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Posts Tagged ‘Petrel’

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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While most of the other MCINWR islands are winding down for the season, Petit Manan is still going strong with major alcid trapping, island-wide guillemot and storm petrel checks, Arctic tern re-sighting, and our new-this-year project: Atlantic puffin feeding studies.

Atlantic Puffin with bill load

Atlantic Puffin with bill load through scope.

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

During our alcid checks, we discovered two little surprises in the form of Razorbill chicks! Only five pairs are breeding here on Petit Manan, so each new chick is very special to us. We even managed to capture one of his parents bringing food back to the burrow, an unusual sight here on PMI

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Razorbill flying with food

Razorbill flying with food

Here are a few more snapshots of what else has been going on at PMI.

Black Guillemot chick being weighed during our weekly productivity checks

Black Guillemot chick being weighed every 5 days as part of our productivity checks

Leach's storm-petrel chick

Leach’s storm-petrel chick

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

A puffin undergoing the banding process

A puffin undergoing the banding process

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Until next time,

Wayne and Julia

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What is that sound walking to the outhouse in the dark of night?! It’s a Leach’s Storm-Petrel! Its call is a spooky one to hear for a person like me unacquainted with the “giggling” sound. I heard my first petrel call here on Petit Manan. Pretty cool!

While the other inhabitants of the island are roosting at night, Leach’s Storm-Petrels are active searching for a mate and a burrow dug from the soil. They are a secretive, nocturnal, and pelagic species only returning to land to breed and active at night to avoid predation. Petrels lay one egg that is incubated for 37-50 days and chicks fledge in September or October.

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Julia with a Leach’s Storm-Petrel adult

Early in the season, we venture out in search of petrel burrows. Our goal is to mark 20 active burrows with colored flags. How do you know it’s active? You reach into the burrow (1-3 feet in length) to find a nest cup, nesting material, or a petrel! Often burrows curve, so a burrow camera can be used to reach where your whole arm cannot. One indication of Leach’s Storm-Petrels is their musty smell at the entrance of a burrow.

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Wayne smells a petrel

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Burrow entrance

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Julia holding the camera and Anna wearing the viewing screen

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Burrow camera in use

Later in the season we will return to the flagged burrows and determine the presence of an egg. Then return again to check for a hatched chick. In the meantime, we will continue with our tern and alcid activities. Look for Petit Manan’s next post for some exciting news!

-Brittany

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