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Posts Tagged ‘Terns’

Greetings from Ship Island!

Bobby Brittingham here! As my time is coming to a close on Ship Island, I wanted a chance to post one more educational blog about our work before a farewell blog!

You may or may not have heard about “bird banding” before, it is an extremely common form of essentially tagging and releasing birds. Using specialized pliers, a small metal “C” shaped band is clamped shut around a bird’s tarsus (leg-like the shin bone equivalent to humans).

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BBL size 2 band, with the identification number, these are the bands used on all of the birds on Ship.

The banding database provides a lot of information on each bird, where they have been seen, where they nest, where they migrate, or even if the bird is alive, as long as the bird’s band is seen and read correctly by another researcher. These bands are essential to distinguishing one bird from another to perform other research procedures or to distinguish which bird belongs to which nest. On Ship we had very late nesting, so Collin and I have been banding as many chicks as possible with our limited time so that these birds can be identified on where they go over the next year.

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Collin banding with specialized pliers, one of Collin’s first banded birds!

Bands vary in size and number of letters based on the size, type of band, and/or species of the bird. For the common terns on Ship Island, a single size 2 “BBL” band is placed around their right leg; these bands each have a unique 9 digit number.  These bands are then entered in an online database through the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the “status” of a bird can be updated by individuals all over the world. For example, a tern was banded on Petit Manan this summer, and it has already been spotted by another researcher in Venezuela all the way in South America!

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The chicks do not mind the bands as long as they’re put on correctly. When they are put on right, they even look stylish!

For me personally, it is the most fun protocol we perform out here, nothing beats the feeling of getting to meet hundreds of chicks that I have the privilege to watch over every day on this island. Not only that, but it is crucial for research purposes. With the late nesting that occurred this year on Ship, it will be interesting to see where these birds could have possibly gone earlier this year by resightings of the chicks that we band this summer. Be on the lookout for one more blog from the Ship Island crew later this week!

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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.

 

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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,

It has been a while since I have posted and I wanted to update you on what we have been doing here on Metinic. Yesterday we completed the Gulf of Maine Seabird Working Group (GOMSWG) Census! In other words, yesterday was the most exciting day of the season because we got to find out how many birds we have nesting on the island!

The GOMSWG census is completed by carefully walking across the entire colony, while counting every single nest found and the number of eggs in each nest. Every nest we find is marked with a popsicle stick. Doing this allows us to calculate our error after the census by comparing the number of marked nests (with popsicle sticks) to unmarked nests (without popsicle sticks). It is important to get an idea of how many nests were missed during the census to provide a more accurate estimate of birds nesting on the island.

While it may seem simple to walk around the island counting nests, in reality it requires great attention to detail, patience and cooperation among the whole group. The colony is divided into a grid system. This allows us to walk in a line across each grid, to insure we cover every inch of the colony. Terns also nest on cobble beaches where the eggs blend in with the rocks. (At times it feels like the most difficult game of ISpy ever played).

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Michael wearing his tern protection (Photo by: Mary Negri)

The terns do not appreciate us walking around their eggs and they make their presence known. It is impossible to get through the census without get pooped on or dive bombed by a tern at least once. To protect ourselves we wear rain coats or old shirts, and flags on our hats. To an outsider looking in we must look absolutely ridiculous, but I would rather wear a flag on my hat than get hit in the head by an angry tern (trust me – it hurts!).

 

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The Metinic GOMSWG Census 2019 crew. From left to right: Austin, Eddy, Nick, Michael, and Brian (Photo by: Mary Negri)

In total we discovered that we have 831 nests (or pairs of terns). Therefore, we have approximately 1,662 birds inhabiting the island for the breeding season. It is hard to believe that by the beginning of August every single bird will have left the island to travel South to their wintering grounds!

Every day on Metinic is a new adventure – I am excited to see what the rest of the season holds!

All the best,

Mary

P.S. Chicks will be hatching soon – stayed tuned!

 

 

 

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(A few of our first of hopefully many eggs on Ship!)

Hi folks!

Bobby from Ship Island here, as the cleverly constructed title suggests, we have eggs here on the island! A total of 13 eggs in 12 nests, which gives us hope that the birds are willing to nest for the breeding season on the island. Whenever Colin or I find a nest with an egg, we turn the egg to stand up, that way when we check the egg later on we can tell if it has been incubated (the egg falls back on its side from the tern sitting on it) or if it has not (egg is still standing up).  However, the number of terns that have been showing up since the last blog post has not been ideal. We have not seen more than 50 terns at once on the island for the past week and a half, at this time last year for contrast, there were 519 breeding pairs. It has become crunch time as we are using our final method to attract the terns back, creating our own tern colony.

This is done with two simple props, audio of a tern colony through multiple speakers, and using wooden decoys of terns (bird manikins essentially). These both simulate that a real colony is on the island and that it is safe to nest for the breeding season. Although it reminds me of The Truman Show in some ways, this method is the best bet to have the terns stay and nest immediately to allow them to be raising young in time for their migrations later in the summer. To paraphrase Princess Leia from Star Wars, the tern decoys may be our “only hope left”, but Colin and I are waiting confidently for our feathered friends to return. Don’t stop believin’ in Ship Island!

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(Terns and the decoys, can you spot the difference?)

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Hi everyone!

This is Mary reporting from Metinic Island. I am happy to announce that we had our first eggs on Sunday! We have been monitoring closely to see whether it is Common or Arctic terns sitting on each of the eggs. It is nearly impossible to tell the different eggs apart by appearance alone, so we have to watch closely to see who sits on the scrape. It is very exciting to think that soon there will be little chicks replacing the eggs!

The weather here on Metinic can get a little nasty sometimes. We got rain all afternoon and through the evening yesterday. The wind can really pick up here too, one day last week the average wind speed was 31 mph! Due to the sensitivity of the terns, it is important that we pay close attention to the weather. Disturbing the colony when the weather is bad, especially when there are chicks, can cause the terns to waste unnecessary energy. On days like this, we limit the number of times we enter the colony and in severe cases we do not enter at all.

Check back in with us soon! Hopefully there will be more eggs and some nice weather here on Metinic!

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Hello everyone!

I just wanted to give a quick introduction- my name is Brandon, and I’m one of the seabird technicians for the summer! A little bit about me- I graduated this May from Lees-McRae College with a degree in Wildlife Biology, a Concentration in Wildlife Rehabilitation, and Minors in Criminal Justice and Emergency Medical Services. I’ve been an avid birder for the last 3 years or so, and I spent last summer working at Monomoy NWR where I first realized that although I loved birds of all shapes and sizes, my passion was definitely seabirds! That’s what brought me here this following summer to work for the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. I am currently working on Metinic Island, but I’ll be shifting around a little bit come early June, so for now I’ll be looking forward to updating you to all the happenings on Metinic Island, but later in the season don’t be surprised if you find me saying “Hi!”again from PMI, which is where I’m scheduled to move to in another week or so!

 

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