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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.”

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First Guillemot chick found this year

Black Guillemot Jumping

Adult Black Guillemot jumping out of its nest

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While walking through Ship Island’s colony, I’m always fascinated by the variety of egg shapes and sizes we come across. Out of curiosity, I decided to measure and photograph some of these eggs to see how variable Common Tern eggs can be!

Eggs are developed rather quickly. After copulation, an egg can form and be laid in 24 hours! Typically, an egg can be added to the nest every 1 to 2 days. While most clutches contain 1-3 eggs, this season, we’ve found some with 4 to 5! The nest starts off as a simple scrape in the sand, gravel, or dirt. As parents spend more time around or in the nest, they’ll move twigs, vegetation, seaweed, and other objects around to create a proper nest that will keep their eggs inside.

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A Common Tern nest with 3 eggs

On average, Common Tern eggs are 42 mm long and 30 mm wide. As always, there are some eggs that do not meet these parameters. I found that lengths vary the most, ranging from 38 to 46 mm! Meanwhile, egg widths stay closer to the average, varying from 28 to 31 mm.

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These two differently sized eggs are from the same nest!

Tern eggs are subelliptical meaning they are elongated with tapered rounded ends. The widest point of the egg is off center. Like size, shape varies greatly! Some eggs have the widest point towards the middle, creating an oval shape. Others have the widest point so close to one end, the egg has a long narrow point, like a raindrop.

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A typical, subellipitcal egg

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Almost an oval-shaped egg

Sometimes, the most striking feature about the egg is its color and pattern. In just one clutch, the eggs can look wildly different. The colors can range from cream, tan, light brown, to dark brown. The shells are covered in small to large dark splotches and streaks. These markings can concentrate around the widest point, like a belt, or spread across the egg like freckles. The color and pattern is thought to help camouflage the eggs on the beach. However, we occasionally find some odd eggs that stand out. Some appear almost pure white with faint or no markings at all! Others are so dark brown that the markings are hard to distinguish.

Although Andy and I love finding these eggs, we’re hoping that they’ll be hatching soon! While there are some eggs which have been freshly laid, there are some which have survived abandonment and could be hatching any day. We look forward to welcoming the first chicks to Ship!

Percy

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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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While the other islands are expecting their first chicks any day, we watched as all of our terns left their eggs behind. We were hopeful this year! We had over 100 nests and over 200 eggs. Yet, once again, Ship Island has experienced a colony abandonment!

During the first week of June, we had found some predated terns, likely due to a Peregrine Falcon. Ship is located only a few miles from Mt. Desert Island where several pairs are known to nest. Our worst fears were confirmed when Andy and I both flushed the falcon on June 8. As the day went on, tern numbers decreased dramatically from 300 to 50. By the evening, they were all gone.

We weren’t just only concerned about Ship. Over on Trumpet Island, there were no gulls. A predator like a falcon wouldn’t cause the gull colony to abandon as well. We began to suspect an otter attack. Although the gulls eventually returned to the island, we visited the following day to look for predation signs. We were relieved to find nests and eggs intact. We even found some newly hatched Herring and Great Black-backed Gull chicks! However, we think we now know the likely culprit: an owl.

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We got right to work, setting up more traps and beginning all night stints. But, what do we do to encourage the terns to come back? Since terns nest in colonies, they won’t nest if there aren’t others terns around them. So, we have to trick them into thinking there are terns there already!

Currently, there are over 30 Common and Roseate Tern decoys around the nesting grounds. To complete the illusion of a lively tern colony, a solar-powered sound system has been set up. During the day and night, we play recordings of a colony on speakers.

Although we haven’t caught our owl yet, we think the decoys are working! Throughout the week, we’ve seen more terns returning and staying longer. Just today, I even witnessed courtship rituals and nest scraping! We’re doing our best to give them space to allow the colony to start back over.

Hopefully next week we’ll have some better news to share!

Percy

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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 Metinic!

My name is Sequoia, I am one of the two technicians on Metinic Island this summer. I am currently going into my third year at the University of Maine, majoring in wildlife ecology. 

I grew up in a small town in upstate New York, named Moravia. I am an avid outdoors person. I enjoy birding, hunting, hiking, cross country skiing, horseback riding and herping.

While I might not be a “bird person” I wanted to spend this summer learning more about birds so that I can apply the knowledge in the future. Also who wouldn’t want to spend the summer living on such a beautiful island!

My name is Emma and I am the other technician here on Metinic Island. I am a senior at the University of Rhode Island, finishing up my bachelor’s degree in wildlife and conservation biology. Sequoia and I share similar interests, including hiking and working with horses. I enjoy birding along the coast of Rhode Island, especially when there are shorebirds and seaducks involved.

I am thrilled to be spending the summer in such a special place. One of the highlights for me so far was seeing all of the warblers as they passed through during migration. The species diversity on Metinic keeps us on our toes and we never know what we will see next!

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Sequoia on the left and Emma on the right.

We have a bit of catching up to do. We started out the season with a two week quarantine. After flipping a coin, Emma ended up camping in the shed. It wasn’t as bad as it may sound. In fact, one of the best parts about sleeping outside is hearing the storm-petrels at night!

During our first week, we rounded up the 120 resident sheep and moved them away from the tern nesting area. More recently, we kept busy counting the 209 gull nests and 36 common eider nests on the north side of the island. We are continuously documenting all of the amazing bird species here and continue to monitor the common and arctic terns as they get settled and start nesting.

Currently we’ve documented more than 200 tern nests but we’d estimate around 250-300 have been established. Last Sunday we saw the first herring gull chicks hatching and Wednesday we spotted the first ten common eider chicks. 

Though we are already three weeks into the season, we will catch you up as we go. So keep checking in to see what Metinic Island has to offer!

Until next time,

Sequoia & Emma

 

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Two Herring Gull chicks around three days old.

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One of the gorgeous Arctic Terns on Metinic Island.

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A Black Guillemot prouldy proclaiming it’s property.

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The first sighting of Common Eider ducklings this season! The adults stay close to the ducklings to protect them from predators.

 

 

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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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Come meet the 2019 Petit Manan Crew!

Hello all! My name is Hallie Daly, and I am one of the lucky bird-nerds that gets to call PMI their home for the summer. I have been working with wildlife for about 9 years now, having started my obsession when I was just 13 years old. I graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2017 with my degree in wildlife, fish, and conservation biology. I have been lucky enough to have worked internationally on a variety of conservation projects in Romania, the United Kingdom, Guyana, the United States, and most recently American Samoa, with everything from plants, large carnivores, squirrels, bats, and birds. Coming to work with the USFWS at PMI is such an exciting opportunity for me, as I have never worked with a breeding colony of seabirds before! Aside from enjoying wildlife, you can often find me backpacking the John Muir Trail in California, reading books about paleontology, painting, and making horrible puns! I have so much to learn and am so excited to apply my knowledge and skills from my past experiences towards the conservation of these beautiful birds.

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Hallie with a Eurasian Skylark in Aberdeen, Scotland

Hi everyone! My name is Jimmy Welch and I am the supervisor here on PMI for the summer. I am a returning intern and was first a research technician in the summer of 2016 here on PMI. I have since worked with prairie dogs in New Mexico, sea turtles in North Carolina and researched scavengers and small mammals in Maine. I’ve also recently graduated from the University of New England in May 2019 with a degree in Animal Behavior and Environmental Science. I decided I wanted to come back to work for MCINWR and I was lucky enough to be able to return to my favorite island, PMI! I am really excited for the field season and the opportunity to work with such amazing seabird species again. I hope to utilize my previous experience on the island and my diverse field work background to make it a great summer for the PMI crew and all of the wonderful birds here on PMI.

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Jimmy with two black guillemot chicks on PMI 2016

Hey everyone, my name is Devon Jobe and I’m one of the newest researchers working with the USFWS here on Petit Manan Island! I am a rising second-year student at the University of Maine, and am majoring in both Wildlife Ecology as well as Forestry. That being said, this is only my first real position in my field of study and is a totally new and awesome experience for me! I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to be part of  such an exciting project working with breeding seabirds, and I can say with confidence that it is shaping up to be the most interesting introduction into the field of Wildlife Ecology I could have hoped for! I still have a lot to learn but I’m looking forward to doing it here on PMI.

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Devon at Wildland Firefighter Training.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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