Posts Tagged ‘Maine Coastal Islands’

As our fifth week comes to an end on PMI, the island is looking more and more like a seabird colony. More Arctic and Common Terns appear every day, and so do their nests. Last week our first Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill and Black Guillemot eggs were found!


Our first Black Guillemot eggs in a rather cavernous rock crevice


But this week I’d like to talk about something that is more ever present than the seabirds themselves- marine debris. It’s found all over Petit Manan- some so old that the ground has reclaimed it and the vegetation grows through it. It finds itself lodged between rocks impossible to retrieve, and even ends up in the burrows of the birds we are trying to protect. Although the islands on Maine Coastal Islands NWR are closed to the public during breeding season, trash still lines the shores as a constant reminder of our every day impact.


Buoys are a common item to wash ashore on Petit Manan, as well as plastic water bottles, chewing tobacco tins, rope, and bleach jugs. Some of this seems common to local boaters, but the majority of marine debris actually comes far inland and makes its way down through rivers.


In the first three weeks on Petit Manan, my co-workers and I collected 840 gallons of trash from the shore. This in addition to the 10 tons of marine debris that refuge boat operator, Jim Fortier, and local Maine volunteers remove annually from Petit Manan Point. Some of our most frequent items include disposable plastic water bottles and other single-use plastic bottles. One afternoon I counted to see just how many water bottles we were picking up, and it averaged out to two water bottles every minute. And they just keep coming ashore.

This isn’t just an aesthetic problem. Marine plastics are a growing problem, especially for our seabirds. Plastics don’t biodegrade or decompose into new material, but they do break down. They continue to break down until they become so small that you cannot see them anymore, these are called micro-plastics. These tiny plastics end up being eaten by seabirds, either because their food already has micro-plastics in it, or because of their feeding strategy like those who skim the surface of the water.

Last year the Oceans and Atmosphere Business Unit of Australia released a study warning that by 2020 99% of seabird species will have been found to consume plastics, and of those species 95% of the individual in each species will have consumed plastics. This news spells disaster for seabird species. Consumption of larger plastic items can lead to obstruction of the bird’s digestion system and death, while eating smaller plastics takes up space in the birds’ stomachs reducing their food intake and leads to decreased health conditions and starvation. This has also been shown to reduce the survival of fledgling and juvenile seabirds.

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This image shows all of the marine plastics that were extracted from a single Albatross upon its death. Image courtesy of Tim Zim

So marine debris is a real problem, and if nothing is done it is projected to only get worse. In the 11 years from 2015 to 2026 we are expected to create as much plastic, as all the plastic that has been produced since its creation. Fixing this is not just a matter of watching your trash on beach trips, but to reconsider what you buy and how you dispose of your waste. The majority of marine debris comes from trash that is transported from far inland areas by rivers.

So my challenge to all you seabird lovers out there is to make a positive change in your life. Take the time to clean up and collect recyclables in an area, because you never know if that trash will make it to the ocean. Use your consumer power and switch from disposable water bottles to a reusable one – by not supporting goods sold in plastic containers you are lessening the demand for those goods in the future.  Practice the waste management hierarchy- reduce, reuse, and recycle before ever sending something to the landfill.

Thanks for all your help in protecting in the seabirds we love!

For more information check out these links!

Till next time!


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hoppin on

A banded common tern (Sterna hirundo) returns to the nest for incubation. This image was remote-triggered on a hidden camera, toward which the terns are very tolerant!

Common tern activity levels on Ship have made an about-face, going from mostly quiet to positively booming! For the past 10 days or so, the birds have been active virtually all day long, courting their partners and tending their nests. At the time of writing, well over 150 nests have been established on the island. Of 100 nests being monitored for early-season predation, only 4 have been lost– and 3 of the 4 were taken out by the highest tide of the month. If you’re more of a visual learner, check out the figure below; a legend is available by rolling your mouse over the chart. If you want, you can even click to zoom in on any of the images.

In simple terms: things are going well. Breeding savannah and song sparrows have begun to hatch, as have the common eiders, gulls, and double-crested cormorants on our neighboring islands. It should be a matter of days before our nesting spotted sandpiper fathers will escort their chicks to safe foraging, as well.


Between seal pups, tern eggs, and the numerous fuzzy chicks emerging all around us, we have plenty to observe at Ship. Later this week we hope to establish our productivity plots for the season and begin adult trapping efforts in order to band new birds recapture known individuals. Our projected first hatch date is June 19th, so knock on wood and stay posted for the big news in a couple of weeks!

fuzzy COEI peeps

A fuzzy creche of six common eider (Somateria molissima) chicks escorted by two hens! We hopefully theorize that the small number of adult birds escorting this creche is due to rampant nesting success of all the other eider hens out there on Trumpet and East Barge Islands.

As if all these babies weren’t enough, spring migration somehow persists on Ship. Our long-awaited Nelson’s sparrow (easily identified by its song, which sounds remarkably like a match being lit) has finally taken up residence on the island, along with an alder flycatcher that can be heard singing daily; the vocalization (a burry “fee-beeoh!”) of this bird is just about the only thing that sets it apart from its doppelganger, the willow flycatcher.


In birding parlance, focusing in on a single area to frequently document its species is known as “working a patch”, and that’s certainly what every Maine Coastal Islands seabird crew does. Because a daily birdwalk is part of our essential duties, we become very familiar with what species to expect on a daily basis and can quickly recognize oddities. In working our teensy patch called Ship Island, we have managed to document some 68 birds, including such bizarre wintertime lingerers as long-tailed duck, Bonaparte’s gull, and even a single black-legged kittiwake! And that isn’t even mentioning all of the freshly-molted warblers that continue to stream through in their alternate plumage.

That’s the news from Ship Island this week. Hopefully our industrious tern colony will continue to grow despite gloomy weather! In the meantime, we’ll be counting birds and huddling in the warmth of our tiny cabin when it gets too miserable out.


Bonus bird fact: did you know that the scientific name of the common eiderSomateria  molissima, literally translates to “very soft woolbody”? An apt name, considering how the seaducks are prized for their luscious down! And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of feeling an eider’s feathers, you’ll know this to be true.


Until next time!

Meredith Miles @ Ship Island

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This week Petit Manan welcomes the remainder of our crew- Shelby and Jimmy! And with them they brought nesting terns and beautiful weather!


The view from the top of Petit Manan Light. We keep track of Alcid populations by counting them from the top of the Light twice a day!

As our second week on Petit Manan comes to a close, we have given up our reign of the island to the birds. No longer can we go to the outhouse in the middle of the night without hearing the territorial “ka-ka-ka” of Common Terns before they swoop towards our heads. Where once we could walk freely there are now hidden nests and incubating mothers that we must be careful not to disturb. And we couldn’t be more excited!


One of four Common Eider nests we have found this week. Many more Eiders nest on neighboring Green Island.

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While searching for red-backed salamanders, I found this year’s first Savannah Sparrow’s nest hiding under a rotting log!

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And finally the one we’ve all been waiting for… the first tern egg of the season! Since then we have found three more nests, but without the safety in numbers of the whole colony nesting, these terns may have abandoned their egg so not to be targeted by Peregrine Falcons.

We hope to have another Egg-cellent week, as next we begin checking rock crevices and artificial burrows for Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, and Black Guillemot eggs!

Until next time here is a bit of wisdom, “I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.” -Joseph Addison




Petit Manan Seabird Researchers 2016 – Shelby, Jimmy, Jill, & Morgan

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Hi all!  Helen here!  My first week with the seabirds on Metinic Island has been full of exploring, birding, and learning new things!  We started out the week by rounding up all of the resident sheep and driving them to the southern end of the island where we put up an electric fence to keep them out of the tern colony for the season.  We did this just in time as both the arctic and common terns have returned and are actively seeking out mates and nesting sites.  We have begun observing the terns from the blinds and have watched them settling in throughout the week.  We have seen the terns landing on the ground, evaluating various potential nesting sites, and showing courtship behaviors such as the males presenting the fish they caught to females.


Common terns checking out the area! 

The terns aren’t the only ones settling in for the season, the black guillemots are courting and seeking out burrows in the rocks as well.  We have also observed a number of common eider nests with eggs!  We even saw one hen with three ducklings today, which is early for them.  We are expecting to find many more eider nests in the coming weeks as they are still displaying courtship behaviors.  To prepare for the arrival of the chicks, we have begun setting up snake plastic as a means of predator control.  Metinic has a population of garter snakes who enjoy feeding on the seabird eggs and hatchlings, so we set out black plastic that the snakes will be attracted to because they create a warm place for them to hide.  We will periodically check the plastic and gather any snakes into a bucket to release them on the mainland.


A hen common eider on her nest, they have excellent camouflage!


Freshly laid eider eggs

Along with setting up and preparing for the upcoming season of seabird chick monitoring, we have been keeping track of our other feathered friends on the island.  Every day we start out with our morning point counts then spend the day exploring around and recording any additional bird species seen/heard, and we end the day with shorebird counts right before sunset.  So far, Mark and I have recorded 71 different species!  Metinic is a great location to support a variety of birds as the island includes rocky coast, open field, forest, wetland, shrub, and pond habitats.  We are looking forward to adding to our list as the season progresses!


Black-throated green warblers are very common in the island forest!


Ruddy turnstones on the shore



Until next week,


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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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In my last blog I mentioned that the Petit Manan crew had resighted a banded American Oystercatcher (AMOY) with its mate on Green Island which is adjacent to PMI and only accessible during low tide. After observing the banded AMOY in mid-May, we submitted our finding to the Bird Banding Lab website and received information about the bird. We discovered that it was born and banded as a chick in 2006 on Nantucket Island, Nantucket, MA. It was last resighted in 2014 in Charleston, South Carolina,

Observing American Oystercatcher on Green Island. Photo by: John Fatula

Observing American Oystercatchers on Green Island. Photo by: John Fatula

On our second visit over to Green Island we were combing the north-west side for any sign of Oystercatcher eggs, when we noticed that our 9 year-old banded AMOY, with its mate, were unusually vocal. So, we decided to move out of the area and use a spotting scope to watch from a distance. After about 15 minutes of scanning around we noticed tiny little chick heads in the rocks and sure enough they were 3 oystercatcher chicks!  We all watched through the scope as the adults foraged around and were surprised how quickly the adults can extract the meat from a mussel and feed the chicks (about 3 seconds). AMOY chicks will usually stay with the adults for up to a year to perfect their foraging techniques.

Foraging AMOY with 2 chicks( you can see how camouflaged the chicks are.)

Foraging AMOY with 2 chicks: you can see how    camouflaged the chicks are.

Banded AMOY with chicks. Photo by: Julia Gillis

Banded AMOY foraging with chick. Photo by: Julia Gillis

After further research by Linda Welch we were informed that these were the first AMOY chicks to be discovered on Green Island since 1997! Not only that, they have now become the most northerly breeding pair within their range. How cool! We always thought that Green Island seemed like a perfect place for AMOYs to nest, and have seen them loafing there in recent years, but never found any eggs or chicks as the adults are very secretive.  With just a few alarm calls by the adults, the chicks instinctively hide deep in the rocks of the intertidal zone. Each adult will constantly call and try to lure any predators out of the area. We just hope this pair can keep the prying eyes of the gulls away from discovering their chicks so they can grow up and successfully fledge. And we even received a certificate for our efforts.



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Common Tern on flagpole

Common Tern on flagpole

Another year on PMI! After two weeks of cold weather and high winds the terns have finally started to nest. Maybe not in the numbers that we are used to but it’s still early enough for more terns to arrive and settle in for the nesting season. The Alcids on PMI don’t seem to waste any time, Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills have already laid eggs at least 3 days ago and hundreds of Black Guillimots are still prospecting all over the island.

First Actic Tern egg

Actic Tern egg

Atlantic Puffin egg

Atlantic Puffin egg

Razorbill egg

Razorbill egg

Tern eggs are made to blend in with beach materials such as sand, pebbles, and seashells but nesting up and away from the beach can be risky as some tern eggs can stand out against the vegetation and island dirt. Puffin and Razorbill eggs don’t need to be camouflaged as most Alcids nest in deep, dark burrows away from the eyes of arial predators. Puffin eggs are all white and a little smaller than the Razorbill’s bigger, speckled egg.

Banded American Oystercatcher resighted  on Green Island

Banded American Oystercatcher resighted on Green Island

Last week while over on Green Island, which is ajacent to PMI and only accessible at low tide, we resighted an American Oystercatcher! We know they try to nest there every year, but haven’t yet been able to resight one yet. Now with the numbers on his bands we can find out who he is.

Memorial Day cookout on PMI

Memorial Day cookout on PMI

Thanks to MCINWR we have a grill this year! Until next time….

Wayne and Julia

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The seabird season has begun! Wayne and I are back for another year on Petit Manan Island near Milbridge, Maine. Two more researchers will be joining us next week, but until then we are getting the island set up and ready for the season!

It’s a pretty big process to get all your gear and groceries and research equipment to the island, especially when the water temperature is still in the 40’s. To get here we exchanged our regular float coats for the safer and much bulkier Survival Suits.

Wayne sporting his stylish and essential survival suit.

Wayne sporting his stylish and essential survival suit.

Once here with all our belongings, we spent the first week getting reacquainted with the island. The vegetation was burned a few weeks ago in an effort to create more suitable seabird nesting habitat. Green grass is already growing through the burn rapidly, but when we first arrived it looked almost other-worldly.

View of the burnt island and our home from the top of the light tower where we conduct our twice-daily counts.

View of the burnt island and our home from the top of the light tower where we conduct our twice-daily bird counts.

Other early season tasks include setting up the remainder of the observation blinds. They are built as four separate walls and roof and need to be assembled and disassembled every season. They are held together with bolts and have folding windows on each side for observation.

Wayne putting bolts into an observation blind before the roof is attached.

Wayne putting bolts into an observation blind before the roof is attached.

We have been keeping an eye out for migration visitors and have been looking through scopes to observe behaviors and find rafts of ducks on the water. So far we have seen 73 species of birds! For the past week we have had extreme wind which seems to have slowed down migration. When we woke this morning the wind was blowing at an average of 23 mph with gusts as high as 37mph!

Julia observing wildlife through a scope.

Julia observing Harlequin Ducks through a scope.

Right now we are anxiously awaiting the permanent arrival of Terns and the first eggs of the Puffins, as well as the arrival of our two additional researchers! More to come later!

Julia & Wayne

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Hey Everyone!

The first couple weeks here on Ship Island have been fantastic! We have had great luck with the weather and are actually just hitting our first patch of all-day fog. We found our first Common Tern nest on 5/29 and the rest of the colony is following suit. We have identified 63 nests so far and terns are still showing up! Common Terns are the only species of terns that we have here. We do however also have  Spotted Sandpipers, sparrow, warblers, and Mallards nesting here. Some of these later birds have hatched already!



They grow up so fast!



For some reason a snail joined these Song Sparrow eggs.

While doing blind work Mary and I get to watch what the terns bring in to feed their mates. It’s actually very exciting as you try to follow the birds with your binoculars and either identify the food or snap a picture before they gobble it down. As of late, the gulls and terns in the area have taken to eating Clam Worms. These worms might seem a little strange out of water but they have a beautiful iridescent green to purple coloring as they swirl around in the water to clean themselves of sand. Most of the worms are around ten inches long and quite hilarious to see our small terns carrying.


What we believe to be a herring.

The research that we do for birds here is very rewarding, however we do have other responsibilities to help take care of Ship Island. One of the most important things we do is remove invasive species. The primary one here is garlic mustard (Allaria petiolata). The island had recently been covered in garlic mustard but Maine Coastal has been working towards removing the invasive for the past eight years. We have been testing different control methods, cautious in what methods we use in order to not affect the other species on the island. Currently we spend most warm days hand pulling the adults (the plant is biennial) before they go to seed.


The nightmare when you weed around Cow Parsnip.

Till Next Time!

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