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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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Hello hello all amazing and wonderful seabird fans!

Hallie here, writing from the currently gloomy and rainy but still wonderful Petit Manan Island!

It has been a very exciting week here on the island! We completed our GOMSWG census as Brandon highlighted, and we had a total of over 1400 tern nests, 640 Laughing Gull nests, and 47 eider nests! In addition, we already have over 47 Puffin nests, 54 Black Guillemot nests, 20 Leach’s Storm Petrel nests, and even a handful of Razorbill nests!

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Common Eider ducklings

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Arctic Tern chick with egg-tooth (the white calcified bit on the end of its bill)

But if you are wondering the specific reason why I cannot wipe a smile off of my face — it is because our chicks have begun hatching! After a period of incubation specific to every species, the chick will begin the long and tiring journey of hatching.  Chicks have a specialized calcified bump on the ends of their bills called an egg tooth, of which they use to slowly chip away at the eggshell from the inside, making their way around until they hatch. For most individuals, hatching takes around 12-48 hours, and they emerge looking like cute little fuzz-balls with little flipper feet — and trust me, its adorable.

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4 day old Savannah Sparrow chicks!

From the point of hatching on, for all chicks on the island including the cute little Savannah Sparrow chicks pictured, the job for the parents arguably becomes harder. The chicks not only still require periods of incubation, but they also need to be fed multiple times a day, sometimes even multiple times an hour! We have been finding some chicks increasing in weight by over 300% in a 24 hour period! They honestly grow up so quickly.

For the next few weeks here on PMI, we will be monitoring the productivity and development of our tern chicks, doing provisioning where we will identify fish that the parents are feeding their chicks, collecting fecal samples to look at what the adult birds are feeding themselves, and banding chicks with 2 bands that we can use to re-identify them in later years. Today, if we are lucky, we may even band our first puffling — something that I have honestly dreamed of doing ever since I banded my first bird 4 years ago!

Until next time, bird nerd friends!

 

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Devon and I celebrating his first banded Arctic Tern chick!

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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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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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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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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 past week on Ship has been very similar to what has been going on at Metinic and PMI. Most of our days have been pretty dreary. On these foggy and rainy days we spend our time reading (A+ to Morgan for reading 8 books so far), eating snacks, catching up on sleep, writing letters, drawing, and staying updated on what’s going on in the real world. It is relaxing, but we’re anxious to get back out there and get a closer look on how our terns our doing.

When it’s not too foggy out, we are able to sit outside and watch the colony. We don’t sit too close because we don’t want to surprise or scare them. We’ve been doing this frequently to deter the Peregrine Falcon who has been stopping by from the island.

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Sunset view while watching for predators

Before the bad weather, we spent most days attempting to re-sight bands, making productivity plots, and trapping adult terns to band, measure, and weigh. To trap the terns we use a Treadle Trap. We first need to replace the eggs with fake eggs. This prevents the tern from damaging their eggs once he/she is trapped. After this we place a wired box over the nest with one end open. When the bird steps through the opening onto the pad, the door will shut and the tern is unable to escape. We quickly retrieve the bird to collect our data, put back the original eggs, set him free, and repeat. It was pretty cool when I got to hold and release my first tern!

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One of our productivity plots

The results from our GOMSWG census indicated that we have about 620 nests in total. Hopefully we’ll start seeing some chicks soon!

-Amanda

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Aya and I arrived on Metinic Island to find a cozy two-story cabin surrounded by cobble beaches, sheep and birds, lots of birds. Metinic Island has a diverse patchwork of forests, grasslands, rocky and cobble shoreline that is ideal for nesting and migratory birds. Our job here is to act as stewards for nesting seabirds and to monitor other species passing through.

One of our first jobs is to locate Leach’s storm petrel burrows that are located in rock crevices and soft sod soil. Petrels are nocturnal seabirds that reside in their burrows during the day and also nest in these burrows during the summer season. We have been searching along old rock walls and natural rocky outcroppings searching for freshly dug holes. As we move along, we also sniff these entrances to

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Petrel burrow entrance marked by a blue pin flag.

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Aya looking for petrel burrows.

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try to pick up on the distinct musty, earthy smell that the petrels give off. So far we have flagged thirty-three possible burrows that we will revisit at the end of June to determine if there is an active nest and then we will monitor the chicks until they can fly.

We have also acted as sheep shepherds since we have arrived on Metinic. The sheep belong to the family that owns half of the island and graze the sheep on the northern end during the fall, winter and spring. Tomorrow we will be fencing the sheep to just the southern end of the island. Until then we will continue to discourage them from grazing the northern end, where Arctic and common terns are beginning to nest on the ground.  As the terns start to lay their eggs, we will soon be re-sighting banded terns to identify individuals and to better understand their movements, nesting locations and survival rate.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Ravin

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