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Posts Tagged ‘Metinic Island’

We’re coming to a close here on Metinic. Most of our tern chicks are flying around or landing near the water’s edge. We’ve taken down most of our productivity plots, since we can’t monitor chicks that can fly out when we get close. The guillemot chicks get closer to fledging every time we check the burrows.

Shorebirds are becoming more and more plentiful, with dozens of short-billed dowitchers and semipalmated sandpipers flitting around the north end of the island every day. Several whimbrels have taken up residence atop the hill by the gull colony and a few semipalmated plovers, least sandpipers, ruddy turnstones, and yellowlegs have been gleaning the tide line for food.

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Short-billed dowitchers use their long bills to probe deep into the seaweed

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Ruddy turnstones got their name from their habit of flipping small rocks to seek food

It’s the time of year for berries, and the island is covered in raspberry bushes in full fruit. A few early blueberries can also be found growing low to the ground. On one of our birding trips through the woods, we came across a bountiful clearing rife with raspberries. It was a great spot for a snack break.

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Snack time!

We’ll be heading back to the mainland on Tuesday. It’s been a great summer out here of monitoring birds, racking up bird species (still at 96), and chasing sheep. The weather has generally been fantastic, and the sunsets continue to be beautiful. It’s bittersweet to leave, but as the terns depart, so must we.

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Sunset from the tern colony

So long, and thanks for reading!

-Mark and Helen

Metinic 2016 Crew

Metinic 2016 crew banding an arctic tern

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

 

 

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

– Helen

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Hello everyone!  The main focus on Metinic this week was our chick provisioning watches.  Essentially what happens is we are watching to see what the adults are feeding their chicks.  To set this up, we select a number of nests in good visibility from our blinds and mark them with numbered and color-coded tongue depressors. We then find the chicks that belong to each nest, band them, and then color a specific part of their body according to the hatch order and corresponding nest.  The first chick to hatch is called the “A” chick and is colored on top of its head.  The second chick to hatch is called the “B” chick and receives color on its chest.  The third chick to hatch is called the “C” chick and is colored on its back.

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One of our provisioning nests.  The color on top of the “A” chick’s head corresponds to the color on the tongue depressor.  When the egg hatches, the “B” chick will get the same color on its chest.

During each provisioning stint we watch each nest for adults coming in with food for the chicks.  We record the nest number, the arrival time of the adult, which chick receives the food, the departure time of the adult, the number of prey items, and the species of prey brought in and its size.  Prey size is determined based on the bird’s bill length.  For example, a fish can be recorded as 1 bill length or 1.5 bill lengths; size is measured to the closest quarter of a bill length.  All of this is often determined within a few seconds as the adults swoop in and the chicks gobble down the food quickly.  Each provisioning stint lasts 3 hours and we try to total at least 12 hours a week each.  All of this information will give us an idea of the amount of food coming in and its quality.

Besides the provisioning watches, we have also been continuing our productivity monitoring.  It is amazing to see just how quickly our chicks are growing up!  Right now the majority of them are in the process of replacing their downy fluff with feathers.  Another interesting thing to observe is the range in development.  A few of the chicks have mostly feathers and seem like they will be fledging soon, while others haven’t even hatched yet!

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One of the older chicks in our productivity plots showing off its feathers.  It is getting so big!

Provisioning and productivity take up the majority of the week, but Mark and I decided to take one afternoon to head down to the southern end of the island to see if we could spot any new species to add to our island list.  As we were walking along one of the southern cobble beaches we came across a bird washed up on shore.  At first glance it looked like a small gull, but as we got a closer look we discovered that is was a tubenose.  Upon further observation and investigation, we were able to ID it as a Northern fulmar!  Our species list is now up to 92 with the addition of a great cormorant, lesser yellowlegs, and a semipalmated plover!

That’s about it for this week, we will be celebrating the 4th of July with our seabirds!  So far, we have been enjoying the various firework shows going on miles across the water on the mainland, and who knows, we may even break out the small grill this evening!

Have a happy 4th of July!

Helen

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It’s been a beautiful week on Metinic, with the warm sun providing for excellent hatching weather. More tern chicks show up every day in our plots and some of the older ones are getting their first wing feathers. Of the dozens of chicks in our plots, the color and pattern can vary considerably from sandy tan chicks with only a few black spots to almost snowy white speckled with dark streaks.

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We call these arctic tern chicks the “Silver and Gold Siblings”

We made the most of the weather early in the week to continue our trapping efforts, with a special focus on one particular bird. In 2010, Refuge staff placed geolocator data loggers on the legs of several arctic terns to track their annual journey from breeding grounds in Maine to their winter range in the waters around Antarctica. The geolocator measures the amount and timing of sunlight to determine the location of the bird. Most of the loggers were retrieved in 2011 or 2012, but a few were still missing. Luckily, Helen and I spotted this bird in May, and figured that it was breeding here. On Wednesday, Refuge staff Brian, Michael, Linda, and Sara came out to the island to locate and catch the bird. Between the six of us, we sat in our five blinds and watched for the bird. We quickly found the bird and its nest, but trapping efforts were to no avail. After a fruitless attempt on Thursday, Brian and Michael came back out on Friday and finally managed to catch the bird after a few hours of waiting with a bow net. It appears that the nest is being attended by three adult terns, which is unusual, but may account for the difficulty of catching the bird if it’s only spending a third of the time on the nest. The geolocator was removed and the bird released. Hopefully, the data on the geolocator can be retrieved and we can see where the bird has been!

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The geolocator on the tern’s leg before it was removed

While the Friday tern trapping stint was ongoing, Helen and I went out to check on black guillemot burrows on the northwest side of the island in advance of hatching. June 27th is International Guillemot Appreciation Day, traditionally around when the first chick hatches. Guillemots, relatives of puffins, nest in rock crevices all along the Maine coast. We located several rocky burrows with eggs and a few with adults attending. Between the burrows, a few gull chicks were running around near their nests atop the rocks.

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An adult black guillemot incubates its eggs in a rock crevice

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Herring gull chick. Both herring and great black-backed gulls breed on Metinic.

At the southern end of the cliffs, we were checking a last couple of rocks when we were surprised to find our first guillemot chicks a few days early!

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Black guillemot chicks are covered in dark gray downy feathers

Have a happy Guillemot Day!

-Mark

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The beginning of the week started out slow and rough as the weather was not cooperative.  High winds made it so we could not go out to the tern colony as we wanted the adults to stay on their eggs and keep them warm from the howling winds.  Finally the weather broke Tuesday afternoon and we were able to do some trapping and banding of adult terns.  We do this by selecting a couple of nests, replacing the eggs with wooden ones so they do not get damaged, and placing a chicken wire trap over the nest with the door open.  When the adult walks into the trap, they step on a trigger platform that closes the door.  As the adult sits in the trap incubating the wooden eggs, we walk up and take it out of the trap through a hole in the top.  The adult is then placed in a bag where it is weighed using a spring scale.  We then band the bird and measure its wing chord and head-bill length before it is released to return to incubate its eggs which we have switched back to the real ones.

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A common tern checking out the trap

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Measuring wing chord length

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Measuring head-bill length

Wednesday we headed over to Matinicus Rock to help them with their tern census.  It was nice to get out to another island to see what was going on there; plus we got to see Atlantic puffins, razorbills, and common murres, three species that do not nest on Metinic.

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Atlantic puffins on Matinicus Rock

The next day it was our turn to census!  With the help of a few guests, we were able to count 608 nests in our colony of arctic and common terns!  We did this just in the nick of time as we came across multiple hatched chicks with more popping up every day!  The rest of the week was spent securing our productivity plots which are circles of fencing surrounding a number of nests.  When the chicks within the plots hatch, we record the hatch date and band them.  Every time we visit the plots, we weigh the chicks and keep track of how they are doing until they fledge.

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Pipping arctic tern egg

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A hungry chick waits to be fed

Throughout the week we have also come across savannah sparrow chicks and fledglings, and spotted sandpiper chicks running around on the rocks.  An identifying characteristic of spotted sandpipers is they bob their rump up and down as they walk; it is funny to watch the tiny fuzzy chicks do this as well!  We are looking forward to more chicks showing up in the upcoming weeks!

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A tiny spotted sandpiper chick

Until next week,

Helen

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Things are getting busy on Metinic. Common and arctic tern eggs typically hatch after about three weeks, so we’ve been making preparations before we have an abundance of chicks scurrying around. Based on when the first egg was found, we’re anticipating the first chick to pop out before next weekend. Ahead of hatching, we will conduct a census of the colony, which in turn has several precursors that we have been working on this past week.

As we have two species of terns on the colony, it is important to determine an approximate ratio of these two species. Nests cannot always be reliably told apart without looking at the bird attending. Arctic terns tend to nest higher on rocks and usually only have two eggs, while common terns typically nest in grassy areas between the rocks and will have a complete clutch of three eggs. However, exceptions abound. Perched up in the blinds, we sit and watch as adult terns fly in to their nests. Then we note the locations of a few nests and run down to place a colored flag near the nest: red flags for arctic, blue flags for common. Based on the 152 nests we flagged, it appears that we have a pretty even split, with arctic terns slightly more prevalent.

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Red and blue flags blowing in the breeze around arctic and common tern nests

Another task before the census is the placement of predation nest markers. While we will also be monitoring nests for predation in our productivity plots later in the season, these markers allow us to note egg predation early in the season and outside of the densest parts of the colony. Tongue depressors are painted, and then placed around nests in the colony, denoting the number of eggs in the nest when placed. These will be collected during the census and any nests with fewer eggs than written on the stick will be noted as likely depredated.

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This two egg nest marker will be easy to spot with its brilliant chartreuse top

Metinic isn’t the only island in the area with breeding seabirds. On Wednesday, we went along with Refuge staff to nearby Two Bush Island. The shrubby vegetation around a small lighthouse serves well to conceal a few eider nests, while some guillemots likely nest in the rocky ledges. On our way back, we circled Crow Island to check on an eagle nest. Two adults were around, but we couldn’t see any eaglets from the boat.

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Two Bush Island lighthouse surrounded by thick brush

This weekend is the annual Metinic Island sheep shear. We helped to drive most of the sheep from across the island to a corral on the southern end, where they are processed. Watching the shearing in action, it is really amazing how much wool some of these sheep have grown. Hopefully some of that wool will be made into warm layers so that those wearing it can be as cozy as the sheep out here off the coast of Maine.

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Sheep from the drive waiting to get sheared along with a few that had already been

Until next time!

Mark

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While the terns have been settled on their nests incubating eggs, we had an eventful week here on Metinic Island!  The excitement began on Tuesday when a multi-agency group of biologists interested in common eiders came out to take blood samples from the hens for their ongoing genetic population analysis.  Mark and I got to learn about common eider biology and assist with the capture of 38 hens, which was quite fun!  We caught them by either using a dip net after flushing them off of their nests, or we simply snuck up on them and picked them up off of their nests.  We found that you have to be quick to catch them, but once caught, they are quite easy to handle.  Each hen was then banded, and a small blood sample was taken before releasing them to tend to their nests again.  Throughout the remainder of the week, we have also been spotting a number of eider creches with the largest being made up of 23 hens and 28 ducklings!

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Here is a hen that was just banded 

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Now a small blood sample is taken

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Here I am with the hen ready to be released!

The next couple of days were spent climbing around the rocky coast of the island searching for black guillemot burrows.  These alcids like to nest in holes and crevices in the rocks, so once we found one with either an adult or an egg in it; we marked the entrance with spray paint so we can relocate the burrows for our egg assessments and growth rate monitoring of the chicks when they hatch.

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A burrow we marked with blue spray paint

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A black guillemot egg found in the burrow

Some of the island’s sheep managed to escape our first round-up and had been wandering around in the tern colony, running the risk of them trampling the eggs.  Our efforts to chase them off of the colony were becoming too numerous, so we decided to do a second round-up and drive to the southern end of the island.  After the round-up, deputy refuge manager Brian Benedict was checking the fence to make sure it was working and came across a popped weather balloon with its parachute deployed.  Attached to the parachute string was an envelope with a message asking whoever found the balloon to mail the accompanying measuring device back to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  That just goes to show you never know what you’ll find working out on the Maine coastal islands!

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Mark with the NOAA weather balloon

That just about wraps up another exciting week on Metinic!  We are looking forward to the next coming weeks as more nests and possibly more chicks show up!  We are also hoping to add to our bird species list, we are at 82 now!

Until next time,

Helen

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