Monday, July 20, 2009

Good News From Project Puffin

Because puffins are such cool birds I'm compelled to pass along the latest "PuffinNews," from 20 July 2009. You can (and should!) check out their web site for the history of puffins along the Atlantic coast, their efforts to restore the birds, and more.


Image by T.Müller, courtesy Wikipedia.

From Project Puffin:

Summary: The first weeks of July were wetter and cooler than most years—though not as wet as June. This was good news for terns, which suffered from the heavier-than-usual June rain. On the brighter side, most islands are reporting an exceptionally good summer for herring—an important component of puffin and tern diets. Atlantic herring are an excellent source of calories for rapidly growing chicks. These calories are helping counteract the weight loss caused by low temperatures and chilling rain. As a result, we are seeing surprisingly high success rates for Common and Roseate Terns at Stratton Island, Outer Green Island, Jenny Island, and Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge. However, the heavy rain at Eastern Egg Rock contributed to significant tern chick mortality, despite good food supplies. Puffin chicks have largely survived the weather, and some are now approaching six weeks. Very soon they will be fledging and leaving the islands. Then they will live at sea for the next two to three years. This appears to be another excellent year for puffins on Maine islands.

Island Updates (view clickable map):

Eastern Egg Rock
It has been a challenging breeding season for Egg Rock terns as the Laughing Gull colony has increased and the abundant rain has taken a toll. On the bright side, the first Common Tern chick successfully fledged on July 13th and some are now flying! So far, we have confirmed 80 puffin burrows—including one new burrow! Our researchers are now “grubbing” for puffin chicks to measure and band them, and trapping adult puffins that need new leg bands.

Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge
The seabirds of Seal Island have been enjoying plentiful food this year, with good supplies of highly desirable herring. Two new Razorbill burrows have been discovered, bringing the total to 13 Razorbill burrows, up from 11 last year. As of July 13th, some of the Common and Arctic Tern chicks had fledged. A count of over 600 puffins at once was recorded during this period- a new record one time count. Of the four puffins that received geolocators in 2008 to help discover the puffin’s mysterious winter home, one bird has not been seen this year and two of the remaining three have lost the devices. A fourth puffin is still incubating and researchers are waiting for it’s chick to hatch to see if the device is still present. The geolocators record the locations of puffins throughout the year, but must be taken off of the birds to download the data. We will be attaching eight new geolocators soon. The Red-billed Tropicbird that was present during most of June made a short reappearance in mid-July and recently a Black-browed Albatross was seen near the island.

Pond Island National Wildlife Refuge
The food supply on Pond Island this year includes abundant herring and sand lance, as well as butterfish being brought in by the terns. Our researchers have been diligently trying to chase off a Merlin and capture a second Great Horned Owl—both of which have been predating the tern adults and chicks. They are working night shifts in their efforts to trap the owl.

Stratton Island
Several large thunderstorms passed through on the July 4th weekend. These storms, combined with frequent raids by a Peregrine Falcon that chased parent birds off their eggs and chicks, resulted in exposure to the cold and chilling weather, killing 27 Least Tern chicks. Because of their smaller body mass, Least Terns may be especially susceptible to extreme weather and they are too small to eat the abundant herring that is helping the larger terns. A late second nesting of Least Terns may yet help to boost numbers here. Elsewhere on the island, Common and Roseate Terns are thriving. Many of the older Common Tern chicks are now flying around the island, and more Roseate Terns are hatching. And there is still more good news—on July 11th, a new American Oystercatcher nest was found- the third pair for this year!

Matinicus Rock
The puffin grubbing season has begun. In the coming weeks, about 100 puffin chicks will be carefully removed from their burrows to receive leg bands. Tern chicks are flying, and most of the young Razorbills have fledged. This year, predation by Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls has been heavy. Perhaps the poor weather and low price of lobsters has kept more lobster boats back in the harbor than usual. This makes the gulls hungrier than usual, as they typically feed on discarded lobster bait. In its absence, some gulls become chick predators, taking a heavy toll on young Razorbills. It was likely a Herring or Great Black-backed Gull that destroyed the Murre egg—the first seen on Matinicus Rock since 1883. Though that egg is gone, the Murre parents and others will likely return in 2010 to try again.

Outer Green Island
Early in the month, the tern chicks were fed largely on butterfish. By July 14th, the chicks were being fed mostly herring, as well as hake, and an occasional moth or butterfish. Many of the chicks are now large, and the first flying fledgling was seen on the 10th. A big re-nesting of Common Terns began on the 14th; this may help make up for the nests lost earlier this season from rain. The Black Guillemot chicks are getting large enough to receive leg bands. Exciting bird sightings included Eastern Kingbirds, Blackburnian Warblers, and Blackpoll Warblers, as well as an Atlantic Puffin and Razorbill which are rarely seen this far south.

Jenny Island
The last days of this short research season were eventful and productive. Two of the three Roseate Tern nests have hatched and the chicks are already developing flight feathers. They will likely be on their way to Brazil shortly. Most of the fish brought in during the feeding studies consisted of hake, herring, butterfish, and cunner. The 4th of July thunderstorms brought dime-sized hailstones to this small island. Without time to dry out, even an unopened box of spaghetti developed mold. As the last of the blinds were being taken down and the island readied for its early closing, the tern chicks began to fly—a perfect send-off for the island’s protectors!


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