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Posts Tagged ‘Migration’

Hello from Petit Manan Island, once again!

The breeding season here on the island has really taken flight since our last post, with the majority of the tern colony having laid eggs, as well as the Puffins, Guillemots, and even some Razorbills! I guess one could say that it is off to an egg-cellent start!

We have been focusing the majority of our efforts every morning on re-sighting birds that have been previously caught and banded either by biologists here at MCINWR, or at other colonies along the Atlantic coastline. We even are lucky enough to occasionally spot birds that were banded along their wintering grounds in Brazil and Argentina. But why is it that re-spotting these birds is so important?

One of the terns we work with, the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea), is quite the world traveler. Once they finish breeding in Maine or along other locations across the arctic, they leave to embark on one of the longest migrations in the bird world, eventually ending up in Antarctica! One bird, tagged and tracked from the United Kingdom, was recorded to have migrated 59,650 miles in one year, making it the longest migration that has ever been recorded. Let me put this straight – this is the equivalent to the bird flying around the world twice, and then adding on another 10,000+ miles. Considering these terns live to upwards of 30 years, this bird will travel farther in its lifetime than most people.

And this is why re-sighting birds is so incredibly important! It not only gives us information like how old the bird is or potentially where it was born, but we can also piece together the puzzle of exactly where each bird travels to during these super long and intense migrations, and more importantly gives conservationists a better idea of which land to protect in order to assure that these birds are around for years to come. Definitely makes waking up at 5 am every morning only to sit in a tiny box for 3 hours a little bit better!

Pictured left to right: A sleepy Common Tern that we identified as an individual banded in Nova Scotia in 2013; Puffin nap time makes re-sighting bands a difficult but adorable job; an Arctic Tern with 2 bands that we identified as an individual born here at PMI in 2016
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Happy band re-sighting!

Best,

Hallie

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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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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

Best,

Morgan & Jill

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Many bird species migrate south every autumn to escape the frigid winters of northern North America. As the snow melts and the plants begin to green in the spring, millions of birds flow back to their summer breeding grounds. While Common Terns and a few other species will breed here, other birds only make a short stopover on or around Ship Island before resuming their northward flight. We’ve had the pleasure of catching a glimpse of a few of these passersby.

Common Loons, Long-tailed Ducks, and Black Scoters overwinter on saltwater. Loons breed on inland wooded lakes during the summer, while the ducks nest in northern Canada. Some of these waterbirds around Ship may have spent the winter in Blue Hill Bay, but others are probably working their way up the coast from further south.

Shorebirds, such as Black-bellied Plovers, Least Sandpipers, and Short-billed Dowitchers spend the colder months along the southeastern and Mid-Atlantic coast. Foraging along the tideline of Ship Island, these birds can refuel for the rest of their trip to their Canadian breeding grounds.

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A small group of our 57 visiting Short-billed Dowitchers

Bird watchers throughout the country revel in the annual springtime flurry of songbirds, especially the colorful warblers. We on Ship are no different, chasing half a dozen warbler species around our small grove. Several Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats will remain for the summer, but others are on their way to breeding grounds in mainland Maine. Magnolia, Blackpoll, and Chestnut-sided Warblers, along with a Northern Parula have all visited the island, gleaning small insects from the cherry trees.

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler in the grove

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler checking out the camera

No migration post would be complete without making mention of the Snowy Owl that visited the island before the summer crew arrived. Two volunteer island-sitters were lucky enough to spot this Arctic predator flying around the island before its northward departure. As wonderful a sight as it would have been, it is probably for the best that it continued its journey before the arrival of most of the owl-meal-sized terns.

Until next time!

-Mark

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Arctic Terns have arguably the most impressive migration of any bird – they travel from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again just about every year of their lives.  While we’ve known for a while where the terns travel, how they get there has been something of a mystery. Do they travel along the coastline? Do they take a direct route from Maine to the Antarctic coast? Do they do a marathon flight from pole to pole, or make pit stops along the way?  These questions were nearly impossible to answer until very recently, for the simple reason that following a single tern (or even a flock of them) is nearly impossible. Terns are small birds – a little over 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces – so they can’t be equipped with heavy satellite tags. They also do mostof their traveling over water, so the odds of spotting a tern on its migration are slim.

Enter the light-level geolocator, here to solve these problems and answer many of our migration questions

A geolocator, wrapped in a waterproof cover, attached to the leg of an Arctic Tern

A geolocator, wrapped in a waterproof cover, attached to the leg of an Arctic Tern

Four years ago, in the summer of 2010, the Refuge deployed 30 geolocator tags on 30 separate Arctic Terns. These tiny tags are lightweight enough that they don’t hinder the terns as they travel (in fact, they’ve been used on even smaller birds, like Purple Martins). They work by using detecting light levels and recording the time of sunrise and sunset every day. Since the length of day and the time of sunrise and sunset are slightly different at every point on the globe, this information can be converted into a rough map of everywhere the tag, and by extension the tern, has been.

A pretty miraculous little gadget, isn’t it? But there’s a catch: to reduce weight, the geolocators don’t transmit the data they gather, they simply record it. To get at all that information, the tag must be retrieved and physically attached to a computer. This means the tagged birds must be recaptured and the tags removed before they do us any good.

A geolocator (right) and a field-readable band (left)

A geolocator (right) and a field-readable band (left)

Recapturing a bird can be difficult. The best way to do so is to find the bird’s nest, and use a trap that springs while the bird is incubating. That, however, requires the bird to be able to find a mate. Last year on Metinic, Zak and I spotted a geolocator-equipped tern who had eluded capture for 3 years, but we couldn’t get our hands on him because he didn’t have a mate or a nest.  He spent all summer trying to court various female terns with fish, but there were no takers.

Hard to believe such a good-looking guy couldn't find himself a date

Hard to believe such a good-looking guy couldn’t find himself a date

This year, our lonely tern returned and found himself a mate. Syd and I set up a trap called a bow net trap, which is triggered by the tern attempting to incubate a set of fake wooden eggs (the real ones are safely stored in a blind so they aren’t crushed by a struggling tern). It took a couple of tries, but today we succeeded in capturing the handsome gentleman we have nicknamed Giovanni (Geo, for short).

Syd and Geo

Syd and Geo

Geo was released back to his mate and eggs, probably glad to be rid of his extra baggage. The geolocator will be returned to Refuge staff, who will hopefully be able to use it create a roadmap of Geo’s travels from the past four years. That could be up to eight traps between Maine and Antarctica – more than 70,000 miles!

Geo, free of the geolocator and sporting a shiny new band

Geo, free of the geolocator and sporting a shiny new band

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During the past few weeks, we have enjoyed watching the migrating passerines that pause to rest and refuel on Petit Manan. On the mainland, many migrants are spread far and wide throughout expansive forest habitat, often bouncing around high in the trees. However, here on PMI we have the rare opportunity to see songbirds up-close in the intertidal. Flies buzzing among the rockweed provide a perfect meal for these hungry birds. Since Petit Manan covers 16 acres and has only one tree (a twisted spruce that is a few feet tall), migrants are easily visible and concentrated within a small area. It seems almost surreal to find Blackburnian Warblers like this one hopping along the rocks, since this species normally feeds high in the treetops.

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Wilson’s Warbler

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Ovenbird

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Black-and-White Warbler

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Northern Parula

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Magnolia Warbler

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White-throated Sparrow (top) and Black-throated Blue Warbler (bottom)

Many of these migrants have traveled all the way from wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. It is amazing to think that such tiny birds can travel this far, and continue even further northward to breed. Passerines often travel by night to avoid predation, and we sometimes hear them calling after dark as they resume their journeys.

We look forward to having more migrant visitors, and adding to our quickly growing bird list!

-Anna

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It’s the end of the season and migration time for all of us. Hard as it is to believe, Zak and I have already been off Metinic for more than week.  We’re not the only ones heading out – our tern chicks will soon be off on their own travels.
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Common Terns will head for South America, a pretty long haul for chicks only a few weeks old. The Arctic Terns have even farther to go – all the way to Antarctica! Lucky for them, they’ve got parents to guide them. Chicks will often complete their first migration by following Mom or Dad. This is because tern parents usually have lots of migratory experience – Common Terns can live to be twenty years old, Arctic Terns more than thirty, and they typically migrate every year.

 

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The rest of our feathered friends are getting geared up for migration too. Shorebirds that we haven’t seen since May are flying south from their Arctic breeding grounds and stopped by to say hi before we left. It’s only a matter of time before the songbirds head out, too.
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It’s been a pretty good breeding season for our terns, especially in light of last’s years troubles. The Arctic Terns in particular did very well thanks to good food, good weather, and few problems with predators. We hope this bodes well for future years on Metinic. We (or next year’s crew) will let you know, starting next May!

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Thanks for following along with our work here on Metinic. Zak and I have had a fantastic time out here and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about what we and the birds have been up to.

Wish our terns chicks luck!

– Amy

(All photos by Zak)

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