News From the Seabird Islands - August 1, 2006
Overview: During this period, Puffin Project staff
at Seal Island NWR broke the previous all time high count of nesting
puffins with 312 pairs. With nearly two weeks remaining, the count will
likely grow higher. More than 3”
of rain soaked most of the tern colonies on each of several storms during
this period, causing high mortality among many late season tern chicks-
especially at Outer Green Island and Eastern Egg Rock. At these islands
many tern chicks were at a critical stage where they were too large for
brooding and thus vulnerable to the harsh conditions. However, older
chicks survived well and thousands are now ready to migrate to their
winter homes in the South Atlantic.
Project Puffin Visitor Center in
Rockland has been very popular; we currently have two live cameras in
puffin colonies and one in a puffin burrow, all on Seal Island NWR. Visitors
are now able to take pictures from the camera and print them, as well
as make their own DVD of what they are looking at through the camera.
During the last two weeks, we also began our Wednesday evening speaker
series with a talk given by Dr. Lei Cao, visiting seabird researcher
from China. Check out the
photos from the Grand Opening on July 1, 2006.
Stratton Island: During the Maine Audubon trip on
July 16, the visitors were fortunate enough to spot and photograph
a Yellow-nosed Albatross. The albatross landed on July 24 and it was
observed displaying to Great Black-backed Gulls! Many state endangered
Least Terns are approaching fledging age as are many federally endangered
Pond Island NWR: This island was closed on July 26.
The colony suffered throughout the season from nocturnal abandonment
caused by a Great Horned Owl (which was captured and removed) and frequent
attacks by a Peregrine Falcon. The result was only 0.3 chicks per nest.
Jenny Island: This research team ended their season
on July 25th. They discovered that many chicks were dying toward the
end of the summer as adults were not able to bring ample food to compensate
for increased food stealing by Laughing Gulls. They discovered that
about 50% of the fish that were intended for tern chicks were either
stolen in the air or dropped when the parent terns were chased by Laughing
Gulls. Sometimes 5 or more gulls would pursue one tern for its tiny
fish. Roseate Terns faired better and there were larger numbers than
Outer Green Island: There was a sighting of a Yellow-bellied
Sapsucker on July 16 and a sighting of a Peregrine Falcon. Overall
this was a successful year, despite predation and the loss of many
chicks during recent torrential downpours. The productivity for Common
Terns was 1.2 chicks per nest. This island was closed on July 27.
Eastern Egg Rock: The researchers have been trapping
many adult puffins for banding and rebanding of worn bands. Overall,
the Egg Rock researchers found fewer birds sitting atop boulders (loafing)
this year. There were also a number of predatory gulls this year. The
final puffin tally will wait until the end of the field season in two
Matinicus Rock: The Red-billed Tropicbird continued
to associate with the colony. One day one of the researchers was
surprised to find a fledgling puffin in her blind that had apparently
gotten lost, but was replaced into its correct burrow. Researchers
have located 289 burrows to date.
Seal Island NWR: In 2004, 294 pairs of puffins nested,
but this year 319 pairs have already been discovered, setting a substantial
new high with nearly two weeks remaining! The researchers are also
amazed to see so many Razorbills this year. Four razorbill nests were
confirmed so far this year- twice the previous nesting population.
Food is apparently very abundant near Seal Island this summer, as researchers
reported as many as 120 Greater and Sooty Shearwaters near the island.
PROJECT PUFFIN VISITOR CENTER, INTERNET and PUFFIN TOURS
Visitation to the Project Puffin Visitor Center continued
to be strong during the past two weeks, with an average of more than
600 visitors/week. The streaming video is the most popular attraction
as visitors can see a large monitor showing the real time images in
the Center’s front window. The last two weeks of July and the
first week in August are peak weeks for observing puffins on the Internet
and for taking tours around the islands. To see the puffin cam and
learn about tours visit www.projectpuffin.org
News From the Seabird Islands - July 14, 20061
Overview: By the end of June, the tern hatch was
at its peak. Since then, tern, Laughing Gull, Black Guillemot and Atlantic
Puffin parents have been busy catching food for their young chicks.
Although sometimes heavy rains have interrupted field work and caused
some mortality among tern chicks, the generally strong show of fish
has given most young terns ample nutrition for withstanding the chilling
effects of the rain.
There have also been good sightings of various rare or uncommon birds
throughout the islands this summer.
Project Puffin Visitor Center had
its grand opening on July
1, and an infrared burrow cam was installed inside a puffin burrow
on Seal Island.
Eastern Egg Rock: Presently, at least 46 puffin burrows
are active and 35 of these have young that are approaching fledging
age. Two new burrows have been found on the island and 6 Adopt-A-Puffins
have returned this year. Researchers are beginning to trap puffins
for banding and to replace worn leg bands. Three puffin chicks were
pulled from their burrows and banded. The final burrow count will not
be known until the end of the season, but the researchers are hopeful
that they will tally a record number of active burrows. The island’s
tern colony is doing much better after persistent gull predation diminished
towards the end of June. The first chicks were seen on June 19 and
have been feeding on mostly hake, along with a mixture of butterfish
and stickleback. Razorbills have been regular visitors throughout the
season and 5 murres were seen flying around the island this past week.
Matinicus Rock: There are about 200 active puffin
burrows counted so far this year, including at least 20 new nests.
Researchers have been able to band 34 puffin chicks and 28 razorbill
chicks. The tern colony is doing well, despite the loss of many chicks
due to rain. The first hatching was June 21 and herring is the dominant
food being brought in by adult terns. A Red-billed Tropicbird graced
the island for several days, likely brought in by recent storms. Gannets
and a Black Skimmer were also spotted near the island.
Seal Island NWR: About 220 active puffin burrows
have been counted so far compared to just 50 at this date last year.
This increase is a reminder of the devastation caused here by flooding
last year, but researchers also note that the puffins hatched earlier
(by two weeks) than in most previous years. Also, the colony is likely
continuing to increase, but the final count will be unknown until the
very end of the summer. The tern chicks started hatching on June 18.
Although many of the youngest terns have died, their older siblings
are thriving and biologists are noting heavier than usual weights for
the chicks- further evidence that there is an excellent source of fish
for the parents to capture for their young. The island has a group
of nesting ravens this year, but there has been no sign of predation
from them. Other sightings include black terns and black-legged kittiwakes.
Stratton Island: Least Terns have returned to nest
once again on Stratton Island, with 103 nests counted. This is a dramatic
increase from last year's 18 nests and now includes most of the Maine
population of this state endangered seabird. The first tern chicks
hatched on June 19 and feeding observations have shown that hake and
herring are the dominant fish being brought in by the adults. Other
successfully breeding species are Gadwall and Moorhen. There have been
sightings of King Eider, Whimbrels, Gannets, and Yellow-crowned Night-herons
as well. Migratory shorebirds have begun visiting the island in large
numbers, especially Short-billed Dowitchers and Semi-palmated Sandpipers.
Pond Island NWR: The first tern chicks hatched on
June 23. Shortly thereafter, a Peregrine Falcon began frequenting the
island, scaring off the adult terns. Due to exposure, high mortality
has been reported among the chicks. One remarkable Arctic Tern nest
that washed three feet down a slope survived the jostling, with one
egg hatching and the other still being incubated. Adult terns with
surviving chicks are bringing in herring, sand lance, and hake.
Jenny Island: Although the smallest of our managed
sanctuaries, 3-acre Jenny Island is alive with terns. Hundreds of fledgling
Common Terns are approaching fledging here. Located in the mouth of
the New Meadows River, the young terns are receiving abundant herring
and hake. This year the colony includes at least 12 pairs of endangered
Roseate Terns. It promises to be one of the most productive terncolonies
Outer Green Island: The first chicks hatched on June
19 and have been feeding mainly on hake. Predation by gulls and a Peregrine
Falcon has occurred, but so far this has not proved too disruptive.
This has been a notable year for uncommon terns. Besides sightings
of Royal Tern and Black Tern, a Bridled Tern visited the island for
20 days. Other sightings included Razorbills, puffins, and a Merlin.
Black guillemots nested on the island this year and the first chick
Project Puffin Visitor Center
Project Puffin Visitor Center has now been open for its first month.
More than 200 people attended the grand opening festivities in downtown
Rockland on a beautiful July 1st morning. A highlight of the opening
was a puffin growling contest in which 24 participants of all ages
imitated the calls of puffins. Special events included presentations
by Daniel Breton, cinematographer of several award winning wildlife
films (including his newest title ‘Project Puffin’) and
Bill Scholtz, wildlife photographer, who is exhibiting 34 of his photos
on the center’s gallery wall.
During the first month of operation, the center has averaged 73 visitors/day
and attracted more than 2,100 visitors. After visiting the Center,
many visitors have signed on to take puffin watching tours.
The puffin cam is located on the north
end of Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge, 20 miles south of Rockland.
The camera has been beaming magnificent footage of puffins, terns,
Razorbills, and Common Murres to the Internet for nearly the past two
months. The images are best seen at Project Puffin Visitor Center where
they are projected onto a large screen. They can also control the cameras,
zooming in for remarkably detailed views. New equipment also permits
visitors to burn their own DVD recordings and print out photos.
The Seal Island Tern cam has now followed Arctic and Common Terns
from incubation to the fledging period. Many of the tern chicks that
were just a puff of down three weeks ago are now fully feathered and
testing their wings!
Last week, interns on Seal Island inserted our new burrow cam inside
one of the puffin burrows for close-up views of a fluffy puffin chick.
The chick is now about three weeks old and will likely be in the burrow
for the next three weeks before it fledges into the North Atlantic.
Viewers can sometimes see the parent delivering fish. The tiny camera
is surrounded by infrared lights that illuminate the burrow without
disturbing the chick. The images are best seen at Project Puffin Visitor
Puffin enthusiasts who are not in Maine can also view the puffin cams
by clicking on www.projectpuffin.org. Since the camera was installed
in mid May, it has received more than 23,000 visits with typically
more than 500 daily.
News From the Seabird Islands - June 27, 2006
Overview: During the period of June 12-20, seabird
biologists in the Gulf of Maine conducted their annual tern censuses.
On Audubon’s seven managed islands, our staff counted 7,706 pairs
of terns, a 34% increase over 5,750 pairs counted in 2005, a nesting
season depressed by huge rains and wind in May and early June. Federally-endangered
Roseate Terns increased by 59%, with 220 pairs counted on several islands,
compared to only 140 pairs last year. The Puffin hatch is well underway,
with 41 confirmed burrows at Egg Rock and 138 at Seal Island which
is a little earlier than usual. Puffins at Seal Island National Wildlife
Refute are bringing in large meals of herring which is excellent news.
Stratton Island: State-endangered Least Terns are
nesting in large numbers on Stratton Island’s sand and gravel
beaches for the second historic year. Fifty-eight pairs are incubating
eggs, compared to 18 pairs that nested last year. It’s believed
that the destruction of a nearby mainland tern colony on Crescent Beach
by crows is one reason so many of these small, beach-nesting birds
have shown up. Tropical storm Alberto probably accounted for the surprise
appearance of a Sandwich Tern at the island. This southern bird typically
frequents much warmer waters in strictly coastal areas in the southeastern
states. This year’s census also found 672 pairs of Common Terns,
10 pairs of Arctic Terns, and 86 pairs of Roseate Terns.
Outer Green Island: After last July’s unfortunate
appearance of a tern-killing mink, Audubon biologists were very concerned
that 2006 would see few terns coming back to an island they associated
with danger. But most fears were allayed when 732 pairs of Common Terns
and five pairs of Roseate Terns were observed nesting. This is a decline
of about 200 pairs since last year, but not nearly as many as feared.
Many of these are now nesting in improved habitat creating by spreading
black plastic over tall rank weeds. This kills the weeds through solarization
and prepares suitable habitat for the rare terns. Tropical storm Alberto
probably accounted for rare sightings on June 17 of a Sooty Tern, a
Bridled Tern on June 19 and 20, and a Royal Tern on June 20.
Jenny Island: The tern census found 631 pairs of
Common Terns and 14 pairs of Roseate Terns and 1 Arctic Tern nesting
on this 2 acre island. This is a 21% increase over last year’s
population. The vegetation raking and habitat preparation conducted
in early spring is paying off as many of the birds are using the improved
habitat. During the census, biologists discovered a cache of three
dead terns- a foreboding discovery as this means a mink has been on
the island. Fortunately, the animal has left the colony alone for the
Pond Island NWR: The staff is anxiously awaiting
the hatch of the first tern eggs. Last year the first eggs hatched
on June 29th. Last week a Great Horned Owl was captured on the island
after it killed several terns- it was removed to a distant location
in Maine. A Peregrine Falcon appeared this week and was promptly chased
offshore by a mob of raucous terns. The census found 484 pairs of Common
Terns, five pairs of Arctic Terns and one pair of Roseate Terns. That
is a large increase over last year’s count of 277 Common Tern
pairs and only one Arctic Tern pair.
Eastern Egg Rock: The census found the following
pairs of nesting terns: 763 Common Terns, 80 Arctic Terns, and 113
Roseate Terns. There were also 1,476 Laughing Gull nests and 123 Common
Eider nests. There are now about 35 active puffin burrows, and many
hundreds of tern eggs hatching as well. Local tour boats have begun
visiting in earnest, and eco-travelers aboard puffin-watching cruises
from New Harbor, Boothbay Harbor and Port Clyde have had excellent
looks at puffins, terns, and occasional razorbills, gannets, and jaegers.
Four boatloads of birdwatchers from the American Birding Association’s
annual conference in Bangor also visited Egg Rock this week. A Royal
Tern, sighted on June 16th was a big surprise- also a southern stray
transported by Tropical storm Alberto.
Matinicus Rock: We’ve had a high count of 44
Common Murres at one time among the decoys and on the ‘loafing
but so far still no eggs. This is the 15th summer we’ve been
working to restore Murre populations to this former breeding site.
One thousand and seventeen pairs of Arctic Terns and 292 pairs of Common
Terns are nesting, a small but positive increase over last summer.
The terns have expanded their nesting area to the northwest shore of
the island, a good sign.
Seal Island NWR: A new record has been set, with
2,741 pairs of terns now nesting, (the previous high was 2,642 in 2002.)This
year’s count included 1,015 pairs of Arctic Terns, 1,726 pairs
of Common Terns, and one pair of Roseate Terns. For the second year
in a row, a Red-billed Tropicbird was seen at the island. This sighting
followed Tropical storm on June 16th. Tropicbirds are more typical
in the Caribbean. Two Razorbill nests are confirmed this year and puffin
chicks are hatching. The biologists are heartened that they are seeing
terns and puffins bringing herring to their chicks this year. Herring
has been scarce in recent years, so the appearance of Herring in the
seabird diet is deemed a promising sign of a successful year.
ON THE PUFFIN CAM THIS WEEK
• Arctic Tern chicks hatch- note that the first hatched is noticeably
larger than its sibling.
• Common Tern chicks hatch- two fuzzy chicks have arrived
• Puffins are common among the decoys- also watch for razorbills and
• Puffins are now feeding their young (the first hatched on June ___).
Watch for puffins carrying fish intended for their chicks under the boulders.
At the Project Puffin Visitor Center
Project Puffin Visitor Center opened on June 15th with 40 people visiting
the first day. The numbers of people visiting have averaged about 40
week, with as many as 121 on June 26th. The grand opening is planned
for July 1st.
News From the Seabird Islands - June 10, 2006
five interns and staff gathered in Bremen, Maine for training, followed
by a flurry of people, food, and equipment before heading out to
our seven island field stations. As teams of biologist interns began
settling into their respective “camps,”
the weather quickly shifted back to an all-too-common rainy sequence,
and at this point we’re all hoping for some sun. That would allow
nesting terns, razorbills, and puffins to incubate their eggs and brood
their chicks in dry weather— an essential condition, especially
for surface-nesting birds like terns. Presently, we are seeing some
of the tern habitat flooded, with eggs washed out of nests.
Also, during extended rainy weather the gulls become
hungrier, since less lobster bait is discarded. Our interns spend more
time in their tents to reduce disturbance to the weather-challenged
birds. Under these conditions, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls
take a greater toll on tern eggs and chicks. The puffins’ underground
nesting habitat gives them greater protection from both gulls and rain.
So far, we have not seen flooded puffin burrows as we did last summer.
This spring has been so rainy that Portland recorded
more than 17 inches of precipitation in May and over five inches so
far in June. On June 8th and 9th alone, we recorded four inches of
rain on Eastern Egg Rock, three inches on Outer Green Island, and wind
gusts of 43 m.p.h. on Eastern Egg Rock, and 41 m.p.h. on Seal Island.
Stratton Island: Least Terns, beach
nesting birds listed as “Endangered” in Maine, have returned
for a second historic year to lay eggs. About 12 pairs have settled
in so far, with more birds prospecting for nest locations. As many
as 35 adults have been recorded at the island this year. Prior to last
summer, Least Terns were known to nest only on mainland beaches where
they suffer chronic predation from raccoons, fox, skunk, crows, and
other mainland-based predators.
By May 25th, only 39 Common Eider nests had been initiated
in our study area compared to over 225 in 2005 and over 300 nests in
2004 – a decline of 85% since 2004. This decline may be partly
due to winter mortality caused by parasitic worms, and bad weather;
hens are arriving in poor condition at breeding colonies. This phenomenon
is not limited to Stratton Island—Casco Bay eider colonies and
some eastern Maine sites are also reporting declines or lack of clutch
initiation by nesting eider hens.
Outer Green Island: About 500 pairs
of Common Terns are setting up territories on the island. Interns also
found three nesting crevices with Black Guillemots and heard the nocturnal
purring and chuckling vocalizations of Leach’s Storm Petrel,
an apparent response to our petrel attraction program. Storm petrels
nested at the island in 1914 and we are attempting to bring them back,
using social attraction techniques such as recorded calls and artificial
Pond Island NWR: Observers counted
27 eider ducklings near the boat launch beach, a good sign that eider
hens are successfully nesting. About 300 to 400 pairs of terns are
also nesting, including one pair of federally endangered Roseate Terns
and several pairs of state-threatened Arctic Terns.
Eastern Egg Rock: Three pairs of
puffins have been seen bringing beakfuls of fish into their rocky burrow
sites, a sure sign that the very first chicks of the year have hatched!
Our early season high count was 68 puffins, observed all at one time
on June 8th.
Matinicus Rock: Razorbill numbers
have been on the increase here in recent years, but researchers were
surprised to find that the colony had increased this year to 284 active
burrows, with as many as 630 individuals counted at one time. In 2005,
many razorbill nests were lost to flooding; so far the burrows are
safe from this threat. The 2006 tally is a 19% increase over the 238
pairs that nested on the island in 2004.
Seal Island NWR: Although the rains
have been relentless, we have not seen the extreme seas of last summer.
So far the puffin burrows are dry, with most puffins incubating eggs.
They should hatch in about two more weeks. There are large numbers
of Arctic and Common Terns nesting in their usual locations. The annual
census is scheduled for June 12-20 at all islands.
Project Puffin Visitor Center: The
new Project Puffin Visitor Center has been bustling with activity in
the days prior to its opening. The live-streaming video from Seal Island
is broadcasting on a large screen in the center’s theater, and
there are monitors on the street window and the gift shop. The walls
are decorated with beautiful puffin art and other marine scenes by “Seabird
Sue” Schubel, and the remarkable photo exhibit by Bill Scholtz
is in place. The center will open its doors to the public for the first
time on June 15th, and a grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, July
1st. Stay tuned for further details.
The Puffin and Tern Cams: Our seabird
cameras attracted 10,000 visitors, who have clicked onto the site since
the cameras went live one month ago. The two live-streaming cameras
on Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge are drawing an enthusiastic
response. The live video is beamed direct to the Internet through the
Project Puffin Visitor Center in Rockland, Maine. One camera sits on
a rock outcrop near a popular puffin loafing ledge, and the other sits
at the edge of the Arctic and Common Tern colonies. The camera is set
to move on an automatic schedule to locations where seabirds are likely
to be. Once the visitor center opens on June 15th, staff and volunteers
will control the camera from the center from 10 AM to 5 PM daily, keeping
the camera on the most interesting views. To view the video, visit
www.projectpuffin.org The Puffin Cam is sponsored by Barbara’s
Bakery, maker of Puffin brand cereals and snack bars.
Seabird Camera is on the Internet. Focused
on incubating terns. Tern eggs are hatching this week. Watch for the
first chicks to make their appearance on our real time, streaming video. See
the Island Live by clicking below...
Updates from Past Seasons: