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Posts Tagged ‘seabirds’

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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hoppin on

A banded common tern (Sterna hirundo) returns to the nest for incubation. This image was remote-triggered on a hidden camera, toward which the terns are very tolerant!

Common tern activity levels on Ship have made an about-face, going from mostly quiet to positively booming! For the past 10 days or so, the birds have been active virtually all day long, courting their partners and tending their nests. At the time of writing, well over 150 nests have been established on the island. Of 100 nests being monitored for early-season predation, only 4 have been lost– and 3 of the 4 were taken out by the highest tide of the month. If you’re more of a visual learner, check out the figure below; a legend is available by rolling your mouse over the chart. If you want, you can even click to zoom in on any of the images.

In simple terms: things are going well. Breeding savannah and song sparrows have begun to hatch, as have the common eiders, gulls, and double-crested cormorants on our neighboring islands. It should be a matter of days before our nesting spotted sandpiper fathers will escort their chicks to safe foraging, as well.

 

Between seal pups, tern eggs, and the numerous fuzzy chicks emerging all around us, we have plenty to observe at Ship. Later this week we hope to establish our productivity plots for the season and begin adult trapping efforts in order to band new birds recapture known individuals. Our projected first hatch date is June 19th, so knock on wood and stay posted for the big news in a couple of weeks!

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A fuzzy creche of six common eider (Somateria molissima) chicks escorted by two hens! We hopefully theorize that the small number of adult birds escorting this creche is due to rampant nesting success of all the other eider hens out there on Trumpet and East Barge Islands.

As if all these babies weren’t enough, spring migration somehow persists on Ship. Our long-awaited Nelson’s sparrow (easily identified by its song, which sounds remarkably like a match being lit) has finally taken up residence on the island, along with an alder flycatcher that can be heard singing daily; the vocalization (a burry “fee-beeoh!”) of this bird is just about the only thing that sets it apart from its doppelganger, the willow flycatcher.

 

In birding parlance, focusing in on a single area to frequently document its species is known as “working a patch”, and that’s certainly what every Maine Coastal Islands seabird crew does. Because a daily birdwalk is part of our essential duties, we become very familiar with what species to expect on a daily basis and can quickly recognize oddities. In working our teensy patch called Ship Island, we have managed to document some 68 birds, including such bizarre wintertime lingerers as long-tailed duck, Bonaparte’s gull, and even a single black-legged kittiwake! And that isn’t even mentioning all of the freshly-molted warblers that continue to stream through in their alternate plumage.

That’s the news from Ship Island this week. Hopefully our industrious tern colony will continue to grow despite gloomy weather! In the meantime, we’ll be counting birds and huddling in the warmth of our tiny cabin when it gets too miserable out.

 

Bonus bird fact: did you know that the scientific name of the common eiderSomateria  molissima, literally translates to “very soft woolbody”? An apt name, considering how the seaducks are prized for their luscious down! And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of feeling an eider’s feathers, you’ll know this to be true.

 

Until next time!

Meredith Miles @ Ship Island

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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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Hi there!

I’m Meaghan. I’m a fourth year wildlife ecology major at the University of Maine at Orono. This is my first summer living and working on a seabird island, and I am very excited to be able to do so! Last summer I worked as an intern at the MCINWR visitor center in Rockland. While there, I had the opportunity to visit several of the seabird islands and very quickly ‘caught the bug’ for island life and could not wait to get out here myself.

Working as my supervisor is Derek. He is a fourth year environmental geography major at Central Connecticut State University. He is a Rhode Island native who has a lot of experience living and working on seabird islands in Massachusetts. However, this is his first year working with MCINWR on a Maine seabird island.

Our home for the summer (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Our home for the summer (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Our first week on the island was a lot of fun!

The first couple days were spent settling into our new home and familiarizing ourselves with the island. We conducted a sheep round up in order to move the sheep, that graze across the island during the off-season, off of MCINWR land so they do not disturb the seabirds during the nesting season. We have also been walking the island checking for and collecting garter snakes. In previous years these snakes have been observed preying on tern eggs and chicks, so we are trying to exclude them from the seabird nesting area. Lastly, we have been conducting morning bird counts. So far we have observed 31 different species of birds, including some migrants along with Common Eiders, Black Guillemots, Double-Crested Cormorants, and Spotted Sandpipers.The flock of Arctic and Common Terns that nest here annually have been observed visiting the colony in the morning hours and leaving around noon – presumably to look for nutritious fish. We were also pleasantly surprised to observe two Rosette Terns visiting our island! We are hoping that the terns will settle in the colony within the next week and lay their first eggs shortly after that.

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Common Eider (Picture: Meaghan Hall)

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot.  (Picture: Meaghan

We are very excited to be working as the technicians on Metinic this year and are more than happy to keep you updated on all things seabirds throughout the season!

-Meaghan and Derek

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Gray skies over Eastern Brother’s Island

Greetings from Mary and Jake on Eastern and Western Brother’s!  This is the first summer for both of us working with the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge and we are really excited to be here on “our” island.  We were launched out from Jonesport, Maine on a truly downeast day:  rain pelting our faces, swells rolling across the bay, and fog blanketing the coast.  The Refuge staff helped unload our gear, gave us a quick tour of the islands, and then waved good-bye with haste as the weather was only going to deteriorate.
The storm that then moved in created 10 foot southerly swells that crashed like huge geysers up the 60-70 foot cliffs on Eastern Brothers.  We survived the storm and here we are two weeks in to exploring and marveling at the beauty our islands have to offer.

Through our morning counts, alcid watches, tern stints and personal explorations we have discovered a lot already about our island habitat.  First and most prominent, our black guillemot colony is thriving.  Daily we watch the hundreds of birds circling and nodding in courtship behavior.  We have found several burrows with eggs and it seems as though the “big push” is still to come.

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Black Guillemots in the fog

Also to note, the single common tern (known as Reggie) that has resided in the tern colony previous years has returned.  While he seems more than content loafing on the rocks and foraging huge fish for himself, we are slightly worried that he might have an existential breakdown.   “Why don’t they fly with me?  Why are they never hungry?” These can only be the questions Reggie asks himself day to day.

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Reggie on decoy’s head

Here’s to a summer full of seabirds and many more beautiful sunsets on the coast of Maine!  ~Mary and Jake

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Jake taking in our first sunset

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Our Island Home

The cabin we are going to call home for the summer.

Finally, after weeks of anticipation and planning, we (Julia and Katie) have arrived at the island we are going to call home for an entire summer. Our island is called Ship Island, and it lies in Blue Hill Bay, Maine, just a few miles off shore. At just 11 acres, the small island will be called home to not just ourselves, but to a variety of various song birds, sparrows, and seabirds. Our focus, of course, will be on the seabirds, and we are looking forward to a wonderful summer with them.

May on the islands provides a fantastic opportunity to witness the migration of birds. As islands along critical oceanic migration routes, the Refuge’s islands are essential to providing migrating birds a place to refuel and refresh. For the biologists, it is an exciting time to witness new species and observe them closely as they forage voraciously in trees and shrubs just feet away.

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Northern Parula from the back window.

Like Petit Manan and other islands, Ship Island has been privy to sundry migrants: 72 in total at the close of today. It seems that nearly every morning we wake up to a new bird song. This morning, it was the Bobolink with his “R2D2” voice.

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Bobolink singing his “R2D2” song in front of a tern blind and West Barge Island

But the migrants are not the only exciting birds we see here – shorebirds flock to our sandy beaches, scouring the rack line for tasty morsels as they probe incessantly with their long bills. Lately we have been seeing up to 50 Black-bellied Plovers, still in the process of molting into their striking summer plumage. Others have included Least, Semipalmated, and Purple Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlin, Willets, Whimbrels, Short-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated and Piping Plovers.

Until next time,

Julia

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