Posts Tagged ‘Spotted Sandpiper’

This week, we banded our first adult Common Terns, set up our first productivity plots, have our first Spotted Sandpiper chicks, and saw our first Common Eider creche.


We have been busy trapping and banding terns. So far, we have trapped 9 adult terns with 2 recaptures. One banded as a chick on Petit Manan Island in 2009 and the other banded in Buenos Aires, Argentina!


Productivity plots are used to monitor chick productivity. Each plot includes 8-10 nests and is monitored daily until chicks hatch. Once all chicks in the plot have hatched, they are banded and weighed every-other day.

Earlier this week, we conducted the Golf of Maine Seabird Working Group (GOMSWG) survey here on Ship Island. We found a total of 498 Common Tern nests, a few even had 4 eggs!


We cannot wait for our chicks to start hatching!

Your 2018 Ship Island Crew

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The beginning of the week started out slow and rough as the weather was not cooperative.  High winds made it so we could not go out to the tern colony as we wanted the adults to stay on their eggs and keep them warm from the howling winds.  Finally the weather broke Tuesday afternoon and we were able to do some trapping and banding of adult terns.  We do this by selecting a couple of nests, replacing the eggs with wooden ones so they do not get damaged, and placing a chicken wire trap over the nest with the door open.  When the adult walks into the trap, they step on a trigger platform that closes the door.  As the adult sits in the trap incubating the wooden eggs, we walk up and take it out of the trap through a hole in the top.  The adult is then placed in a bag where it is weighed using a spring scale.  We then band the bird and measure its wing chord and head-bill length before it is released to return to incubate its eggs which we have switched back to the real ones.


A common tern checking out the trap


Measuring wing chord length


Measuring head-bill length

Wednesday we headed over to Matinicus Rock to help them with their tern census.  It was nice to get out to another island to see what was going on there; plus we got to see Atlantic puffins, razorbills, and common murres, three species that do not nest on Metinic.


Atlantic puffins on Matinicus Rock

The next day it was our turn to census!  With the help of a few guests, we were able to count 608 nests in our colony of arctic and common terns!  We did this just in the nick of time as we came across multiple hatched chicks with more popping up every day!  The rest of the week was spent securing our productivity plots which are circles of fencing surrounding a number of nests.  When the chicks within the plots hatch, we record the hatch date and band them.  Every time we visit the plots, we weigh the chicks and keep track of how they are doing until they fledge.


Pipping arctic tern egg


A hungry chick waits to be fed

Throughout the week we have also come across savannah sparrow chicks and fledglings, and spotted sandpiper chicks running around on the rocks.  An identifying characteristic of spotted sandpipers is they bob their rump up and down as they walk; it is funny to watch the tiny fuzzy chicks do this as well!  We are looking forward to more chicks showing up in the upcoming weeks!


A tiny spotted sandpiper chick

Until next week,


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Our efforts on Ship Island focus so heavily on tern monitoring, that we seldom mention the other species that spend their summer on the island. We made an earlier post about migrants, but I’d like to outline some of our everyday, non-tern sightings.

Two species of warbler are our brightest residents, their brilliant colors visible even through the growing foliage. Yellow Warblers, as their name implies, are a fantastic yellow hue throughout, with some red or brown markings on the breast. We have at least one pair in the grove, where the female was gathering nest material earlier in the season. A few Common Yellowthroats’ “Wichety-wichety-wichety” can be heard around the island, with them making an occasional feeding foray just outside the cabin window.

Male Common Yellowthroat outside our cabin window

Male Common Yellowthroat outside our cabin window

While not as striking as the warblers, three sparrow species make their homes on Ship, with at least two of them breeding here. Our two dozen or so Song Sparrows are one of the most common streaky sparrows found throughout much of the U.S. and Canada. Their reddish caps and tails set them apart from our equally numerous Savannah Sparrows. Savannah Sparrows are smaller and have a bright yellow spot right above their eye. A more recent arrival has been the Nelson’s Sparrow, of which we have seen only two. Smaller even than the Savannah, the Nelson’s have a strange call somewhere between a hiss and a sigh that we can often hear near the small wetland in the middle of the island.

Nelson's Sparrow calling from atop our solar panel

Nelson’s Sparrow calling from atop our solar panel

Terns are often lauded for their aerial acrobatics, but we have at least one pair of nesting Bank Swallows which can match them zig for zag. Much smaller than the terns, the swallows zip around the island gulping up small flying insects and turning on a dime. Their nest is near the top of the bluff, where they have excavated a small hole.

Several shorebird species make use of the island’s tideline for foraging, but only one species, the Spotted Sandpiper, nests here. Their peeping call and constant tail-bobbing set them apart from other species. We have found two nests and suspect that there are at least three more, hidden under tufts of grass.

Spotted Sandpiper nest with 4 eggs

Spotted Sandpiper nest with 4 eggs

No island bird post would be complete without mentioning our Mallards. A well-known and common duck throughout North America, we have at least three females currently roaming the island with clutches of ducklings.

Female Mallard with her ducklings

Female Mallard with her ducklings

Until next time!


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We’re up to our elbows in chicks out on Metinic. In my last post, I mentioned that our tern chicks have started to hatch. A week later, our little fluffy friends are growing up fast.

Arctic Tern Chick

Arctic Tern Chick

We can often see our older chicks testing out their wings, although they are still a long way from being airborne.

An Arctic Tern chicks, stretching its wings

An Arctic Tern chicks, stretching its wings

Our resident Savannah Sparrows also have chicks of their own. These buzzy-sounding birds build a classic cup-shaped nest in grass on the ground. It can be easy to miss until you see the five squawking mouths.

A nest full of Savannah Sparrow chicks

A nest full of Savannah Sparrow chicks

Spotted Sandpipers are Metinic’s only nesting shorebird this year, and our first sandpiper chicks have made an appearance. Despite their small size and their resemblance to a cotton ball standing on a pair of toothpicks, these chicks are up and running around by day one. They do have a parent around to keep them out of trouble though!

Spotted Sandpiper adult (left) and chick (right)

Spotted Sandpiper adult (left) and chick (right)

Finally, we found our first Black Guillemot chicks. It’s hard not to love these little black puffballs. Guillemots are also the only alcid to lay two eggs at once, so guillemot chicks usually come in pairs.

Our first pair of Black Guillemot chicks

Our first pair of Black Guillemot chicks

Of course, Syd and I didn’t want to miss out on the fun of Guillemot Appreciation Day, so we celebrated in the most delicious way we could!

Our tasty guillemot cake

Our tasty guillemot cake

More updates as our chicks continue to grow!



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Common Tern not liking that I am taking his picture!

Hello from Ship! Unfortunately, we don’t have any glorious food updates (though the adult terns are bringing in a lot of tasty fish!), but, we can report that we have little chicks everywhere! They come in all shapes and sizes, from seabirds, to shorebirds, to passerines, to ducklings.


Savannah Sparrow fledgling; basically a little ball with mouth and feathers.

Like Petit Manan Island, we have been noticing the vast variety of plumage colorations exhibited by the chicks, even within one family! Featured below are two chick siblings with different colorations. Chicks range anywhere from a warm sandy tan, to seaweed brown, to a silvery tan. They can have very dark well-defined spots or hardly any spots at all. All of these colors help them blend into their environment. The two below are already getting their juvenile feathers and are around 15 days old. 


Chick siblings exhibiting some of the plumage color variations.

Two of Ship’s posts ago, I posted a picture of an adult tern sitting on “Nest Two.” I am happy to report that they now have three little chicks! They are part of our feeding study. Here is a parent with one of the chicks.


Nest 2 parent with chick.

And lastly, here is a spotted sandpiper nest with 3 chicks! One of them is very freshly hatched and is still wet from coming out of the egg. Sandpiper chicks are very mobile quite soon after they hatch, so we were lucky to witness these.

– Julia


Spotted sandpiper chicks in the nest.


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With migration all but over and done with, birds here on Ship Island have begun the second phase of their summer cycle: nesting! We found our first Common Tern nests on May 27, and now have over 100 nests. Both parents take “terns” incubating the eggs, and the male often reinforces their pair bond by bringing his female fresh fish. They work together to choose a nest site, then begin scraping the ground with their feet to form a shallow bowl that they will later decorate with twigs and shells.

Nest 3R

One of our very first Tern eggs, this one a nice speckled brown.

Nest 2R

One of our early nests recently – a full clutch of eggs and much more well-defined nest cup.

The other birds here on the island have begun nesting as well, and today we found 2 Savannah Sparrow nests and 2 or 3 Spotted Sandpiper nests. Savannah Sparrows typically make their nests on the interior of the island, forming a bowl of protective dried grasses in the fields.

Savannah Sparrow Nest

Savannah Sparrow nest with three tiny little eggs.

Spotted Sandpipers, on the other hand, make nests near the water’s edge. These sandpipers, and others, differ from song birds like sparrows in that it is the female, not the male, who sets up and defends a territory. She and potential mates choose a nest site together, form a shallow bowl rimmed with grasses, then once the eggs are laid, the female leaves it up to the male to incubate. Females may have multiple partners or they may choose just one.

Spotted Sandpiper Nest

Spotted Sandpiper nest found along one of our trails, with four eggs that look a lot like a Tern’s, but smaller.

Though we haven’t found their nests yet, we know that Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Song Sparrows are also nesting here. Until next time,

– Julia

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Hello again from Ship Island! Jill and I have been off the island for about 4 days as part of a mid-season break provided for us by the refuge staff. Now that we’re back and catching up on our work, here’s the second part of  “Citizens of Ship Island”, as promised.

In my last post, I wrote about the songbirds that call Ship Island home during the summer. This time, it’s all about water birds of all kinds. While we have songbirds breeding right on the island, most of our seabirds and shorebirds are found on the three islands surround Ship: East Barge, West Barge, and Trumpet.

Take for example the Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls. Because both of these species of gulls will eat tern eggs and chicks, they aren’t permitted to breed on Ship itself. Both species, however, make (usually unwelcome) appearances on Ship and have nests on both the Barges and Trumpet. Great Black-backed Gulls are one of the biggest North American gulls, with a wing span of over 6 feet while Herring Gulls are a bit smaller. Check out the photo below for a comparison.

Great Black-backed Gull on the left, Herring Gull on the right

Also nesting on Trumpet are North America’s largest sea duck: the Common Eider. While the females may look like a standard brown duck, the males have flashy black and white plumage.

A handsome Common Eider male with two Common Terns on the beach of Ship Island

Most often we see these large ducks paddling around with their heads under the water before they dive down for mollusks and other invertebrates. As you can see, they are quite a bit bigger than a tern!

A male Common Eider on the left, a female on the right, and a Common Tern in the middle

Eiders are best known for the incredibly warm down they produce – the females actually line their nests with these soft feathers. Eider ducklings take to the water the same day they hatch. Females with ducklings will gather together to form crèches, made up of several females and their young, to help protect the ducklings from predators like gulls. Although eiders pose no threat to our terns, they find people a bit intimidating and so prefer to nest on Trumpet.

A female Common Eider and her ducklings

Out on West Barge, in addition to lots of Great Black-backed Gulls, we have a colony of Double-crested Cormorants. Like the eiders, the cormorants prefer to nest on human-free islands, but we see them every day in the waters around Ship.

West Barge’s Double-crested Cormorant colony

They also sometimes come to shore to gather seaweed for nesting materials, like the one flying off in the picture below. The colony on West Barge seems to be doing well – we’ve counted about 50 cormorants on the south side of the island.

A Double-crested Cormorant flies off with some nesting material.

Not all of the water birds find us so intimidating. We have several Mallards on and around Ship, including a female with her ducklings. We usually see this fluffy gang paddling around in a swampy depression in the middle of the island.

Female Mallard paddling with her ducklings. Photo taken by Jill

Finally, we have our beloved Spotted Sandpipers. The only shorebirds that nest on Ship Island, Spotted Sandpipers are easily identified by their “teetering” behavior: as they walk (or even when they stand), they bob their rumps up and down. The purpose of this behavior is still unknown, but it makes them easy to pick out of a crowd.

An adult Spotted Sandpiper on the shores of Ship Island

We have several pairs of these nesting on the island, and we recently spied our first chick running around on the beach. Compared to other young birds, Spotted Sandpiper chicks are quick and agile. This one was already practicing its teetering! Jill snagged a photo of him bobbing his way down the beach.

A Spotted Sandpiper chick out for a run on the beach

Next time, the terns will be back in the spotlight with fuzzy chicks galore!

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