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Posts Tagged ‘Productivity’

Hello everyone, this is Bobby writing to you from Ship Island with some breaking news.

The bird word must have gone around, because as of Thursday, July 11th, 321 nests have been found and marked with more being discovered every day! The chaos on the tern nesting beach area is beginning; the eggs laid in late June have begun to hatch this week. Soon our island will be filled with extremely adorable fuzzy chicks who love to run and hide in whatever grass or shelter they can find!

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One of the first chicks on Ship, easily one of the softest objects one could ever hold.

These toddler-like chicks are extremely curious and will wander away pretty far from their nests if given a chance. With them running around all over, it can be difficult to tell how the colony chicks are doing health wise and how many of these chicks are surviving to adulthood. This is answered through a protocol that all of the islands perform known as productivity plots. This may sound like a fancy term, but essentially Colin and I determined a group of nests with eggs that were laid earlier in the season (in our case in late June) that neighbored each other and constructed fencing around them to enclose this area.

 

COTE on colins head

Colin (pictured) and I constantly had terns going at our heads to protect their nests while we constructed productivity plots. This one very nicely went feet first to our heads instead of the usual sharp bill first.

This keeps the chicks from our nests of focus from running all over the beach getting into trouble, that way we can determine how many chicks are surviving to adulthood and the size increases of each chick from each nest within our plots. To determine which chick is which, we put stylish metal BBL bands on their right legs that give them a unique identification number for life in a large online database. Colin and I then check each nest in each plot every morning to monitor the eggs and chicks. I am not a parent, but I imagine how I feel when we look for the chicks every morning it is similar to the stressful situation of a parent trying to find their misplaced kids, as Colin and I are really attached to our chicks in the plots. It has been amazing to see the transformation from egg to chick, and soon from chick to fledgling. Watching them grow up has been so special for Colin and I, and we can’t wait to see each chick’s journey continue. More updates coming soon!

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One of the many chicks hatching this weekend, this one hatched within the hour before this photo with a big world to explore!

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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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Good evening everyone!

Nesting is well under way here on Metinic. While all the terns are pairing up, it is possible to see a few that are trying to be the envy of the whole colony. How you might ask? Well they flaunt some forage fish of course!

I enjoy watching as a tern will bring a fish onto the point and move all over the place, showing it off to as many other terns as possible. They really know how to make their neighbors jealous!

Forage fish are the main food source for terns. What are forage fish exactly? Well they are species crucial to the connection of the marine food web. Sometimes referred to as “Wasp-waist” species, these fish connect the abundance of zooplankton and phytoplankton in the ocean to the abundance larger predatory fish. Basically forage fish eat the small stuff (zooplankton and phytoplankton) and then larger fish (and seabirds) eat the forage fish. Without forage fish, there would be a large gap in the marine food web.

Monitoring forage fish species that the terns are bringing to their chicks will be crucial once they hatch. A few years back, there was a low abundance of Atlantic Herring (their favorite food), and instead a large abundance of Butterfish. The only problem was that the tern chicks were not capable of swallowing the Butterfish. Despite the large abundance of fish, sadly many tern chicks starved that year.

In recent years, especially in Maine, forage fish abundance has been a widespread issue. Outside of the seabird world, Atlantic Herring and other forage fish are used by people in various ways. However, the most common use for these fish is as bait, especially for Lobster. Many Lobstermen will tell you that while there are other baits that work, Atlantic Herring works the best as lobster bait. That has created a competition between Lobstermen and the seabirds for herring.

There are several papers that have been posted on the important role that forage fish play in seabird producivity. However, one paper has rung true for many seabird species across the globe. The motto of that paper is “One third for the birds”. Basically, one-third of the maximum prey (forage fish) biomass should be saved for the birds to consume. Increases in human uses of forage fish has made this a complicated situation. If you would like to read the paper for yourself here is the link: https://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00056/16770/14307.pdf

With all that being said, fish are key to seabird survival! Therefore we need to monitor which species the terns are bringing back to their chicks. (There is a whole other rabbit hole to go down about how we can use seabirds as indicators for the health of fisheries but I’ll save that for another time).

By the way, I have marked a total of 25 eggs so far, with 6 nests identified as Arctic Terns and 5 as Common Terns (one of which has 2 eggs!). I am hoping to have the rest of the nests marked by species in the next few days.

All the best,

Mary

(Photo below: Common Tern with Hake)

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(Photo below: Common Tern with Hake)

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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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This past week on Ship Morgan and I both took our short breaks off the island. While Morgan was away I was joined by Kelby from PMI to work on predator control, productivity plot management, chick banding, and more!

We’re starting to see more and more chicks every day! Usually when we’re checking the productivity plots we can see when they start pipping. This is when their little beaks start to break open the egg. This lets us know that the next day we will definitely have some new arrivals to weigh and band if they’re dry and ready.

Before we start provisioning, we still have some time to re-sight birds from previous years. Typically, they will have a small silver BBL band on their ankle which contains either 8 or 9 numbers. We can use a spotting scope to see these numbers and enter them into a database where we can learn more information about that bird, such as it’s age. To make re-sighting easier, we put up posts for them to perch on so they aren’t being covered by the vegetation and are closer for us to see. While I was re-sighting from the blind, I spotted a tern that hasn’t been re-sighted in 19 years! I also found one with an orange band. This means that it was banded all the way in Argentina, which I thought was pretty cool.

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An example of a BBL band that can be found on the leg of a Common Tern. As you can see they are very small, which makes them difficult to read.

Now that the owl is gone, we are starting to see more birds come back to the colony. Many of them left during the time he was here and abandoned their nests. Thankfully now they’re starting to scrape the ground and re-nest. Chick age distribution around the island will surely be scattered, but at least they’re not giving up!

Now that I’m back on the island, there’s a lot more chicks running around and much more work to do!

-Amanda

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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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Hello again from Ship Island! Mark and I are back at home base after visiting beautiful Petit Manan Island! While saying goodbye to puffins is not easy, we are excited to come back to a thriving population of Common Tern chicks. These little bundles of fuzzy feathers are just delightful and it’s hard to keep a straight face every time you see them scampering around the colony. With chicks, however, comes hard work.

Mark bands our first chick!

Mark bands our first chick!

Before the chicks began to hatch, we set up productivity plots. Productivity plots are essentially a group of nests that have fences around them. These plots allow us to closely monitor a subset of tern nests, which gives us insight into the success of the colony this season. On Ship we have six plots with a range of 5 to 11 nests in each plot. We visit the plots every day, monitoring nests that have yet to hatch, taking daily weight measurements of and banding chicks. From time to time, we see eggs that never hatch and chicks that don’t make it. While sad, this is part of why these plots are important. Our productivity plots let us know the effects of severe weather or can clue us in to potential predators. With this in mind, we’re very happy to report that we have a strong and growing chick population this year on Ship!

Common tern with herring

Common tern with herring

With so many chicks running around, we’re able to begin our provisioning studies here on Ship Island. These provisioning (feeding) studies are set up by designating several nests that are easily seen from the blinds. As the nests hatch, chicks are banded and colored according to nest number and chick order. For example, Nest 1 is green, so the A chick is marked green on its head, the B chick green on its breast and the C chick green on its back. Each nest has its own color and the chicks are marked in the same pattern. Once the provisioning study is under way, we wait for adults to return to their chicks with food in their bills. When they arrive, we record what they’re bringing in and who they’re feeding it to. Identifying the fish isn’t difficult; trying to see what it is before a hungry chick swallows it whole is the hard part! So far we’ve seen plenty of herring coming in, some hake and sandlance, and the occasional pollock. Again, all good news for the colony and its chicks!

B and C chicks beg for food while A chick gobbles down a herring

B and C chicks beg for food while A chick gobbles down a herring

That’s all for now! Hope you’re enjoying the weather and we’ll be back next week!

-Sarah

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