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Posts Tagged ‘Petit Manan’

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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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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Petit Manan Island is in peak hatching season! The small, delicately speckled brown tern eggs are disappearing and being replaced by similarly patterned fluffy chicks. The oblong, white-brown spotted black guillemot eggs are opening up to reveal all-black downy chicks. Where once we were seeing large, gleaming white puffin eggs, now chicks with long grey down and white bellies are hiding quietly in their burrows. We even have found one razorbill chick (see photo below)! The only seabird still solely in the incubation stage are the Leach’s storm-petrels.

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One question that I often get asked is, why do some seabirds only ever hatch one chick (think puffins, razorbills, storm-petrels), while others can rear multiple chicks (terns, guillemots, etc)?

In general, seabirds have small clutch sizes compared to birds of other groups like most waterfowl, game birds, and some perching birds. This is because seabirds, unlike the groups mentioned previously, tend to have long life spans. This means it is not quite as critical for seabirds to have a successful nesting season their first breeding season or every year of their life in order to replace themselves in the population. Other bird species may only get one chance to successfully reproduce if annual adult survival is low due to high depredation of adults and/or other factors.

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But why lay only one egg instead of two or even three? There are multiple factors that influence seabird clutch size, and still many questions to be answered. Chick rearing is very energetically demanding for the parents, from egg formation to providing enough food for growing chicks. Right from when birds arrive on the breeding grounds, food availability is critical. After long migrations or rough winters, seabirds need to be able to find enough resources near their breeding colony to allow them to be in proper condition for breeding. Limited food resources during this period of time can cause birds to lay smaller clutch sizes, or even not nest at all.

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This still does not answer our question why puffins and other species only lay one egg, in both good and bad food years. For species with one egg clutches, it is more beneficial for the long-term survival and breeding success of the adults to raise only one chick at a time. Raising two chicks would probably not be impossible during good food years, but the energetic costs on the parents might make this not worthwhile in the long run. So puffins, razorbills, and many other seabirds prefer to take things slow, laying only one egg per season.

Currently, we have found 17 black guillemot chicks, 15 Atlantic puffin chicks, one razorbill chick, and a few hundred tern chicks!

-Jill

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Petit Manan Island is well known for its seabird inhabitants, most notably our Atlantic Puffins and Arctic Terns. However, a total of eight species of marine birds return yearly to nest on Petit Manan Island. Most of these birds have conspicuous nests, such as the terns and Laughing Gulls which lay their eggs on the ground’s surface. The Alcids, such as Puffins, Black Guillemots, and Razorbills, lay their eggs in burrows or rock crevices, but the adults are still easily observed on the rocks and surrounding waters. But Leach’s Storm-Petrels, the smallest seabird denizen of Petit Manan, are a little bit trickier to detect.

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Jimmy holding an adult Leach’s Storm Petrel that was grubbed from a nearby burrow

Leach’s Storm-Petrels differ from the other seabirds on PMI in a variety of ways. Taxonomically, they are the only species representing a group of seabirds called the Tubenoses to be found on PMI. Also, they are nocturnal and nest in often long, twisting sod burrows.  The burrow entrances are smaller than the size of a fist, and tucked underneath rotting logs, debris and rocks. These life history traits make observing storm-petrels quite the challenge, and prevent accurate estimations of breeding pairs on nesting islands.

This summer we have been testing a new methodology to s
urvey for active storm-petrel burrows. Instead of just reaching as far into each burrow to feel for birds and eggs, we have been playing a recording of storm-petrel vocalizations outside of each potential burrow entrance. The results have been extremely exciting! The birds have been responding with their strange, goblin-giggling call from deep within their burrows. But more importantly, this method has allowed us to find more birds than just by feeling in the burrows. In fact, 63% of the storm-petrels we located only because we heard them – their burrows did not allow us to reach them. Overall, 93% of the adults we located using both methods responded to playback. Hopefully this monitoring technique will provide new insights into Leach’s Storm Petrels nesting on Maine coastal islands!

-Jill

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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!

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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.

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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!

-Morgan

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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!

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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!

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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

Best,

Morgan

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

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