening we’ve been marking nests with predation sticks so we can notice if any eggs have gone missing. By doing this we are also able to get a good idea on how many terns we really have on the island. It doesn’t look like it, but so far we have counted over 500 nests, which means we have over 1000 terns! So far so good! In a few days we will be doing a GOMSWG census which will give us an even closer estimate on our tern population size. We’re excited to share the results with you next week!

-Amanda

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For the third consecutive year, Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge collaborated with partners and volunteers to band northern saw-whet owls at Petit Manan Point unit (Sept 28-Nov 6, 2016).  The Refuge has identified the peninsula of Petit Manan NWR and islands like Metinic Island as important stopover sites, especially for hatch year birds making their first migration.

Northern saw-whet owls breed in the boreal saw_whet-nathan-weyandtand northern hardwood forests of the US and Canada and migrate to lower latitudes for the winter, with the northeastern population having a cyclical increase in reproductive success and subsequent migration irruption every 4-5 years.  The autumn of 2016 was one of those “irruption” years, and was a busy one at Petit Manan Point.   The banding station operated 6 nets on 30 nights (265 hours) and captured 431 owls.  The two busiest nights for migration were October 14 and October 27, when 66 and 73 owls were caught respectively.  Nets were open daily from sunset to sunrise weather permitting, and audio lure of saw-whet calls was played to attract owls to the nets.  In addition to capturing saw-whets, 6 barred owls were banded and released at a distance away from the Point.

Barred owls are usually thought of as year-round residents, with a territory size of at least a square mile per owl.  During years when prey populations result in reproductive pulses of saw-whet owls, the same abundant prey also result in more young barred owls being produced.  These young barred owls then disperse to find vacant areas where they settle in as permanent residents.  During this autumn dispersal, barred owls are often captured at saw-whet owl banding stations, sometimes while attempting to prey on the much smaller saw-whet owl.

Year Owls Banded Foreign Recaptures Capture Rate (Owl/Hour)
2011 182 5 2.17
2014 56 0 1.49
2015 285 1 0.95
2016 431 1 1.62

 

The Petit Manan Point station is part of Project OwlNet, a continental network of more than 125 banding stations.   Several saw-whet owls banded at Petit Manan Point from 2011-2016 have been recaptured at other stations in the eastern US (Figure 1).  Saw-whets owls outfitted with small radio transmitters (nanotags) in 2014 traveled by Metinic Island and St. John, New Brunswick during migration that year.  Project OwlNet is responsible for much of what is known about saw-whet migration routes and timing.

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Volunteers and partners make this project successful!  Dave Brinker, of Maryland DNR and the founder of Project OwlNet (www.projectowlnet.org), initiated the current Petit Manan Point station in 2014.  Adrienne Leppold of Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is the co-director of the Petit Manan saw-whet owl netting effort.  Adrienne assists with all local details of station operation throughout the owl season.  Each autumn, Dave comes up to Maine to set up the station and get it operational while training a volunteer bander that will be on site all season.

In 2016, Dave recruited volunteer Nate Weyandt to run the station.  Nate is from Latrobe, PA and just worked a greater sage-grouse research project in Utah.  His main hobbies include fishing and bird banding.  This was the first year he captured owls and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially because they are difficult to see in the wild otherwise.  Nate was joined by volunteers Ed Conrad and Caroline Jordan for the last 3 weeks of the season after operating a passerine migration banding station at the Schoodic Institute.  Ed banded saw-whet owls on the Refuge in 2011, when we first documented the importance of the Petit Manan peninsula to bird during migration.  We now hope to establish a permanent migration station at Petit Manan Point.  In 2016, 27 volunteers contributed a total of 750 hours to this project.

Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of Maine Coastal Islands NWR, the banding crew had a wonderful house to stay in after long nights of banding.  The Wehr family donated the house to the Friends group, and who will soon transfer the property to the Refuge.  The Wehr house was an immense improvement to living in the cramped banding station travel trailer with no running water.  Without the Wehr house, it would have been very difficult to attract volunteers for an extended amount of time.  Thanks so much to all of the Friends, volunteers, and partners for making this season possible!

 

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